Wildlife Sighted: Deer
Johnson Hot Springs Trip Reports
Jerry Johnson is Idaho's most popular hot springs - and as such, is
heavily abused. Please pack out all trash and don't bring glass.
This hot springs is already under nighttime closure. If we don't
take care of Jerry, we risk losing the right to visit completely.
Overnight, illegal campers beware, the Forest Service will catch and
fine you. They routinely send out patrols after dark ISO violators.
On Sunday, July 24th
2011, we arrived bright and early at the Warm Springs Pack Bridge in
the Clearwater National Forest, AKA the trailhead for the brief
jaunt to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs. The parking area was half-full
of overnight campers, and there was even a Rainbow bus with a
handful of folks sleeping in their bags underneath.
The 'Buffalo Tribe'
was heading back home, but had to detour around Oregon. Apparently,
one of their tribe has an Oregon warrant. After crossing the pack
bridge we were treated to the same sight over and over again.
Jackhole overnight campers... sound asleep amongst their piles of
trash, camping illegally, in areas desperately in need of recovering
from years of abuse. A new jackhole sub-type was discovered here as
well... the meth jackhole.
Long story short, we
documented the illegals and lectured a bunch of kids drinking
Boone's that had strewn trash in a perfect circle around their
little 'hot tub'. The little jerks took off running with our backs
turned and left their trash, of course. We finally found a good
soak, which was eventually shared with a photography class from MSU
in Missoula, MT and a few other random people that wandered in. All
good people, and all in all a great soak.
Aside from the
jackholes, the soak was stellar and the people we chatted with were
very friendly. We passed a handful of rangers on our way out, on
their way in (to drop the hammer). I enjoy backpacking and camping
near hot springs too, but when unique places like this are heavily
damaged, hot springers need to respect that damage by not adding to
The first source was
still submerged, no surprise here given the insane late spring
runoff this season. The second and third sources were good to go.
The lower sign no longer exists
It has been awhile since visiting, what I like to call, the highway 12 region. Three stellar soaks, all accessible off the same highway.
Sadly, Weir Creek was overrun with soakers. Not that I mind the company of fellow hot springers, but Weir Creek can only hold so many. Which lead to the logical conclusion - Jerry Johnson. I would have spent the whole week at Stanley Hot Springs, but fording Boulder Creek was out of the question.
Interesting to note; the trailhead to Stanley Hot Springs was actually posted clothing optional. While the signage that has been up at Jerry that states the hot springs and trail are both clothing optional has ... evaporated.
From what I've read, all National Forest in Idaho is in fact clothing optional unless otherwise posted. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Anyway, visiting Jerry was an enjoyable reunion.
I've never actually soaked at the second source pool before. This time, the temperature was just right. The soak was indeed stellar. Visiting early yielded to having the entire complex of hot springs to oneself for a handful of hours. Not bad, considering the waterfall pools at the first source were submerged.
All in all, Jerry was a great soak. I think the main reason why I has such a good time was that I didn't have to cart hardly any trash out (!). Remarkable, considering the nature of this particular soak.
The Clearwater National Forest and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is a longtime Idaho favorite for natural, primitive hot springs. Located in north-central Idaho and primarily accessible off State Highway 12, this is the state's lushest region in regard to hot springs hiking and backpacking trips.
I favor this region partially because of the associated diversity of travelers. Sure, there are locals, mostly from across the border in Montana... Missoula is close by with a hearty population of ready and able hot springers. What I've found to be unique is meeting people from not only around the country, but from other countries. All have been, in my experience, friendly, outdoor enthusiasts that possess a pure love the for the wilderness. Most seem to be escaping city life, or just life in general... taking refuge in one of nature's finest. I've been offered to share a meal, campfire and/or beer in this area more times than I can remember.
This area was the last place I backpacked with a lifelong friend and backpacking partner before he was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. I can always feel his presence around here. It was an amazing last trip... complete with a visit from Stanley's Hot Springs Moose. I've got video, it'll go up... soon I promise. :) I will forever miss our annual backpacking hot springs expeditions.
