Those who know me, know I have logged countless hours hiking from my daily, morning walks along the Northshore of Lake Grapevine, to 486 miles of the Colorado Trail, to numerous “14ers” which are all considered hard due their 14,000 feet in altitude. The hike to Boiling Lake in Dominica, the second largest in the world, ranks as one of the most unique hikes I’ve ever completed. It is also harder than you’d expect for a trail topping out at 3,243 feet.
After reading some reviews on AllTrails as well as a few bloggers’ descriptions, I expected to being slogging through ankle deep mud and forging knee-deep rivers like the Crested Butte to Aspen Hike in Colorado, but fortunately the hike to Boiling Lake was not that bad.
That said, with all the ups and downs, the 8.1 hike to Boiling Lake gains a decent amount of elevation along some steep 39% grades similar to hikes in Vail, Colorado. Also, many times, the hike requires short scrambles with 3 to 4 points of contact. Additionally hot temperatures and high humidity as well as slick terrain from daily rains can make the trek daunting, relative to most island hikes. Good shoes are a must!
Overall, I’d call the hike to boiling lake challenging, but fascinating. And while it can be navigated relatively easily by an experienced hiker, I’d highly recommend a local guide. They provide a wealth of information about the flora, fauna, biology and even the history of Dominica. They also know awesome places to stop along the trail to Boiling Lake which I would have completely missed on my own.
While me and my friend Julie spent most of our time SCUBA diving in Dominica, we saved our last day in Dominica for the hike to Boiling Lake which our hotel, Fort Young, arranged for us with Khatt’s Tours. Our guide, Mio, was very knowledgeable and lively.
You may also grab an individual guide like Chadi who we stumbled across at Hi Rise Beach Bar located across from the cruise ship dock in Roseau. He gave us his IG @chadi.767treks and has very good reviews on AllTrails.
History and Geology of Boiling Lake
Boiling Lake is located in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The lake was originally discovered in 1870 by Edmund Watt and Henry Alfred Alford Nicholls. Five years later, Nicholls and a government botanist Prestoe were commissioned to investigate this flooded fumarole. The water temperature on the lake’s edge measured 180-197 degrees F and its depth was estimated to be over 195 feet deep. That said, on rare occurrences, it has dried up!
Fortunately, the blueish grey water was at a roiling boil, like a pot on the stove, when we reached it. I can’t imagine hiking all that way to find it had disappeared!! As mentioned above, Boiling Lake is a flooded fumarole whose water is replenished from rainfall and two small streams. The water seeps into the magma where steam and gas push the water up through fissures while heating it to a boil.
While most might think the lake would dry up from lack of water, the actual cause is due to a disruption in the supply of gas from a phreatic eruption. Without the continuous flux of steam or gas to push up the water, it drains through the cracks. There have only been two recorded phreatic eruptions that have affected the lake since 1880, so don’t worry. It is less likely for the lake to drain than for it to be covered in clouds and steam, which hindered our view for a while.
The Hike to Boiling Lake
The hike to Boiling Lake begins at Titou Gorge located near the small Village of Laudat in the southern part of Dominica. The small area at the base of the trailhead features paved parking for a few cars and a building with a bathroom, changing rooms for Titou Gorge, and a covered area for vendors who sell their wares along with limited snacks and drinks.
Khatt’s Tours picked up Julie and I as well as a newly engaged couple Ivor and Dori at Fort Young, our hotel in Roseau around 7:45am. While we waited for Dori and Ivor to work out their water needs (which I later utilized), I knew they would be waiting on Julie and me the rest of hike! They were young, fit pediatric doctors from Pennsylvania and delightful to meet.
Donning hats, dressed in tanks and shorts and lathered in sunscreen, we strapped on our light packs filled with snacks, water, layers, a poncho, bug spray, sunscreen, and a bathing suit and started up the trail through the rainforest around 8:20am.
Section I of the Boiling Lake Trail
The hike to Boiling Lake is best described in three parts. The first part, which takes about an hour, climbs through the rainforest and descends to Breakfast River. Along the way, Mio pointed out a variety of trees, bushes, and flowers including David’s orchid, ginger, and the toilet paper plant.
David’s orchid is so named because the orchid was not found on the Island of Dominica until after hurricane David in 1979. The toilet paper plant got its nickname for its very soft leaves. We considered grabbing a leaf for our six-hour journey. Just kidding! We stopped many times at the start, not only to learn about the native plants, but also to swing on a vine like Tarzan!
Soon we continued up the path. The dirt trail with patches of avoidable mud includes many stairs, man made of stone and wood. It steadily ascends for over a mile before it drops down to Breakfast River, a clean water source to fill up water bottles. Having already gone through a bottle of water, I was wishing for my camelback and my hiking poles which I use for my hikes in the Rockies.
On a side note, I should mention that Dominica’s water is safe to drink. It is chlorinated. We were leery at first, but by the end of the week we were eating uncooked vegetables and drinking tap water without a problem at several different restaurants in Roseau!
