Looking for hot springs in Stanley, Idaho? Lucky for you, this charming mountain town, set against the jagged Sawtooth Mountains, is bursting at the seams with bucolic vistas, outdoor adventure, and lots of picturesque hot springs.
After visiting Stanley a couple of times, I have personally tried most of the hot springs and have figured out everything you need to know about the best spots in the area. So if you’re on the hunt for some incredible hot springs in or within a short drive of Stanley, Idaho, keep on reading for where to find them, what to bring, and how to make the most of your visit!
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Table of Contents
- How do I get to Stanley, Idaho?
- When should I visit the hot springs in Stanley, Idaho?
- What should I know about the hot springs in Stanley, Idaho before visiting?
- The best hot springs in and near Stanley, Idaho
- What to bring to hot springs in Stanley, Idaho
- Where to Stay in Stanley
Pssst…. are you headed to Stanley? You’re gonna love it! You may want to check out our post on 11 Incredible Things to Do in Stanley, Idaho!
And if you’re looking for more hot springs (I don’t blame ya!), you might be interested in checking out these other posts:
- 17 Practical Tips for Visiting Umpqua Hot Springs in Oregon
- 5 Incredible Hot Springs in Mammoth Lakes, California
How do I get to Stanley, Idaho?
Stanley, Idaho is a fairly remote town, located about 130 miles from Boise, Idaho and 380 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah.
It’s surrounded by pristine wilderness for dozens and dozens of miles in every direction (actually, it’s located in the largest federally managed wilderness area in the lower 48 states!) and, from Boise, is located along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, a stunning scenic drive winding through dense pine forests and high mountain valleys. So if you live within driving distance from Stanley, I’d highly recommend a road trip, if you can swing it!
Alternatively, you can fly into Boise or Salt Lake City- to snag the best rates on airfare, I swear by Skyscanner, where you can set flight alerts, compare flights from different airlines, and score travel deals.
Given Stanley’s remoteness, you’ll also need to pick up a rental car at the airport. Unless you’re planning on staying in some of the dispersed camping areas around Stanley, the roads are well-maintained and you shouldn’t have difficulty getting around in any standard passenger vehicle.
When should I visit the hot springs in Stanley, Idaho?
If you’re only interested in visiting hot springs in Stanley, great news! It’s wonderful to visit most of the year.
There are some pros and cons for all of the seasons, though, especially if you’re considering adding other non-hot spring outdoor activities to your itinerary:
- Summer (June through September)– If you’re looking to hike in the Sawtooths or white water raft along Stanley’s Salmon River, summertime will probably be your best bet to visit. Downside, it’s unsurprisingly the most crowded time of the year and you’re unlikely to snag a spring all to yourself. Thus far, my husband, Justin and I have visited Stanley in July and August and had a lovely experience both times.
- Fall (October through November)– Enjoy the gorgeous fall foliage from your own personal hot springs, now that the crowds have left for the summer! During the later part of fall, though, some hiking trails in the Sawtooths at higher elevations may be covered in snow and white water rafting trips likely will be unavailable.
- Winter (December through February)– If you’re a photography nerd, this will be one of the most photogenic times to visit (is there anything dreamier than a hot spring surrounded by a thick blanket of snow? I think not).
But given the remote location, roads or hiking trails to the hot springs may be crappy or inaccessible due to ice and snow. Justin and I canceled a trip to Stanley in December as the roads around it were closed due to “high avalanche risk”- yikes!
- Spring (March through May)– Honestly, this seems kind of like the worst time of year to visit- the highest chance of rain, hiking trails are still likely to be covered with snow and ice, and white water rafting does not become available until around May.
What should I know about the hot springs in Stanley, Idaho before visiting?
Stanley and the surrounding area is an absolutely magical place. Craggy rock spires reach from sloping golden hills, thick pine tree forests surround rushing rivers- it’s so stunning that every time I visit, I can’t wait to come back for more. And despite its ethereal beauty, Stanley seems to mostly fly under the mass-tourism radar.
So why am I sharing this incredible hidden gem with you? Because I fundamentally believe that everyone should have equal access to free and public outdoor spaces.
