Soaking in the Clearwater National Forest at Jerry Johnson Hot Springs (Trip Report)

JJ Signage

The Clearwater National Forest and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is a longtime Idaho favorite for natural, primitive hot springs. Located in north-central Idaho and primarily accessible off State Highway 12, this is the state's lushest region in regard to hot springs hiking and backpacking trips.

I favor this region partially because of the associated diversity of travelers. Sure, there are locals, mostly from across the border in Montana... Missoula is close by with a hearty population of ready and able hot springers. What I've found to be unique is meeting people from not only around the country, but from other countries. All have been, in my experience, friendly, outdoor enthusiasts that possess a pure love the for the wilderness. Most seem to be escaping city life, or just life in general... taking refuge in one of nature's finest. I've been offered to share a meal, campfire and/or beer in this area more times than I can remember.

Jerry Johnson #3

This area was the last place I backpacked with a lifelong friend and backpacking partner before he was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. I can always feel his presence around here. It was an amazing last trip... complete with a visit from Stanley's Hot Springs Moose. I've got video, it'll go up... soon I promise. :) I will forever miss our annual backpacking hot springs expeditions.

Jerry Johnson Hot Springs was a sight for sore eyes if there ever was one. Even the dirt feels different beneath your feet here. The ground is soft, and crunches slowly under the weight of each footfall. The moist air helps keep the trail dust down and bare legs relatively clean. The hike through the Clearwater National Forest is too short. Early in the morning it is has a medieval like appeal at sunrise, when fragments of light pierce the wooded veil like flashlight beams on a starless night.

Cloud Soakers

Idaho's southern forests in comparison (save for the southeast) are dry. Aside from the mighty Ponderosa Pines, the trees don't always blot out the sky. Easy to bushwhack, forget about it up north. More snakes, less berries. About the same amount of wolves and black bears, but less grizzlies. There's none in the south, and a handful supposedly up north. Nothing to worry about though, the majority of wilderness animals in Idaho have not been exposed to trash. Another good reason to keep a clean camp and pack out everything.

There are 3 sources at Jerry Johnson. The first I had never soaked in until this particular trip; the waterfall-fed pools. Only one pool was prime for soaking, and was well worth it I might add. The 2nd source's primary pool was too cool, clocking in at 98, and the 3rd source's only pool was a perfect 103. It was qualified, and enjoyed immensely.

Jerry Johnson Hot Springs

East of Jerry Johnson Hot Springs lies a Forest Service operated outfitter camp, typically stocked with a few horses. In the trailhead parking lot was a Forest Service pickup, but it was unclear if it was from the outfitter or a decoy left behind as a reminder of nighttime closure. The previous evening this place was slammed at dusk with 8-10 vehicles and FS personnel. Regardless, a quiet soak was enjoyed early the next morning.

I even made up a Selway-Bitterroot rap, which I unfortunately was singing out loud before encountering a grinning, chuckle-suppressing young lady with a camera just a few feet ahead during the hike out. I remember her in particular because of the vehicle she drove. It was jam-packed with provisions, caked in dirt and a long way from home.... scratched into the mud on the back window read "Free Bird". No wonder her smile was so big.

Rating: A

Make sure you don't jump into a pool that's too hot! Not fun, and easy to do during the winter season. A waterproof thermometer can come in handy.

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