Weekend Pass

Hidden Hot Springs Near Seattle

Nothing combats winter chill like nature’s hot tub.

By Allison Williams November 3, 2014 Published in the November 2014 issue of Seattle Met

Goldmyer Hot Springs

The Hot Springs Next Door 

It’s a long, rough road to Goldmyer Hot Springs outside North Bend—15 miles of potholes that’ll loosen your ribs and murder a car’s suspension. And our plan was to do the trek in mid-February in a 1985 Volkswagen van dotted with rust. 

Jeff Garinger, the earnest volunteer from the Northwest Wilderness Programs in charge of reserving spots to access Goldmyer Hot Springs, warned against it. 

“No, no. You can’t make it in a van,” he said. Multiple times. Most of his job is impressing on would-be soakers that the Middle Fork Road to Goldmyer is worse than they think—and you can’t call AAA from this deep in the Central Cascades.

But we were willing to risk it for a midwinter swim (plus this was a killer Syncro van with four-wheel drive and loads of clearance). We traced I-5 to North Bend and braved Middle Fork Road. Garinger wasn’t kidding; dodging every barrel-size pothole was a losing, teeth-chattering proposition.

After the drive, it took more than four miles by foot along a branch of the Snoqualmie River to a rustic cabin in the woods, home to Goldmyer’s caretakers. Visitors verify they’ve snagged one of the nonprofit’s 20 daily reservations, for $15 each, before marching the last quarter mile uphill on crunchy snow and frozen mud.

 But damn the potholes and damn the frozen mud: Goldmyer is worth it. The springs are a steamy series of rock walls and mini waterfalls among old-growth forest. Three terraced pools catch the 125-degree waters that emerge from a small cave in the hillside—actually a man-made horizontal mine shaft. By the time it reaches the lowest pool, it’s a pleasant 104.

The water is seeped in sodium, chloride, silica, bicarbonate, sulfate, potassium, and calcium, but if there are healing powers here, it’s from the gentle warmth and the dewy kind of forest that inspires fairy tales. There’s a slight sulfur smell in the hottest waters, in the back of the cave where muggy, tangible heat fills every dark inch. The soundtrack comes courtesy of a waterfall in adjacent Burnt Boot Creek.

The springs were discovered by William Goldmyer in the early 1900s; he claimed to have hiked from California to Washington “to get a good view of the country.” Warm waters once fed a resort with bathhouses and a lumber mill, but floods and vandals trashed the area in the 1960s and ’70s. When the nonprofit Northwest Wilderness Programs was formed in 1976 to clean up the joint, more than 100 pounds of broken glass had to be lugged out. Strict controls have limited visitors ever since.

Goldmyer remains the closest hot springs to Seattle, a day trip for those with the time and four-wheel drive. The Middle Fork Road started a three-year paving project this summer, meaning the first 10 miles will be smooth when it reopens on November 1. But the last few miles into the trailhead will retain those epic potholes, and there’s no plan to shorten the hike after that. A forest dip in Goldmyer hasn’t gotten easy quite yet.


Mine All Mine Burgdorf Hot Springs in Central Idaho was once a favorite for achy area miners.

Burgdorf Hot Springs

Idaho's Hidden Soak 

What do you call a ghost town where there’s no room for actual ghosts? Burgdorf, Idaho, has the look and eerie isolation of a ghost town, but every day of the year it welcomes hot springs soakers who are verifiably not dead. 

Sure, some of Burgdorf’s log cabins are crumbled skeletons, its old hotel is boarded up, and an old 1937 truck rusts in a field—it’s haunted in the best picturesque way. But the center of the settlement has never been abandoned: a hot springs tub the size of a swimming pool.

Burgdorf is in the Payette National Forest between the towns of McCall and Warren, two hours north of Boise and easily accessed by road in summer months. But then the snow falls—more than 11 feet annually in the tourist-friendly ski town of McCall—and the road closes. It’s 22 miles by snowmobile to reach the town. Caretakers rent the 15 cabins that have retained enough structural integrity to house guests, all heated by wood stoves and trimmed in pioneer style with hand-carved door  handles and split-log furniture. Sometime in the 1860s, a Chinese miner wandered through a remote meadow in central Idaho and found a stream giving off steam. “It tasted strongly of ‘something,’ ” reported Idaho’s Lewiston Morning Tribune some 70 years later. Baffled, the miner related the story to German miner Fred Burgdorf, who had the means to capitalize on the burbling sulfur water. He built a hot springs resort in the meadow, filling the cabins with handmade knotted-wood furniture.

Two tiny tubs receive the first Burgdorf waters out of the ground, the hottest topping 113 degrees, leading some soakers to get bug eyed and run for the cooling snowdrifts. The 100-degree pool is almost Olympic-sized, big enough to float face up through the early sunset to see the stars come out. So many Idaho locals make the trek that pool conversation commonly drifts to Boise high school sports and which snowmobiler broke a collarbone this winter.

There’s little chance of Burgdorf becoming a true ghost town, at least as long as hot water flows. The pools can host up to 200 swimmers a day, and they flock even through winter. Comers to this hidden mountain meadow may no longer be miners hungering for minerals, but they’re much more likely to hit gold.


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