Jerry Johnson Hot Springs – Nature’s Hot Tubs

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jerry johnson hot springs idaho wanderlust northwest man and woman mountains wildernessOne of the best ways to spend winter months (with friends) growing up was soaking in a hot tub on someone’s patio while the snow was falling around us. Being that we were in the midwest at the time, the snow was more like razor blades coming down sideways. Barely sticking your head outside would mean your hair freezing to a crisp. Alright, it wasn’t that bad– but it had its aggressive moments. We have since replaced the hot tubs for natural hot springs. Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in North-Central Idaho is a gem in its own right. A pool of hot water, with steam rolling out of it, only to dissipate where the tree tops meet the sky. In one of the most desolate places in America, you will find one of the most relaxing experiences of your life.
(Photos have been compiled from multiple trips to show the changing scenery with the seasons.)

lolo peak in missoula montanaMissoula is graced by the view of Lolo Peak, just south of town. Rising in at 9,139 feet, it is a pretty easy landmark to get you in the correct direction. You take U.S. Route 93, heading South. Once you get to Lolo, you will turn onto U.S. Route 12.
Most GPS units (on Apple & Android) will be able to take you precisely where you need to go. Don’t get confused by the Lolo Hot Springs sign, you still have quite a ways to go from there.

man and woman driving mercedes through the mountainsFrom turning in Lolo, it is approximately 54 miles to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs. Depending on the weather and road conditions, the drive can go much longer than expected. The 2-lane road snakes through the mountains and along the river.

lolo pass idaho sign After making your way to the top of Lolo Pass, you will be greeted by Idaho. The pass is also a hot spot for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

road through the forest and mountains in idaho

It is this section that the landscape truly begins to reveal itself. Rising peaks, rushing rivers and heavy forests.

jerry johnson hot springs parking in the mountainsThe parking lot for the hot springs is on the right. You really can’t miss it. Conveniently, there is a bathroom located here as well. The hike in can take 25-40 minutes depending on conditions and how anxious you are feeling.

clearwater national forest warm springsDon’t let Clearwater National Forest fool you, the pools are more than warm.

road through the mountains of idaho

You have to cross the road to head towards the trailhead. We have never had an issue, but always be sure to check out the surroundings, open your ears and don’t dilly-dally in the road. This corner is pretty blind, and some vehicles give no f****.

bridge across river to jerry johnson hot springs

The first leg of the journey started by crossing this impressive bridge. In heavy snow seasons, the snow can be built up a couple feet on the bridge. Make sure all of your accessories are attached and your feet are stable.

river with ice floating in the mountains of idaho

Autumn is phenomenal. You don’t see too many species of pine trees that change color.

winter snow covered trees along river in idaho

However, winter is pretty nifty as well.

man overlooking bridge and river in the mountains

The trail to the springs will tease the riverfront. At times you will be right next to it, others you will be an ear’s distance away with nothing but towering pines around you.

snow covered moss

We don’t make it to the springs very often in the summer, since the lake is usually a more refreshing temperature. However, you can see that under this dusting of snow is a rich blanket of moss. The hike to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in the summer offers some pretty spectacular views of its own. Lush, green everything.

girl standing in the snow in the forest

We can’t complain about snow on the ground though. It just makes our surroundings seem more surreal.

man standing in the forest with tall trees in idaho When the ground is mostly barren, it is hard to resist temptation to not venture off of the trail. There is so much exploration to be had; however, the destination is worth not venturing (I don’t say that very often).

man standing in snow overlooking the river in the forest

Moving slow and taking your time is the best way to venture in. A healthy dosage of nature, with no cell service and no set schedule is the absolute best way to take in the hot springs.

Views like this come in no shortage.

dogs running down hiking trail in the forestJerry Johnson Hot Springs are very dog friendly. Most dogs seem to be at home hanging out and running through the woods, rather than putting on water wings and floating in the water though. Big dogs and small dogs alike can be found on the trail.

man and woman overlooking jerry johnson hot springs with steam rising

After awhile of hiking, you will undoubtably begin seeing steam rise up from the river. This is when you know that you are very close.

steam rising from river with a man and woman standing

That steam is actually the first hot spring at Jerry Johnson. The trek down can be a little tedious on snow and ice covered ground..

waterfall into jerry johnson hot springs

.. but the view is worth it. Being that this pool was formed by essentially damming up a little section with river rocks– when the water is high the river will flow into the springs. Most of the time, this makes it a less than optimal temperature.

