Boiled Alive in the Public Hot Springs of Cascade
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.
Trail Creek Hot Springs:
Molly’s Hot Spring:
Vulcan Hot Springs: