Keyhole Hot Springs(aka Pebble Creek)
Keyhole Hot Springs(sometimes called Pebble Creek Hot Springs) is located 100 kilometres from Whistler(Village Gate Blvd). Though most of the 100k is on logging roads, it is drivable by most cars without any trouble. The massive Innergex hydroelectric project is well underway in the area, turning a once quiet wilderness into a war-zone. On the plus side, the old logging roads near Keyhole Hot Springs are now well maintained and smooth. 2014 saw the permanent closing of the old hot springs trail and a new trail built. Another benefit of the construction is the year-round maintenance of the access road which allows access to the springs even in the winter.
The spectacular Keyhole Falls is located just a couple kilometres upriver from the hot springs and very close to ground zero of the Innergex mammoth construction effort. If you are brave enough to drive to the Keyhole Falls trail, just continue driving past the Lillooet River Trail. You will see a large, unmarked parking area and hard to find trail just before the km 50. If you have doubts that you are parking in the right spot, just get out of your vehicle and listen for a moment. The deep rumbling of Keyhole Falls can be faintly heard from where you park.
Climb the gravel embankment(don't cross the vehicle bridge) and look for the faint trail, then follow the faint rumbling from the falls as it soon becomes a thundering echo far below. The trail is just a couple hundred metres long from the parking area. The reason you have to be brave to get to Keyhole Falls is because of the colossal war zone you have to drive through to get to it. It is a bit daunting, however, access to the area is still allowed. You just have to be very aware of being considerate to the massive construction vehicles scrambling to get the job done. There are large signs indicated where you cannot go, which makes navigating to the falls more manageable.
Back at the Lillooet River Trail, you will find a trailhead parking area, a small sign and permanent outhouse. A new sign now marks the start of the route to Keyhole Hot Springs. This new trail is 2 kilometres long and moderately challenging as it skirts the rugged terrain along the Upper Lillooet River. A couple of sections are very steep, and it is easy to stray from the trail. Along the trail there are at least two fantastic and inviting areas along the trail (beside the river) perfect for camping. Closer to Keyhole Hot Springs, the very nice camping area high up, overlooking the river is still as it has always been. Nice, rustic, wild and of course, unmaintained.
The new Lillooet River Trail is well marked with flagging tape and tree reflectors as well as the occasional bench to sit on. Just like the old trail, this new trail is often challenging to navigate. Though it is rarely steep, as the old trail mostly is, this one is a zig-zag through a thick forest and occasional scramble through truck sized boulders. The trail, at a moderate pace should take about a half an hour from your car to the springs. If you have any interest in geology, however, the trail may take you hours. The crumbing cliffs reveal an astounding array of recent volcanic activity and you find yourself staring in amazement at the extraordinarily beautiful rocks.
The hot springs at Keyhole flow out of the ground adjacent to the swirling, crashing and wonderfully glacier coloured water of the Lillooet River. The colour varies with the season, but for the most part it is a wonderful, deep, milky turquoise. When the sunlight penetrates the deep valley, the milky turquoise changes to an unnaturally bizarre, emerald green colour as it swirls all around you.
Sitting in the springs you look across to the vertical rock face and the massive, truck sized chunks of it that lay in the river next to you. The Lillooet is fed from various glaciers and snowy mountains visible all the way to Pemberton. At the Lillooet River crossing in Pemberton Meadows take a look in the distance and you will make out the spectacularly jagged and violent looking peak of Mount Meager. It is also a good place to reflect on the fact that Mount Meager produced the larges volcanic eruption in Canada, in the last ten thousand years. It occurred about 2400 years ago and Keyhole and Meager Creek Hot Springs are symptoms of current volcanic activity and another major eruption is possible.
For such a remote place, the Keyhole Hot Springs have a pretty elaborate hot springs layout as well as a very large(unmaintained) camping area in the deep forest, high above the hot springs about a 10 minute walk away. Signs of semi-permanent tarp dwellings can be seen in stages of ruin, but overall the campsite area is amazing. With the exception of being dark due to the thick forest and fresh water a steep, 5 minute walk away, it is perched on a wonderful cliff with great views of the river below and cliff and mountains and waterfalls across. If the campsite had a dozen tents within it, you could space them out enough to not see or hear each other fairly easily.
