On the drive back from historic Warren, we decided to check out the Burgdorf Hot Springs. This had been an area sacred to the Nez Perce tribe, but was taken over during the gold mining days by an enterprising fellow named Fred Burgdorf. He saw the financial potential in the natural hot springs, and turned Burgdorf into one of Idaho’s first resort towns.
Burgdorf has been owned privately since opening in 1870. It was the first commercial hot spring we visited in Idaho; you can bathe for as long as you want, for $6 per person. Besides the large main pool, which maintains a comfortable heat of 100°F, there are two smaller pools which are much hotter, at 112°F. The guy working the desk warned me to bathe in these pools for no more than two minutes at a time. I had a hard time staying in even that long.
Burgdorf is famed locally for the lithium in its water. We’ve heard that some visitors will even drink from the pool for the therapeutic effects of the lithium… which, considering the number of people who bathe here, probably isn’t the greatest idea. Lithium is known for its ability to smooth the edges and after my dip in the pool, I definitely felt relaxed.
Burgdorf has fifteen cabins which you can rent for $35 per adult ($10 per child). With its beautiful location in the woods just 30 minutes north of McCall, it would make for a great, and very relaxing, weekend.
Idaho has more usable hot springs than any other state in the union, and many of them are found on public land, which means that they’re free to access. Quite a few can be found around Cascade, so we decided to go hot-spring-hopping one sunny Saturday morning.
he water in Idaho’s hot springs is heated by friction between tectonic plates, and comes bubbling up out of the ground at temperatures that can reach boiling point. Idaho rests on top of a ridiculous number of fault lines, along which the hot springs (and earthquakes) appear. It’s as though the Earth wants Idaho to relax in a hot bath, before unleashing the cataclysms which destroy it.
Trail Creek Hot Springs was first on our list. Easy to find off NF-22 near Warm Lake, about 20 miles northeast of Cascade (location), this spot is popular with locals. Luckily, we got there early and had a pool to ourselves. It was more developed than I had expected; the pools were walled up and you could regulate the temperature by opening a valve to allow cold river water in. And, as I immediately realized on putting my legs into the pool, some regulation was necessary! The spring water was piping hot, and I needed a few minutes of acclimation before submerging.
From NF-22 we turned onto NF-409 and passed by Molly’s Tubs. We didn’t approach the bathing area, because it was already claimed by what looked to be a rowdy party. Past the tubs, we discovered Molly’s Springs after parking near a trail head and hiking about ten minutes off the road and into the hills (location) I don’t know who this Molly broad was, but she lays claim to some beautiful land.
This area was devastated by a 2007 wildfire, which left the forest dead, but hauntingly beautiful. Molly’s Springs weren’t as clean as the pools at Trail Creek, but more remote and exciting. We sat down gingerly in the almost unbearably hot water, and cooked in silence while admiring at the river valley through the blackened skeletons of pine trees. If I hadn’t been so concerned about my kochende eier, I could have stayed here an hour.
We got back into the car completely relaxed and continued down NF-409 to find the Vulcan Hot Springs (location). This required a hike of about twenty minutes through the forest, alongside a creek, ending in a foul-smelling morass of sulphur and algae, where extremely hot water was bubbling out of the rock bed. Even if we had wanted to get wet here, the pool was too shallow and grubby. It was a neat area, but not for bathing.
Visiting these public baths is kind of a crap shoot. We had great luck at two of the four we visited, but unless you’re a local (or have local advice), there’s no guarantee. If in doubt, consult the useful website IdahoHotSprings.com, which attempts to list all of the public and private hot springs in the state, along with pics, grime-level and detailed accounts of past visits.
We're Jürgen and Mike, from Germany and the USA. Born wanderers, we love learning about new cultures and have decided to see the world... slowly. Always being tourists might get lame, but eternal newcomers? We can live with that. So, our plan is to move to an interesting new city, once every three months. About 91 days.