Hot Times in Frozen Idaho
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because these are the sexiest hot springs accessible by snowmobile.
By Terry Ward
The wintertime view from a room at the Shore Lodge in McCall, Idaho, is among the most spectacular in the West, looking out across the frozen tundra of Payette Lake toward the Salmon River Mountains. People come here for all kinds of snow-filled fun — like cat skiing in the backcountry of Brundage Mountain. But there’s a much hotter reason to linger for a long time in this remote outpost roughly two hours north of Boise: glorious outdoor soaking.
“After Iceland, Idaho has the second most natural hot springs per square mile,” my guide Devin Hawkins tells me as we zip up our thermal suits at snowmobile operator Cheap Thrills. We’re bound for Burgdorf Hot Springs along a groomed, snow-covered road that will take us some 20 miles alongside a frozen creek bed. While I am enjoying the views, I’m also prepping for destination disappointment: Most of my previous hot spring experiences have been a letdown of either too muddied or lukewarm waters. And they’re often stinky.
Rising from a scenic mountainside backed by lodgepole pines, Burgdorf Hot Springs is a collection of rustic wood cabins fronting a large pool of crystal clear water. At the far end sits two “lobster pots,” originally built by miners in the late 1800s who used the springs to rinse off grime and soothe sore muscles. Some timbers still bear the chisel marks of their original axing. It’s easy to imagine you’ve stepped back to frontier times.
I last roughly two minutes and emerge as pink as a crustacean, my entire body tingling.
Here the water rushes out of the springheads at 130 gallons per minute — at 108 and 111 degrees — and flows straight into the lobster pots. No bromine or chlorine is added, confirms staffer Karen Decker, since the entire system flushes itself out twice every 24 hours, and natural pebbles line the bottom of the pools. I last roughly two minutes and emerge as pink as a crustacean, my entire body tingling.
At the far end of the larger pool, the surface air cools the water temps to the upper 90s. The sweet spot is right between the two, where the lobster pots pipe into the larger pool, and I sidle up there like a manatee at a power plant. There’s little to no sulfur odor. I float on a pool noodle while soaking in the scenery and letting the spring’s natural lithium (among other therapeutic minerals) work their soothing effects. Devin brings me a plastic cup of red wine and a snowflake melts on my nose. I decide I’m never leaving.
The hot springs are open most of the year and can get crowded during the summer months. The best time to go is winter and early spring, when Burgdorf is cut off entirely from car traffic. The extra effort it takes to get here means you’ll often be soaking all by yourself, particularly if you visit midweek. A dip in the three pools costs $8 per day (free if you’re staying the night in the cabins, which cost $40 per person per night, plus firewood), and it’s a few bucks more to rent a bathing suit if you’ve forgotten your own — and trust me, this is one occasion where renting a bathing suit is worth it.
Sure, there’s no indoor plumbing or heated floors in the outhouse, but there’s also no poured concrete in sight. What is in sight: Towering pines bending under the snow and all that soothing steam. Later, when I post a photo on Instagram of the pools surrounded by snow, a hot spring–loving friend says he nearly humped his phone at the view. Completely appropriate, I confirm.