Further down the river, in the opposite direction of the Keyhole Hot Springs is a beautiful and easily hiked stretch of the river, passing waterfalls on both sides of the river as well as some wonderful, potential campsites on sandy and grassy plateaus next to the river(about 15 minutes away). Across from Keyhole Hot Springs and campsite there is a abrupt and massive opposing rock face created from the eruption of Plinth Peak on Mount Meager in 410BCE. Plinth is one of six main summits on Meager, hidden beyond this rock face that looks both impressively huge and wonderfully close. You can actually see trees frozen in time from the last eruption in the face of this cliff. Sticking out, black eroding away with the cliff.
As with the other hot springs near Whistler getting to them is half the fun, and with Keyhole Hot Springs this is particularly so. Setting off from Whistler Village and onto the Sea to Sky Highway heading north, you have quiet a few potential pit-stops along the way.
Five minutes along you come to the obvious pull-out viewpoint at the right side edge of the highway and overlooking Green Lake. This vantage point is great on a cloudy day, but fantastic on a sunny day. A painted mural depicts the mountains laid out in front of you. Wedge Mountain, Blackcomb Mountain and Whistler Mountain dominate the skyline. Green Lake, unnaturally looking emerald green, a result of glacial silt reflecting the light.
Further north, just before Pemberton, you will see Nairn Falls Provincial Park, again on your right. Green River, that flows from Green Lake and through deep and abrupt cliffs at Nairn Falls. The fenced viewing area at the falls is set up high in the middle of the swirling green pools several metres below you. The pot-hole like configuration of the rock pools at Nairn Falls is caused by centuries of sand, gravel and boulders whirling around and around in these pools, wearing them deeper and rounder over the centuries. From the parking lot to the falls is just 1.2 kilometres and always along the scenic Green River. If you don't have the time to see the falls, the viewpoint over Green River from near the parking lot is worth a look. You will also notice that the Sea to Sky Trail passes through here. This 180 kilometre hiking and biking trail runs from Squamish, through Whistler and all the way to D'Arcy, well north of Pemberton.
Pemberton is just 5 minutes north of Nairn Falls and at the traffic lights with the Petro Can on your left and McDonald's across to your right, you need to turn left onto Portage Road. This is your last chance for food, drinks and gas before leaving civilization. There is an excellent Pub/Restaurant immediately on your left, next to the Petro Can gas station. On your first right there is a great coffee shop called Mt Currie Coffee Company. Their drip coffee is garbage but everything else is amazing. Americano coffee, food, pastries, cappuccino all are fantastic, and the place is so inviting and comfortable you want to stay for hours. This also might be your last chance at free wifi. Keep in mind as well that in about 5 kilometres further toward Keyhole that you will no longer get a cell signal.
A block or two further down Portage road and you come to a roundabout. Turn left at the roundabout, cross the train tracks. On your left is a cold beer and wine store and a small grocery store. Straight ahead and you come to a T junction and stop sign. If you turn left here you will see a dollar store with cheap, bulk candles(great for hot springs). Up from the dollar store and right at the Police Station and you will come to a government liquor store and a cheaper and wider selection of booze choices than the beer and wine store. Back at the T junction there is also a large grocery store and there you will find the cheapest and widest selection of grocery food and they also have a great deli with lots of prepared sandwiches, pizza, etc. To continue to Keyhole Hot Springs turn right at the T junction and follow the signs for Pemberton Meadows and you are about to leave civilization.
Pemberton Meadows Road is a great country road that runs almost constantly within sight of the Lillooet River until you arrive at the hot springs. The road is very straight, paved, wide and very long. For 25 kilometres you drive past dozens of idyllic farms, endless grassy fields and horses and cows everywhere you look. Keep an eye out for the turnoff 25k from Pemberton(for better driving directions see below). This right turn takes you to the start of the Upper Lillooet Forest Service Road.
