One of the most unique hikes you’ll ever do is the multi-faceted Boiling Lake hike in Dominica – a mountainous Caribbean country sandwiched between Martinique and Guadeloupe. It’s a 6 – 8 hour (return) hard, muddy, sometimes steep hike that takes you through the Valley of Desolation with its hot streams and hissing vents to Boiling Lake, part of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park UNESCO site. The lake itself is usually shrouded in a cloud of steam – unless the wind picks up to blow it away. When it does, you’ll be entranced by the setting.
Dominica’s Boiling Lake is the world’s second largest one, with Frying Pan Lake n New Zealand the largest. If you look through the vapour to the middle of the 200-foot-wide lake, you’ll see bubbling, boiling grey-blue water, thanks to a flooded fumarole. Interestingly the water level of Boiling Lake fluctuates wildly over the years. In 2004 it had all but dried up. In 2023, it’s a bubbly, gurgling, burping lake with lots of water.
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Boiling Lake hike summary
- The Boiling Lake hike is a wonderful outing but it’s not for the novice hiker. Expect muddy, often steep steps, slippery rocks, some scrambling, ridge walking, and boulder hopping.
- The hike is best done with a local guide who knows the area and the hazards. Most hotels on the island have connections to guides. From the feel-good perspective, you’ll also be putting money into the local economy by hiring a guide. Don’t forget to bring tip money – about 10% of the price of the hike.
- The usual start point of the Boiling Lake hike is beside Titou Gorge just a few minutes drive from the town of Laudat.
- The hike is approximately 4.5 miles (7.2 km) each way – which doesn’t seem like much, but many groups take over 8 hours to do the return hike. There are no mileage markers so focus more on hiking time than distance.
- Do not start the hike after 10 AM or you may end up hiking down in the dark. Be sure to take a head lamp with you as the forest gets dark early and the sun sets around 6 PM.
- You can refill water bottles at the Breakfast River. Reportedly there is nothing to fear from the water, but you might want to take water purification tablets just in case.
- Do not wear good clothes as chances are high that they’ll get muddy.
- I found that trail shoes with a decent tread worked well. They too will get wet and muddy.
- You may want to remove silver and gold jewelry before you do the hike as the sulphur can tarnish it.
- Keep an eye and an ear out for Sisserou or Jaco parrots.
- If you want a swim in Titou Gorge after the Boiling Lake hike, be sure to bring your bathing suit.
Getting to the start of the Boiling Lake hike
The trailhead for the Boiling Lake hike is just a 20 – 25-minute drive from Roseau. It’s near the village of Laudat beside the entrance to the popular Titou Gorge. Likely if you if you hire a guide, they will drive you. There isn’t much of a parking area by Titou Gorge and the place can get busy as this is where cruise ship passengers come to tube the gorge.
Beside the trailhead there is a restaurant, some dodgy bathrooms, and even a change area. There are also a few local ladies with a table set up selling food, cold drinks, and nick knacks.
Boiling Lake hike description
The Boiling Lake hike can be broken down into the following stages.
- Titou Gorge to the Breakfast River
- Breakfast River to Morne Nicholls
- Morne Nicholls to the Valley of Desolation (also called Grand Soufriere)
- Valley of Desolation to Boiling Lake
Titou Gorge to Breakfast River
For most of the Boiling Lake hike, the route is well defined. At the start of the hike, you may wonder why you’ve hired a guide. After about 90 minutes you’ll probably be happy for their guidance and help on steep sections. And you’ll learn a thing or two about the local plants and trees.
Start the hike by climbing up concrete steps by Titou Gorge to reach a section of trail that climbs steadily though never steeply to reach the Breakfast River after about 45 minutes. This part of the hike takes you through a gorgeous rainforest filled with some massive trees, giant tree ferns, and loads of other mostly non-flowering vegetation. On your left as you climb, you’ll hear the water running through Titou Gorge – and if you look closely and carefully, you’ll get a peek-a-boo view.
On this first section to the Breakfast River, the one thing to watch for are slippery rocks and logs. Once at the Breakfast River – where many people do stop for breakfast, refill water bottles, especially if it’s a hot day and get ready for what’s next – a steep climb up muddy stairs for a good 45 minutes to reach Morne Nicholls.