That being said, while the town of Stanley itself is beyond charming, with historic log cabins and surprisingly awesome food for a town of 63 residents, what makes this place truly special is its gorgeous landscape. As such, please respect this beautiful place and follow the Leave No Trace principles, especially:
- Dispose of waste properly. Pack it in, pack it out. If you drink beer in the springs, make sure to pack out all the cans when you leave. Speaking of beer consumption, it’s worth noting that only some of the springs have outhouses, so go before your visit. And if you need to relieve yourself while you’re there, make sure to do so at least 200 feet away from any water source.
- Be considerate of others. There’s a good chance you’ll be sharing the hot springs with at least one other person- instead of giving the other person the stink eye, be friendly and make a new hot springs friend! Don’t play loud music while you’re in the springs, pick up after your dog, and generally, follow non-jerk-y behavior.
Besides following hopefully common sense behavior, what else should you know about hot springs in Stanley, Idaho? Here are a few things to know that may make your visit even better:
- If you want to have some time alone in a hot spring, I’d recommend getting there early (like… early early). Even when Justin and I got to a spring at 6 AM, we only had it to ourselves for about 10 minutes or so- and that was on a weekday!
If you’re really committed to soaking in peace, you may want to consider coming during the off-season or getting there super early on weekday mornings. We’ve also gotten springs mostly to ourselves later in the evenings (close to sunset), so for any non-morning people out there, that might be a more palatable approach.
- Local custom treats some of the hot springs (like Pine Flats or Goldbug Hot Springs) as clothing optional, meaning you may see some, ahem, strangers’ genitalia during your visit. Some other hot springs, though (like Kirkham or Sunbeam) are frequently visited by large families (including little kids), which may make the whole nudity thing a bit uncomfortable or, at a minimum, unwanted by other visitors.
If you’re interested in donning your birthday suit in any particular springs, I’d recommend reading the room (or reading the springs?) a bit before stripping down to make sure that you’re not forever remembered as “that naked dude that crashed the McGuffin family reunion.”
- Stanley weather can be pretty crazy- during one of our visits there, the weather, over the course of our three days in the area, would transition from being sunny to hailing quarter-size chunks of ice to lightning and back to sunny within a very short time period. Hopefully, a “no duh” protip, but don’t sit in a hot spring if there’s lightning in the area and always have a Plan B in mind in case the weather doesn’t cooperate (exploring the nearby town of Sun Valley is a great option when the weather sucks!).
- A couple of the hot springs around Stanley are located on National Forest land and you’ll need to pay a nominal fee (around $5 per spring), unless you have the America the Beautiful Pass, an annual pass that costs just $80 and gets you into more than 2,000 U.S. National Parks, forests, shorelines (and on and on).
If you don’t plan on stopping at any other National Parks or Forests within a year span, then it might not make financial sense to purchase (and be sure to bring some cash along with your visit!), but if you’re a National Parks nerd like me, it’s such a handy travel hack.
This little pass has saved Justin and I SO much money- we would have easily paid at least $250 this year alone on National Park entries without it. Plus, the proceeds help support the awesome and totally underfunded National Park Service!
You can either pick one up here or at the entrance to most U.S. national parks.
The best hot springs in and near Stanley, Idaho
Now to the good stuff- the actual hot springs! Before we dive in (eh, get it?), it’s worth noting that only a couple of the springs are located in Stanley itself, but several are within an hour or so drive.
I’m listing these natural springs below in order of closeness to Stanley and have included tips on which of these are close together, in case you want to hit up several springs at once.
1. Boat Box Hot Springs
Just six minutes north of downtown Stanley (located here), Boat Box is certainly one of the most unique hot springs I’ve ever been to. Spring water flows from the geothermal source through a plastic pipe into what looks like an old mining cauldron, that comfortably fits one to two people, nestled along the river in a pine tree-strewn valley.
The water directly from the plastic piping is uncomfortably hot (around 110°), but there’s a white bucket next to the tub to dump cold water from the river to cool it down a bit. The cauldron also has a valve so that you can drain some water to regulate the temperature and ensure that clean water is flowing through.
While this spring is incredibly unique, I wouldn’t necessarily put this hot spring at the top of my list if you’re looking for a relaxing place to soak for a long time in peace. Without mixing in the cool water from the river, the water directly from the pipe is WAY too hot to sit in and unless it’s springtime when the water level is high and at the base of the cauldron, you need to keep climbing in and out of the cauldron to get river water… so you likely won’t be able to just laze around in the tub.