When the river isn’t washing away all of the heat, this location is prime. The waterfall is pumping out steaming hot water from the inside of the mountain.

winter river scene with snowy forest in the mountains

This is the last real view that you see before dropping down to the riverbed; where there are approximately 5 more hot springs (ranging in size and temperature).

jerry johnson hot springs main pool in the forest

The forest breaks to reveal a rocky river bed with random pools of steam sprinkled across the ground. This is the most popular hot spring. It is usually the warmest, and it can fit a lot of people.

clear water at jerry johnson hot springs in idahoThe depth varies pool to pool, but pretty much all of them come to the chest area. There is enough room to sprawl out though. Most of my time is spent slumped against a rock with only my head exposed.

men and woman sitting in jerry johnson hot springs with large boulderFor a visual reference, that rock in the middle is a little larger than just being a pebble.

girl wearing athletic clothing standing in the forestJerry Johnson Hot Springs is probably the most popular of the springs in Idaho. This means that sometimes it can get a little crowded. I seem to be fortunate and always end up being one of the few indulging in nature. If you are looking for more of a private setting, you can venture towards the river.

water cascading off of rocks with motion blur

There are a few hot springs there that will do nicely. One of my favorites is perfect for 2-4 people, so you shouldn’t be bothered. Plus, it is literally a foot from the river– providing views of small cascades.

tattooed girl sitting in jerry johnson hot springsTowards the edges of the springs can be somewhat lukewarm, but don’t be discourage– there is always a very hot section. Where she is sitting, the water coming in from the ground had to be on par with a hot tub. This makes it nice for when you start to get too hot. Rather than perching on the rocks, you can just move away from the heat source slightly.

dramatic lighting in the forest with mountain in the backdrop

The other popular pool can be found through the trees. You must walk completely passed all of the first springs and towards the distant peak. This only adds 100 yards to your  venture, if even.

snow covered mountain at jerry johnson hot springs

This setting offers some killer views of the wilderness around you.

large back pool at jerry johnson hot springs during winter

There is ample room to get situated and practice your backstroke.

man and woman soaking under log at jerry johnson hot springs

The darker area under the log is where the heat source is. On a colder day, cramping yourself back there is fantastic– but you still overheat pretty quickly.

dog standing on log by clothes

The worst part about the hot springs is whenever you decide to leave. You have to love getting out of hot tub, getting dressed in the frigid air and trekking back to the vehicle. Actually, I really do love that. It completes the experience in the best of ways.

woman standing in snow covered forest with sun and yellow beanieYou will be amazed at the amount of relaxation that has engulfed your body by the time that you make it back to your vehicle and sink into your seat.

mazda driving through snowy mountain roads

Good luck staying awake on the ride home.

lolo pass montana sign

Jerry Johnson Hot Springs is one of the best ways to spend a morning, afternoon or night. Although, I have heard that they have ticketed vehicles for being parked in the trailhead past a certain time. I have yet to confirm of this.
Jerry Johnson is a relatively easy hike in, with only a couple steep parts. The winter months can bring ice to the trail, but it is still pretty manageable.
If you have virgin eyes, then keep in mind that nudity is not uncommon here. Men and women, young and old.
When bringing snacks and beverages, be sure to always pack out. Nature and other enthusiasts don’t need to deal with your trash.

More information about Jerry Johnson Hot Springs can be found by visiting IdahoHotSprings.com.

Lastly, enjoy. It is as simple as that.

Photos & Words: Ross M Perkins

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Ross M Perkins

Creative Wanderlusting Mechanic at Wanderlust Northwest
Thinker of stuff, Doer of things. There isn't much that makes me more happy than finding myself in new surroundings with camera in hand. Roadtrips are standard life procedures and the maps in my home are there to inspire me to travel even further. When it comes down to it, I just really like nature..