We drove north out of Boise and started our adventures up the Middle Fork Payette River. Fire Crew Hot Springs was a beautiful spot by a primitive Forest Service campground. I'm sure in the Summer this is a happening place, but on a weekday in late September, it was all ours to enjoy. Some hot pools were created in the rocks at the river's edge, mixing cold river water with the scalding spring water to just the right temperature. We camped at a spot right next to the river bank and pools, which was a rare treat since there often is no camping permitted near hot springs. We soaked at night by starlight and soaked again at sunrise in the early morning autumn chill. The were some great boulders right by the pools that the kids had a great time climbing on. We picked wild elderberries and made a fruit syrup for our pancakes.
Then we headed up the road to Boiling Springs. There was a little forest service cabin there that we had tried to rent at too short of notice, and the ranger station would rather it sit empty than be flexible with the rules. (The bureaucracy!) It was a good thing though. We poked around the empty cabin out of curiosity, and it smelled like a skunk. We set up camp in the nearby campground and no sooner did we settle in than it began to rain. Our very large tarp came in handy, and we set up under it for the next two days. We intended to hike up the river to Moon Dipper and Pine Burl Hot Springs (which are spectacular) and do some fishing, but the cold rain did not let up and we got quite chilly and soggy.
The rain continued as we headed to Sacajawea hot springs outside of Lowman, so we gave in to creature comforts and rented a rustic non-electric cabin at the Grandjean Lodge. It was good to get out our gear and get ourselves dried out. The soak in Sacajawea Hot Springs was wonderful with all of the series of little pools in the rocks and boulders along the South Fork Payette River.
In the morning we visited Bonneville Hot Springs and splashed in the large sandy pools there. The kids found a weathered bath house/shack with an actual bath tub in it, and they got a kick out of that.
Then we headed southeast onto windy gravel forest service roads for Atlanta. On the way we stopped at Phfifer Warm Spring (Weatherby Mill) which was a spout of hot water flowing out of a pipe in an old camper shell, a shower in the woods!
We drove along the rough road to Atlanta, a tiny mountain town 50 miles from even a paved forest service road. Outside of town, at the base of a cliff below some range land, is Chattanooga Hot Springs. The pool is chest deep when sitting, the bottom is sparkling clear quartz and granite sand, the hot waterfall flows down the cliff at the back, and the view is the Middle Fork Boise River lined with glorious yellow quaking aspens and the Sawtooth Mountains in the background. The autumn day was sunny and warm, with just a hint of crispness in the air, and I decided it was one of my favorite spots on earth, and certainly the top of my choice hot springs list.
We camped by an old mill by the river and headed out in the morning for the Hotsprings around Featherville. We explored the Smokey Mountains, and found Warswick Hotsprings in the grassy hillsides. This was one of the most impressively large and spread out hot springs I had seen, with pools going way up the hillside, nearly all of them too hot by late September with the lack of runoff, and hot water flowing through a giant culvert under the road with a wooden swing suspended from it, and more pools going down into Smokey Creek. We dipped our toes in, and the kids liked the swing, but it was much too hot for a soak.
We decided to push on, and head for the much anticipated Wild Rose Hot Springs at the edge of the Craters of the Moon National Monument in the Black Rock Desert. We made it at dusk to this most amazing natural hot pool in the black lava rock set back a ways from the highway with wild sunflowers growing all around. The pool was 12 feet across and 4 feet deep, and someone had built a little wooden floating platform that we took turns floating around on. I had not been to a natural hot spring you could actually swim in before. It was lovely.
We drove west in the dark a ways to get some miles in for our long drive towards home the following day. We stopped at a roadside un-improved recreation campground (Idaho has many of these and they are free!) and noticed it was very occupied. We were awoken at 5 in the morning by loud commotion and four-wheelers driving away. It was opening morning of hunting season! So much for sleeping in. We drove west towards home with the early morning sunrise at our backs, feeling very satisfied with our big hot springs vacation. It didn't take a lot of money, just our camping gear, a hot springs guide, a gazetteer, and a spirit of adventure.