Jerry Johnson Hot Springs was a sight for sore eyes if there ever was one. Even the dirt feels different beneath your feet here. The ground is soft, and crunches slowly under the weight of each footfall. The moist air helps keep the trail dust down and bare legs relatively clean. The hike through the Clearwater National Forest is too short. Early in the morning it is has a medieval like appeal at sunrise, when fragments of light pierce the wooded veil like flashlight beams on a starless night.
Idaho's southern forests in comparison (save for the southeast) are dry. Aside from the mighty Ponderosa Pines, the trees don't always blot out the sky. Easy to bushwhack, forget about it up north. More snakes, less berries. About the same amount of wolves and black bears, but less grizzlies. There's none in the south, and a handful supposedly up north. Nothing to worry about though, the majority of wilderness animals in Idaho have not been exposed to trash. Another good reason to keep a clean camp and pack out everything.
There are 3 sources at Jerry Johnson. The first I had never soaked in until this particular trip; the waterfall-fed pools. Only one pool was prime for soaking, and was well worth it I might add. The 2nd source's primary pool was too cool, clocking in at 98, and the 3rd source's only pool was a perfect 103. It was qualified, and enjoyed immensely.
East of Jerry Johnson Hot Springs lies a Forest Service operated outfitter camp, typically stocked with a few horses. In the trailhead parking lot was a Forest Service pickup, but it was unclear if it was from the outfitter or a decoy left behind as a reminder of nighttime closure. The previous evening this place was slammed at dusk with 8-10 vehicles and FS personnel. Regardless, a quiet soak was enjoyed early the next morning.
I even made up a Selway-Bitterroot rap, which I unfortunately was singing out loud before encountering a grinning, chuckle-suppressing young lady with a camera just a few feet ahead during the hike out. I remember her in particular because of the vehicle she drove. It was jam-packed with provisions, caked in dirt and a long way from home.... scratched into the mud on the back window read "Free Bird". No wonder her smile was so big.
Three years later I returned to JJ in hopes of qualifying the
waterfall pools... well... almost! I was able to withstand a few
minutes with my back to the hot waterfall before heading on to
qualify pools from the remaining two sources. My friend and I broke
camp at 4am and were at the hot springs no later than 5am. Within 10
minutes of our arrival the crowds started to trickle in. Even though
JJ is only a 1 mile flat hike, nudity is the norm here. I was
surprised that there was no signs warning would be soakers of
oncoming nudity - as most roadside or near roadside hot soaks do.
There was a blend of
locals from Missoula, MT and travelers at JJ. The new JJ official
campground is now open, and is the only campground along highway 12
without shade. This time of the year shade is most definitely a
requirement. I had a great time enjoying the pools and some light
banter with fellow soakers... three years has been too long.
We got up early, determined to beat everyone out to Jerry Johnson Hot
Springs... and it
worked! We had all of those beautiful pools to ourselves from 6am to 9am
(when we left and still no visitors). Sadly, the waterfall pools were
submerged due to spring runoff. The scenic old growth forest, Elk and other 2 sources
with accompanying pools more than made up for it.
The weather was hot and humid
during the day followed by powerful 20 minute thunder and lightning storms at
night. They were awesome! There were plenty of large flying
(carpenter) ants, and bug juice didn't have much effect.
After it finally cooled off at night it wasn't long before they
disappeared. Although, I seemed to keep finding them inside my truck
days after leaving the area.
This is the 2nd most frequented HS I have ever
visited (see the Traffic Update about the afternoon before below),
Scenic HS in Washington being the 1st.
Heavy usage and amounts of trash almost always walk hand in hand.
However, JJ HS had a little less garbage than I had expected. Any trash is too
much, especially when found floating in the pools.
The nighttime closure (open
from 6am to 8pm) is primarily due to Missoula, MT college students using
the springs as a regular party grounds; which left the area severely
trashed as a result. I enjoyed my visit here; it's hard to go wrong with 3 sources
feeding multiple pools. Please also note that
May is the primary float season in this area (expect heavy traffic).
A huge load of cars and trucks (enough to fill up the large parking area)
were parked at the trailhead to Warm Springs Creek Trail around 4pm.