Sunbeam Hot Springs are some of the most gorgeous hot springs in Idaho, located in a rushing river of crystal clear water and surrounded by rolling hills of pine trees. And besides being jaw-droppingly gorgeous, Sunbeam is also one of the most accessible hot springs in the state.
So pack up the car and let’s hit the road- here’s everything you need to know about visiting Sunbeam Hot Springs.
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What are Sunbeam Hot Springs?
Sunbeam Hot Springs are one of the closest geothermal springs to Stanley, Idaho, a quirky outdoor adventure hub and the gateway to the rugged Sawtooth Mountains. Stanley offers out-of-this-world hiking trails, plentiful white water rafting experiences, and, of course, lots of stunning hot springs (here’s a list of all the awesome things to do in Stanley)!
At Sunbeam, you can enjoy its geothermally-warmed waters in both manmade tubs and more natural pools within the Salmon River. A thermal creek, with steamy water (up to 160°!) flows directly above the Salmon River and is piped downhill into the river water.
Here, volunteers have created pools, varying in size and depth, using boulders and river rocks, to mix the hot water with the chilly river water. You’re also welcome to build your own pool with the river rocks.
And did I mention that Sunbeam is fricking gorgeous? Sunbeam sits within a valley, with panoramic views of dense pine tree forests, craggy mountain peaks, and Idaho’s sloping green hills. My husband, Justin, and I enjoyed Sunbeam so much during our recent trip to Stanley we made three trips there!
How do I get to Sunbeam Hot Springs?
Boise and Salt Lake City are the two closest cities to Stanley, about 130 miles and 380 miles away, respectively.
Most visitors come from Boise, which is a solid choice- to reach Stanley from Boise, you’ll drive along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, a jaw-dropping scenic drive snaking along the Payette River, with sweeping views of sloping valleys and rugged cliff sides.
If you’re flying into either Boise or Salt Lake City, you’ll need to get a rental car to get to and around Stanley, given there’s no public transport. Generally, you’ll be able to get to Sunbeam Hot Springs and most of Stanley’s other attractions with any standard passenger vehicle, although you might want to consider an SUV if you’re visiting during the very snowy and icy wintertime..
Sunbeam Hot Springs are just a 17-minute drive east of downtown Stanley along Highway 75, located here. Before you reach the springs, you’ll see steam emanating from the river and directly afterward, a big ol’ “Sunbeam Hot Springs” sign to the right. Behind the sign, you’ll find plenty of free parking along the shoulder.
From here, you can either walk down a paved path to the left, which will lead to two small man made tubs alongside the river, or to the right, down a steep dirt path to the natural pools in the river itself. This is one of the most magical things about Sunbeam- unlike some of the other springs around Stanley, you don’t have to hike in. Just park your car and hop right in!
When should I visit Sunbeam Hot Springs?
If you’re visiting Stanley to enjoy its hot springs, you’re in luck- the springs are awesome year round!
Each of the seasons come with its own quirks and challenges, though:
- Summer is the most popular time to visit Stanley- you can enjoy the high elevation trails through the incredible Sawtooth Mountains without snow and ice, try your hand at rafting down the Salmon River, and swim through any of Stanley’s 300 lakes. But it’s also Stanley’s busiest time- so if you’re looking to get Sunbeam all to yourself, this may not be the best choice.
- Come fall, the foliage in Stanley is gorgeous and the autumn months tend to be a lot quieter. That being said, higher elevations hikes start to see snow around mid-October and the river levels will likely be too low to enjoy rafting.
- Winter in Stanley looks straight up gorgeous, but it can get mighty cold (the average lows in December and January are below zero) and snowy. On the bright side, Stanley has tons of awesome winter activities, like snowshoeing or backcountry skiing. And what could possibly be a better apres-ski treat than soaking in nature’s own hot tub?
- Snow usually lingers throughout most of spring, eventually giving way to huge amounts of runoff. This makes the rivers great for white-water rafting towards the end of spring, but can make enjoying hot springs more challenging (and even potentially dangerous), given the high water levels, strong currents, and colder than usual water.
In terms of what time of day to visit Stanley, I’d recommend coming bright and early (like, sunrise early) if you’d like the springs to yourself. Otherwise, given its proximity to Stanley and its accessibility, Sunbeam is a favorite amongst families and large groups and tends to be quite busy during the day, especially during the summer and on weekends.
Even if you visit Sunbeam during a particularly crowded time, though, not to worry- the hot springs are spread throughout a pretty wide chunk of the Salmon River so you should still be able to find just the right spot.
