Boat Box Hot Springs: Stanley, Idaho’s Most Unique Hot Spring

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Boat Box Hot Springs in Stanley, Idaho is undeniably dreamy- imagine having your very own personal hot tub, filled with naturally steamy water, as you overlook a pine-strewn valley and a rushing river. And best of all- it’s totally free!

So grab your swimsuit and get ready to soak in Boat Box Hot Springs, one of the most quirky and idyllic natural springs that Idaho has to offer.

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And if you’re looking for more hot springs (I don’t blame ya!), you might be interested in checking out these other posts:

What is Boat Box Hot Springs?

Boat Box Hot Springs is located in the teeny mountain town of Stanley, Idaho, home to a whopping 63 residents. This little town is known for being the gateway to the Sawtooths, an absolutely incredible mountain range known for its jagged peaks, and for its plethora of stunning hot springs.

Boat Box Hot Springs is the closest natural hot spring you can enjoy from Stanley’s downtown area and is one of the most quirky hot springs I’ve ever visited.

Woman sitting in Boat Box Hot Springs, overlooking the Salmon River and pine trees on a hill

Unlike most other natural hot springs around Stanley, like Buckeye or Goldbug Hot Springs (where you sit in a manmade stone tub or a riverbed building your own pool with nearby rocks), Boat Box is made out of what looks like an old mining cauldron, with hot water piped in from a nearby geothermal source.

Between its unique tub and the idyllic location along the Salmon River, Boat Box is a must-see (or should I say must-soak?) while visiting the Stanley area.

How do I get to Boat Box Hot Springs?

You can reach Stanley from either Boise (about 130 miles away) or Salt Lake City (380 miles away). If you’re flying in, I’d recommend starting from Boise, given that it’s a significantly shorter drive and you’ll be cruising to Stanley along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, a stunning scenic drive winding through dense pine forests and high mountain valleys.

There aren’t really any public transit options to or around Stanley, so you’ll also need to pick up a rental car at the airport. Unless you’re visiting in the wintertime, you should be able to get by just fine in any passenger car, as the roads in Stanley are well-maintained.

Pine trees along the Salmon River in Boise, Idaho

Come wintertime, the Stanley area can get a LOT of ice and snow (in fact, my husband, Justin, and I canceled a trip there in December because several of the roads were closed due to “high avalanche risk”- yikes!). So, if you’re visiting in the winter, I’d recommend looking into renting an SUV with four-wheel drive.

You can find Boat Box Hot Springs just six minutes north of downtown Stanley, located here, along the Salmon River. Boat Box isn’t listed on Google Maps, so I’d recommend saving the location in your app and downloading offline maps before you head there (cell signal is spotty, at best, here).

Rolling green hills along the Salmon River and Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway in Idaho

There’s no parking lot- just a narrow shoulder to park along that holds a handful of cars. If parking along the shoulder is full, do not, under any circumstances, park on the road, as it’s a windy and narrow highway to begin with. Just find something else in Stanley to explore for the time being and come back another time (Boat Box only holds a couple of people anyway, so if the parking area is full, you won’t really be able to enjoy the hot spring anyway).

If you can snag a parking spot, there’s no sign for the spring and the tub can easily blend in with the scenery (even when you know what you’re looking for). Keep an eye out for steam rising to the right of the parking area and a narrow boot trail leading from the shoulder to the riverbed below, which will lead you straight to it!

Woman standing in Boat Box Hot Springs in Stanley, Idaho, with Salmon River and rolling green hills in the background

When should I visit Boat Box Hot Springs?

Stanley is a great destination to visit most of the year. Each season, however, has its pros and cons, so here’s some things to think about if you plan on doing things near Stanley besides soaking in Boat Box Hot Springs during your visit (which, despite how awesome Boat Box is, you probably should consider):

Summer (June through September):

If you want to hike or backpack in the Sawtooths or white water raft along Stanley’s Salmon River (that’s on my bucketlist for sure!), summertime is your best bet. Unfortunately, it’s the busiest time of the year to visit Stanley, so you’re more likely going to have to share hot springs with others (more on that later!) during your stay.

Additionally, you may have to contend with wildfire smoke in the later summer months. That being said, Justin and I have visited Stanley in both July and August and had an awesome experience each time.

Couple walking on a log in Alice Lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains in Stanley, Idaho

Fall (October through November):

Enjoy the Sawtooth’s fall foliage and fewer crowds in Stanley during this season. On the flipside, you still have a chance of encountering smoky air (wildfire season usually lasts through October) and, as autumn wears on, most of the high elevation hiking trails in the Sawtooths may become inaccessible due to snow.

