|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – April 2008
Here are the top wilderness soaks on the continent. Can you keep a secret?
Ride Singletrack to Remote Pools
Skillern/Big Smoky Hot Springs
Big Smoky Mountains, Idaho
Want to end your next bike ride in a cloud of steam? Take the trail to Skillern and Big Smoky; it's epic Idaho singletrack that practically dumps you in a riverside pool. Though the springs are just three miles from a trailhead near Fairfield, the best way to tag them is on the tail end of a ride from Galena Summit, 25 miles to the north. Riders drop nearly 5,000 vertical feet on smooth, screaming singletrack that winds through alpine meadows and rock outcroppings before depositing them in thick forest along the creek. At the end, simply hop off your bike and slip into soothing goodness.
Just a stone's skip from Big Smoky Creek and right off the trail, Skillern is a natural grotto fed by a boiling shower that seeps out of overhanging granite. Though the main pool is soakable all year, when the creek runs low it reveals two additional couple-sized pools, where scalding water mixes with creek flow for a perfect midcurrent soak.
Keep your eyes and ears tuned to your surroundings for another sweet payoff: The Smokys are patrolled by their own wolves, the Soldier Mountain Pack. Numbering eight adults (in the most recent USFW survey), the pack hunts elk and rabbit in the rolling hills outside Fairfield, a pristine expanse of sage and pine ignored by the fun-seekers drawn to nearby Sun Valley. Up the trail from Skillern, head to the personal-size tubs of Big Smoky Springs, which lie among the roots and pine needles 5.5 miles upstream along Big Smoky Creek. These clandestine eddies–hidden in thick underbrush and smelling of pungent pine–take some poking around to find, but once you do, you won't be jumping back in the saddle anytime soon.
If mountain biking's not your thing, tackle the route on foot from the Fairfield side. To make it worthy of a long weekend, take a detour before the springs at Paradise Creek. Hoof 30 miles total, past 9,708-foot Paradise Peak, down the West Fork of Big Smoky Creek, and then back down the Big Smoky Creek Trail, where you'll hit the springs on the way out.
To ride to Galena Summit, get a lift to the pullout at the top of the pass, and follow the obvious dirt road on the east side down to the Salmon River headwaters. Turn south, and pedal over the Big Smoky Divide to the Big Smoky Creek Trail. The springs are three miles north of Canyon Transfer Camp, near the end of the ride. Skillern UTM: 11T 0676137E 4834985N; Big Smoky UTM: 11T 0682264E 4841151N
Go in spring or summer; the place teems with hunters come fall. Big Smoky Trail is closed during the winter.