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Backpacker Magazine – April 2008

Hot Springs: The Perfect Pool

Here are the top wilderness soaks on the continent. Can you keep a secret?

by: Doug Schnitzspahn

Hotspring Island | Sespe | Yellowstone | Turkey Creek | Skillern/Big Smoky
Soak Here Now

Swim in Yellowstone's Steamy Rivers
Ferris Fork and Dunanda Falls
Yellowstone National Park, Idaho/Wyoming
Hot springs form when molten magma heats underground water, so it makes sense that the highest concentration of geothermal spouts in North America would surface above the 300-mile-wide ocean of magma that is Yellowstone National Park. While most of Yellowstone's boiling baths are off limits to soaking (with good reason–they're hot enough to cook dinner), Dunanda Falls and Ferris Fork mix with creek water, making them fair–and NPS-approved–game.

You won't find much company among the belching geysers and grizzly dens of Bechler River country. Located in the southeast corner of the park, it requires a 26-mile dirt-road drive from Ashton, ID, just to get to the Bechler Trailhead. From there to Ferris Fork, it's a 15-mile walk along the roaring Bechler River through dense stands of lodgepole pine that give way to the steep walls of Bechler Canyon. You'll pass 12 raging drops (some slightly off-trail) that pour into the Bechler River, including funky wonders like Ragged Falls, named for its chaotic 5-foot tumble, and Twister Falls, which–you guessed it–coils downward along its 55-foot flume.

Day one ends with a short detour through Bechler Meadows to 150-foot-high Dunanda Falls. Take your pick from several soaker-made pots (averaging 110°F) and camp in your designated site for the night. Make it a hot springs doubleheader by trekking back to the Bechler River Trail and following it six miles northeast to Three Rivers Junction (where the Phillips, Gregg, and Ferris Forks converge). An obvious user trail leads to a steaming pool hidden along the banks of the river. Continue upstream to splash in cascading beauties like Gwinna Falls and Sluiceway Falls, and spend your second night just downstream of Three Forks, near sloping, 260-foot Albright Falls.Getting There The Bechler River Trailhead is at the end of unpaved Cave Falls Road, 26 miles from Ashton, ID. Dunanda Falls UTM: 12T 0498137E 4899394N Ferris Fork UTM: 12T 0590482E 4903815N

Reserve campsites at Yellowstone Backcountry Office, (307) 344-2160; Backcountry permits must be obtained no more than 48 hours in advance, in person. Use the Trails Illustrated Yellowstone National Park map ($10; Season Year-round. Bechler River country has fantastic ski-touring (though it'll tack 10 miles onto your trip because the road isn't plowed). Avoid spring, when rivers bulge.

Hotspring Island | Sespe | Yellowstone | Turkey Creek | Skillern/Big Smoky
Soak Here Now

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star


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Steve Snyder
Jul 11, 2013

Couple of comments.

1. There's several other springs in the Gila besides Turkey, many of them decent, and a couple of them a bit easier hikes. Some of Gila's springs get hot enough to need side-pool cooling.
2. There's other places in Yellowstone where springs and creeks mingle to get nearer right soaking temperature.
3. Can't believe you left off the hot springs at Big Bend. Late fall-early winter is perfect.

Jul 11, 2013

Unless something has changed since January (2013) the Gwaii hot springs are still dry after an earthquake cut off their water supply back in October 2012. The photo of them in the email caught my attention and I wondered if this had been added as an update.

Mar 10, 2012

In the eastern united states, don't forget Hot Springs, NC. The AT runs through town. Lots of great hiking in the area such as Max Patch Bald.

Double Cabin; John B
Mar 10, 2012

Unless something dramtic has happened since 2006 the Springs at Dunanda are not "110 degrees," close to their source they're scalding.Extreme caution is warranted IMO.

I think MR. bubbles is awesome. I reccomend soled footwear for all the springs, especially the shifting/rumbling crust of Mr.Bubbles.

Mar 08, 2012

I miss the west! any hotsprings near New Hampshire!?

Mar 08, 2012

Last I checked Idaho was on the west side of Yellowstone. Making for a quite a long trip if you are trying to get to the southeast corner of the park. But then if you're going to the southeast corner you won't really be looking to hike/backpack in the Bechler Area anyway.

Mar 08, 2012

You missed 2 beauties in Southeast Alaska. White Sulphur Hotsprings on Chichagoff Island. The pool is right on the edge of the Pacific. Incredibly vistas as you soak. There is a US Forest Service Cabin that can be reserved and paid for online. The Forest Service cabins are rustic but wonderful.
The other hotsprings is just a bit south of Sitka-capital of Russian America, Paris of the Pacific. There are 2 separate tubs maintained by Sitkans.The tubs are in separate Panabode shelters. Well loved by the local fishing fleet. Across the bay there is a cabin that can be rented through the city offices.
Oops-there's one more. It's in the small village of Tenakee. Tenakee is a non-motorized town with a great little harbor. The hotsprings is a bathhouse in the middle of town with alternating mens and women's hours for soaking. Beware, if you're soaking when the Alaska Ferry arrives, you might be part of the local attractions as curious ferry riders disembark to take a peek.

Give ItARest
Jun 04, 2011

Zack: You're just trying to discourage people from visiting this place because you want it to be your own private little spot. Give it a rest. There's plenty of nature to go around.

Mar 16, 2011

Im with Eric, stay away hippies!

Jan 14, 2011

It's for the better that the coordinates are wrong. Please stop writing about our backcountry thermal areas - they're incredibly dangerous, and encouraging people to venture off-trail is not a great idea. For the record, the "hot spring" that backpacker is encouraging you to swim in at the ferris fork is actually a semi-active geyser. When it erupts with someone in there, the death will be attributable to poor editorship on the part of backpacker.

Jan 13, 2011

Thanks for the article! A hot springs hiking trip sounds fantastic during this cold winter. If youre in the area Umpqua Hot Springs in Oregon is also a fantastic place to go!

Sep 26, 2008

I don't know if you can still get there from here but the 1 time I made it to Sespe I went in from Mutau Flat. From the Frazier Park and Gorman side. Be in good shape. Harder to hike out then hike in. Bring lots of water. Awesome place and the only encounter I had was with a mad wild possum. Remember though this place is infamous because Charlie Manson (yes, that Charlie Manson) had his hippie lawyer killed here. But that was in the days when you could drive to the Sespe Hot Springs. And when there was a road (from Rose Valley).

Jeff Barnes
May 20, 2008

I believe thatthe coordinates are wrong for Ferris Fork....IF you plot Ferris Fork UTM: 12T 0590482E 4903815N you are about 7 miles OUTSIDE of the park boundries to the east. I think the right coordinates are 12T 05090482E 4903815N The 0 & 9 are transposed on the Easting


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