Updated: Jun 30
Goldbug Hot Springs is one of the greatest, if not the best, hot springs that you can go to. The hike is short with some elevation gain, and the view at the top is one that you will never forget (especially when snow covers the mountains). There are over a dozen different pools all at different temperatures, and your group can get your very own pool, too.
In this blog, we’ll jump into everything you know about Goldbug Hot Springs and a bonus hike if you’re an experienced hiker. There will be lots of photos!
How Is a Hot Spring Made?
Before we jump into the Goldbug Hot Spring hike, let’s talk about the science behind a hot spring. Hot springs are made from geothermal heat from inside the Earth. Magma or hot rocks will heat up large quantities of water, and this water then circulates to the surface. Water will come out of the ground hot and quickly cool down; this is why it’s important that you need to go to the source for warm water! Many plants will grow in and along the stream that is created by the hot spring, and a lot of algae will grow on the rocks in the pools. Hot springs will still be around with climate change and droughts, which we talk about in one of our other blogs.
How to Get to Goldbug Hot Springs
Goldbug Hot Springs is located 30 minutes and 25 miles away from the small town of Salmon, Idaho 83467 in Lemhi County. With a small population of just 3,000 people, Salmon still has plenty of gas stations and restaurants (and some pretty tasty ones, too). If you’re traveling south on Highway 93 from Salmon, the turnoff will be on the left side after a small neighborhood and a 180 degree bend in the road. If you’re traveling north on Highway 93 from Elk Bend or Ellis, the turnoff will be on the right side right after Elk Bend. To make it easier, it’s right after what looks like a small satellite tower and a shed. This is what the gravel road will look like in both directions.
Hike to Goldbug Hot Spring
Once you get onto the gravel road, drive up to the two porta potties and park your car. If there is a line of cars parked, you’ll have to park a little ways back. Walk to the right and you should see the Goldbug Hot Springs trailhead. There are wooden fences on both sides and a little bridge that you can see in the picture below.
The hike is a moderate 3.6 miles and 895 feet of elevation gain. The trail gains some elevation right off the bat with a total of 100 feet of elevation gain through some grasslands. After the trail plateaus a bit, there is a gate that you’ll need to open. If you’re hiking with a little bit of snow on the ground, there will be lots of puddles and mud. The trail can be difficult to walk on, so I would recommend hiking poles or micro spikes if you’re nervous (skip to the end to see the checklist of items you need to bring). Make sure to keep your head up. There is a great view ahead and behind you.
The trail drops down a little bit and you enter a sagebrush habitat. Dozens of birds rely on this type of habitat, and these plants tend to be drought-resistant due to the roots extending “1-4 meters into [the] ground.” The trail will continue to get steeper and steeper for the rest of the hike up, so make sure you take a nice break. A little over a mile in, you’ll see the very first hot spring pool. Because this is still a mile away from the original water source, the water will not be anything more than lukewarm. There are a lot more Rocky Mountain Junipers here covered in berries. Some are taller than 50 feet!
There was this hill that had these snow lines. I believe that it is from a glacier moving through the canyon creating horizontal striations, but comment if you know for sure.
The trail continues along Warm Spring Creek until you reach a footbridge. Take a minute to close your eyes and relax to the sound of the stream moving through the rocks. The trail will get steep, so drink adequate amounts of water and take plenty of breaks.
There are some areas where the trail requires you to climb up some rocks. Be extra careful if there is any snow or ice. There will be some waterfalls 1.5 miles into the trail that are unfortunately mostly obscured by plants. But the good news is that you’re only a quarter mile away from the Goldbug Hot Springs, and you’re in Salmon-Challis National Forest! If you want to see a much better waterfall that is almost 100 feet tall, check out Morrell Falls located near Seeley Lake!
Keep on hiking up the Goldbug Hot Springs trail and you will find some wooden stairs. If I’m being honest, these stairs were the most tiring part. You are only 300 feet away from the hot springs.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the Goldbug Hot Springs. There are some deeper, larger, and warmer pools if you keep on hiking up. Some pools can fit a dozen people.
You’ll see a little waterfall like in the picture below. There is a switchback that continues on the right, so continue walking up. These "waterfalls" can be somewhat depressing but Morrell Falls in Montana is absolutely breathtaking, which we wrote a blog about.
You will start to see a lot of deep pools with some steam rising. Eventually, there is a bridge that gives you an amazing view down the canyon.
The pool on the right side of the bridge is the hottest by far. I couldn’t stay in that pool for more than a few seconds without burning myself. The pool on the left side of the footbridge is the best, in my opinion. It is very warm, deep enough to submerge your entire body if you sit down, and very big.
