In Idaho, talking about hot water can get you in hot water. My mind harkens back to two years and two months ago, when the editorial staff at Boise Weekly received a telephone message from an anonymous reader who felt the paper had betrayed her--and God--by printing directions to Skinny Dipper Hot Springs, a remote cluster of litter-garnished, concrete-reinforced pools along Highway 55 just south of Banks. "I hope a big plane comes by and drops a load of shit on your house," the woman shouted before slamming down the phone.
That kind of territorialism is one of many reasons that, this summer, I'll be far more likely to spend my cool weekend evenings at one of Idaho's numerous geothermally heated swimming pools rather than at undeveloped hot springs. Some other reasons include the pools' cleaner and deeper water, their more consistent temperatures, year-round accessibility, lack of mites, chiggers and thermophilic viruses and, of course, the certainty that I won't end up hiking all day to a remote hot spring only to find two or more random horndogs getting it on in said pool once I get there.
But perhaps the biggest reason to choose swimming pools over soaking pools is that commercial hot springs, in my experience, are some of the best museums of human intimacy around. Spend an evening at one, and you'll see parents swimming with children, lovers canoodling in dark corners, and friends of all ages trying to show off their swimming prowess. The promise of hot water draws in road-weary travelers, buoyant local teenagers and senior citizens who want to quiet their creaking bones. For those of us who don't attend church, that kind of cross-demographic socialization is a rare treat. Also, for those of us who don't frequent health clubs, hot springs provide the equally rare, and always fascinating, experience of changing clothes in a room full of naked strangers.
In other words, you'll always come away from a hot springs with a good story. As such, I've framed this guide around my four favorite hot-tub stories. Stay tuned at the end for a guide to all of the other hot springs within a daytrip from Boise. Just remember: The longer and sweatier the drive to the hot springs, the more essential it is that you shower before entering the pool, for all our sakes.
A Bumpy Road to the Plunge
One summer weekend when I was about 15, I accompanied a friend and his family on a camping trip in the Boise National Forest. As we were driving just north of Crouch, I happened to look out of the car's rear window and noticed two people following us on a chopper-style motorcycle. Neither the driver nor his female passenger were wearing helmets; in fact, she was only wearing cut-offs and a bikini top. I was surprised and a little alarmed to see this, not only because of the rough roads, but also because the family's Suburban was throwing a significant amount of dirt and gravel right at the bike. After a few miles--probably a few too many--my friend's dad pulled over and allowed the motorcycle to pass. As it did, both the biker and his seat-candy gave our car two of the dirtiest looks I've ever seen. My friend's dad waved; nobody waved back.
As should be obvious by now, we soon realized the bikers and we were heading to the same destination: the remote Silver Creek Plunge Family Resort. We all arrived at about the same time, which meant that the biker, my friend, his dad and I all utilized the changing room together before entering Silver Creek's immense outdoor public pool. I prepared myself mentally for the possibility that I might get to witness a naked shouting match between two grown men, or perhaps even some kind of Greco-Roman locker room brawl. Sadly, all that came of it was a few minutes of naked awkward silence.
Silver Creek Plunge: 20 miles north of Crouch on Silver Creek Road, 208-739-3400, www.silvercreekplunge.com.
Cannibals Like Hot Springs, Too
Since Givens Hot Springs is the closest commercial hot springs to the Treasure Valley, I've had plenty of opportunities to visit the delightful 125-year-old indoor pool, with its timeless "There is no 'P' in our 'OOL.' Please keep it that way" sign at the entrance. Located along the Snake River on Highway 78 south of Marsing, it's a popular spot for family reunions, church outings and--most terrifying for me--Cub Scout swimming tests. However, I'll always associate Givens with my friend Sean, an avid road-biker who once undertook the 20-mile ride from his home in Nampa. After a swim, he laid down on top of a picnic table near the parking lot and fell asleep. When he awoke an hour or so later, he was startled to find a family having a picnic around him--despite the fact that all of the other nearby picnic tables were unoccupied. Fearing he might soon become the main course, he inched away and pedaled home.
Givens: 16 miles east of Marsing on Highway 78, 208-495-2000, www.givenshotsprings.com.
In a large public pool like the one at Miracle Hot Springs, it's usually obvious which swimmers are related to one another. That's why it was a little surprising when I saw a middle-aged couple sneak away from the gaggle of children I had previously seen them arrive with, and slip through a door into one of the 19 private tub rooms that line the public pool. The kids, in turn, played in the big pool with some other adult, possibly an aunt, a babysitter or just someone to whom the parents had slipped five bucks.
I thought for a moment about what I had seen--or thought I'd seen. Then I shouted "Ew! Ga-ross!" to my swimming companion, who told me to grow up. After all, the proprietors of Miracle seem quite comfortable with this phenomenon. They even offer a "Lover's Special" on Fridays and Saturdays, in which someone puts flowers and essential oils in the room for an extra $5 an hour. Keeping your customers' children busy for long enough to allow those customers to create even more future customers--now that's a good business model.
Miracle: 12 miles north of Buhl on Highway 30, 208-543-6002, www.miraclehotsprings.com.
The Ladies of Zim's
According to Collias family legend, my parents once drove my two sisters and me to Zim's Natural Hot Springs in New Meadows in the early 1980s. When Ma and Pa herded all of us elementary-school age kiddos to the pool area, we collectively discovered several rather large, rather naked women--bikers, I've been told--playing Marco Polo in the pool. Birth notwithstanding, this was probably my first exposure to the undressed female form, and how this spectacle affected my fragile 5-year-old psyche is anyone's guess. Or maybe it was all a dream, because I called Zim's last weekend to verify their policy concerning nude bikers and was told, "You must have been dreaming. You've got to have a suit here." Regardless, every other time I've visited this expansive pool since, the water has been perfect and the heinies have been safely wrapped in polyester.
Zim's: 4 miles north of New Meadows on Highway 95, 208-347-2686.
Other Hot Pools Within A Daytrip:
Banbury Hot Springs, Buhl, 208-543-4098, www.banburyhotsprings.com.
Burgdorf Hot Springs, north of McCall, 208-636-3036.
Easley Hot Springs, north of Ketchum, 208-726-7522.
Gold Fork Hot Springs, east of Donnelly, (208) 890-8730.