Pitt River Hot Springs and the Search for Slumach’s Gold

I suppose I call myself an adventurer; I’ve climbed a mountain or two, spent days in a kayak on the ocean, and navigated my share of foreign airports. But I have to admit, when I googled Pitt River Hot Springs – a destination that was to be an autumn boating trip to celebrate a birthday – that I got a little shiver of excitement when I stumbled across the story of Slumach’s lost gold mine, allegedly located at the north end of Pitt Lake, and near our targeted hot springs. Intrigued, I read further. The legendary lost gold mine, still elusive, despite decades of searches by veteran pioneers and amateurs alike, has inspired countless adventures, risking life and limb, in search of lost riches.

Wild Pitt River country. These tangled banks may be hiding a cache of gold.

Legend has it that Slumach, who lived on the edge of Pitt Lake, visited New Westminster frequently in the late 1800s with pockets full of gold nuggets. He spent money freely, but refused to disclose its source. As memory of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush was still potent, this observation generated great excitement. However, Slumach took the location of the deposit with him to his grave. He was sent to the gallows in 1891, convicted of murder. Since then, rumours of fabulous riches have inspired decades of treasure hunters to seek out Slumach’s lost treasure, supposedly a rich placer gold deposit in the wild lands above Pitt Lake. But, besides Pitt Lake country being notoriously rugged, the hunt itself does not come without its share of risks. Some believe that an apparition, perhaps Slumach himself, guards the mine, bringing nothing but bad luck and death to those looking for it. Spooky.

Gold-guarding ghosts aside, Pitt River Hot Springs, located, like the fabled mine, far up Pitt River on the north end of Pitt Lake, had long been a destination of interest for me. These natural hot pools, located on the edge of the roaring and stunningly turquoise Pitt River, had all the elements of a great day trip: a boat ride, a bike tour, and a soothing hot pool in which to soak after the long journey. And if we came across a little gold in our travels, all the better. I’ve never been one to believe in ghosts.

No ghost can keep me from a place this magical.

We were up early on the allotted day, eyeing the clouds with apprehension. Launching the boat from Pitt Lake was done in warm jackets on the chill fall morning, hoods pulled low to keep the wind out of our faces. An hour’s brisk ride left us at the north side of the lake. I couldn’t help but think of Robert Allan Brown, a prospecting treasure hunter who died in a blizzard in 1930 while searching for Slumach’s gold. He didn’t have a hot spring waiting for him like we did.

Docking the boat on the far side of Pitt Lake.

Once the boat was moored, we prepared for the next leg of the journey. The hot springs were located about 22 km down Pitt River FSR – for this, we’d use the mountain bikes we had piled on the deck of the boat. The FSR proved to be better than expected – mostly flat, with small, packed gravel and minimal pot-holes – but the gradual uphill began to wear on us over the course of the nearly two-hour bike ride. But with frequent stops to admire the teal beauty of Pitt River (gold dust was notably absent), the changing fall colours, and the Coho salmon running below our feet on the bridges, we made it to the hot springs junction in good spirits.

The FSR beginning to show its September colours. As you can see, it’s a pretty well-kept road.

Directly after the FSR crosses over Pitt River, about an hour and forty-five minute bike ride from the dock, a sign in the trees, plus a spay-painted orange arrow, indicates the turn-off for the hot springs. We left our bikes in the forest undergrowth, and proceeded on foot. A brief walk brought our search to an end. A steep descent down fraying ropes led to the legendary Pitt River Hot Springs. No bonanza of gold maybe, but my sore muscles were more than happy to accept this consolation prize.

The bridge over Pitt River. The trail is immediately after the bridge on the right.

The hot spring itself runs out of the side of the hill, and is diverted into two pools by some sandbags. These pools are right on the edge of the gorgeous teal river, made with concrete barriers to keep the icy river water out. The simple sandbag system, plus a conveniently placed plastic bucket, allow for temperature control of the pools, the hotter of which was at a toasty 39 degrees C on the day of our visit. Adjacent to the hot pools was a sheltered spot in the river where a brave soul could go for a dip in the chilly September water, but you wouldn’t want to enter the main portion of the river, or you might end up as another apparition guarding Slumach’s gold mine.

Looking down on the two hot pools, on the edge of the river.
The view of the icy river from the warmth and safety of the natural hot tub.

A few hours and a birthday bottle of wine later, we pulled our lazy bones out of the pools, toweled off, and trekked off through the woods to collect our bikes and ride back. Despite a net downhill on the ride back to Pitt Lake, we made the same amount of time as the ride up. Guess we were too relaxed.

One final stop awaited us as we loaded the bikes back on the boat: a short jaunt to a sandy beach on the edge of Pitt Lake for a BBQ lunch. Halfheartedly, hot dog in hand, I cruised the driftwood-strewn beach, eyes peeled for unexplained glittering in the sand, but that would be too easy. Despite modern technology – motor boats and synthetic waterproof fabrics and batteries and GPS – no trace of Slumach’s gold has ever been discovered, and not for lack of trying.

As we jetted back across the lake – to ice cream and warm cars – I pondered the grand adventure that Pitt River would have seemed back in the early 1900s, and how our modern conveniences today made this a relatively simple, and completely safe, day trip. While I can definitively say that our group’s lust for gold was lower than our predecessors, I think our desire for an adventure was just as high. So, just like the hundreds of prospectors before us, we’d be back to the magical country around Pitt Lake. But maybe not for gold.

Lunch stop on the beach.
The final leg of the trip, looking back on our sandy lunch oasis.

Ever been to Pitt Lake Hot Springs? How about a misguided treasure hunt? Share your adventure story with me in the comments below, and for more boating adventures, check out my post on sailing the Sunshine Coast!

4 thoughts on “Pitt River Hot Springs and the Search for Slumach’s Gold

  1. carolinehelbig says:

    Such a cool adventure! It certainly sounds like a bit of effort, but so worth it. Do you have a boat or did you arrange this? I would love to visit natural hot springs that aren’t all built up and crowded with visitors. Neighbours of mine like going to Meager Creek hot springs, somewhere north of Pemberton, but it also sounds like quite the effort.


    • Emily says:

      We had a boat fortunately, so it simplified things, but there is someone you can hire to drop you off apparently. There’s places to camp also, so I think it’d be a great two-day trip to help justify the effort. At least the trip involves a boat and bikes rather that sitting in a car for 3 or 4 hours like Pemberton hot springs would!

      Thanks for reading Caroline! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mom in the Mtns says:

    Wow this is gorgeous! This sounds like such a fun birthday adventure. My husband loves all those crazy treasure hunting shows so I think he’d love looking for lost gold on a trip like this!


Leave a comment