Winter (December through February):

If you’re as into #cozyvibes as me, winter is a spectacular time to visit, with the gorgeous alpine landscape covered in a thick blanket of snow (and might I add, Boat Box is especially photogenic come wintertime).

But word to the wise- in addition to the icy, snowy roads (which, did I mention, are extra curvy around Stanley?), the area also gets COLD due to dense, frigid air blown from the surrounding mountain peaks into Stanley’s valley. In fact, the lowest recorded temperature in town was 54 degrees BELOW ZERO in 1983. I am the hot springs enthusiast and even my hot springs-loving booty isn’t going to be in Boat Box when it’s below zero outside!

Sawtooth Mountains covered in snow in Idaho

Spring (March through May):

Spring is the rainiest season, so the water level of the Salmon River will be high (which, for Boat Box, may be a good thing, which I’ll explain further below) and the valley’s greenery will be lush. Hiking at high elevations and white water rafting still will not be available for a couple of months, though, so this isn’t the best time to enjoy all of Stanley’s outdoor activities.

Green meadow with the Salmon River running through it, with Sawtooth Mountains in the background in Stanley, Idaho

What should I know about Boat Box Hot Springs before visiting?

Boat Box is truly unique in a couple of ways. First, it’s a really distinctive hot spring that was built by hand by locals for others to enjoy and second, part of its magic is its location in a stunning natural setting. For these reasons, it’s super important that all visitors (yes, including you!) follow the Leave No Trace principles while you’re visiting, especially: 

  • Leave what you find: Treat the hot spring with respect and care when you’re getting in and out of the tub and enjoying it.  Since the spring was built by locals and not maintained by state or federal funds, one person treating the tub without the proper respect could result in Boat Box being indefinitely closed to all future visitors.

    So, really, please don’t graffiti on it, parkour off it (you wouldn’t think I’d have to say that, but I’ve witnessed people parkouring off both the Delicate Arch in Arches and the Birthing Cave in Sedona), or generally be that guy.
  • Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out. You wouldn’t leave a bunch of crushed up beer cans and cigarette butts laying around your favorite grandmother’s living room, would you (and, if you would, you clearly have no soul)? Treat the springs just as good, if not better, than how you’d want Grandma’s house to be treated (while my analogy may be totally weird, it’s the truth!).
  • Be considerate of others: This one is huge because, well, Boat Box is quite tiny, comfortably holding only about 1-2 people. Given its uniqueness and proximity to Stanley, Boat Box is popular- so popular, in fact, that there’s a really good chance that you’ll have to wait for someone to get out of the springs to enjoy them or conversely, have someone waiting for you to get out while you’re soaking in the tub.

    So, if someone is waiting for you to get out, limit your time to about 45 minutes and communicate that timeline to the person that’s waiting. Don’t give the stink-eye to others wanting to enjoy the hot spring, hog the tub for hours at a time, or otherwise be an overall jerk.
Woman standing in Boat Box Hot Springs in Stanley, Idaho

Okay, so besides all of the “respect Boat Box and others using it” mumbojumbo, are there other tips that are helpful to know? You bet!

  • Boat Box has a valve at the bottom of the cauldron, so it may be full or empty when you visit. If there’s water in the tub from other visitors that looks a bit dirty, you can drain the water by opening the valve and fill up the tub with fresh water using the white PVC pipe. It takes approximately 20 minutes for the water flowing from the pipe to fill up the empty cauldron. 

    Enjoying Boat Box can be something of an art. Why, you may ask? Well, the water from the PVC pipe is hot- like really hot (some sources say over 110 degrees!). So be careful when you’re getting in and out of the tub- it would be pretty easy to burn yourself by plopping down too fast.

    To cool down the steamy water, there’s a white plastic bucket for you to grab cold river water to dump into the pool to regulate the temperature. During the springtime, the water level is often high enough for you to just reach over the side of the tub and scoop water straight from the river (hence, my comment above that visiting in the spring may make your visit to Boat Box a bit more relaxing).

    During the rest of the year, though, the water level recedes and you’ll need to jump in and out of the tub to fill up the white bucket. So, depending on what time of the year you visit, you may not really be able to laze about in the tub for too long.
Woman sitting on the edge of Boat Box Hot Springs, with rolling hills in the background, in Stanley, Idaho
  • If you’re looking to enjoy Boat Box by yourself and relax uninterrupted for a bit, I’d suggest showing up REALLY early (like sunrise early), preferably on a weekday. As mentioned above, the tub is tiny, basically only fitting one party at a time, so unless you visit during the off-season or at an unusual time (like at an ungodly early hour), it’s unlikely you’ll have the springs to yourself.

