Winter Recreation

Hot springs are a cool way to relax after a day in the snow

Don’t miss a winter soak at Gold Fork Hot Springs after a day in the snow at Ponderosa State Park.
Don’t miss a winter soak at Gold Fork Hot Springs after a day in the snow at Ponderosa State Park. Special to the Idaho Statesman

The choices abound for hot springs and recreation in Idaho. The state has more than 200 thermal springs ranging in temperature from 68 to 200 degrees, with most of them located from Idaho County south, according to hot springs information provided in an Idaho State University report.

The southern part of the state is bubbling with hot springs because the Earth’s heat is concentrated near enough to the surface, similar to Yellowstone National Park. It’s in these places where the surface of the Earth is stretched thinner, allowing thermal water to escape. Areas like this occur over much of the Snake River Plain and Great Basin.

Here are a few hot springs to explore after a day on the trail:

THE ASPENS OF PONDEROSA

Activity: The stunning beauty of the 1,000-acre Ponderosa State Park in McCall, which is on a peninsula in Payette Lake, is hard to beat with aspen spicing up miles of centuries-old ponderosa pines.

The park’s snowshoe and cross-country ski trails are a bonus. The park has about 13 miles of groomed Nordic ski trails and a little more than 3.2 miles of designated snowshoe trails in the mountainous terrain. The park also has one dog trail, Rovers Round-About.

Getting there: Drive 102 miles north on Idaho 55 from Boise to McCall and follow the signs to the park.

Hot springs: Follow dinner with a soak at nearby Gold Fork Hot Springs. The hot springs, located up the Gold Fork River south of Donnelly, boasts alkaline, mineral-rich waters in a beautiful mountain setting. Prices: Adults $8, children 11 and younger $6.

Information: goldforkhotsprings.com, 208-890-8730

AFTER STEELHEADING

Activity: Fall and early winter is a prime time for steelhead fishing in the Salmon River near Riggins, but it can be a freezing affair going days with chilled hands and toes and the iciness that river winds can bring. But hey — they say if you’re not out there in all kinds of weather, you’re not steelhead fishing.

The river canyon from Vinegar Creek downstream to Hammer Creek offers miles and miles of bank and boat fishing. There are plenty of outfitters in the Riggins area that provide fishing trips in drift boats and jet boats. Check out the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association website, ioga.org, for details.

It’s a time when Hot Shots and Green-Butt Skunks reign on the river — lures and flies that entice the big anadromous fish to bite on their way back to spawning grounds from the Pacific Ocean.

Getting there: Drive about 150 miles north of the Treasure Valley on Idaho 55 and U.S. 95 to Riggins and go upriver or downriver.

Hot springs: It’s only about 40 minutes south on U.S. 95 to Zim’s Hot Springs at New Meadows. Camping and swimming are available at the hot springs, which is nestled along the Little Salmon River in Meadows Valley.

Prices: Adults $7.50, younger than 18 $6.50.

Information: zimshotsprings.com, 208-347-2686

IN THE BOISE MOUNTAINS

Activity: Logging roads (ski trails in winter) wind through ponderosa forests between Mores Creek and Beaver Creek summits, offering views of mountain ridges, open bowls above the South Fork of the Payette River Canyon and winding trails along Beaver Creek and Crooked River.

It’s the place for miles of skiing and snowshoeing through the Boise National Forest, northeast of Idaho City, with access from the Whoop-Um-Up, Gold Fork and Banner Ridge parking lots. This area has a variety of groomed trails for all levels.

Getting there: The trailheads are reached by driving on Idaho 21, northeast of Boise, about 18 to 25 miles past Idaho City.

In winter, the cost of using the trails is an annual Idaho Park ‘N’ Ski permit, $25; or a three-day permit for $7.50, which is the minimum number of days you can buy.

