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Home: Education: Hot Springs Watershed Activity
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Hot Springs Watershed Online Activity

Introduction: The Hot Springs Moose

North Central Idaho is home to many beautiful and amazing features. In this area lies the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, Idaho's first officially designated wilderness area. The wilderness is home to many different types of wildlife, and sustains a healthy population of moose.

The Selway Bitterroot Wilderness is an area in which a hot springs well-known to backpackers and outfitters is also located. This hot springs, known as Stanley Hot Springs (not to be confused with the town of Stanley, Idaho), is a favorite of hot springs enthusiasts because of a moose that frequents the springs at dusk almost every night during the warmer months.

Typically, at or near dusk, the hot springs moose makes a journey to Stanley Hot Springs to feed on the lush vegetation that surrounds the hot springs pools, and, according to the locals, enjoy a hot soak.

Why Idaho is Unique in Regard to Hot Springs

Idaho has the most usable hot springs out of any other state in the United States, with about 130 soakable out of 340. However, Nevada has the most hot springs overall, but the majority of them are not soakable - they are too hot!

Kirkham Hot Springs in Idaho
Hiking to Kirkham Hot Springs, near Lowman, Idaho

What Makes a Hot Springs Hot?

The water is hot because it is heated from within the Earth's crust, forcing it up to the surface where pools are developed or form naturally near the outflow.

At Bear Valley Hot Springs in Idaho, hot water collects in large pools and cools as it spills into a chain of lower pools (with lower temperatures) before reaching Bear Valley Creek

Common Uses of Hot Springs

  • Humans use hot springs recreationally, to soak in. They also harness energy from the hot water (geothermal energy - more on this later) as a means to provide a more efficient, renewable energy solution. The harnessed energy is used to heat homes and power greenhouses, and the hot water is used to raise fish and alligators.
  • Animals feed off the lush vegetation that grow as a result of the hot springs water. In Stanley, Idaho entire herds of Elk are able to survive the harsh winters because of the valuable food made available by the hot springs. The hot water outflow melts ice and snow, leaving lush vegetation exposed even during the most brutal of winters.

Sunbeam Hot Springs near Stanley, Idaho
Sunbeam Hot Springs is popular with families

Hot Springs Inquiry

If you've lived in Idaho long, the chances are you've already been to or know of a hot springs. Most of the hot springs in Idaho are on public land, like National Forest or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Hot springs on public land are usually free to visit and feature naturally formed or user-built pools designed and built by volunteers, many of which work for the public lands.

Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in Idaho
Idaho's most popular hot springs: Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in Idaho, near Missoula, Montana

Idaho is home to another type of hot springs, where humans have developed the land on and around a hot springs into a commercial resort, spa or rustic retreat. There is usually a fee of some sort associated with using these types of hot springs which feature concrete pools that are often enclosed.

Think Quick! Can you name any hot springs in Idaho that you have been to or know of? Think hard (not too hard!), then click here to view a list of public hot springs names.

Activity: Journey To a Hot Spring
Each molecule of water contains two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of water. As groundwater heats up, the water molecules become very active and begin their journey up faults, cracks and loose rock in the earth's crust to the surface where the hot water (molecules) form hot springs.

Become the Water Molecule

Have your students, friends and/or family members stand in small clusters which represent cool water molecules.

As cool water falls from the sky in the form of rain it collects on the surface of earth. Some of the water makes its way down into the earth's crust through loose rock and faults.

Cool groundwater is slowly warmed up by hot rocks below the earth's crust. You can demonstrate this by having the 'water molecules' begin to slowly move around, but stay in place. It is not time to leave clusters, yet.

As the heat from the rocks is transferred to the water molecules they become increasingly active - to the point where they being to travel upwards, towards the surface of the earth. You can demonstrate this by having everyone increase their movements and being to slowly span out from their clusters.

As the hot water molecules make their way toward the surface they begin to lose some of their heat, and even more when they finally exit the ground and hit the cool air of the surface. After having everyone span out, have them slow down their movements and begin to slowly return to their clusters.

After exiting the ground the hot water molecules form pools on the surface where they continue to cool in a hot spring. At this point you can either take the water molecules to gas form, up into the atmosphere to continue to activity, or you may return them to their original state.

Conserve, Preserve and Protect

Here are some things to think about when using hot springs recreationally, on public land.

  • Tarps - Tarps left in hot springs produce a foreign fungus which does not break down and is harmful to the surrounding environment and ultimately makes its way into our local water systems.
  • Camping - Keep campsites at 200 feet away from all water sources. Any pollution that gets in threatens fish, wildlife and human drinking water.
  • Cooking - Cook at least 200 feet away from all water sources for the same reason as above.
  • Bathing - Hot springs are not for bathing. All soap, even bio-soap introduces harmful contaminates that do not break down into the water system.

Stanley Hot Springs in Idaho
Stanley Hot Springs near Lowell, Idaho

Internal Activity References/Resources

External Activity References/Resources (open in a new window)


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No Soap, Shampoo or BIO-Soap/Shampoo Allowed in Hot Springs! Avoid Being Fined!

Public hot springs are not bathing facilities and do not have 'plumbing' like that of commercial, improved hot springs. Soap and shampoo (including biodegradable soap and shampoo) do not completely breakdown naturally. This pollutes our water systems (ingested by fish, animals, humans) at or near the source. This is also illegal in most wilderness and public lands areas.

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