This Short Hike to Trail Creek Hot Springs in Idaho Is Worth It

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A wooden walkway to the hot springs pools at Trail Creek.
Mitchell Friedman | CC BY 2.0 | Image via Flickr

One of the best ways to soothe your mind and body after a hike is a hot, relaxing soak. Trail Creek Hot Springs in Idaho easily fits the bill because it’s not hard to reach. Let’s find out why this inviting, mostly natural feature stands out among hundreds of others in the state. 

Are you ready to discover this awesome getaway? Let’s hit the trail!

Where Is Trail Creek Hot Springs? 

Because of its unique geological characteristics, Idaho claims a wealth of geothermal pools. This one’s outside the town of Cascade in central Idaho, which is near the southeastern shore of Cascade Lake.

The town of Cascade is about 80 miles north of Boise along State Highway 55. The somewhat larger city of McCall is about 30 miles to Cascade’s north. Trail Creek Hot Springs is more or less between these two communities in the northwestern part of Boise National Forest.

How Do You Get to Trail Creek Hot Springs? 

Leaving Cascade on Highway 55, go almost a mile before turning east onto Warm Springs Road (also called NF-22).  Follow the road for about 20 miles until you see a large gravel parking lot on its south side.

Park here and follow the short trail to the springs. As hikes go, this is almost a dash — the entire round trip is just two-tenths of a mile.

You should resist the rush down to the springs, though. The trail itself, which runs alongside a creek, can be slippery in places, so tread cautiously.  

When Is the Best Time to Visit Trail Creek Hot Springs?

Unlike waterfalls, which are often dependent on rainfall, spring-fed pools like Trail Creek Hot Springs have a steady, constant water supply. That means you can visit them year-round.

However, we’d recommend making this short, memorable excursion during the spring or summer. This is when the weather is nicest and most predictable in this part of Idaho. To try and avoid the crowds, we’d shoot for spring or early summer, or wait until it’s almost fall.

If you’re visiting Idaho in the colder months instead, a quick soak in the hot springs would certainly be tempting. It may seem like a quick way to warm yourself against the winter chill. Keep in mind that it will be freezing cold when you emerge. Just the thought of it gives us the shivers!

There’s another issue of visiting in winter. The trail frequently ices over, so it can make for a potentially dangerous, slip-sliding adventure.

Traveler’s Tip: Visit hot springs at Weir Creek in Idaho and watch your stresses melt away.

How Big Are the Trail Creek Hot Springs?

Once you make your way down the rocky trail, you’ll find two separate pools. Each has walls made from boulders that have been carefully arranged and reinforced with concrete.

They aren’t gigantic — each pool is maybe 8 feet to 10 feet by 12 feet to 15 feet. They are large enough to accommodate a dozen people at most, and that would be packed in pretty tightly.

When you sit down or kneel, the water comes to about chest level. Needless to say, these aren’t the kinds of pools you can dive into or where you swim laps. However, for a leisure activity, it’s incredibly exhilarating.

Visitors often describe the lower of the two pools as warm, but not hot. The upper pool can be too hot (around 125 degrees), but you can turn a valve to add fresh, cold water. A pipe brings it directly from the nearby creek! You gotta love this ingenious method of temperature control.

A woman relaxes in a purple swimsuit in a hot springs pool in the woods.

Do Hot Springs Ruin Swimsuits? 

By the way, Trail Creek Hot Springs is clothing optional, so you may spot a discarded swimsuit or two along the edge. Or maybe someone thought that the heavy mineral content of the water would damage the fabric.

This seems to be something of a widespread myth that hot springs can ruin swimwear. In fact, there’s no evidence that they do. On the other hand, we do recommend rinsing your swimsuit after a plunge in a chlorinated pool or salt water.

Should You Shower After Getting in Hot Springs? 

You don’t have to rinse yourself, either. That’s a good thing because there aren’t any showers or bathroom facilities near the springs.

Other than just making them feel good, many people believe that soaking in mineral-rich waters has undeniable health benefits. At the very least, exposure to water containing minerals such as calcium, sulfate, and magnesium can help hydrate the skin.

There may be other therapeutic benefits, too, including pain relief and improved circulation and digestion.

Which Tiny Idaho Town Is Known for Its Many Hot Springs?

Trail Creek Hot Springs isn’t the only one in Idaho, not by a long shot. In fact, there are a few hundred different hot springs scattered around the state.

They have so many that different regions organize online listings. Many of them are located in the small town of Lowman, which is about 70 miles southeast of Cascade.

That’s the home of Kirkham Hot Springs, one of the most popular hot springs in Idaho. There are actually multiple pools there, including one that trickles over the side of a cliff. It’s a favorite because it’s like taking a hot shower outside. It’s such an incredible experience!

A creek running over stones in a forest on a summer day.

Some other popular Idaho hotspots include Rocky Canyon Hot Springs, near the city of Crouch. There’s another called Frenchman’s Bend.

Rocky Canyon isn’t nearly as easily accessible as Trail Creek Hot Springs. You have to cross a river to get to it, but you’re rewarded with three different tiers of pools.

Frenchman’s Bend, also known as Warfield, is 11 miles outside of Ketchum. You have to drive 7 miles down a dirt road to get to it, and the small parking lot can handle only a handful of cars.

Is Trail Creek Hot Springs Worth the Visit? 

Trail Creek Hot Springs is a treasure. It’s an easy outing, for the most part. The drive to it is relaxing and beautiful, and it makes for a fun experience that’s uniquely Idahoan. 

What’s not to love about being surrounded by mountains and pines and hearing the rushing waters of a clear-water creek? The only downside we can think of is if you make the long drive and the short walk only to find that it’s overcrowded.

To avoid that, we’d suggest doing as much research as possible in advance. It’s probably a good idea to talk to some locals to pinpoint the exact best time to make the trip.

If you’re fortunate enough to have the springs mostly to yourself, you’ll get a relaxing and rejuvenating feeling that’s priceless. Otherwise, you may have to patiently await your turn and feel rushed if others are in line behind you. 

Would you like to visit Trail Creek Hot Springs?

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