Get Out There
(page 3 of 7)
IDAHO HOT SPRINGS
Nature’s ahh-some experience
Near the end of an all-day trek, a lone hiker plods a dusty trail winding through the Sawtooth Wilderness. The day’s heat has begun to fade as a fiery burn in his leg muscles continues to rise. A fine layer of grit and dried sweat coats his skin, and one thing keeps him moving forward: the thought of the soothing, soul-restoring soak that awaits him just up the trail in one of Idaho’s many natural hot springs.
Idaho is blessed with more that its share of these hot, steamy wonders; as many as 232, according to the National Geophysical Data Center. Of these, 130 are considered soakable, a larger number than any other state in the nation, and most are on public land. (To be fair, Nevada does have more hot springs, but the majority are either too hot or too acidic to sit in.)
This is Why We're Hot
Josh Laughtland, who has administered the website www.idahohotsprings.com for more than a decade, says that 90% of our hot springs exist because of a meteor that collided in southeast Oregon some 17 million years ago. The impact was deep—so deep that it effectively punctured the Earth’s mantle, allowing a massive bubble, or plume, of magma to rise just beneath the planet’s crust.
“As time passed,” he explained, “this hot spot was shifted and pushed through Idaho, essentially to its present day location in Yellowstone.” Moving less than two inches per year, the plume traveled from the southeast corner of Oregon to its current location beneath northwest Wyoming, leaving a wide swath of underground heat energy across central Idaho.
Today, in areas across central Idaho, this leftover energy heats the groundwater, forcing it toward the surface. It emerges in streams, collecting in natural or man-made pools that enjoy continuous supplies of fresh, hot water: hot springs!
Getting into Hot Water
In spite of summer’s heat, this can be a great season to enjoy the springs, as access is often difficult during the winter and early spring. Laughtland recommends Russian John, described as a “warm spring,” just north of Sun Valley: “It only clocks in at 97 degrees so it’s a great place to go in the summer.”
Frenchman’s Bend Hot Springs, a roadside soak just west of Ketchum in the Sawtooth National Forest, is popular year-round, usually accessible by off-road vehicles in the winter months. In the summer, all sorts of folks gather here to enjoy these toasty-warm pools next to Warm Springs Creek.
With a little research and a willingness to hike, antisocial soakers can find plenty of less-crowded opportunities within an hour’s drive, including several east of Featherville, and others north of Stanley along the Salmon River. But remember, conditions change from season to season and not all springs are safe to soak in, so it’s important to get the inside scoop before you go.
-photo by Glen Allison