Idaho is known for its tasty potatoes, but after some research, I found that there is much more to the state then just that. I gathered some friends, dedicated 7 days to this road trip and drove almost 2,500kms through 3 states and 1 border crossing—with the small town of Stanley, Idaho as the destination.
After being inspired to check out Idaho, a state I’ve never been before, I finally made it happen in January 2019. Road tripping in the winter season has it’s challenges—you need to be prepared for freezing temperatures, unpredictable weather and undesirable road conditions. Knowing all of this, we packed our SUV full of warm clothes and made sure we had snow tires and 4×4 capabilities. I picked up Meghan, Brendin and Elliot and then we began our 13 hour drive to Stanley—a cute, small town with a population of 63. That’s right, 63.
Everyone in Stanley is incredibly kind and welcoming. The local grocery store clerk invited us to the town’s yoga class, the attendant at the gas station gave us tips about the area and we almost always got a warm smile and a wave when passing by a local. I do have to warn you though, in the winter, this town is incredibly cold—the lowest recorded temperature in Stanley is -47.8°C (-54.0°F). Other than Alaska, it is consistently the coldest place in the US because of the dense, cold air from the surrounding peaks which come down into the valley. While I was there, it was around -10°C to -20°C and I basically never went outside without my parka and boots—but this is a given for any winter adventure. Now that I’ve warned you, let me tell you some reasons why I’d go back to Stanley in a heartbeat.
Along with the tasty potatoes and kind locals, Idaho has an abundance of hot springs, and I don’t say that lightly. It has the most usable hot springs pools in the nation, with approximately 130 ‘soakable’ out of 340. In my mind, that’s 130 reasons to go to Idaho. I researched for a few weeks and found about 10 hot springs that I wanted to visit on this trip. I didn’t get to all of them because some of the logging roads that I needed to drive along were snowed in. Thankfully, I visited 5 and I absolutely loved each one. Below I’ve listed each, in no particular order.
As always, please follow the Leave No Trace Principles so that we can lessen our impact and keep these places in pristine condition. Read more about LNT Principles here.
BOAT BOX HOT SPRING
This spot is a five minute drive from Stanley and is right off the highway. There’s a pull out that can fit two cars at most, so park there. The hot water comes from the mountain, through a pipe system and is funnelled into a big bowl. It’s perfect for soaking, but can only fit about 2-3 people. Please keep this capacity in mind when visiting. There are a few other pools along the river that are great to relax in as well, and I actually liked these better since they were a great temperature, deep and natural. This spot is run by locals and can get busy—so, I suggest stopping by at sunrise or sunset to experience it on your own.
GOLDBUG HOT SPRINGS
After seeing a photo of this hot spring, I knew I had to experience it for myself. Even though it is a few hours away from Stanley, it was worth the drive! I went on a Saturday and when I got to the trailhead there were around 20 cars. Usually, I’d just turn around and come back another day, but my friends and I drove a while to get here so we decided to hike up to the hot spring anyways. The hike is relatively short and took about 45 minutes. The snow on the trail was really packed down so microspikes worked like a charm. When I got to the hot springs there were so many people, but after waiting about hour, most of them had started to hike back down. Moral of the story? Try not to visit this hot spring on the weekend and try to hike the trail for sunrise or sunset to avoid crowds. At the end of the day, this spot was my favourite because we met some rad Idahoans who we talked to for hours, and the mountain views from the water were spectacular. The entire experience was epic.
KIRKHAM HOT SPRING
This hot spring was incredibly different from anything I’ve ever experienced. The parking was off the side of the highway and from there it was no more then a 15 minute walk. The hot water came from the mountain on the left side and it cascaded down into pools below. There were more pools then I could count on both of my hands! For the first 30 minutes, I explored the area to see which pool I wanted to enjoy first! My tip for this spot is to do just that. On the day I was here, my friends and I only bumped into two locals from Boise. Other then that, we had the place to ourselves. That said, since this hot spring is so accessible, I have read that it can get very busy at times, especially in the summer. So, I suggest arriving very early to avoid crowds if you are planning on popping by in a busier month.
SUNBEAM HOT SPRING
After a short 20 minute drive from Stanley, you’ll get to this spot! Again, it’s right off the highway. You’ll see a shelter and a pull out that can fit a few cars. From there, follow the steam down by the river. This area had a few pools to choose from that were all along the river. We soaked in the hottest one and chilled in it for hours. My friends and I didn’t see another soul at this spot and it was glorious.
MOUNTAIN RESORT HOT SPRING
Mountain Village Resort has a natural hot spring on their property. All you need to do is stop by their reception to pick a time to go. There’s a small fee to soak, but if you stay at their hotel, there’s no fee! From reception, the walk is about 15 minutes to the shelter. This was one of my favourite spots of the trip because of the unobstructed views of the Sawtooth Mountain Range. We only saw a few people in passing, but can imagine that it can get busy at times. This is a definite go-to when in Stanley.
Thank you to Triangle C Cabins and Mountain Village Resort for hosting us, and to Honda Canada for equipping us with a 2018 Honda CRV. Overall, my tips and takeaways for a road trip like this would be:
- Be ready to go to hot springs at sunrise or sunset for the best experience.
- Leave no trace behind.
- Getting out of a hot spring, drying off and changing isn’t fun when it’s freezing out, but it’s always worth it.
- Pack layers, a parka, a good pair of boots and a lot of socks so you can be comfortable in freezing temperatures.
Idaho is seriously underrated and I’m already planning another trip back to hike in the Sawtooth Mountain Range!