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Keyhole Hot Springs trail closed due to 'extreme risk' of rockfall and landslides after wildfires

Recreation Sites and Trails BC stressed the site is unlikely to reopen in the near future
Keyhole Hot Springs. Photo by Megan Lalonde

The Lilwatatkwa7 trail to Keyhole Hot Springs is closed due to the extreme risk of rockfall, treefall, debris flows and landslides on steep slopes. The Lil’wat Nation warned in a Facebook post there are a number of hazards to hikers in the area after this summer’s wildfires. The trail is located just northwest of Pemberton, and has proven popular due to its natural hot tub. 

The closure came into effect Wednesday, Nov, 8. Recreation Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC) said the site poses an extreme risk to public safety. The Lilwatitkwa7 Trail and hot springs are typically already closed from April 1 to Nov. 15 each year. The most recent closure is due to increased wildlife conflicts caused by recreational users, and will remain in place indefinitely. It also supports the protection of important cultural values, biological diversity, wildlife habitat, sensitive/rare/and at-risk species, and Lil'wat citizens' ability to carry out traditional use practices.

In 2016 and 2017, irresponsible camping practices resulted in the food habituation of local black bears, leading to closures at the site. In 2018, the annual seasonal closure came into play, which also supports the recovery of the grizzly population.

RSTBC stressed the site is unlikely to reopen any time soon. David Karn, of B.C.'s Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy, said the trail is now indicated as closed on the RSTBC website.

“RSTBC staff have closed the trail due to significant safety concerns post-wildfire,” he said. “Recent wildfire activity has destabilized the cliffs above the trail and hot springs. In addition, the fire has created a very large number of hazardous trees in the area. The trail will remain closed until these hazards can be assessed and if possible mitigated. It’s a complex site to assess and it’s been heavily impacted, so it will not be reopening in the near term.”

Keyhole Hot Springs gained popularity on Instagram much like the neighbouring Joffre Lakes. The Nqw'elqw'elusten (Meager Creek) and Múmleqs (Keyhole) hot springs are in Lil’wat Nation territory, and are places of cultural and spiritual significance to the Nation, according to a provincial document released in April 2021. A visitor-use management strategy for the Meager Creek and Keyhole hot springs northwest of Pemberton was implemented in November 2021, with key issues identified and management strategies in place for the future.

Lil'wat Chief Dean Nelson previously told Pique he feared the cultural site would soon become like Joffre Lakes. “That was where [the hot springs were] going,” Nelson said, adding that, when natural spaces become commodities, “I think that’s when the abuse comes in, and it wrecks it for everyone.”

The Mount Meager Volcanic Complex is also considered one of the most geologically active areas in North America. In 2010, warm weather triggered the collapse of about 53 million cubic metres of rock and debris from the south flank of Mount Meager—and the area continues to be prone to large landslides, avalanches and flooding.