Cold Snow, Hot Soak

Ski-In Hot Springs of the Pacific Northwest
By Eileen K. Gunn
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The Pacific Northwest is peppered with hot springs, and most of the time—spring, summer, and fall—the hot springs are peppered with people. In winter, though, the crowds slack off a bit, and the farther you get from a year-round road, the more likely you are to find the components of a truly great hot-spring experience: soaking in a clear, quiet pool or a cedar tub, deep in the woods, watching the snow come down.

This is a situation made for cross-country skiing. Slap-kick your way up an unplowed forest road and inhale the scent of western hemlock, red cedar, and the ubiquitous Doug fir. Keep an eye out for the path to the hot spring: deep snow may cover signs and familiar landmarks. When you find the spring, adjust the water temperature by adding snow, if necessary, and settle in for a well-deserved soak.

Here's a selection of ski-in hot springs in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia. Mind you, these are not secret hot springs, so you may have to share them with a few other hardy types, including snowmobilers, especially on weekends. I've included a couple of trips that may be best viewed as snow-camping opportunities, depending on how much snow there is. The forest roads are not usually plowed, so when there's a lot of snow cover, you have to park farther out and ski a longer distance than when there's less snow. The ski to Boiling Springs, in Idaho, for example, is probably about 17 miles each way: best as an overnighter for most people.


What to take with you: Most of these springs are miles and miles into the forest. Be aware that the weather can change quickly, and take sensible back-country skiing precautions: carry extra clothing, layer what you're wearing, carry extra food and water, a first-aid kit, etc.

Don't forget to bring extra clothes and towels for after your dip, when you're jumping around, soaking wet in the chilly forest air. If you're sensitive to the public gaze, bring a bathing suit. Otherwise, don't worry about it, unless there's a year-round campground nearby.

Here are a few tips from GORP's hiking expert Karen Berger, who also knows a thing or two about skiing into hotsprings: "Bring dry socks, definitely! Also, I'd bring a couple of towels, including one of those super absorbent ones they sell in backpacking stores—the point isn't to wrap yourself in a cozy towel, but to get dry as fast as possible. I'd take flipflops (to put your feet in real quick so you don't have to stand on snow when you're getting dressed), some extra warm clothes (because it's twice as cold when you get out), a plastic bag to put your wet stuff in, and a thermos of something hot to drink. Then get moving—fast—to work up some heat."

Don't forget to check the weather: The snowline goes up and down in the Northwest, and many of these springs are in the chancy 2500- to 3500-foot altitude range. So before you go, check to see if there's enough snow. Forest roads may or may not be plowed, meaning that your ski-in may be longer or shorter than you anticipated. If there's not enough snow to block the road, you may end up sking in ATV tracks. The road may also be used by snowmobiles.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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