Mountain Hike Vacation in Dominica
The Mountain Hiker Rating: 9 out of 10
- Contributor: MGF
- Time required: 6-8 hours round trip
- Degree of Difficulty: 9 out of 10
- Height: Just over 3,100 feet (950 meters) at the highest point / Actual vertical hiked was probably over 5,000 feet (1500m), as the trailhead began around 1,650 feet (500m) above sea level, and the trail traveled up/down a few mountain ridges along the way…
- Distance: Just over 8 miles (13km) round trip, although it seems considerably longer
- Guide Required: YES – Although you could probably find the trailhead, and most of the trail is well marked, having a guide eases your mind that you are in fact on the right path, as in some sections you’re suddenly hiking down a rocky gorge and the guide will take you directly to where the trail picks up again in the rainforest.
The Boiling Lake and Valley of Desolation trail is the iconic hike in Dominica. We met our guide in the town of Laudat and drove a short distance, with our guide riding outside on our Jimny’s spare tire, to a parking lot near the Titou Gorge attraction. We got to the actual trailhead by crossing a narrow pedestrian bridge overlooking the river that feeds the gorge. This hike starts off in the shadow of Morne Macaque, which is just over 3,770 feet (1150m) tall. For the first hour or so, the hike was a very enjoyable walk through the lush rainforest on a natural rocky trail combined with sections of wooden stairs. A sign, “You are now entering the Morne Trois Pitons National Park”, eventually announces our actual entry to the park. This part of the hike had a gradual incline to it, and was muddy in spots, before it descending steeply down to the Trois Piton river. Along the way, our guide identified the various tree and plant species we encountered. I was particularly interested in some of the giant tree trunks (Chataignier or Burrwood tree perhaps?), fiddleheads and the large variety of ferns, lichens and tree stranglers. A great start to the hike!
After the river crossing, the trail gets steeper, as our guide informed us that we would soon be entering the Montane (or Cloud) forest section of the hike. For the next hour or so, we crossed all sorts of different and beautiful terrain, partly on natural paths, and also over a number of wooden stairs built into the sides of the mountains, at the really steep sections. We stopped at a couple of clearings with great views of Caribbean sea, and took pictures of Roseau and the Western coastline. Eventually we came to the top of Morne Nicholls, which is approximately 3100 feet (950m) above sea level. There was a fairly large flat area where we had a snack and took in the magnificent views of the southern half of the island’s mountainous terrain. We also got a glimpse of the steam coming from Boiling lake in the not too far distance, across a valley or two.
From there we traveled down some fairly steep gorge sections of what appeared to be dried out river beds, between the mountains. There were also sections of really muddy wooden stairs in the near vertical areas. It took us probably 20-30 minutes to reach the aptly named “Valley of Desolation”… I felt like I was on another planet – It was surreal. In a sharp contrast to the hike to this point, this area was barren, with no vegetation. The ground was rocky and an eerie grey colour, dotted with blues and greens, and patches of orange-yellow-gold. Water was bubbling out of the ground everywhere. As we were close to the top of the active volcano, the colours of the rocks and water are due to the high mineral content, including yellow sulfur crystals. The nasty smell of sulfur was in the air, however it was constantly being blown away by the ever-present gusts of wind. We had to be careful as some of the water was actually boiling out of the ground, and our guide informed us that some people (tourists) bring eggs here to boil and eat. We found a stream bed that was not too hot, and our guide dug into it with his hands and pulled up handfuls of warm grey mud that we then applied to our faces. I hear people pay good money to go to a spa for this type of treatment :). Unfortunately, somewhere along the way my white shirt got yellow stains on it, that later turned out to be un-cleanable, even with bleach. No big deal…
At that point, we couldn’t contain our anticipation much longer… We needed to reach the final destination of the hike – Boiling Lake. After seeing a small waterfall and crossing another river, it was another 20 minutes or so of down and up and up and down rocky trails before we reached a flat plateau which overlooks the lake. This again didn’t seem real – It was ‘unworldly’ seeing a tall thin waterfall dropping into a 200 foot (60m) wide pool of grey water, which was literally boiling in the centre, with steam rising off the surface of the water everywhere. It is like the world’s largest outdoor sauna. Our guide informed us that we were not actually in the volcano’s crater, but rather this was a flooded ‘fumerole’ – This pool is fed by a couple of streams, whose water seeps down through cracks in the ground, were it meets the volcanic lava which boils the water forcing it back up to the surface, where it continues to boil. Apparently there have been dryer years where there was no pool of water, just a geyser spewing hot water high into the air! We ate our lunch and rested a bit, trying to soak in what we were seeing, before heading back down the same way we came.
During our full day hike, we came across 3 other small groups. This is a popular hike, although its reputation for being strenuous keeps out most tourists. I gotta tell you, this hike “started to get old” when we reached the final 30-40 minutes of the trail. It’s interesting how that same section of trail at the beginning of the hike was so enjoyable, yet when we were descending it this time, we never thought it would end – It seemed to go on forever! The repetitive downward movement on our sore and tired legs were taking their toll. However, we were in for a treat at the end of the hike a few minutes later, as we reached Titou Gorge, where we took off our hiking shoes and socks and stepped into the refreshing shallow pool to cool our burning feet – very soothing.
In summary, the Dominica’s Boiling Lake was an ‘epic’ hike – In the top 3 of my hiking experiences to date! It was a long leisurely paced 7 hour hike for us, and thanks to the varied terrain, most of the time we were filled with awe at the rugged and natural beauty. The ‘hike’ itself was great, as we felt that we were always going up or down, with spectacular and varied views… Sometimes we were hiking on ridges, sometimes between them in gorges, ruts and valleys… We walked and climbed through lush rainforest, on barren rocky dried out sections, skirted craters, crossed rivers, and experienced hot mineral springs and mud pools. Of course seeing the “boiling lake” was a once in a lifetime experience.
The Mountain Hiker Tip – When hiking near active volcanoes or mineral / sulfur springs, wear old clothes or otherwise be prepared to stain whatever you’re wearing, as the mineral and crystal deposits on the air and on the ground seem to find a way onto your clothing.
The Mountain Hiker Tip – Trekking downhill on man-made steps sometimes makes it difficult to maintain a natural pace, and the repetitive (height/distance) stepping can sap your leg muscle strength and/or strain knees and their associated muscles/tendons/ligaments… If the trail is wide enough to allow it, try walking in a gentle “slalom” pattern (zig-zag down the trail – without twisting your ankles or knees), to help ease the discomfort. Of course, properly preparing for the hike is your best defence against tiring – Be sure to check out the “Preparing to Hike” section of this site.
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