I highly recommend bringing a towel to dry yourself after getting out of the hot springs. The weather and temperatures at Goldbug Hot Springs can be unpleasant, and wet clothes make things so much worse.
Now onto the bonus hike! I only recommend this for experienced hikers with good knees. This entire hike goes through old rockslide areas, also called a talus slope or a scree slope. The rocks are large enough to get traction, but many rocks can be loose. You should use all four hands to prevent falling. The picture below shows what this hike above Goldbug Hot Springs is like and the view you can get if you hike high enough.
The path you’ll want to take is up the canyon after you cross the footbridge. Do not go to the northwest; any rocks that fall can hit people in the hot springs. You’ll see a trail that continues up the canyon and then disappears into the rocks. There is no trail to follow all the way up the canyon, unfortunately. Stay on the left side of the creek. I have no information on what challenges there are on the other side of the canyon.
When I hiked up the rocks, there were still some areas with snow. I missed my footing a few times and bruised my leg; this is why pants are absolutely necessary. Gloves can help stop the rocks from scraping your hands.
In the picture below, you can see another way up the canyon and possibly a way to see behind this part of the mountain. Because the slope is south-facing, the snow will take a long time to melt. If you see any snow whatsoever, do not go this way. The picture is about 1,500 feet above Goldbug Hot Springs. You may get “on top” of the mountain once you reach an elevation of 6,500-7,400 feet. This view cannot compete with the Angels Window in the Grand Canyon though, which we wrote a blog about. The view is even better at Moran Point or Navajo Point on the South Rim of the canyon.
One last tip before we end this part. If you are hiking with anyone else, make sure they are not behind another person. A rock that starts to fall can hit them and cause serious injury. Climb next to each other.
Goldbug Hot Springs Rules
If you camp near Goldbug Hot Springs, you must be at least 500 feet away from the pools. This is to keep the water clean. You can see many old campsites right next to the hot springs, but do not be that person!
Pack out what you pack in. Trash can stay stuck in the water or dirt for weeks. If you bring a dog, which is allowed if they are on a leash, pack out its poop.
Check for campfire bans. If fire danger is high, one spark could burn down Goldbug Hot Springs. If you do have a bonfire, dump water on it and make sure there is no warmth left.
This isn’t a rule, but skinny dipping at Goldbug Hot Springs can be frowned upon. Plenty of kids go up this trail, and their parents would not appreciate this.
Lastly, bikes are not allowed. There is a narrow metal fence that people can get through, but not bikes. It can be very dangerous biking down because there isn’t much traction, and people can unexpectedly appear.
Packing List for Visiting Goldbug Hot Springs, Idaho
Hiking boots. This is the most obvious one. There are lots of rocks and steep slopes that hiking boots are perfect for.
Water sandals. You don’t need them, but they are nice to have. All of the pools have rocks on the bottom of them. And when you’re getting out of the water, you can cut your feet before you put your shoes on. Dirt will stick to your feet and get in your socks.
Water bottle. The temperatures in the summer can be high, so you need to be constantly hydrating. The heat from the hot springs will make you lose water faster than you think.
Sunscreen. Bring sunscreen even if you’re there for sunrise or sunset. The mountains may provide some shade, but there is not much shade for most of the hike.
Bathing suit. It’s best to bring a bathing suit rather than use regular clothes so that you can change out of them before hiking down. There are some private areas to change clothes, but you’ll have to look around a bit.
Towel. I highly recommend you bring a towel because you will likely be cold when you get out. According to Princeton, “water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than air because it has a greater density.” Getting dry as soon as you get out of the hot springs will keep your energy level higher for the hike down to the trailhead.
Flashlight. Because you are in a canyon, it can get dark quickly. There are lots of rocks and steps that are dangerous if you can’t see them.
Food. You’ll need energy for the few hours that you’ll spend hiking and enjoying the water. Bring more food than you think you need just in case you spend more time relaxing in the nice, warm water.
Microspikes or snowshoes. If you’re hiking up there in the winter, there will likely be over a foot of snow. Using just your hiking boots will not be adequate and could be dangerous. You should also bring something that prevents your legs from getting cold and wet.
Camping supplies if you’re camping. Some people need very little stuff when camping, while others bring lots. There are too many things to go over, but it is a great place to camp!
Goldbug Hot Springs, Idaho is one of the best hot springs that you can travel to. There are not just one or two pools, there are over a dozen. You get a fantastic view from every pool, and you can choose what temperature of water you want. The hike is not too difficult, either. The worst thing about this hot spring is that it is far away from a large city, although some may consider that a good thing. I hope you enjoy this hike and all of my Goldbug Hot Springs photos! It’s definitely one of my most memorable hikes.