Life

Instead Of Skiing, Take A Day Trip To This Secret Idaho Hot Springs


Evan Jones — CC BY-SA 3.0

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I’d like to start off by stating that I am very into hot springs. Which is like someone saying, “I am very into eating food.” Duh. Hot springs are objectively amazing. Comforting. Life-giving. The sexiest type of body of water on earth (even beating out geysers!).

I’ve hit them all over the country. I’m a hot spring junkie, always looking for my next secluded hot spring fix. Which is why when I was visiting Idaho and a friend told me about this “hidden hot spring that you can’t even drive to in the winter, you have to snowmobile in,” my pupils immediately dilated, turning into hearts, and I began running away from her bellowing, “SEE YA LATER, SUCKER!”

I immediately booked snowmobiles for me and my then-boyfriend. Because Burgdorf Hot Springs — this hidden paradise — is only about two hours from Boise, making it the perfect day trip for anyone looking to explore a less traversed wintery paradise day-tripping distance from Idaho’s largest city.

How to get there:

MY NOTES: I’ve been told with travel, it’s better to keep your expectations low or neutral so that you can be surprised and delighted by experiences rather than disappointed. Heading to McCall to check out a hot spring that’s inaccessible by car, I did not listen to that advice at all. I had the highest hopes possible. I had “This will be the coolest thing ever in the history of the world” hopes.

After a gorgeous two-hour scenic drive through the mountains (the trip is worth it for the views alone!), we arrived at the little rental shop, got suited up in our gear, and were taken to the trailhead. There, we were shown how to use the snowmobiles, taught how much money we would owe should we damage the snowmobiles (note this, it is important foreshadowing), and sent on our way.

DETAILS: McCall is about 100 miles north of Boise on I-55. (Note: This road goes through the mountains, so drive carefully. And in the winter be aware of weather and road conditions.) With snowpack on the ground, Burgdorf is accessible only by snowmobile (which is super fun!) so you’ll want to use one of the rental shops in McCall. We used Cheap Thrills Rentals. They’ll bring you and your snowmobile right to the trailhead. And you don’t even need your own gear — they provide helmets, gloves, boots, and a full riding suit in the price of the rental.

You can rent the snowmobiles for either 4 hours ($140) or 8 hours ($190). Half a day is totally sufficient if you’re just going to the hot springs to soak. The trip is about an hour and a half round trip which gives you 2 and a half hours to enjoy the springs, have a picnic lunch, etc. If you want to also go further into the forest to the mining town, Warren, for lunch or drinks, you’ll want to do the full day as it’s about three hours round trip of snow mobiling.

Enjoying the springs:

MY NOTES: Cruising through the snow in the wilderness of Payette National Forest is a super joyous experience. Cold air rushed around every exposed part of our bodies as we flew through the woods, my boyfriend purposely finding every mound of snow to ride over. There are scores of little jumps that make your stomach drop just enough for it to be a thrill, but not so much that you think you’re in danger or going to end up paying a lot of money for a damaged snowmobile (dun, dun, DUNNNNN — goes the ominous music).

The ride is an easy trip for a snowmobile beginner, with a clear path — so all experience levels are fine! 45 minutes later, I was frozen solid, which left me primed to slip into the warm embrace of the healing hot spring.

DETAILS: The hot springs are an incredible day trip. You’ll shell out $10 a person to use the springs for the day (they range in temps from 100 to 113 degrees). If you want to be there at night, soaking under a starry sky, no electricity as far as the eye can see, you’ll want to stay the night in one of their rustic cabins (which gives you unlimited access to the springs day or night). Burgdorf has 15 cabins to rent. These are incredibly rustic without running water or electricity — just a wood stove for warmth. You’ll need to bring your own bedding and pack in/pack out your own food (no kitchen so bring a camping stove or plan to eat picnic style), trash, and toiletries.

