Last Sunday my husband Ralph and I drove a scenic byway north of Boise in search of hot springs. Drive in any direction from our home in Emmett and there are developed and unimproved examples of these volcanic remnants along the roads and rivers. Last Sunday we were hoping to find a new, picturesque place to take a soak. A quick check of the internet gave us some ideas of places to search, quite a few not marked on a map but shared word of mouth by die-hard enthusiasts. My family has a tradition of visiting hot springs. We've searched out bathing spots from Wyoming to Alaska. Our family's first hot spring adventure and favorite bathing spot is along the Alaska Highway in British Columbia.
First, a little family history: In 1976, my husband and I sold most of our possessions, bought an old Volkswagen bus, and drove the Alaska Highway. It was September, our oldest child was six months old, and the Alaska Highway (or Alcan) at that time was a serpentine length of mostly dirt and gravel fraught with myriad dangers for the unseasoned motorist. We suffered two flat tires, two broken fan belts, and blew up one engine along the way. In the deep woods of British Columbia when we were weary and grimy and still had a long drive ahead, we came upon Liard Hot Springs along the Liard River. Liard Hot Springs is quite simply a paradise. Steaming jade pools veiled in mist are surrounded by stately birch trees, dripping ferns, and wild flowers. Our road-weary bodies and spirits were refreshed in its gentle currents of hot and cool water. We have visited it in the full bloom of summer and when hemmed in by thick banks of snow. Our last visit there was in late May of this year. The decks and dressings rooms have been nicely remodeled the pools still natural and even more magical.
Our next hot springs encounter was in Wyoming as we traveled between Riverton and Cody for meetings related to Ralph’s profession. On several occasions we stopped at Thermopolis, home of "the world's largest mineral hot springs". At Thermopolis the hot springs are piped into a series of plaster lined pools adjacent to dressing rooms and showers. Not as picturesque as Liard Hot Springs but a welcome respite in the midst dry sage-covered hills.
When we lived in North Pole, Alaska we made several visits to Chena Hot Springs nearly sixty miles northeast of Fairbanks and home of the Aurora Ice Museum. Back in the 80's it was a humble spot with a small swimming pool and a few wood tubs. Now it has expanded into a resort of some renown, boasting geothermal energy to keep the Ice Museum chilled year round.
Second only to Liard Hot Springs, our next favorite soaking resort is Lava Hot Springs, Idaho about four hours from where we live. The hot mineral pools are beautifully landscaped and formed of rock. The two largest pools have black gravel bottoms. The spring water at Lava has no sulfur odor. Best soaking times are during a rain storm. Soak until you are too hot then lie out in the rain and cool off. Lava Hot Springs is accessible and the town has many charms: float the Port Neuf River which flows through town or swim in the Olympic size pool. Be sure to try the Bleu Burger with sweet potato fries at 78 Main Street Eatery. It is the best burger I ever had.
In 2007 when I was recovering from cancer radiation treatment, my son and his wife and children guided us to Kirkham Hot Springs alongside the South Fork of the Payette River near Lowman. Falls of hot water tumble into unimproved natural pools above and beside the river. It was October and the air temperature was uncomfortably chilly but the water was deliciously warm. Clearly this was a good time of year to avoid crowds at this popular bathing spot along Highway 21.
Our Sunday Drive did not reward us with a Sunday soak. We explored Middle Fork Road along the Middle Fork of the Payette River. The river is pretty gentle here and easily accessible. Rafters and swimmers were out in force, camping and swimming sites easy to spot. But the hot springs were illusive. Boiling Springs lay 1/4 mile beyond the road's end near a public use cabin behind a forest service gate. Since expectations of its condition were low we passed on the hike and headed back the way we had come. We also passed on the extra eleven mile loop up to Silver Creek Hot Springs, a small mountain resort popular with snow-machiners.
As we headed back toward Crouch we were able to pinpoint the location of Rock Canyon Hot Springs as being across the river near Tie Creek Campground, but were unable to pinpoint the location of Fire Crew Hot Springs, a popular soaking spot for forest fire fighters. As we drove the highway toward Boise along the South Fork of the Payette River, I found the trail head for Skinnydipper Hot Springs four miles from Banks. This hot springs has a devoted group of "guardians" whole improve and maintain the pools fed by volcanic waters.
We found great camping and swimming spots, enjoyed dramatic views of deep boulder strewn canyons, and pastoral views of rural farming communities. Unfortunately, we had to go home for a hot soak in our large master bedroom tub. Or rather fortunate for us we have such a luxury. We will try again to add another soaking spot to our collection of hot springs adventures. A few suggestions for when you are out doing your own exploring for bathing spots, be a responsible steward of these natural wonders. Don't use the isolation as an excuse to misbehave: don't trash the wilderness, and wear a swimsuit!