Winterize the camper, stash the emergency parkas and boots, pack all the necessary clothing for three seasons (fall, winter, and spring), get coffee to go, and we are off.
When you work in the construction industry as my guy does, you don’t always get to pick your vacation season. Unfortunately, slow times are rare when the weather is nice, so this year it turned out that vacation time was November. Rather than flying off to somewhere warm, we picked a winter road trip.
The most important part of the plan was to spend three to four days at Liard Hot Springs, and another four-to-five days at Muncho Lake, both on the Alaska Highway, just a few hours south of Watson Lake.
Both of these are favourite places.
In the winter, the campground at the hot springs is closed, but the springs themselves, and the day-use area, are still open. If you have a camper like us you can camp overnight in the parking lot. If not, the Liard Hotsprings Lodge is open all year, with rooms and meals.
My winter bones love to lounge for extended periods of time in the hot, hot, sulphured water; two, or even three, times a day is not too much.
In the middle of winter, Liard is a rich experience. You feel the contrast between the heat of the water and the cold of the winter. The painful foot-numbing that grips you as you walk from snow to water is intense but quickly soothed when your feet touch the deliciously hot water.
The beauty of the place is exquisite. Being surrounded by plants and trees bundled in fluffy sweaters of sparkling frost is delightful. Pretty soon we, too, have a dusting of white on our hair and toques.
I love that in the winter there are no crowds. There are never more than one or two others sharing the pool with us. Our favourite time to visit in the winter is early in the morning. We don our headlamps and walk to the pool in the dark to watch the daybreak and the sunrise from the pool. At that time of day, with no one else around, the pool becomes our own personal winter oasis.
Road trips, especially in winter, must remain flexible. It was our first winter trip with the camper and we discovered that it struggles to keep itself warm at -10º C without the benefit of a plug-in and an electric heater, so our solution was to chase some warmer weather by heading south sooner than we expected.
We cut our stay at the hot springs to two nights (four bathing sessions), and instead of staying a few days at Muncho Lake, we kept heading south. Because we only travel in the daylight hours, we still got to take some time to watch and photograph the wildlife of the park. We saw bison and caribou, sheep, and also to pine just a little for the times we have spent in the area in the fall and winter, hiking and ice climbing.
With the ease of winter travel to warmer places, we sometimes forget that some of the most stunning and rejuvenating destinations are much closer to home. Just drive safe and pack your winter clothes.