On the third day of our Thanksgiving Idaho getaway, since we enjoyed the first day's hot spring so much, we ventured out to find another.
Idaho has numerous hot springs, but this particular location, Council Mountain Hot Spring, stood out to us because in late summer into fall, the entire creek is hot so there are multiple pools. In fact, Warm Spring Creek is too cold in the spring due to snow melt, but after the cold water dries up by late summer into fall, the entire flow consists of hot springs water. Getting to the trailhead would take around 45 minutes.
So, we left McCall, ID, headed west then south, down towards Council, ID, and turned onto Middle Fork Road, a rural, mostly gravel forest road that meandered along the Weiser River, until we reached the Warm Spring Creek trailhead nine miles later, where we parked and then started up the dirt trail to the hot spring.
The parking area had one other vehicle, so we anticipated seeing someone else here, but one of the advantages to this hot spring is that it does require hiking in just under 2 miles to reach it. It's not hard to access, but because it does involve a bit more effort than parking at a roadside spring, for example, it should result in fewer people.
The skies were sunny, blue, and clear, but it was a mere 28º F outside, so it was chilly, but again, I'd dressed in layers with my swimming suit underneath.
Very soon into the hike, the trail turned to mud. To begin with, it was a narrow trail cut into the side of the foothills, and 90% of the trail consisted of slippery, wet, greasy mud. So, our shoes got filthy and it made the less-than-2-mile-hike much more arduous than it normally would have been.
On this hike, we were also winding up and through a burn area, which I think compromised the integrity of the soil, further contributing to the muddy surface situation.
As we crested the final hill before it dived down to the creek, we spotted one guy in a hot spring pool. Upon closer inspection, we discovered he had a pool floaty and a reflector foil set up along the perimeter of the pool. Maybe this is normal for winter hot-springing. We're novices at this... what do we know?
We greeted him and he said he had been there all morning and was actually just getting ready to leave, and then he graciously offered us the pool he'd been occupying, adding that it was the best one this late in the season. He also told us that he had come here the day prior, but the parking area had multiple cars in it, so he turned around and went home and returned again today to an empty lot.
I thought, what luck! After he leaves, we'll have the place to ourselves! As he packed up his things and got dressed, we tried to find a dry, non-muddy area to de-clothe from our hiking apparel and get down to our swimming suits.
It was freezing out. I was slow to disrobe and already starting to shiver. I was thankful, however, that this time, we didn't have to cross an ice-cold river to get to the hot spring. At last, we removed our muddy hiking shoes and socks and put on our Keen sandals, then rock-hopped across the creek to the now-vacated pool. It was glorious.
We enjoyed the soak for quite a while, taking in the sights around us, enjoying the solitude.
Eventually, I worked up the courage to get out and walk up the creek a little bit to check out the hot springs close up and take a few photos. And at one point, one of my feet slid and it dunked right into a direct hot spring, and I will tell you I burned my toes a little bit. So, those hot springs... yeah, they are not exaggerating.
I quickly meandered back to the pool and soaked a bit longer to warm up again before it was time to get out and brave the cold again. Getting in is amazing. Getting out is not fun. At least not during the winter.
Just as we were getting dried off and re-dressed for the hike out, another couple showed up. Again, what luck! The timing of everything that day couldn't have been better.
The only downside was the muddy trail ahead of us, which was even sloppier and more slippery on the return trip to the trailhead. In fact, I even slipped in one spot and luckily caught myself by grabbing some bushes along the trail, saving from getting a fully muddy backside, but that was a close one!
About 3/4 of the way back to the trailhead, we stirred up some kind of grouse that was hiding in the bushes next to the trail.
We were hoping to spot more wildlife, as reportedly, deer, elk, and bear have been spotted along this trail, but the grouse happened to be our lone sighting.
I was very relieved to finish out that muddy trail. When we returned to the parking area, we walked over to the adjacent running creek so we could try to rinse the caked-on mud from our shoes, but this effort was only marginally successful.
This adventure would be our final one for this brief Thanksgiving Idaho getaway, because early tomorrow morning, we'd be hitting the highway for the over 9-hour drive back to Tahoe. On our route, however, we stopped in Winnemucca, NV, for some yummy breakfast for a late lunch/early dinner at a busy little local diner, The Griddle.
All in all, this was a wonderful and memorable trip to Idaho!
Council Mountain Hot Spring