Justin and I also got here at 6 AM and shortly after our arrival, were joined in the very tiny tub by an older gentleman. While the tub felt way too small for three people, there was no polite way to tell him to wait his turn. So, I suspect that, unless you luck out and have the springs all to yourself, you’ll likely either be waiting for other people to get out of the springs or other people will be waiting on you.
Despite those factors, this spring is absolutely worth a stop, given its quirky beauty and proximity to Stanley.
Fee for using the hot spring? Free!
This little spring is filled with eccentricities, so I wrote a whole post with tips for visiting Boat Box Hot Springs, but here are some of the main ones to keep in mind.
- There is no parking lot here and visitors must park along the shoulder of the highway, which only fits a handful of cars. If the parking spots are full, come back another time and do not, under any circumstances, park on the road as it’s windy and narrow to begin with.
Given the tub only holds two people, it doesn’t really make sense to park there if there’s no parking anyway!
- The spring itself is surprisingly easy to miss, even though it’s located almost directly below the parking area. Keep a lookout for steam rising to the right of the parking area (if you’re facing the river) and you should be able to find it!
- If there are people waiting to get into the springs during your visit, limit your time in the springs to a maximum of 30-45 minutes and clearly communicate that to the people waiting. Everybody will be happier that way!
2. Sunbeam Hot Springs
Located just a bit past Boat Box and 18 minutes from downtown Stanley, Sunbeam Hot Springs (located here) is a great option, due to its proximity to Stanley and its large capacity. Water from a hot stream (really hot- 160° F!) is piped down to the Salmon River, where bathers can build their own small pools, using river rocks, to mix the hot water with the cool river water. It can be a bit challenging to find a spot that isn’t too hot or too cold, but channel your inner Goldilocks and you’ll eventually find one that’s just right.
Fee for using the hot spring? Free!
- Because the hot springs are located in the literal river, the rock pools may be submerged and the current may be too strong to sit in during spring runoff.
3. Bonneville Hot Springs
Bonneville Hot Springs (located here) are a 47 minute drive to the west of downtown Stanley and remains one of the more under-the-radar hot springs in the area. Park at the Bonneville Campground and walk the easy 0.25 miles to the springs.
Similar to Sunbeam, water spills down from a hillside and into the Warm Springs Creek (a deceptively-named, decidedly not warm creek), where visitors have built small rock pools to soak in that mix hot and cold water. At the top of the hillside, there’s also a small wooden “soak shack” with a cast iron bathtub that’s constantly being refilled by hot water being piped in.
Camping? Yes, at the Bonneville Campground ($15 for a single site and $30 for a double per day)
Fee using the hot spring? Yes, $5 for day use, unless you have the America the Beautiful Pass
- The campground is only open from May through September, so if the campground’s gate is closed (or there is too much snow, which can still be the case in May!), you’ll need to instead park near the Warm Springs Trailhead, which is about 1,000 feet before the campground.
- Visiting in the wintertime? Strap on some snowshoes, take this 2.6-mile trail to the springs, and you’ll have a good shot of having these springs all to yourself!
4. Kirkham Hot Springs
Kirkham Hot Springs (located here) are a little over an hour to the west of downtown Stanley (and just a bit past Bonneville). Kirkham is perhaps the most famous hot spring in Idaho and deservedly so!
With dozens of natural pools, a waterfall that feels like Mother Nature is giving you a nice, cozy shower, and a gorgeous view of the Payette River and the surrounding rolling hills, it’s hard to imagine a better spot to soak in steamy water. The downside is that this place gets pretty popular, especially with large families, so you may have to wait a bit to snag your own pool.
Camping? Yes, at the Kirkham Campground ($15 for a single site and $30 for a double per day)
Fee for using the hot springs? Yes, $5 for day use, unless you have the America the Beautiful Pass
- To access most of the springs, you can just walk from the parking lot, down a flight of wooden stairs, and onto the rocks creating the pools. Since the pools over here tend to fill up the fastest, though, you can alternatively follow the hiking trail that leaves from the left side of the parking lot and loops up a hill, where you can carefully make your way down the gravel hill towards the westernmost springs in the river.
I wore flip-flops walking down the hill and, given the jagged rocks, seriously regretted that decision. I’d instead recommend wearing some kind of hiking sandals to offer better stability and protection for your soles (like this pair of Tevas for women or this pair for men).
5. Pine Flats Hot Springs
Pine Flats (found here), located an hour and 16 minutes west of downtown Stanley (and a bit west of Kirkham), are gorgeous natural hot springs along the Payette River, featuring a hot waterfall that pours into a pool along the riverbed, with several other pools to discover and explore.