What should I know about visiting Sunbeam Hot Springs?
- Be careful before stepping into a pool. As mentioned above, the water spilling down from the thermal creek is hot- like, burn your flesh off hot. And it can retain its fiery warmth until it properly mixes in with the cool Salmon River water.
So when you’re entering the river from the banks, be sure to dip a toe into a pool before plopping your whole body down (turns out, hot springs are decidedly less relaxing when they scald you!).
- Wear a swimsuit. Local custom treats some hot springs in the Stanley area as clothing optional, meaning you shouldn’t be surprised to see some *surprise genitalia* during your visits.
That being said, Sunbeam is literally right along (and visible from) the highway and frequented by families. So I’d highly recommend swimsuiting up for this one!
- Respect and follow the Leave No Trace principles. Listen, Stanley is, like, crazy beautiful and has somehow managed to fly relatively under the mass tourism radar. So let’s keep Stanley beautiful and wild by following the leave no trace principles.
If you’re not familiar, they’re all kind of “no duh” concepts, like pack out your trash, don’t start fires where you’re not supposed to, and refrain from harassing wildlife.
So, in summary, don’t be a jerk and leave Stanley better than you found it!
What should I bring when visiting Sunbeam Hot Springs
Luckily you don’t need to a ton of stuff to enjoy hot springs, but here are a couple of items that will make your visit more enjoyable:
- Hiking sandals: The dirt path leading to the river is steep and slick and the actual river itself is full of big, stabby rocks that are just itching to stub your toes and cut the bottoms of your feet. So bring along a pair of hiking sandals, like my beloved Tevas (I have these and my husband, Justin, has these) for better traction on wet, slippery surfaces and better protection from those sharp river rocks.
- Travel towel: Nothing is worse than getting out of a nice, cozy hot spring, realizing you forgot a towel, and making your way back to your car as a shivering and sopping wet mess (I should know- I make this mistake all the time!). So be sure to bring along a packable, quick-dry towel, like this one, to make it just a little bit easier to say goodbye to Sunbeam.
- Dry bag: Listen, dry bags are AMAZING. They’re really affordable, they keep all your electronics, keys, and other essentials toasty and dry when you’re frolicking in the water, and they’ll even float if you happen to drop your bag in the river. We have this one and use it all the time, for everything from its intended purpose, to a bear bag while we go backcountry camping.
- GoPro: If you’re extra like me and want to get some awesome photos or footage while you’re playing in the hot spring, a GoPro is kind of a must. It easily slips in your pocket, takes incredible videos (even under water!), and has some handy built-in features, like image stabilization. Pure wizardry!
We also have this GoPro accessories kit, which comes with all kinds of handy gadgets to use with your GoPro, like a floating handle grip or backpacking clip to get epic footage of the trails around Stanley.
- Water: Between Sunbeam’s steamy water and the complete absence of shade here, it’s really easy to get dehydrated while you’re enjoying the springs.
So bring plenty of water- Justin and I both take these giant Nalgene bottles everywhere, from hikes to international trips and yes, even hot springs, to stay hydrated while we’re out adventuring. They’re way better for the planet than single-use plastic bottles and easier on your wallet. Score!
- Offline maps: Cell service around Stanley can go from spotty to non-existent, so make sure to download offline maps on your Google Maps app before leaving town so you don’t get lost along the way.
Where should I stay in Stanley, Idaho?
I’m going to be honest with you- given that Stanley is a remote and teeny town (with just 63 residents), there’s limited accommodations, most of which are a bit on the outdated side. But if you’re just looking for a comfy place to rest your head at night (which, if you’re doing it right in Stanley, is all you need!), you’ve got some options!
- Valley Creek Lodge: This lodge offers friendly customer service and incredibly clean rooms. Plus, almost all of the rooms come with handy perks, like kitchenettes and balconies.
- Redwood Cabins: If you want to be close to the action, these rustic cabins should be right up your alley- they’re right along the Salmon River, so you can literally just hop in a kayak or raft onsite and adventure away!
- Mountain Valley Lodge: I’m going to be blunt- from my experience, the bed in our room here was not comfy. However, this is inarguably the most popular motel in town, thanks to one special feature- the Mountain Valley Lodge has its very own private hot spring.
You’ve almost certainly seen pictures of it on Instagram- it’s housed in a rustic barn with doors that open wide for dramatic views of the Sawtooths. Worth the crappy mattress at night? Only you (and your back) can decide!
I hope you have a blast enjoying Sunbeam, its cozy waters and the surrounding views. Do you have any questions about visiting these hot springs? Let me know in the comments below!