Health July 03, 2018
A Good Soak
A beginner's guide to the benefits of hot springs

Idaho has around 130 hot springs suitable for a good soak, and many of them are concentrated right here in central Idaho. While a few springs have been privatized and turned into luxurious spa experiences, most are maintained and enjoyed by the communities nearest them. These springs are often prized and held dear to their local neighborhoods as places of relaxation, healing, a way to connect back with nature or fun and socialization. Each bath or well has a different “feel” and is special in its own way.

Hot springs, warm springs, or geothermal springs are water sources that run through hot rocks or magma deep below the earth’s surface. These naturally heated waters can hold an enormous mineral content, including calcium, radium, sodium bicarbonate, sulfur and more. There is claimed medical value to soaking in these mineral waters, like boosted blood circulation, relaxed muscle tension, improved mood and sleep, and even helping to soften rough, dry skin.

Hot spring soaking is additionally useful in reducing stress. Recently The New York Times published an article about a group of Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, who began soaking in a hotel’s hot tub in 1963. To keep its guests and the monkeys apart, the resort eventually built a pool just for the monkeys. Professionals from Kyoto University studied the marinating primates and discovered, as expected, that their levels of glucocorticoids (which increase with stress) were lowered while they soaked.

So, monkey see, monkey do.

Plus, a good soak can reconnect us with the environment by literally absorbing the benefits of unadulterated natural elements, not to mention the beautiful scenery and wildlife that usually accompanies such a setting.

So, here is a brief list to introduce the bounteous hot springs peppering central Idaho. There are obviously several not mentioned here; however, one of the best parts of going to a new spring is the journey and being part of a community that protects these special places.

Frenchman’s Bend Hot Springs

Frenchman’s Bend, or Warfield Hot Springs, is a shallow, wide, rock-walled pool located just off the roadside, 11 miles west of Ketchum out Warm Springs Road. The water temperature varies but is usually comfortable enough to enjoy even in a light snowfall. Frenchman’s becomes accessible after the spring runoff, ending in mid to late June. There is designated parking, which can fit five to six cars. Look for the sign listing the rules. The guidelines may seem strict, but they help to mitigate overuse and abuse problems so that we can all enjoy this popular spring.

Lady in Sunbeam Hot Springs

Sunbeam Hot Springs. Photo by Marjorie McBride / Idaho Stock Images

Sunbeam Hot Springs

Twelve miles downriver of Stanley on Highway 75 rises the steam of Sunbeam Hot Springs. A large pullout is located next to the historic bathhouse built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The building is now used as a changing room and has restrooms. The soaking spots are downhill on the banks of the beautiful Salmon River. Shallow, with gravel and sandy bottoms, there are many user-built pools to choose from. Finding the perfect mix of hot mineral water and cool river snowmelt can be something of an art. The best spots are first come, first serve. The high spring runoff makes Sunbeam unusable until late June or early July. Enjoy the steamy ponds best after a quick splashy raft trip down the Salmon day-stretch.

Group of rafters in Barth Hot Springs

Barth Hot Springs. Photo by Mark Lisk / Idaho Stock Images

Barth Hot Springs

Barth Hot Springs are not exactly on the beaten path, but they do appear alongside the clear waters of the River of No Return. If there weren’t already enough reasons to travel down the breathtaking multiday journey on the Main Salmon, here’s one more. After the drenching whitewater of Black Creek Rapid, the Barth “Hot Tub” Hot Springs are a welcome treat. A narrow, steep, slick trail leads to a cement tub attached to the hillside with pipes directing the subterranean waters. The springs are named for a homesteader named Jim Barth who built his place above the springs in the 1920s. Since the tub is far above the high-water line, it is useable year round.

 

HOT SPRINGS ETIQUETTE

No matter where you decide to soak your bones, know that there are rules that if we all adhere to can make each and every experience a good one. Soaking is not to be confused with bathing. The use of soap, shampoo and even biodegradable soap is not allowed. It pollutes the water and will not be appreciated by fellow soakers. Practice Leave No Trace and pack out what you pack in. Try to leave the springs better than you found them and that could mean cleaning up other people’s trash.

Feel the room; if you’re part of a large group of friends looking to have a good time, or you have several kiddos in tow and there is only one or a couple people using the spring, ask them if you can join. Just because you have more people doesn’t mean you have the right of way. Other good rules of thumb include no glass containers, no sex, and depending on how popular and public the spring is, probably no nudity (but the rules can be bent here). Respect is the name of the game. Happy soaking.

 

This article appears in the Summer 2018 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.