Hot springs: Now for the warm, cozy part. The Springs is just down the road from Trudy’s on the way to Boise. The Springs offers lots of resort-style amenities and pool-side beverages. If you want to combine dinner and a soak, the resort offers salads, small plates and sandwiches. Craft beer is on tap and wine is available.

Prices: Adults $16, Children 12 and younger $10. Information: thespringsid.com, 208-392-9500

REMOTE OFF-TRAIL NORDIC SKIING

Activity: The Bull Trout Lake area, near Stanley, offers remote backcountry cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on everything from a flat 4-mile round-trip ungroomed road to the lake, to climbs to peaks for Telemark skiing.

Bull Trout Lake is 2 miles off Idaho 21 in the Salmon River Mountains between Lowman and Stanley.

The makeshift winter trailhead is only good if the plow driver is kind enough to keep the shoulder of the highway plowed. Most of the time it is plowed, but Idaho 21 in this area can close because of avalanches.

Still, it’s one of the best places for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing in a beautiful meadow and mountain setting.

Getting there: Drive Idaho 21 about 90 miles from Boise to milepost 107. Information: Boise National Forest map.

Hot springs: Kirkham Hot Springs, near a U.S. Forest Service campground of the same name, features shallow rock hot pools next to the South Fork of the Payette River. It is one of the most popular hot springs along the South Fork corridor. Visitors like the multiple hot waterfalls that make great showers. There’s a $5 day use fee if you park inside the campground. There’s a large parking area off the highway outside the campground, but it’s a fairly good walk to the hot springs. Kirkham Campground is about 5 miles east of Lowman at milepost 77.

Another option for a hot springs, if the gravel road is not closed by snow, is Sacajawea Hot Springs near the Sawtooth Lodge on the banks of the South Fork of the Payette River near Grandjean. You can snowshoe or cross-country ski 6 miles in to enjoy the winter solitude. That could be another adventure.

Sacajawea Hot Springs is a series of small rock pools along the river that can be seen from the road. The scenery of the river canyon and Sawtooth Wilderness is awesome.

MIDDLE FORK PAYETTE

Activity: The Middle Fork of the Payette River Road, north of Crouch, is a well-known groomed snowmobile trail that offers miles of riding in the area with routes going as far north as Smiths Ferry and then over to Clear Creek and the Warm Lake area. In winter, the only way to get to Silver Creek Plunge, a hot springs, is by snowmobile.

Getting there: From Idaho 55 at Banks, go east on the Banks-Lowman Road. Turn left onto the Middle Fork Road and go through Crouch all the way north to the snowmobile loading area. Silver Creek Plunge is about 15 miles from the loading area.

Hot springs: Silver Creek Plunge is a unique resort in the mountains with a full-service hot springs with cabins, convenience store, snack bar and pool.

On New Year’s Eve, the resort shoots off fireworks and serves dinner on an enclosed patio. You’ll have to plan ahead for New Year’s Eve and get in by snowmobile. Cabin availability and reservations can be obtained by phone, 208-739-3400.

Prices: Adults $10, children 12 and younger $8, 2 and younger free.

SNAKE RIVER HOT SPRINGS

Activity: It’s a hot springs mecca all along U.S. 30 between Hagerman and Buhl (about 90 minutes from Boise).

Miracle Hot Springs: It bills itself as a Geothermal Oasis in the desert. Prices: adults $8, children 4-15 $4, younger than 4 $1. Information: mhsprings.com, 208-543-6002

1000 Springs Resort: 1000 Springs offers something for everyone, with swimming, private baths and a wading pool. Prices: adults $7, ages 6-17 $6, ages 1-5 $3. Information: 1000springsresort.com, 208-837-4987

Banbury Hot Springs: In addition to a large geothermal artesian swimming pool, the resort offers private mineral hot tubs and jacuzzis, an RV park with full hookups and a campground. Prices: ages 16-54 $10, 55 and older $8, ages 4-15 $4. Information: banburyhotsprings.com, 208-543-4098

The original version of this story ran in the October/November 2015 issue of Treasure Magazine.

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