If you’re looking for one of the most picturesque hot springs in Idaho, Goldbug Hot Springs should absolutely be at the top of your list. These waterfall-fed pools, nestled at the top of a mountain, offer jaw-dropping vistas of the lush valley below. You will, however, have to work a bit to get to the springs, but I promise the view—and the cozy water—at the end will be 100% worth it. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Goldbug Hot Springs.
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About Goldbug Hot Springs
So we’ve established that this series of natural hot spring pools in the Idaho wilderness is absolutely gorgeous, but what else do you need to know about them?
Well, the main thing is that, to reach the aforementioned jaw-dropping pools, you’ll need to go on a moderately challenging hike up a steep and rocky slope.
Here are some basic stats about the Goldbug Hot Springs hike:
- Length: 3.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 895 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Dogs: Furbabies are welcome but must be on a leash.
- Permit or passes? None required, although donations are accepted (we gave $5).
- Camping permitted? Yes, but not within 500 feet of the pools
How to Get to the Goldbug Hot Springs Trailhead
The Goldbug Hot Springs trailhead is located here, in the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Elk Bend, Idaho. The closest “big” town (and I use that term very loosely) nearby is Salmon, found about half an hour north, which is known for its epic white water rafting and slightly menacing-sounding River of No Return.
The trailhead is located right off Highway 93, which connects the popular Stanley, Idaho, the gateway to the Sawtooth Mountains, to Missoula, Montana. So if you happen to be exploring any of the epic hot springs in Stanley, like Buckeye, Sunbeam Hot Springs, or Boat Box Hot Springs, I’d highly recommend considering tacking Goldbug on as an additional stop.
Regardless of whether you’re coming from Stanley or not, Highway 93 is paved and well-maintained, so you won’t need a high clearance or four-wheel drive vehicle to get here. The Goldbug Hot Springs trailhead is located just about a block off Highway 93, down a dirt, residential road, so any kind of passenger vehicle should be able to make it! The road kinda dead ends to the right hand side of the street and there’s a trailhead sign and vault toilet, so it’s pretty obvious where the trail starts.
Pssst…. when we plugged the coordinates into Google Maps, it wound up instructing us to drive up to a steep and gated gravel road, with a big ol’ sign on it that says Google Maps is wrong and that Goldbug Hot Springs was, instead, located further up the highway. Given the signage, I can only assume this is a relatively common occurrence, so if you’re accidentally routed here as well, just keep following Highway 93 north for a minute or two until you see the street sign for Warm Spring Road. Make a right and follow the dirt road, lined with residential houses, until it dead ends. Ta da- you’re there!
The trailhead parking area holds about five or so cars. If it’s full, find parking alongside the road, paying attention to any “no parking” signs and being mindful to not block any of the residential driveways.
If you’re planning on camping overnight at Goldbug, you’re allowed to leave your cars parked at the trailhead overnight, but you’re not allowed to sleep inside of your car itself.
I’ve heard this area is pretty heavily patrolled and given that this is a residential area and the trail actually crosses on private property, please respect the rules so that others can continue to enjoy the hot springs!
What to Expect Along the Goldbug Hot Springs Hike
The trail to Goldbug is well-maintained and, given its popularity, the well-trodden path is quite easy to follow!
From the trailhead, you’ll start hiking up the path, which gently slopes uphill. As mentioned above, the first quarter of a mile is actually on private land, whose owners have been gracious enough to allow hikers to use it to access the springs. Please be sure to be courteous guests (don’t be overly loud or leave trash or, y’know, poop on their land or something).
Within ten minutes or so, you’ll reach a metal gate, which marks where the Bureau of Land Management public land starts. For the next 1.25 miles, the trail climbs slightly upwards, through a beautiful high desert landscape. I had no idea that parts of Idaho looked like a desert before visiting Goldbug—you’ll literally pass cacti along the way! You may also notice a handful of campsites with fire rings on your right hand side in this area (more on that later!).
About 1.5 miles into the trail, you’ll reach a series of wooden box steps along a very steep hill, with lots of loose gravel. Be SUPER careful on this slope if the trail is wet or icy.
My husband, Justin, and I did this hike when it was completely dry and this hill was still super slippery—so make sure to wear proper hiking shoes with good traction, like hiking boots (Justin has this pair and I have this pair) or hiking sandals (we both have a cult-like love for our Teva sandals- check out his and hers).
After a steep climb up, you’ll see a beautiful, mossy waterfall on your left hand side—this is your sign that the hot springs are straight ahead! After one final flight of stairs, you’ll pass a wooden bridge and you’ll finally reach the springs.
