An estimated 17 million years ago, according to scientists, a meteorite traveling upwards of 50,000 miles per hour slammed into southeast Oregon, drastically affecting its climate and appearance. The resulting volcanic activity gave us Craters of the Moon and Yellowstone National Park, among other wonders.
Beyond the earth’s crust, water was forced upwards to the surface, forming natural pools of residual heat and energy near fault lines.
Out of all that chaos, millions of years later, came a geothermal mecca: Idaho. The state contains a network of approximately 130 hot springs suitable for soaking, more than any other state.
Pro-soaking arguments abound: stress reduction, muscle tension relief, the promotion of calm, well-being, circulation and blood flow, natural pain relief and sleep encouragement, even the burning of 140 calories per hour while immersed.
While many Idaho hot springs are worth a visit, a handful should not be missed. Halfway between Emmett and Horseshoe Bend on Highway 52 in Sweet, Idaho, sits Roystone Hot Springs, discovered by wintering Native
In 1914, Dr. Alfred Skippen, ailing from tuberculosis, purchased the springs as a “recreation and health” resort. The waters improved him, until a run-in with poison ivy sent him to a Portland hospital, where he sold the hot springs to fellow patient, Roy Stone, in 1919.
Also in poor health, Stone married Eva, the nurse he’d fallen in love with. Desperate to regain his health, they’d planned a move to Sweet, but Roy passed before the trip. His wife and son moved afterward, built a 7,000-square-foot home that was often filled with guests and dancing, and named the “Sweet Sanitarium” after Roy.
Eva advertised “Roystone” as having “mineral waters that cured everything from rheumatism to stomach trouble.”
After Eva’s passing, Roystone changed hands several times over the next 50 years, falling into disrepair, until Louis and Ella Mae Johns took ownership.
Roystone is now an impeccably clean, easily-accessible, well-kept commercial facility with a large covered pool, hot tub, Spring House Event Center, tent and RV camping, volleyball, Frisbee golf, picnic, and bonfire areas and shelters. It’s an ideal place for families or large groups, with private swim time a likelihood.
Adding to visual delights of the rugged, hilly backdrop of Sweet and quiet highway is the astounding metalwork of artist Ward Johns, hung throughout the resort.
A 45-minute drive north past mile marker 37 on Highway 21 towards Idaho City will get you to The Springs, formerly Warm Springs Resort. Historically a post office, police station, even an overnight stage stop and saloon, the resort has experienced great transformation since the 1800s. With a $2.7 million makeover several years ago, The Springs reopened in 2013 to crowds of anxious soakers.
Built on a theme of luxury, the 40-foot-by-80-foot pool, 16-foot-diameter hot tub, steam room, massage and dining yurts feature geothermal-heated walkways and changing rooms, fluffy towels, fireplace hearth and poolside bonfires, with thoughtful lighting that doesn’t inhibit stargazing.
Café items are served poolside, and during summer months, surrounded by mountains, evergreens, and crisp air, there is live music.
Complimentary amenities like sundries, herbal tea, mineral water, and coffee are offered, and The Springs limits the number of visitors at any given time, preventing overcrowding.
Trinity at Paradise
Formerly known as Paradise Hot Springs or Price’s Plunge, site of the deepest known source of fresh water on earth, Trinity at Paradise can be found on the Pine/Featherville Road past Johnson Bridge. Tucked along the Middle Fork of the Boise River, the resort was purchased by the Rock family, who’d been interested for years in the acclaimed resource of the only certified “Naturliches Heilwasser” (natural health water) in North America, according to Europe’s “Institut Fresenius,” international authority on free-flowing spring sources of beneficial silica, fluoride, and other mineral-containing, exceptionally pure water.
Carbon dating places the water in historical significance as the “oldest known water from the deepest known source,” with the water coming to the surface now not having seen the light of day for over 16,000 years. It has what Trinity calls “ancient purity.”
With her holistic health and wellness background, daughter Dana Stream works toward Trinity’s recognition as a health club and wellness eco-resort, with a focus on Vinyasa yoga, mindfulness, well-being, and meditation.
Other Springs to Try
Kirkham Hot Springs: 5 miles east of Lowman off Highway 21, near mile marker 77.
Kirkham Hot Springs is an undeveloped, awe-inspiring location in natural sand and rock pools, positioned off Highway 21, with piping hot, steamy waterfalls flowing into the South Fork of the Payette River below. An interpretive geothermal activity trail takes adventurers along multiple pools filled with mineral water and includes signs providing historical information. Well-gripping shoes are recommended when getting to these pools. The terrain is often filled with slippery rocks and can be even more difficult to navigate during winter months. Hiking sticks or trekking poles may be helpful. This popular camping spot can fill up during both summer and winter months.
- There is a $5 parking fee at the campground. Vault toilets are available in peak camping season.
- Hot springs closure is in effect from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
- “Textile Soaks” means swimsuits are required.
Bonneville Hot Springs: 19 miles southeast of Lowman in the Boise National Forest
The campground opens mid/late April, sometimes May. Park and hike-in sites are available seasonally, as well as other National Forest campsites nearby. Park at either the campground, or near Warm Springs Trailhead, just before Bonneville Hot Springs turnoff. The trailhead is at the north end of the campground.
- Possible wildlife sightings: wild turkey, deer, elk.
- The springs are nicknamed “Bonnie” by the regulars.
- Snowshoes or skis recommended for the trail in winter.
- Time to avoid: “spring runoff.”
- Good time to visit: January with skis, hiking boots, or snowshoes.
Natural Hot Springs Etiquette
- Keep cool water or drinks nearby. Drink before, during, and after your soak to rehydrate.
- When in doubt, wear a swimsuit.
- Avoid bringing glass.
- Leave no garbage behind.
- Jumping and splashing is a party faux pa.
- Mind the space bubble of others.
- Keep yelling or loud talking at a minimum; people are chilling.