It starts by cutting in between two huge farm fields. The one on the right is often packed with friendly horses that come running if you wave some grass in their direction. On the opposite side of the road you get the first spectacular view of where you are heading. Mount Meager, the jagged, hostile looking, though beautiful snow covered peak. Keyhole Hot Springs lays in the shadow of that monster, still a few dozen kilometres away.
The paved road ends after the bridge that crosses the Lillooet River and the bumpy, dusty, Upper Lillooet Forest Service Road begins, now with the Lillooet River on your left. For the first few kilometres you don't see much through the forest, but soon the the trees open up and you catch your first great views of the Lillooet River. It sits in a massive, once glacier filled valley and surrounded on either side with untouched, snow capped mountains. There are a couple fantastic places to stop and take in the view and here you will notice the first remnants of the massive slide of 2010.
In 2010 a photo essay by David Steers here.let loose from Mount Meager, flinging, it has been estimated, of debris down from Capricorn Glacier at a speed of 30 metres per second. Making it the largest recorded landslide in the history of Canada. It filled the enormous valley you are about to drive into. The debris, two kilometres long and 300 metres wide, blocked the valley, creating a dam and an enormous lake began forming. 1500 residents in and around Pemberton were evacuated as it was feared the dam would burst and water would engulf the town. Fortunately a day later, the dam began to fall apart slowly, releasing the water more like a river than a tidal wave. Extraordinarily, no one was hurt or killed and the emergency response was notably exceptional. If you haven't see the pictures, take a look at the incredible
The debris field is still visible today, still grey and eerie looking. The whole valley still looks dead and very little vegetation has returned. Enormous tree trunks lay, twisted in the river and ghostly white and long dead trees still stand at the edges of the valley. Killed by the the flood or the aftermath, they make the place look amazingly surreal. The shape of the valley and possibly the way the two valleys join not far from this area for some reason cause it to be like a wind tunnel most days. The wind blasts through the debris field, yet 200 metres away, next to your car, there is no wind at all. What a great place.
Back on the road, just a few minutes ahead and you come to the Meager Creek Campsite. Definitely worth driving through to appreciate how this little area of trees remain like an island amongst the disaster. Located in just the right spot and just high enough to avoid the path of the debris flow. Some campsites have great views, once again, to the debris field. Further on(back on the Lillooet FSR) you come to the old left turn to where the huge bridge across to access Meager Creek Hot Springs once stood. This is definitely worth a stop for another surreal viewpoint. The dirt road abruptly ends at the river, now years later, and still dead and dying trees stand everywhere.
The new Lillooet River Trail to Keyhole Hot Springs was built in 2014, and though longer than the old trail, is very scenic and only moderately challenging. The old trail was short, however, very steep. The trail is 2 kilometres from the trailhead to the springs or about 1.5 kilometres to the huge Keyhole Hot Springs camping area.
The beautiful new trail begins in quite an unexpectedly wonderful way. From the dusty old logging road parking area, you enter the forest and immediately find yourself in a large forest clearing with massive cedars all around. You feel as though you have instantly left civilisation. A large, well loved fire ring sits in the middle of this clearing and you notice that you could fit several tents here if you had to. The area is very flat and inviting. A trailhead sign and small map indicate the where you will be hiking next, and the trail descends through the forest and comes out to the river and a small seating area. The trail then bends back to the forest and climbs up and away from the river, where it continues, for the most part, away from the river. There are a couple of viewpoints along the way indicated by nice, new signs. Well worth seeing. The viewpoint by the river is an excellent place to camp if you like a beautiful and serene riverside setting.
The trail then continues through deep forest and along a frighteningly chaotic boulder field with house sized boulders filling a chasm between cliffs. There is also an amazing little waterfall that tumbles over the cliff about 15 metres up and looks like a giant shower. Further along the trail you come to the nicely constructed bridge over the one rushing river along the trail.