To access the springs, you’ll need to hike 0.3 miles (one way) from the trailhead, starting in the Pine Flats Campground; there’s a helpful sign that points to the hot springs in the campground’s parking lot. The trail there is occasionally steep and again, has lots of stabby rocks, so I recommend wearing some kind of hiking shoe on the trail.
Most of the pools are constructed right along the riverbed, but there’s also a couple of pools perched on the hillside. To find these, follow the trail for about 0.3 miles, where you’ll see a steep rocky hill and water trickling down the side of the hill (it should be about 75 feet away from the hot springs waterfall). Immediately before the portion of the rocks where the water is trickling down is a loose rocky path- follow that up about 25 feet and you’ll find your own hot spring oasis!
Camping? Yes, at the Pine Flats Campground ($15 for a single site and $30 for a double per day)
Fee for using the hot springs? Yes, $5 for day use, unless you have the America the Beautiful Pass
- I’d recommend putting the Pine Flats Campground in Google Maps (as I linked above) instead of the hot springs themselves. If you put in the latter, your GPS will tell you to pull your car over against a guard rail and to access the hot springs, you’ll apparently have to tumble halfway down a steep mountainside, several hundred yards below.
As mentioned above, the campground has day use parking and an easily accessible trailhead- no falling down a mountain needed!
- Headed to Stanley, Idaho from Boise? Consider hitting up Pine Flats, Kirkham, and Bonneville Hot Springs (in that order) on your way to Stanley- they’re literally on the way, so incorporating them into your drive out (as opposed to having to drive two-plus hours round-trip to them from Stanley) makes a lot more sense.
6. Frenchman’s Hot Springs
These springs (sometimes called “Frenchman’s Bend” or “Warfield”), known as a “locals’ favorite”, are located an hour and 35 minutes south of Stanley, close to Sun Valley, Idaho (located here). The springs are constructed of man-made rock pools in the Warm Springs Creek, where hot water bubbles up from the floor of river rocks and mixes in with the cool river water. To get to the springs, you’ll drive down a well-maintained gravel road, park in a small dirt parking lot, and walk a short and flat distance to the springs.
During one of our trips to Stanley, Justin and I headed to Sun Valley to check out its breweries and since these springs were not super far out of the way, we stopped to explore them. During our visit, the creek was high, due to the rainy weather, and made the waters in the pools incredibly cold. In addition to the chilly creek water, the source of the springs themselves, from along the floor of the riverbed, creates an unpleasant sensation of your feet being burned, while the rest of your body is freezing.
TL;DR: I wouldn’t drive out of my way to try these springs (but worth a shot if you’re exploring the Sun Valley area) and would avoid visiting during springtime or after rain. Other folks have left positive reviews about these springs so I can only imagine that they’re lovely at certain times of the year, like in the fall and winter.
Fee for using the hot springs? Free!
- The springs can be a bit hard to find, especially if the water is high. While you’re walking from the parking lot, keep an eye out on the righthand side of the dirt road for a sign posted on the hill, welcoming you to the springs (pretty good give away, right?).
- This handy sign expressly indicates that swimsuits are required so no nudity here, friends!
7. Goldbug Hot Springs
Located about an hour and 45 minutes northeast of Stanley (found here), it’s a bit of a trek to Goldbug Hot Springs (both due to the drive time and the fact you need to hike four miles round trip to the springs), but it’s SO WORTH IT!
When you arrive at the trailhead, it might look like you’re in the wrong place, with residential houses lining the dirt road, but the trailhead sign to the right and a vault toilet to the left of the trail will confirm you’re right on track. The trail is well-maintained and the desert-like landscape feels like a significant departure from the more Pacific Northwest mountain vibes of the Stanley area.
The beginning portion of the hike is mostly flat, but the second half of the trail is steep and rocky in places. Regular hikers will find this path to be an easy to moderate hike, but beginners may find this trail to be a bit more challenging. Right before you hit the hot springs, you’ll reach wooden box steps to climb and a series of beautiful mossy waterfalls to your left.
The hot springs themselves consist of a large pool at the top of a cliff that is fed by a creek. The water cascades over the cliff and creates a waterfall of hot water, feeding two more pools below. These pools feed a final pool- the farther from the creek you go, the colder the water becomes. And oh yeah- did I mention these pools offer a completely STUNNING view of the surrounding mountains and valley below?