Section II of the Boiling Lake Trail
But back to the hike, Breakfast River is so named because many people stop to fuel up prior to making the next steep push to the top of Morne Nicholls which is the highest point of the trail to Boiling Lake. Breakfast River is also the water source to one of the cascades at Trafalgar Falls which we visited the previous day. Anyway, we hopped across the river via large boulders without a rest stop and began our next ascent.
This long slog of stair climbing (some made for giants) included a tree root ladder and passed through a more open forest. After about thirty minutes we reached the top and enjoyed a short break while taking in panoramic views.
The summit provides views to the left of the Valley of Desolation and of the steam rising from Boiling Lake. To the right is the sea. We captured a few fun photos and enjoyed a quick snack before howling winds blew in a heavy cloud cover.
I wish I could say the trek to Boiling Lake was all downhill from there, but it wasn’t! And frankly, the downhill portion of the hike wasn’t particularly easy. We descended some more steps, crossed a narrow ridge (which isn’t too scary for people who dislike ledges like me), and wedged ourselves between the sides of the trail as we scrambled down a rocky area with the help of a rope.
After about another 30 minutes, we were at the top of the Valley of Desolation. What a unique place! Lush green peaks surround venting bubbling water pots that reek of sulfur. The mineral laced water created beautiful orange colors on the rocks. Heat rose from the ground, which we could feel depending on where we stepped!
Our guide Mio not only knew where it was safe to cross the water or to touch it, but also where to find mud for a facial mask! Julie and I skipped the mud facial and for the most part all of us had remained relatively clean, but that changed during the third part of the hike. Descending through the Valley of Desolation and climbing back up to Boiling Lake required a decent amount of scrambling and occasional butt scooching.
Section III of the Boiling Lake Trail
First, we carefully crossed the hot water creek and scaled down some more rocks which was more like a trickling waterfall when we climbed back up it in the rain. None of it was particularly hard, but it did require four points of contact.
Soon we reached a spot where Mio boiled an egg before we continued following the riverbank on the righthand side. Apparently, the water was cool enough to touch at this point. Mio stuck his finger in the stream and wrote our names in the sediment. I would have never tried that on my own!
Eventually, we climbed up a washed out portion of the trail, skirted around an edge that I wasn’t too fond of, and then used some tree roots and a rope to drop back down to the river. Along the way, Mio pointed out two hot springs that we would be soaking in upon our return as well as one small trickle of fresh water that can be used to fill empty water bottles.
From the creek, we climbed up and down again, crossed another fork of water and climbed again. Switchbacks do not exist on the trail to Boiling Lake. Only up and down with lots of stairs!! But we finally finished this third section of the hike and were treated to a miniscule view of Boiling Lake from the 100 foot cliff.
Enveloped in steam and fog, the 200 foot Boiling Lake was mostly hidden from view. We certainly couldn’t see the center boiling point! Fortunately, the view changed with every gust of wind, so we intermittently ate lunch and took pictures for the next 20-30 minutes.
Suddenly the skies unleashed and the light sprinkle turned into a downpour in seconds. The rain encouraged our quick departure. While normally I’m not fond of hiking in the rain, the cool water soaking our clothes and rolling off our skin was a welcome relief. Even with the wind and rain, I never reached for a poncho and was not cold. No one in our group did, but I understand some people get cold so it is best to carry some layers.
The Hot Springs
I felt most concerned about the rocks getting slippery when wet, but they didn’t get much slipperier than they already were. And we were so wet by the time we reached the hot springs, that we didn’t feel the need to change into a bathing suit. We just slipped off our shoes and shirt and soaked in job bras and shorts! In all honesty, the rain was perfect.
Normally, I wouldn’t have even gotten in the hot springs because they aren’t my thing. But with a double waterfall tumbling over orange rocks through green vegetation into a blue pool (turned grey once I got in), I couldn’t bypass a picture. It was beautiful! We didn’t stay long in the pool, and I’m not sure if the bathwater turned my legs to mush, or if I was just wiped out, but I definitely bonked with about 1.5 hours to go. I scaled up the trickling waterfall just fine, crossed the ridge and pushed up the stairs to Morne Nicholls when my legs felt shot!
At least we were three quarters of the way finished. The final descent, however, was much muddier from additional foot traffic and rain. To me, the mud still wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. I have been in much worse. Perhaps we were lucky to be hiking at the end of dry season and the beginning of rainy season. Regardless, I was so wet and tired at this point, I didn’t even try to avoid it.
I marched as fast as I possibly could to the trailhead. I could not wait to jump into the ice-cold waters of Titou Gorge. Ironically, we visited the gorge the prior day and shrieked and wriggled in the freezing temperature. Today, this ice bath would be a saving grace for my throbbing knees and feet.
At the sight of Titou Gorge, I threw off my pack, stripped off my shirt and plunged in, shoes and all. My shoes needed a rinse anyway. Oh, the water was so refreshing! We all cleaned up a bit and ironically changed into our bathing suits to put on something dry!
While the description of the hike to Boiling Lake might sound miserable, I highly recommend it! With the different ecosystems, boiling waters, and challenging terrain, it was one of the most interesting hikes I’ve done in a long time! I also felt very accomplished at the end. It’s definitely worth the effort. ETB