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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

Soak in Aldo Leopold's Favorite Pool
Turkey Creek Hot Springs
Gila Wilderness, New Mexico
If Turkey Creek was good enough for Aldo Leopold (a reported hot springs enthusiast who roamed this region while dreaming up the idea of federally protected wilderness), it's good enough for you. On a map, the four-mile stroll to Turkey Creek looks deceptively simple. Don't be fooled. This challenging scramble plunges you through multiple creek crossings in a canyon that has no maintained trails. What it does have is a diverse mix of flora and fauna: The Gila Wilderness, where the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Desert ecosystems slam into the tail end of the Rockies, is uniquely biodiverse. Expect to see everything from shambling black bears to scurrying javelinas to Mexican wolves on the prowl.

The Turkey Creek hike starts out innocently enough, with the main trail unfolding along Turkey Creek for two leisurely miles. But once you pass Skeleton Creek, things get confusing: The path splinters into a maze of user trails with cliffs rising up both sides, slickrock traverses, and mandatory brisk-water wading. What's more, there's no guarantee you'll even recognize the springs when you reach them. Spring floods obliterate the rock-walled tubs that soakers often build. But the camping is plentiful, unregulated, grassy, and tucked in the trees. Several pools dot the creek, and a large swimming hole fills with hot springs runoff, making it a perfect all-day-dunking temp. Ready for more hiking? Backtrack down Turkey Creek and hit theTurkey Creek Trail before heading north another 22 miles into the secret valleys and ponderosa-filled forests of the Mogollon Mountains. Connect with the Little Creek Trail, and follow it 12 more miles to the ruins of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (where you can leave a shuttle vehicle).

Getting There
From the town of Gila, follow Turkey Creek Road north until it ends at the Gila River. Wade the Gila to the Turkey Creek Trail (#155). Hike for 2.5 miles, turn up Skeleton Canyon, and climb to the rim of Sycamore Canyon, heading off-trail to follow the creek upstream for about 1.5 miles to the springs. Turkey Creek Hot Springs UTM: 12S 0734871E 3666079N Info Gila National Forest: (505) 536-2250; www. Pick up Matt Bischoff's Touring New Mexico Hot Springs ($13, Falcon Guides) and consult the USGS Canyon Hill and Canteen Canyon quads. Season Summer and fall. Spring can bring high waters.

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

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star


Star Star Star Star Star
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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