What to Expect at Goldbug Hot Springs
Goldbug really is one of the most stunning hot springs I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been to, like, a lot of hot springs). It’s comprised of a series of 1’-2’ foot deep pools, carved into a cliffside and fed by a thermal creek.
Near the top of the hill (right near where you’ll exit the wooden bridge), there’s one very large heart-shaped pool that’s fed directly by the creek. This will be the hottest spring (around 110º F).
From here, the water spills from this pool over the cliffside, creating two 15-foot warm waterfalls that cascade into the pools below. Between the waterfalls and the jaw-dropping views of the valley below, this is where Justin and I spent most of our time in the springs—it’s seriously GORGEOUS.
The water from these pools cascade further down the cliffside to fill yet another hot spring downhill. The further downhill you go, the cooler the pools will be.
But for a bench near the heart-shaped hot spring, there really are no other facilities here to speak of, like bathrooms, changing rooms, or places to store your stuff.
Accordingly, you may want to consider bringing along a drybag. I always bring one when we go to hot springs, so that I can store our camera, cell phones, and keys within reach while I’m relaxing in the water.
Frequently Asked Questions about Goldbug Hot Springs
When should I visit Goldbug Hot Springs?
One of the awesome things about Goldbug is that you can visit them year round! That being said, visiting during each season has its pros and cons.
We visited in July and it was a lovely time to visit, with clear skies and a dry and accessible trail.
This also means, though, that you should expect company in the springs—and lots of it! Even though Justin and I got to the trailhead before sunrise, there were still folks who had camped overnight enjoying the pools before we got there.
It also gets quite hot as the day goes on and there’s limited shade along the trail, so be sure to bring along some sun protection, like sunscreen and a hat. You’ll also need to bring along plenty of water, both for the hike up and while you’re relaxing in the pools. Justin and I always pack these comically large Nalgene bottles wherever we go and I LOVE them.
Autumn is a lovely time to visit, thanks to the crisp weather that’s perfect for soaking in warm water.
The crowds of the summer will have thinned a bit, but I still wouldn’t expect to get the springs to myself—there still will be plenty of hikers trying to squeeze in one last trail before the season ends.
Winter looks straight up magical here, with the steamy pools, surrounded by the rolling hills, all blanketed in snow. Plus you’d have an awesome chance of getting the hot spring to yourself!
That being said, getting to and from the hot springs in the wintertime won’t be particularly fun.
For one thing, this part of Idaho gets quite frigid in the winter (as in, single digits to negative temperatures kinda cold).
For another thing, the steep, slippery hill up to the springs may become borderline dangerous with ice and snow. If you’re headed here this time of year, I’d bring microspikes and, depending on recent trail reports, potentially snowshoes (Justin has this pair of snowshoes and I have this pair) to help you navigate along the trail safely.
Spring can be one of the best times to visit Goldbug Hot Springs, while the wildflowers are in bloom and the surrounding valley is lush and green.
It’s generally pretty rainy, though, so expect a muddy (and slippery) trail that you’ll need to be careful on.
Can I camp at Goldbug Hot Springs?
So long as you’re camping on the Bureau of Land Management portion of the trail (i.e., past the metal gate), yes, you can! No permit or fee is required.
As mentioned above, you’ll find three campsites within the first mile or so of the trail on the right hand side. Each of the spots are quite large and could probably accommodate three or so tents, so this is perfect for an outing with friends!
Alternatively, when we visited, there was a group of folks camping up by the springs themselves. Just remember that you’re not permitted to camp within 500 feet of the springs and to always follow the leave no trace principles when choosing a spot!
Is nudity allowed at Goldbug Hot Springs?
Yes, like at many of the other natural hot springs in the Pacific Northwest, nudity is allowed at Goldbug Hot Springs, so be prepared to see some genitalia!
What should I bring to Goldbug Hot Springs?
- Drybag: To keep your stuff dry while you’re enjoying the hot springs and to put your wet swimsuit away when you’re done with the springs and ready to hike back.
- Quick-dry towel
- Shoes with good traction (his or her hiking boots or his and her hiking sandals, depending on what time of year you’re headed here)
- Plenty of water
- Microspikes (weather dependent)
How long should I plan to visit Goldbug Hot Springs for?
Between a couple of hours spent in the hot springs themselves and hiking to and from them, I’d budget about four hours when visiting.
Have the best time enjoying Goldbug Hot Springs! Do you have any questions about visiting the springs? Let me know in the comments below!