Stellar Selway-Soaks at Stanley Hot Springs


Trail 211: Taking us from the Clearwater NF into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness

Stanley Hot Springs (not to be confused with the town of Stanley, which is in a different location in Idaho) is a chain of rock and log dammed pools in a lush, ancient forest at the end of a grueling 6 mile hike on a rough trail into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

Seasonal Information
Snow covered trails and a river ford mean the best time of year to visit Stanley is after spring runoff (March or April) and before winter snowfall (October or November).

Camping Information
Wilderness Gateway Campground, which has around 90 sites, is located at the trailhead and features full-facilities. There are a multitude of primitive sites located at and around the hot springs. Please use existing sites and do not create new sites as there are plenty. This area has been heavily damaged by humans and horses. Please treat this fragile ecosystem with care and leave as light of footprint as possible.

My trip to Stanley Hot Springs was full of surprises. This was my first trip into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, which was the 1st Wilderness Area designated in Idaho and one of the first of the entire United States. It lies directly north of the massive Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, and is separated from the Frank by only one road, the Magruder Road.

We broke camp at Wilderness Gateway Campground at 4am in an effort to beat the heat. We were unfortunate to arrive during a week-long heat wave of mid-90s to 100+ temperatures. The last part of the hike down to Rock Creek was rough. There was little water, the trail was thrashed and loaded with horse poop due to extreme outfitter activity - in many places it was like hiking up jagged stairs. And, horse traffic on the trail proved cumbersome as the heat ratcheted up.

Horses have the right-of-way here, so every time they are encountered backpackers and hikers have to get off the trail, approx. 5-6 feet below the horses and crush beautiful foliage as a result while the horses pass and kick rocks and dirt all over the party below. This makes for slow going, and if you have heavy backpacks on can really suck. We had to do it 4 times. Some of the outfitters were actually upset at having to deal with us backpackers, I think it was because our dogs spooked their horses and one of them spilled their beer. All in this particular party were drinking beer and smoking cigars while on the trail.

It was more than refreshing to finally drop down to ford Rock Creek slightly before the hot springs. The cool creek water was a nice reprieve against the hot, humid weather and biting horse flies. Upon arrival to the hot springs I spoke with a friendly, traveling couple from Maine on their way to Washington - hitting hot springs all along the way.

Once we decided on a primitive camp from the many available we setup and prepared for our first soak in Stanley. It was excellent to say the least. My thermo-watch consistently clocked in at 103 in the optimal pool. The deep and wide soaker washed the painful hike away.

Huckleberry Creek

In addition to the traveling couple from Maine, there was another traveling couple that spent the night, a naturalist lady who apparently was living for an extended period at the site directly above the pool, a few day hikers, another couple that spent a single night and a family that arrived while we were leaving. The naturalist lady had tons of jars of berries, roots and other edibles stored at her campsite along with other items that suggested that she was living at this site for an extended period of time.

Lush, green, old-growth forest

At dusk, on the 2nd day of our 3 day stay we were greeted by a legendary hot springs soaker... the hot springs moose (see video clips). This was the pinnacle of the trip to Stanley, and watching the moose enjoy the hot springs reminded me just how truly unique this place is.
Rating A+


Hot Soaks in the Sawtooths

Commercial Style Soaking @ Baumgartner

The early bird gets the soak

Baumgartner was a great soak early in the morning, but as the campground began to wake up the pool began to fill-up... with people. We felt lucky to have enjoyed a soak for about an hour with only a handful of other people. If you were in a helicopter it would have looked like srteams of people trickling out of their campsites and converging into a thicker stream that converged directly on the hot springs. The key here anytime of year is to soak early. The pool is drained daily, bright and early.
Rating A

Baumgartner Hot Springs Complete Listing

Chased Off by ORVers @ Willow Creek Hot Springs

The horse transfer camp and all nearby primitive camps were full-up! Tons of horses and tons of 4 wheelers... and I mean tons! There was vegetative damage from the 4 wheelers present everywhere. I've never seen so many people in this area before, let alone 4 wheelers. This area of the Sawtooths is now an off road vehicle park. Forget getting any peace and quiet and prepare for non-stop clouds of dirt being kicked up. There was even an outfitter present - I at first thought someone bought the land and was using it as a personal junkyard. The outfitter thrashed the entire expanse of their primitive site in addition to expanding it to suit their needs. The area directly adjacent to the outfitter camp featured clear evidence of 4 wheeler damage. In fact, just from driving the length of FSR 008 there were multiple areas that were clearly damaged as a direct result of 4 wheelers driving off track. This went from one of my most favorite areas of the Sawtooth NF to my least. I've never seen an area transform so quickly. I was so disgusted that I documented the damage then left.

Willow Creek Hot Springs Complete Listing

The Hustle & Bustle of Bridge Hot Springs

I was surprised to see anyone soaking this soon after spring runoff, but the horde of campers and soakers had diverted one of the main hot spring outflows to a channel large enough to pack in a dozen soakers on the bank opposite of the campground. I soaked only long enough to qualify, way too many people for my taste.
Rating B-

6 New Hot Springs Video Clips Added!

6 Video Clips Now Online:

06.04.06: Trail Creek Hot Springs in Idaho Video Clips
06.03.06: Buckhorn Hot Springs in Idaho Video Clips
06.03.06: Mile-16 Hot Spring in Idaho Video Clips

Hope you are all having a great summer, best wishes.
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