Last weekend, I reported on a snowshoe hike along the Potlatch River and alluded to a second snowshoe adventure the same weekend. In fact, we had planned a little excursion out along Rt. 12 to Jerry Johnson hot springs. It turned out that the hot springs are still popular in winter, at least enough so that the one-mile trail was packed down such that we didn’t need snowshoes after all. So, for the second time this season, a snowshoe hike simply became a winter hike. While we were all looking forward to snowshoeing in, the real goal was to soak in the steamy pools beside the ice-cold creek, and in that regard, this trip was very much a success.
The hike begins by crossing the Lochsa River over a pack bridge. Once on the other side, you walk through a beautiful forest along the banks of Warm Springs Creek. On this trip, it was a formidable winter wonderland with deep snow along the banks of the creek and sitting atop any rocks not submerged. There was a mixture of ice and free-flowing water, with some submerged ice clinging to the river bed. Make no mistake, this water was cold. In fact, we passed one family on their way out who had tried to jump into the first hot spring pool. At this pool, the hot water falls out of a cliff and collects along the side of the creek. During most of the year, the hot pool is either submerged or highly mixed with the creek water. The mother had undressed and jumped right in without testing the water first, and she received quite a surprise in doing so. The next pools were not much farther ahead, but it made no difference. The cold water was enough to send this family right back to the car.
In fact, the next pool wasn’t very much beyond the first one… maybe .2 mile or so. When we reached it, there were two families with children who were finishing up their soak. They told us that the third pool had been pretty trashed with beer cans and spaghetti-o’s littering the ground, but they had only heard that from the ranger. While they were getting out, I decided to go check out the third pool just to see what it was all about. It turned out that it wasn’t quite as trashed as the other people made it out to be and could have been perfectly good for us. This pool overlooked an open meadow with views of the mountains in the background and direct radiation from the sun. The only problem: it was lukewarm. So, we went back to the second pool which, despite its location in the shade, had the hottest temperature of any of the pools that day.
None of the pools were extremely hot. The guide book says that the springs register at 115º at their source, but the pool felt like bath water. It was just hot enough to warm the soul, and cool enough to stay in comfortably for a few hours.
But what’s the fun in that? I challenged Tyler to take a little dip in the creek, so we walked down, wondering if this would be the end of us, and waded in. I’ve jumped into swimming pools straight from hot tubs before, and that’s enough of a temperature difference to cause some discomfort. But when getting out of a hot spring and stepping into (literally) ice-cold water, that just causes pain. In fact, I could only stay in up to my waiste for about 10 seconds before my legs went completely numb. Thankfully, there was a warm pool right next to the creek where we could let our feet thaw before getting back in the hot pool.
We were quite lucky to have the pool to ourselves. As we arrived, the families in the pool were drying off and packing up. There were two small groups behind us that went to the third pool. By the time we were ready to pack up ourselves, a few more groups showed up, and we passed some more coming in on our way out. So, really, we timed it perfectly.
Winter is the best time to visit these hot springs. Although they are still popular, they can get quite crowded in the summer, so you’re much more likely to have some extra space while there is snow on the ground. Besides, the hot water feels much better when complimented by a crisp winter day. I think another visit might be in store before spring arrives.
Note: While the hot springs themselves were in pretty good condition, the trail was littered with beer cans and bottles. It was pretty bad to the point of causing aggravation. I’m not sure what goes through someone’s mind that makes it ok to just dump their trash in a nice beautiful setting, but if this is something you do or have done, please don’t ever do it again. Carry your trash out and dispose of it properly. It’s the only way we can continue to have beautiful and special places like this.