Natural hot springs after a long day on the mountain bike, what could be better? My feet were numb. The hot spring at the end of my ride kept me going as I trudged through the snow drift on my second day of riding. It was worth it. I slept well at the end of the day, falling asleep under a deep blanket of stars overhead.
The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route (IHSMBR) is a map route published by the Adventure Cycling Association. The route spans the course of over 50 hot springs, highlighting some of the most beautiful and remote parts of Idaho–the White Cloud Mountains, Sawtooths, and Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness–playing hopscotch with various forks and tributaries of the Salmon River along the way.
IHSMBR is a challenging route, with over 500 miles of dirt, gravel and singletrack; more cumulitive vertical elevation than Mount Everest; and countless obstacles like snow, downed trees, washouts and river crossings. I set out to ride the route, soak in a few hot springs, and seek the perspective one can only find the wilderness.
On the trail skirting the White Clouds, I pushed my bike through yards of snow. The snow drift threw a wrench in my plans. The pass was just over 9000’, and the White Cloud singletrack route had two more passes ahead. At 9,700’ and 9,900’, they were sure to be snowbound. So I decided to re-route up a nearby creek drainage and return to the main route.
The trail up Germania Creek is mellow, and I had fun riding along at a good pace. At one point, I heard a “crack!” from the other side of the creek. Glancing over, I saw a big black bear making his way across the creek on a snag. I hit the brakes and jumped off my bike. My heart was in my throat as the bear climbed up onto the trail only 20 feet ahead of me, then continued, bounding up the rocky hillside just to my left. It took me a moment to catch my breath, reflecting on my own mortality and the remoteness of this journey. With miles to go, I hopped back on my bike and put some distance between me and the bear, fully alert to my surroundings as I pedaled down the trail to the next hot spring.
Idaho has more soakable hot springs than any other state. They range from rock-ringed riverside hot spots that come and go with seasonal water levels to tubs and pools with full amenities. Most of my soak stops were somewhere in between—rustic pools built by volunteer enthusiasts over the years, and maintained by visitors. Common etiquette is to leave these pools clean and drained, to be filled by the next hot spring soaker.
My favorite hot springs were the ones along a cold river or creek. I enjoyed jumping between the two as a sort of backcountry hot+cold rinse cycle. It should be noted, however, that using soap in a hot spring or river can harm the aquatic ecosystem, so any suds should be taken at least 200 feet from springs and waterways.
Choose your own adventure when planning to bikepack the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route. Be flexible, and be ready to respond to whatever circumstances the wilderness sends your way. What adventure does your summer hold? Share it in the comments below!
Thanks to Derek Radtke for this guest post.