Breakfast River to Morne Nicholls
On the steep hike up to Morne Nicholls you’ll reach a ridge. It wasn’t a knife-edge ridge, but there wasn’t a large margin of error either. The good news is that the vegetation is so thick that most of the time you don’t even appreciate you’re on a ridge. Enjoy the views as you make your way to the top – and the high point of the Boiling Lake hike.
Unfortunately, we mostly got cloud with some peek-a-boo views at Morne Nicholls – though you could make out the steam rising in the Valley of Desolation. It was a memorable stop for us as our guide, Wiffy pulled out a whole pineapple and proceeded to divvy it up among five of us. It was a juicy, sweet treat and a delicious pick me up.
Morne Nicholls to Boiling Lake
I found the section from Morne Nicholls down to the stream to be the toughest on the Boiling Lake hike. I don’t think I’ve ever been on such slippery, muddy, steep steps for such a long period. Poles really come in handy here. The good news – it’s way easier going back up!
After you make it down the steps without sliding out or pitching headfirst down the mountain, you reach a slippery, rocky section. Some people dropped to their butts and slithered down. (Another good reason to wear your old clothes.) But at the bottom of this rocky section, you’re in the Valley of Desolation – and it’s one interesting place to hang out.
The Valley of Desolation to Boiling Lake
Our guide suggested that we follow him quite closely through the Valley of Desolation so we wouldn’t end up punching through the earth to something warm and bubbly below. The valley is in a volcanic area that is venting – but certainly not erupting. There are bubbling mud ponds, hot springs, pools of water bubbling hard, and streams of the most interesting colour of blue-grey water. The hiss of the venting adds to the experience. Some guides carry eggs with them and cook them for you in the water, though ours did not.
This area is also where you’ll find the sulphur mud. Wiffy slathered his face with it though none of us followed suit. Over time the mud just flaked off.
From the Valley of Desolation, there’s still a lot of hiking to do – perhaps another 45 minutes to an hour to reach Boiling Lake. Some of this section of trail is indistinct and a guide is very helpful through here.
The trail crossed the hot streams several times, climbed short but exposed rocky slopes, and in one section you needed to use ropes to get down a sheer rock face. Along this part of the Boiling Lake hike, there are many small waterfalls, and even the odd pool where people enjoy a soak in the warm water on the return.
There was lots of up on down after leaving the stream. Part of it was in thick forest, while some of it was on open rocky slopes. The steam above Boiling Lake was constantly in view – drawing us forward until at last we arrived. Fortunately, it was a quiet day with only another four or five people at the overlook over Boiling Lake.
Boiling Lake in Morne Trois Pitons National Park
When you get to Boiling Lake, exercise caution as the cliffs are steep and the rocks are slippery. This is no place to fall.
The first view of Boiling Lake (elevation 2,640 feet), a flooded fumarole, was anticlimactic. I couldn’t see a thing because of the heavy cloud of steam. But then the wind picked up – and the lake came into view. In the middle of the lake the water was frothing and boiling – an impressive though scary sight, perhaps because I’d recently watched a documentary – The Volcano: Rescue from Whakaari, where 47 tourists and guides were trapped by a volcanic eruption in New Zealand and 22 lives were lost. That weighed on my mind.
When you’re standing at the overlook or enjoying your lunch and the steam dissipates, look out to the ocean and you might see Martinique off in the distance.
The hike back to the trailhead
I think all our group found the hike from Boiling Lake back to Morne Nicholls went quickly. It’s way easier to climb a muddy mountain than it is to descend it. The only thing I wished we’d done is to soak in one of the pretty warm water pools beneath a beautiful waterfall.
I also think everyone felt like the last 60 minutes of the hike from the Breakfast River dragged on and on. In total we spent just under eight hours on the trail – with a good hour of that time taking in the scenery and the landscape. By the time we got to the parking lot we were thrilled to see the ladies still there, selling cold drinks (the guava juice is excellent), and overpriced coconut cookies, but when you’re hungry you’ll take what you can get.
The Boiling Lake hike is truly a world-class, one-of-a kind hike that I feel lucky to have done.
Planning for the Boiling Lake hike in Dominica
I did this hike in early February on what would be a cool day by Dominican standards. It also wasn’t very humid. But if you’re hiking on a hot, humid day, be prepared to sweat buckets. Carry at least two – three litres of water. Make sure you’ve got loose fitting clothing, sunscreen, and a wide brim sun hat as many sections of trail don’t have much shade.