Some like it hot – especially in the Pacific Northwest, where even the crazy, lazy days of summer can be damp, cool and blustery.
It’s times like that we like to take a dip in one of the many remote hot springs for which Oregon, Washington and Idaho are renowned. Hot springs aficionados can bask in a spring-fed swimming pool at a destination resort or get back to nature in a remote pool where swimsuits are optional.
While British Columbia and Montana have their fair share of hot springs, unless you know you’re away around, the choices mostly boil down to pay-to-play developed swimming pools with dozens of fellow swimmers.
In Oregon, Washington and Idaho especially, it’s easy to get away from it all.
Here are my five favorite hot-springs in the Pacific Northwest that are remote enough to make swimsuits optional:
1. Umpqua Hot Springs, east of Roseburg, Oregon: This quaint hillside springs is as serene as the come. There are two pools, one covered by a pleasant wooden structure to provide shelter from frequent rains and snow. The springs are shaded by towering Douglas firs and overlook the mad-dashing North Umpqua River. Amazingly, for such a pretty sight, solitude is possible during the week. Getting there: Drive east from Roseburg on Oregon Highway 138 and follow the gorgeous North Umpqua just past Toketee Falls to F.S. Road 34. Go north about three miles to the parking area and follow the path to the springs.
2. Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho: Imagine after a hard day of rowing the rapids on one of America’s most pristine wilderness rivers, you set up camp, catch a few cutthroat trout, grab a beer and then soak those muscles in a hot springs under the stars. There are so many hot springs on the Middle Fork that the scene is repeatedly frequently on this eight-day wilderness adventure. Here’s the rub: Unless you hike into the Middle Fork on one of the many trails in the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness, you’ve got to get a permit for the river trip. Only seven launches are allowed each day, so it isn’t easy. Getting there: The put-in at Boundary Creek is just west of Stanley, a two-hour drive north of Boise.
3. Whitehorse Hot Springs, south of Ontario, Oregon: The antithesis of Umpqua, these remote pools are in sagebrush plains after a long ride on a dusty gravel road in southeastern Oregon. Getting there: The hard part is finding it. After leaving U.S. Highway 95 and heading west some 25 miles on Whitehorse Road, look south about a half-mile to a small butte. The hot springs are just below that, on an undeveloped Bureau of Land Management campsite. You’ll know you’re in the right spot because of the willow-lined Whitehorse Creek crossing beneath the road, and Whitehorse Ranch on the north. Once in the pools, the southeast Oregon desert vistas go on forever in every direction. Check out Mickey Hot Springs near Steens Mountain, too.
4. Pine Flat Hot Springs, Lowman, Idaho: Don’t expect privacy in this series of pools on a bluff overlooking the South Fork of the Payette River. There’s a campsite nearby, a popular road through a scenic canyon, and Boise is about 90 minutes away. Still, because the pools are in pockets, and a hike through the pines from the campground is required, you’ll can still sit alone in a protected spot and bask in the hot water pouring over you shoulders. Getting there: Drive northeast of Boise on Idaho Highway 21 to Lowman, and turn west on the Banks-Lowman Highway. Drive into Pine Flat Campground and follow the well-worn trails west to the hot springs.
5. Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch, south of Stanley, Idaho: OK, so it’s not exactly primitive, and unless you’re a brazen trespasser, you need to be a paying guest at the Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch, which is worth the effort. Great cuisine in a rustic setting, tastefully appointed log rooms in the lodge, and unparalleled views overlooking the Salmon River and the Sawtooth Moutains. The springs are isolated from the ranch, across Idaho Highway 75, tucked amid some ranch outbuildings. Privacy is likely at night, when you can listen to the Salmon rush by and gaze up at stars unfettered by city lights.
A book, Hot Springs of the Pacific Northwest, will help will local customs, locations and brief descriptions of all hot springs in these three states.