As I said, rustic. That said, it’s incredibly affordable ($40 per person) and basically cabin camping. Cabins range in size from holding two people to 12, and it’s a pretty cool experience to unplug and live as they used to. Like when people came through the area hundreds of years ago looking for their fortunes, or more recently in the 60s — when Burgdorf was a hippie commune. You can imagine either. Pretend you’re in a free love, music, and nature scenario or that you’re an old prospector with a handlebar mustache who is riddled with dysentery. Both are sexy for role play.

What to bring:

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Bathing in backwash

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MY NOTES: Arriving, I was hit with this general sense that I’d completely stepped back in time. It’s not just rustic. Burgdorf is preserved. Ruins of the old hotel and cabins that people have stayed in for hundreds of years surrounded a pool with lovely steam rising above it. In a little wooden structure with a warm fire, we paid our entrance fee, then we changed (there are heated changing rooms). I’ve been to many hot springs, and usually, there are plenty of people around, chatting, drinking, etc. But as we got into the springs, cold limbs prickling from hot water, we realized we were completely alone.

As we floated, taking deep breaths, tension leaving our bodies, limbs encircling each other, it began to snow. Large, white snowflakes softly fell around our heads, steaming as they hit the surface of the water and I thought, this isn’t just fulfilling my high hopes of this spring… it’s better.

DETAILS:

You’ll need to bring:

  • Warm bedding (if you’re spending the night)
  • Any additional winter gear you’ll need for snowmobiling (hat, scarf, sunglasses, extra socks etc.)
  • Towels
  • Bathing suits
  • Food and drinks of your choice (alcohol is BYOB and allowed, provided it is not in a glass container),
  • A camping stove (if you plan on cooking any food)
  • Flashlights
  • A camping lantern
  • A good book to read (again, that whole no electricity thing)
  • A portable phone charger
  • Your own water bottle (fresh water is provided.

Food and drink:

MY NOTES: If you don’t want to bring in your own food for a picnic, the area has two restaurants to check out — both run by members of the 16 person population of Warren, Idaho (an old mining town). Baum Shelter is in Warren and has various breakfast items, burgers, pastas, and drinks and it’s a fun stop. You get to see the old mining town which once was home to hundreds and enjoy more of the forest. The other option is Secesh Stage Stop which has more of a bar feel and TVs to watch sports. You’ll find burgers and sandwiches here along with craft beers brewed locally in McCall.

DETAILS: Baum Shelter is about an hour and a half past the trailhead on a snowmobile (45 minutes past Burgdorf) and is open Monday-Thursday 11-8 and weekends from 8-9. Secesh Stage Stop is closer to Burgdorf, on the way to Warren, open 10-6 during the week and until 8 on weekends.

Getting home (With a PSA about snowmobile safety):

After two hours of soaking and a light lunch of cheese, meats, and crackers by the fire, we headed out. More people were arriving just as we left, having had the springs entirely to ourselves.

“Don’t go off the trail,” the snowmobile people had said. “It’s very expensive if you damage the snowmobile.”

“We won’t!” we said.

“And remember,” they warned me as we departed for our adventure. “You won’t be able to hear each other through the helmets. So if you need him to stop. Tap his helmet.”

“Got it,” I said.

Our gear back on, we zoomed back through the forest, my boyfriend driving our shared snowmobile and getting more and more confident with his off-trail abilities. Until he began to go down an embankment. It was too steep. So I yelled, never once remembering to tap his helmet, “I DON’T THINK THIS IS A GOOD IDEA.”

It wasn’t a good idea. But he did not hear me. We overturned, flipping over, the top of the snowmobile hitting the hard surface of the thick snow. Crack. The windshield went. Ahhhhhhhh, my voice went as we hit the snow ourselves. My tears immediately began to flow from being startled and the potential cost.

In the end, we owed $350 dollars for the “damage to the snowmobile.” In the end, we laughed. It was the price of adventure and a story, we figured. But learn from our mistakes, don’t off-road with your snowmobile. It’s expensive. And, you know, dangerous. Luckily we ended up with only some sore muscles… nothing another dip in the hot springs couldn’t fix.

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