    Justin and I visited on a Thursday right around sunrise in the summertime and only got the hot springs to ourselves for about 10 minutes. If having a long, relaxing soak in a hot spring is your main priority, Boat Box probably isn’t the right choice for you. 
Couple sitting in Boat Box Hot Springs, overlooking the Salmon River and a cliffside
  • Many hot springs around Idaho are treated as clothing optional (i.e., you may just see some strangers’ junk while you’re visiting!). But given that Boat Box is literally right off the highway and there’s a really good chance that someone will be waiting for you to get out of the tub during your visit, I’d recommend bringing along a bathing suit. Idaho is really quite lovely and you probably don’t want to soil your experience by getting arrested for indecent exposure.

What should I bring to Boat Box Hot Springs?

Luckily, you don’t need much to enjoy the springs, but here are a few things that might make your visit a bit better:

  • Bathing suit: As mentioned above, let’s not be that one weird naked dude and pack a swimsuit! If you’re into the Baywatch look, I wore this suit during our visit to Stanley (I have it in both white and red) and for the fellows, I’d recommend trunks like this that wouldn’t look out of place if you went straight from the springs to grab a beer in downtown Stanley (which, for the record, has a very chill, outdoorsy vibe).
Woman walking in Sunbeam Hot Springs, with pine trees in the background, in Stanley, Idaho
  • Quick-drying towel: Remember to bring an easy-to-pack towel, like this one. I perpetually forget to bring towels to hot springs and, can confirm, it’s no fun getting out of a warm, cozy hot spring and plodding back to your car, cold and soaking wet (especially if the weather happens to be below freezing!).
  • Hiking sandals: You’ll need to walk along the jagged river stones to reach the tub, which can be quite stabby. Instead of having a bunch of tiny knife-rocks jab your feet, bring along a pair of hiking sandals that can double as water shoes and provide some protection for your soles. For example, Justin has a pair of Tevas he loves that would work perfect for this (see here for women’s). Chaco’s are also a popular hiking sandal/water shoe choice (see women’s here and men’s here).
  • Water bottle: Sitting in a steamy hot spring like Boat Box can be super dehydrating, especially if you’re drinking any kind of alcoholic beverages. To be good to the planet and to cut down on wasting money on bottled water, Justin and I both have giant Nalgene bottles that we take everywhere, from international trips to hiking excursions and, yup, even hot springs!
Woman standing in Sunbeam Hot Springs in the Salmon River, with pine trees in the background in Stanley, Idaho
  • Dry bag: When we visited Boat Box, we packed all of our electronics (our camera, tripod, and cell phones), our towels, and other odds and ends into our dry bag. This little bag makes carrying all of our stuff to and from the spring super easy and, more importantly, also eliminated the fear that we’d drop all of our expensive electronics into the water. We wind up using our dry bag a ton, from using it as a bear bag when we go backcountry camping to kayaking excursions, so if you’re an outdoorsy person, I’d definitely recommend picking one up!

Where should I stay when visiting Boat Box Hot Springs?

If you’re interested in camping (either tent or RV), great news! Stanley has a ton of affordable and GORGEOUS campsites. There’s plenty of free dispersed camping options, like Forest Road 210 Dispersed Camping and Nip & Tuck Road, with incredible views of the Sawtooths. Prefer to camp with full hookups?

Couple standing in front of a Safari Condo Alto trailer in Stanley, Idaho

Check out Valley Creek Lodge and RV Park for affordable rates, proximity to Stanley, and the Sawtooths as your backyard.

If you prefer lodging, Stanley has a few options, but word of caution- given its remoteness, most of its limited accommodations aren’t exactly luxurious and while comfortable and clean, they tend to be a tad on the outdated side.

A-frame cabin in the pine tree forests in Idaho

With that in mind (you come to Stanley to explore its hot springs and mountains, not your hotel room, anyway!), consider:

  • Valley Creek Lodge: A hotel with clean and spacious rooms, each with giant picture windows overlooking the Sawtooth Mountains.
  • Redwood Cabins: A collection of 13 private cabins right on the Salmon River (you can literally rent stand-up paddleboards and kayaks here!).
  • Bluebird Cabin: If you’re traveling as a group or with a larger family, consider renting this cozy cabin, complete with a full kitchen, porch swing to swing life away as you watch wildlife, and a sweet creek running through your backyard.

Now, go forth and enjoy Boat Box Hot Springs! Are there any other tips or tricks I missed about it? Is Boat Box your favorite of the many amazing hot springs in Stanley? Let me know in the comments below!

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