On Steens Mountain Area Hot Springs


"Despite its clarity and simplicity, however, the desert wears at the same time, paradoxically, a veil of mystery. Motionless and silent it evokes in us an elusive hint of something unknown, unknowable, about to be revealed. Since the desert does not act it seems to be waiting-but waiting for what?" - Edward Abbey

I was inspired by this blog post about southeast Oregon's Steens Mountain area to go back and revisit past trips to hot springs in the same region. After realizing that none of my previous visits made it to the blog, aside from a post on Steens Mountain activism, I decided to post pictures, video clips and trip reports from previous visits.

Willow Creek Hot Springs - SE Oregon

HS Description (view map)

Miles away from nowhere, Willow Creek Hot Spring features a single pool out in the middle of southeast Oregon's high desert region. An all-season gravel/dirt road will get you most of the way there, but the last bit is on soft dirt, which is impassible during rain. Choose your season wisely.

Trip Report for October 2002

Willow Creek is the 2nd nicest HS I have visited in SE Oregon. The first being Alvord HS. This HS is located in a BLM managed area and is longtime favorite of the RV crowd. There's plenty of flat, excellent camping and a BLM pit-toilet. Perfect temperature and nice depth were what really made this HS a prime soak. Prepare yourself for a long, dusty, bumpy, long ride as this is located in the middle of nowhere.... perfect!
Rating A

March 2008 Video Clip : Wild Horses and Hot Springs in the Oregon Desert

Clip features two run-ins with real-life wild horses. There are not many of these herds left in the US. The rest of the clip features a high-desert hot springs... Willow Creek. Footage is from the southeast corner of Oregon, approx. 4 hours from Boise Idaho and near Fields Oregon.

View other trip reports for Willow Creek from 2003 through 2008

Bog Hot Springs - NE Nevada

October 2006 Video Clip

Located in the high mountain desert region of northern Nevada 312 miles from Boise. The video clip features a sunset soak, the hot springs at dawn and primitive campsite footage.

Alvord Hot Springs - SE Oregon

HS Description (view map)

Adjacent to the Alvord Desert (and dry lakebed of the same name) and Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon are two large concrete tanks, one with walls the other without (neither with a roof) - a thin layer of algae coats the bottoms and each pool has submerged seating (courtesy of a handful of retired washers) - the pools are surrounded by decking and benches with a covered room off to the side of the walled pool, there is also a garbage can present that locals cart in and out on a regular basis. Please pack out all your own trash.

Trip Reports for September and October 2002

10.14.02, 10.15.02 & 10.16.02
A full week of soaking (in Alvord HS and Willow Creek HS), backpacking and camping in the Alvord Desert and Steens Mountain made for an excellent combination. Sighted and confirmed (with 8 total people in the area) a flying object at approximately 7pm on Monday the 14th above the southern portion of the Steens. This is no joke, I saw this baby as clear as day along with my friend and two others while soaking at Alvord. Ten minutes later we were joined by 3 more people that frantically approached us from the north. They literally ran up to the pools and asked us "Did you guys see that thing in the sky?", apparently one of the fellows said he had lived in this area for over 40 years and had never seen anything like it. The next day we confirmed the sighting with 2 more campers and the owner of the Fields gas station/store. Daytime temps were 70-80º and nighttime temps ran between 9-22º!

(added 12.31.08)
The irony is that the location of the hovering object was directly above where we had originally planned to camp that same night. However, our pack trip was cut short when we misjudged water refilling locations and had to abruptly return from a two-day hike out in mere hours. Which is why we were soaking in Alvord, we were beat! Interestingly enough, we did spend a couple hours hiking around the area in question before our discovery and subsequent dramatic return hike. The only irregularity we noticed while milling about were groupings of rocks that were white as snow, as if something super-heated the color right out of them from above... hmmm. Another mystery of the high desert I suppose.

Rating A

We bagged on Bagby (in OR) because our planned route had been closed because of wildfires. So, we decided on a route through the desert. What a cool soak! Inscriptions from soakers of the past were everywhere. People on their way to Burning Man and other festivals have left insightful messages for all to read while enjoying a shady soak along with many other hot springers. There was some weird stuff however, things that I'd rather not repeat. Shame on you few. Many thanks goes out to those of you many that peacefully enjoy these ancient places. You deserve a stellar soak in my book.
Rating A-

Borax Lake Hot (?) Springs

HS Description (view map)

Borax Lake is a small lake heated by thermal vents, and only feels warm during select parts of the year.

Trip Report for October 2002

Borax Lake HS is right next to an old Borax Works station were Borax was mined and carted by mule train to Winemucca, NV. The remains of the station are still visible. The lake itself takes a bit of dusty, bumpy driving to reach. There are ways to drive all the way in if you are not interested in walking or biking from the gates. Be aware that the tiny sand/clay particles can be rough on your vehicle and will seep into just about everywhere. Even after returning home I had that stuff blasting out of my truck heater for days! Don't forget to bring lots of water either. This HS is located on BLM land and contains extremely high levels of arsenic. Neither one of us did more than stick an arm or leg in the cool water of Borax Lake.
Rating D+

Hart Mountain Hot Springs

October 2006 Video Clip (view map)

So, there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the recap as much as I did - can't wait to go back.

