The British Columbia town of Harrison Hot Springs (so named because of its natural hot spring pools) has an unexpected draw each autumn and winter. The bald eagle, that iconic symbol of America, is a major presence in this Canadian village just an hour and a half drive from the major metropolis of Vancouver. In this lakeside town, eagles far outnumber the 800 or so permanent human residents when they come to feast on spawning salmon in the Harrison and Fraser Rivers.
Photo by: Christina Newberry
In November of each year, the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival celebrates the arrival of the eagles and the salmons with loads of free events and an eagle count. This year’s count topped 2,600 eagles along just three kilometers of the Harrison River.
That number may sound staggering that’s close to a thousand eagles per kilometer of river, after all but once you’re on the river, you believe it, and you’re blown away. At certain points along the river, each tree is spotted with close to 100 birds, and the gravel shorelines where salmon are most abundant are literal feasting grounds, with a seemingly impossible number of eagles congregating to gorge on the abundant fish.
The eagles can be spotted from land, if you head to the right spot. Sandpiper Golf Course is one such option for land-locked eagle viewing. Lunch at the course-side River Edge Restaurant offers the chance to spot a few eagles right from your dining table, with a warming fire in the fireplace to boot.
Photo by: Tourism Harrison Hot Springs
But for the real spectacle, you’ve got to head out on the water. Several local companies offer eagle-watching boat tours leaving from the dock directly in front of the iconic Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa. Harrison Eco Tours has an office right in the hotel and offers packages for hotel guests. Just a couple of hours on the river in a covered, heated boat allow you to spot hundreds of eagles, with guides knowing just when to cut the boat’s motor so you can get close to the eagles without disturbing them.
Even with the heaters, after all that time on a chilly river, there’s nothing better than a soak in the town’s famed mineral hot springs, which some claim have healing powers. Resort guests have access to five indoor and outdoor natural mineral hot springs pools. For those on a tighter budget, the town has a public hot spring pool that’s less romantic but just as warm.
If you go
Harrison Hot Springs is located less than two hours’ drive east of Vancouver (three hours from Seattle) in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley. For those wishing a more direct route, several major carriers fly to Abbotsford, about 45 minutes’ drive from Harrison Hot Springs. Eagles flock to the area starting in November, with peak viewing time in January and February.
Harrison Hot Springs Resort offers packages including two nights’ accommodation, access to the resort’s hot springs pools, full buffet breakfast, and a two-hour eagle watching tour with Harrison Eco Tours starting at $249.50 per person based on double occupancy. For each package sold a donation is made to an organization that supports wildlife programs.
Rowena’s Inn at Sandpiper Golf Course offer packages including one night’s accommodation, $50 credit for River’s Edge Restaurant, and access to the resort’s riverside designated eagle viewing area from $175 per room. They can also arrange boat tours.
For non-resort guests, the Harrison Hot Springs public pool offers access to an indoor hot spring pool for $9 per adult/$7 for children and seniors, and Harrison Eco Tours offers two-hour eagle-watching tours for $99 per person