Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route: A Summer Off-Road Tour

Aaron Rosenthal

To start the trip, we drove to Boise and stayed with Warm Showers friends who were gracious beyond belief.  They allowed us to store our car at their place for 3+ weeks.  We were quite impressed with Boise, as it presents as a very cycling friendly community and has a wonderful bike path on both sides of the Boise River.  Due to the abundance of geothermal activity in Idaho, the state capitol is the only one in the country that is heated by geothermal energy.  Idaho ranks second in the nation with hot springs at 340 (do you know which state is first? ...answer later in this article), but boasts the greatest number of “soakable” springs with 130.  The Main Route map lists 41 hot springs with most of them very close to the route itself or within a very short ride/walk.
Unlike almost all of our other tours, we had no specific time constraints.  This allowed us to take this tour at a much more relaxed pace than most of our other tours, as well as in comparison to most of the “loopers” we met along the way.  It was typical to hear cyclists taking 2-2 ½ weeks without doing the extra side trips that we did, while we ended up taking 24 days and riding a total of 826 miles.
Starting the cycling, the Boise Greenbelt bike path led us comfortably out of town.  We headed east along the Middle Fork of the Boise River where the road turned to dirt for the first time, about 23 miles into the ride.  For the remainder of the ride until we returned on the Boise Spur, approximately 85% of the route is on dirt roads.  Most were in reasonably good shape, but staying focused on avoiding wash boarded sections and exposed rocks paid off with a smoother ride. 

The first five days were reasonably cool, with the evenings and early mornings on the cold side.  Days 3 and 4 brought us to the thriving metropolis of Atlanta, population 25.  The village so named after its eastern counterpart by southern sympathizers during the Civil War.  It’s the type of place that has one bar that also serves a limited menu and that’s the only place you can get food.  When foreigners like us walked in the local conversations came to a dead halt.  Atlanta is home to two of the best hot springs we soaked in, particularly the Chattanooga Hot Springs which seeps from the rock walls above the sandy bottomed pool.  This was our favorite springs until it got displaced later on in the ride.  The next day brought rain throughout much of our ride which made the unnamed pass we summited more challenging than it would typically be and likely the most challenging pass of the tour.  When we arrived in Featherville wet and cold we got our only motel room of the tour.
The following day the weather turned and from here on out the days were quite warm to very hot with only one 30 minute stint of light rain in the final 2 ½ weeks.  That said, we awoke to frost on our tent and temps purportedly in the low 20’s on the day we rode over Dollarhide Pass into Ketchum/Sun Valley.  We enjoyed our time there and got to ride some single track on our off day.  A free jazz concert in the park was most enjoyable, as was our stay with our Warm Showers host Kerry.  From here, we went on to Stanley, which is often one of the coldest places in the continental U.S. during the winter months.  Our approach to Stanley had us riding through the valley and foothills to the east of the Sawtooth Mountains, truly a magnificent range.  We ended up staying 3 days/nights here including July 4th.  This afforded us the opportunity to take a boat across Redfish Lake so we could hike high above the lake back to Redfish Lodge.  With this being the 50th anniversary year of the signing of the Wilderness Act, it was symbolic to get into the Sawtooth Wilderness to see Bench Lakes.

The next several days took us through continuous beauty to Warm Lake (aptly named due to geothermal activity in the lake bed), along the South Fork of the Salmon River (our favorite riding stretch of the entire tour and our favorite hot spring), and over Lick Creek Summit (the most beautiful pass of the tour) into McCall.  We were able to watch Native Americans fish for Salmon using a gaff (a 10-12 foot wooden pole with hooks and barbs on the end).  Sometimes it was hard to know who to root for as we could see the salmon in the river swimming upstream in an effort to reach their 900+ mile journey to their spawning grounds.
Another off day in McCall allowed us to circumnavigate Payette Lake and then try paddle boarding upstream at the lake’s north end. Once again we had a great time with our Warm Showers hosts Chris and Christine who made a wonderful salmon dinner which was caught by a local Native American.

The final week had us going south where we rode and camped along Cascade Lake, through the towns of Crouch and Idaho City, and back to Boise.  The night we camped outside of Crouch a tremendous lightning storm passed through the region near midnight.  The time gap between flash and boom narrowed as the intensity of the lightning and thunder increased.  Suddenly, a simultaneous strike of enormous intensity hit, scaring both of us to our core.  A couple of minutes later I thought I smelled smoke.  Janet opened her tent door and looking out we saw a tree less than 50 yards away aflame on its crown.  As Janet ran to inform the campground host, I went to the tree and stomped out the embers that I watched fall from the tree top to the ground.  Fortunately the limited rain that accompanied the storm assisted with mitigating the fire danger.  By the time Forest Service fire personnel arrived about 30 minutes after the strike, there was no visible evidence of the fire.  While his proclamation that we were not in danger at the moment was somewhat comforting, neither of us had a very restful sleep.
The next morning we counted 74 steps from our tent to the tree.  That storm sparked about 10 fires, some of which combined to make up what was called the Whiskey Complex Fire.  The campsite we were in was closed for over a week due to proximal fire activity.  As I write this, the fire has consumed 9446 acres and is 100% contained.
We ended up soaking in at least 15 of the 41 hot springs that are listed on the route.  Prior to returning home, we drove back to the Sawtooths for a brief backpack trip, visited Craters of the Moon National Monument, Bear Lake, Flaming Gorge, and Dinosaur National Monument.  Finally, just in case you are wondering, it is the Silver state, Nevada, that has the greatest number of hot springs of any state, but the vast majority of them are too hot to soak in.

Bent Fork - Volume 7, Issue 4 - August 2014

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