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Party Goers Rescued from Pine Flats Hot Springs in Idaho


Last Saturday, December 20th, a group of 4 men and 2 women partied it up at Pine Flats Hot Springs in the Boise National Forest, which is located about 1.5 hours north of Boise, Idaho. The source and pools are only about a 0.35 mile hike from the official National Forest campground of the same name.

Pine Flats is a popular summer campground destination and is frequented occasionally during the winter months by locals. The hot springs pools are located in a variety of locations near and around the source, and are typically shallow and too cool for wintertime soaking. Despite being easy to reach, pools located above the river require a steep hike up jagged, loose rocks. These are normally the hottest pools, while the riverside soaks are usually much cooler.

From the way the story reads; the group got tanked, didn't protect their clothes from the elements while soaking and then got disorientated on the hike back. Sadly, I've heard renditions of this same story all too frequently in the past, at least a few times each winter. This group was very fortunate that they all made it out alive.

Just a couple weeks ago I almost got into serious trouble at the very same hot springs. I wasn't drinking, but still somehow managed to fall into the hot springs pool with all of my clothes on. In regard to the news article; there's pretty much only one way in and out of Pine Flats... unless they were able to scale an ice-covered cliff or ford the near-frozen Payette River. My guess is that they missed the path back up to the parking area on the return hike and continued east along the river in Lowman's direction. This is where the river gradually shifts back toward the Banks-Lowman highway. Not so in the other direction.

Long story short; 4 of the group ended up on the Banks-Lowman highway without much clothing on when spotted by a snowplow driver, who in-turn called in the Idaho State Patrol. ISP arrived, tracked down the other two, and brought them back into Boise.

Here's a map of Pine Flats, you can see Lowman to the east. Note where the river moves toward the highway...

I'm really glad that everyone made it out ok. When events like these go bad, hot springs get closed down. Something the story neglects to mention, is that the hot springs pools at Pine Flats are currently NOT warm enough for a soak. I would imagine that they began the hypothermia-like chilling process as soon as they climbed into the pool. I can't stress it enough, reliable (waterproof) water thermometers are a very important tool that should be in every hot springer's arsenal. Optimal soaking conditions exist at 100 to 110 degrees, 102-106 is a great target range. Also, a good rule of thumb when in a hot spring pool: 1 beer = 3.

Read the guide to backcountry hot springs; contains gear list, safety info., etiquette and more...

KTVB actually used a few pictures I've taken of Pine Flats in the story video...

More: view pictures, video clips and past trip reports of Pine Flats Hot Springs

As always, check road reports, weather conditions and be prepared when attempting to visit backcountry hot springs during inclement weather seasons.

Be safe and have fun! Happy Holidays!

[where: Lowman, ID]

Thermometers are Important : Austin Hot Springs in Oregon Scalding


Just another really good reason to carry along a waterproof thermometer when on the soak. These things are pretty handy. You can pick them up a restaurant supply stores locally.

Here a few waterproof thermometers, I especially like the floating ducky...

Strawberry Hot Springs (vid) in Colorado

Looks enticing, and reminds of Gold Fork Hot Springs, near Donnelly and Tamarack in Idaho.

Falling for Pine Flats Hot Springs

Hot Springs Name: Pine Flats Hot Springs
Additional Info: View complete listing on IHS
Near: Lowman, Idaho
Type: Public
NF: Boise National Forest

Pine Flats Hot Springs in Idaho

Trip Report

It had been a couple months. I was antsy to get out. So, I took off Friday evening for Pine Flats. There's nothing quite like a hot soak under the stars in Idaho's backcountry during winter. The gate into the campground of the same name was open, and I was able to drive down to the trailhead parking area with ease, not much snow/ice here... yet.

Pine Flats Hot Springs in Idaho

After the brief hike to the 'round the bend' pool I began my routine. First, I started by dropping my non-waterproof digital thermometer into the pool. Then, I finished off by falling into the pool with all of my clothes on, coat, shoes and all. Not so smooth considering the air temperature was below 20 and I still had to hike back out.

Pine Flats Hot Springs in Idaho

I then proceeded to make another smooth move. I stripped down and immediately climbed into the pool... not fully knowing the temperature. After a few minutes of shivering I decided that it was around 96. Not good. At least my coat was somewhat dry, but my shoes and pants were drenched. Needless to say, I enjoyed my truck's heater after the return speed-hike. All things considered, I ventured out because I needed a break from the norm. It turned out to be a pretty fun trip regardless. My soaking companion thought it was a riot. For some reason I neglected to see the humor in it until a few hours later.

A huge plus to the whole debacle was that I found Pine Flats to be trash-free for the first time in years.

[where: Lowman, ID]
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