Camping? Yes, there are several camping spots to the right of the beginning portion of the trail or alternatively, by the top of the springs, there’s several places to pitch a tent or string up your hammock, with fire rings scattered about. Please make sure to not camp within 500 feet of the hot spring or at the trailhead itself. There is no fee for camping overnight.
Fee? None, although there is a box for donations (we left $5, consistent with the other hot springs in the area).
- The beginning portion of the hike is on private property, which the owners have graciously permitted for years. PLEASE do your part, keep their property clean, and follow the Leave No Trace principles, so others can continue to enjoy this beautiful spot! Also, if you notice someone else’s trash, do us all a favor and pack it out with you if you can.
- Since walking to the springs is a legitimate four-mile hike along a rocky and, at times, steep trail, I’d strongly recommend wearing hiking boots to the springs (I’ve used these Merrell’s for years and men’s equivalent can be found here). Similarly, even in the best of weather, the steep rocky trail was a bit sketchy in places and I can’t imagine how challenging it would be in the wintertime, when the path is covered in ice and snow. So, if you’re trying to access the springs in winter, I’d recommend bringing microspikes (like these) or crampons (like these) to put on your boots.
Looking for more hot springs near Stanley, Idaho? I’ve only included natural hot springs on this list but there’s a few hot springs that are more developed in the area, including one right in Stanley at the Mountain Village Resort or Gold Fork Hot Springs in Donnelly, Idaho.
What to bring to hot springs in Stanley, Idaho
Luckily, you don’t need to bring much to visit the springs, but here are some items to consider packing to make the most of your visit.
- Bathing suit: As mentioned above, this is optional at some of the springs, but given the traffic at most of them, I’d recommend packing a swimsuit. If you’re into that Baywatch look, I’m wearing this suit in some of the photos in this post (I have it in both red and white). For the fellows, I’d recommend trunks like this that wouldn’t look too out of place if you went straight from the springs to grab a beer in downtown Stanley.
- Towel: Bring a quick-drying, easy-to-pack towel, like this one. For whatever reason, it seems like I always forget to pack towels when I visit hot springs and it’s no fun making my way back to the car, sopping wet and way too cold.
- Water shoes: The bottoms of the hot springs in Stanley are generally made of river stones, which can be quite jagged. To avoid cutting your feet (which has happened to me more times than I care to admit) and to provide support as you walk to the springs, bring along sandals that can double as water shoes- 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 hot springs can be dehydrating, especially if you’re drinking any kind of alcoholic beverages. To be kind 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!
- Dry bag: When we visited the springs, we packed all of our electronics (our camera, tripod, and cell phones), our towels, any beverages we wanted to bring, and other odds and ends into our dry bag. This made carrying all of our stuff to and from the springs super easy and also eliminated the fear that we’d drop all of our expensive gear into one of the springs. 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!
- Jacket: Did I mention the weather in Stanley can be a bit unpredictable? Even in the best, most predictable weather, nothing is sadder than stepping out of a warm cozy hot spring into the freezing air. So I suggest bringing along a light, packable jacket (like this one for women or this one for men) to make that transition out of the hot spring a little easier.
- Offline maps: Outside of downtown Stanley (which is all of four square blocks), cell signal is basically non-existent. So before you head out to any hot springs, make sure you have a map of the area downloaded on Google Maps so you can get around even without service.
Where to Stay in Stanley
As you can perhaps tell from above, Stanley has a ton of great and affordable camping options (fantastic for my RVing fam)! There’s plenty of free dispersed camping options, like Forest Road 210 Dispersed Camping and Nip & Tuck Road, with gorgeous views of the Sawtooths. Prefer to camp with full hookups? Check out Valley Creek Lodge and RV Park for affordable rates, proximity to Stanley, and the Sawtooths as your backyard.
Looking for lodging in Stanley, Idaho? While there’s certainly a few accommodations in Stanley, word to the wise- given Stanley’s remoteness, most of its limited accommodations aren’t exactly luxurious and while comfortable and clean, they tend to be a bit outdated. With that in mind (you shouldn’t come to Stanley to hang out in your hotel room any way!), check out:
- 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.
I hope you enjoy exploring the hot springs in Stanley, Idaho- it’s such a magical place! What did you think of the hot springs in the area? Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments below!