If you ever parked at the old trailhead, this is the river you drove through just before parking. The aptly named(when you had to drive through it back in the day), "Truckwash Creek" is a massive torrent of water plowing through the valley. About 5 minutes past this bridge you come to the Keyhole Hot Springs campsite. The area is entirely unmaintained and aside from an elaborate bear hang area to keep your food, there are no amenities such as outhouses, signs, etc.
If you continue through the camping area and walk along the trail keeping the river on your left, you will come to a fallen tree that has been expertly chainsawed into a staircase leading down to the springs. First you come to the sandy area that at first looks unimpressive until you have a good look around.
The water pooling in the sandy pools is amazingly hot and suddenly you realize you are in nirvana. A small wooden bench and indiscreet fire-pit sits next to the pool and someone has left a shovel to dig out the pool. The pool is surrounded by a cliff at your back, and huge boulders and the Lillooet River just a few metres away.
Continuing along the path through the huge boulders you come to the two fantastic, cemented in pools on the cliff-side dipping into the river. Some weeks the lower pool floods and is too cold, but if you catch it at the right level it is paradise. Once again, you have a short scramble down a tree trunk to get to these pools. But once you are there, you will never want to get out. The Keyhole Hot Springs are pretty amazing.
Keyhole Hot Springs - Trailhead Directions from Whistler
Innergex, understandably doesn't seem too welcoming for tourists into the area. If you are a timid driver, you may want to avoid Keyhole for the next year or two as the chaotic network of roads and construction areas can be intimidating to drive through. They have, however, managed to build this nice trail quite quickly. When you look at the construction sites, it is astounding to note that the hot springs lay absurdly close to enormous sites, before, above and beyond the springs. If you are curious, drive just past the hot springs parking area and take a look(from afar) at the powerhouse excavation site.. breathtaking.
From Whistler Drive north on Highway 99 until you reach Pemberton.
When you reach Pemberton turn left at the traffic lights(gas station) and after 1k you will come to a roundabout, left here and drive 200 metres to the T junction, you will see a sign for "The Meadows" turn right here and and another "The Meadows" sign in a couple hundred metres pointing left.
Head NW from Pemberton on Pemberton Meadows road for 25km and turn right onto Upper Lillooet Forest Service Road. This cuts you across, and in between two huge farm fields and then crosses a bridge high above the river then turns sharply left. The image above showing horses was taken along this section between the farm fields just before the bridge. You will notice after you cross the bridge that the Upper Lillooet FSR has kilometre markings posted on the right side of the road starting here. You don't really need to zero your odometer here, as you can just use these road KM markers instead which are used below.
Be careful to keep left at 9km (right goes to Gold Bridge via Hurley Pass)
At 36k you will see the massive mudslide carnage of 2010 on your left and an amazing place to pull over and look around. It is amazing to think that 2013 was when the plants and trees finally managed to significantly return here. In 2012, the area was still a wasteland of debris. This aerial video was take in the fall of 2014.
At km 37 continue straight past the Meager Creek turn-off on your left, which is now a mound of dirt(sometimes car sized boulders) blocking the road that once was the giant bridge to Meager Creek Hot Springs. Look for the very old sign on your right, "Meager Creek Hot Springs - Closed". Don't forget to stop here and marvel at the surreal road to nowhere(also pictured above).
Just past km 42(see map below) look for the new parking area on the right(room for about 15 cars). There is a very small "Lillooet River Trail" sign now, but soon there will likely be a much larger sign. The best thing to keep an eye out for is the tell-tale parking area on the right that looks out of place along an endless logging road. Last year there was an outhouse here, though it may or may not be there this summer(2016).
Across from the parking area is the obvious trail and small trail sign... and in the forest a nice little trail map sign to indicate where you are going. The trail is less than 2 kilometres to Keyhole Hot Springs, and fairly easy to follow. If you venture out in low light and without a headlight, you will lose the trail easily. This is a very dangerous trail to get lost on as the cliffs on your right are steep, high and crumbling and on the left the river is fast moving and flanked by similarly steep and crumbling slopes.