| Wetsuit Weekender Summer Break Edition |

Western Road Trip: Rivers, Lakes & Hot Springs

DATES OF DIPS: 8/6/20 - 8/18/20

 

A little different than the normal content, this post features river, alpine lake and hot spring tips from a post-Labor Day 2-week road trip from Seattle, WA --> Bend, OR --> Boise, ID --> Stanley, ID (Sawtooth Mountains) --> Walla Walla, WA and back to Seattle! 

Route

Seattle, Portland, Bend, Boise, Stanley, Walla Walla, Seattle

Distance

No distance here, only quick plunges in icy alpine water or long soaks in natural hot springs!

Water

Geothermal and icy alpine lakes!  

Support

A trusty pup and boyfriend 

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The Route | 1,500 Miles

Bend, Oregon | So Many Bends in the River! 

 

My boyfriend, dog and I started our much needed two-week road trip from our home in Seattle and drove through Portland to Bend, Oregon in one day. The drive takes about 6 hours; it's doable but is a long, full day drive. We spent a few days in Bend and hit up a few popular water spots! 

Bend, Oregon | Deschutes River

 

We hiked the 2.5 mile Deschutes River Trail in the city of Bend. We accessed the Deschutes River Trail by Riverbend Park. I've tubed the Deschutes over by this park before too, I highly recommend doing this post-COVID! 

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Shevlin Park & Tumalo State Park, Oregon | Tumalo Creek, Deschutes River 

 

In Bend, we trail ran a 3 mile route in Shevlin Park, the completely flat Tumalo Creek Trail. This was such a peaceful run past plentiful ponderosa pines and the along the creek. I was glad I didn't encounter any cougars since this is cougar country! Next time, I'd love to run the full 4.7 mile Shevlin Loop trail. Later, we went to Tumalo State Park and sat by the Deschutes River to swim! 

 

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Smith Rock State Park, Oregon | Crooked River 

 

We hiked the sage and juniper-filled 5 mile "Misery Ridge" trail and about 2 miles of the mostly flat Wolf Tree trail through Smith Rock Park. This is one of my absolute favorite places to hike; the dramatic landscape always reminds me of Jurassic Park. Smith Rock is a renowned rock climbing destination, brave souls even slack line between peaks! Part of the excitement of this hike is watching people rock climb. During the hike, we found two perfect spots to jump in the Crooked River to cool off. I recommend starting a hike at Smith rock either early in the morning (sunrise is beautiful!) or in the evening. We started around 7 am and finished by 1 pm, escaping the worst of the heat at the ideal time. We left our campground (Skull Hollow, 10 minutes away) early and brought our coffee and ocean rolls from Sparrow Bakery to a picnic table so we could watch the rock turn orange with the sunrise. 

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Deschutes National Forest, Oregon | Tumalo Creek & Tumalo Falls

 

Right outside of Bend, we also hiked 5 miles of the Tumalo Falls trail. We didn't do the full loop but we went about 2.5 miles out and back. We passed many waterfalls on this hike and plunged in a few of them! It was quite hot in Bend while we were there; the icy plunges were very welcomed! 

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Stanley, Idaho | From Hot to Cold Extremes!

From Bend, we drove to Boise. We walked a short distance along the 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt trail and visited the golden hills of Camel's Back Park by the north-end Hyde Park neighborhood (our favorite). After a day in Boise, we planned to drive the 3 hours to backpack in the Sawtooth Mountains. But, as you learn quickly on road trips, things don't always go as planned. I slept on my neck awkwardly in Boise and our dog was freezing at night while car camping in Bend so we decided to skip backpacking and instead day hike and explore hot springs post-hiking in Stanley (population 62) at the base of the Sawtooths. If you plan to go to the Sawtooths in the early fall, be sure to pack plenty of cold weather gear so you are able to withstand the freezing temps during the night. We woke up every morning to all of the clothes we left out at night completely frozen solid and frost on the car. This is a stark contrast to the hot days, so be prepared with all of the cold weather and warm weather gear you could possibly need! 

Stanley is an adorable little mountain town by the Salmon River. All of the houses are log cabins, and there are a few restaurants, bars and a delicious bakery/cafe! The rustic Stanley Baking Company and Cafe reminded us so much of the Stehekin Pastry Company, we loved it. 

Stanley, Idaho | Redfish Lake, Bench Lakes, Alturas Lake, Fourth of July Lake, Washington Lake 

 

We stayed all three nights at the Sunny Gulch campground (100% first come first serve), only a short drive to Redfish Lake, along the Salmon River. Redfish Lake is so cool - there's a lodge, cocktail cart, and concession stand with picnic tables right at the lake. This is such a family friendly spot - it definitely has something for everyone.

 

At Redfish Lake, we took the hiker boat shuttle ($19 one way per person) from the lodge to the opposite end of the lake at the Redfish Inlet Trailhead. Since we weren't backpacking, it was ideal for us to take the boat to the more remote hiking terrain since it allowed us to get deeper into the Sawtooths without staying overnight. In the future, we'd love to come back to the Sawtooths, take the boat again, and do a multi-day backpacking trip earlier in the summer. From the end of the lake, we hiked to Bench Lakes and swam with a few of spiky 10,229 ft. Mt. Heyburn looming in the distance. 

 

After reaching the two Bench Lakes, we hiked back to the lodge on the Redfish Lake trail, along the ridge line of the lake the entire way back, for a total of about 8 miles. Once back at the lodge, we had a beer and fish tacos and took a dip in Redfish Lake. Dogs aren't allowed to hangout on the beach at Redfish Lake, so we ended up driving 20 miles along a highway of golden hills to the more remote Alturas Lake and sat there for a while so the dog could cool off and play fetch. 

Later on during our time in Stanley, we drove to the White Cloud Wilderness (part of the Sawtooths National Recreation Area, NRA for short) and hiked to Fourth of July Lake and Washington Lake. The drive to the trailhead is a bit long (10 rough miles, but my Prius handled it), through previously burnt forest and striking yellow aspens. This was a great 6 mile hike - minimum effort (only 800 ft. elevation gain) and maximum reward! We'd love to come back here and backpack since it's only 3 miles to Washington Lake. 

 

Of course, we hopped in icy Washington Lake once we arrived! I dreamed of swimming across it with a wetsuit! 

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Redfish Lake Hiker Shuttle Boat

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Bench Lakes, Sawtooth Wilderness 

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Washington Lake, White Cloud Wilderness

Stanley, Idaho | Salmon River, Boat Box Hot Springs, Cove Hot Springs, Sunbeam Hot Springs

 

Driving out of Stanley (taking a left) down highway 75, we quickly entered into hot spring paradise. It's incredible to stop and think that when we're lounging in hot springs, we're actually enjoying water that's coming from the earth's crust, heated by magma! We loved dunking in the cold Salmon River to cool off in between our soaks. 

 

Boat Box Hot Springs is close to Stanley and only 3 miles down the highway, flanked with huge rock cliffs and golden hills. There is no sign for Boat Box, but cars are normally parked on the side of the road in a small turnoff. It's also located after the first 30 mph sign out of Stanley. Boat Box features a large tub (formerly an ocean buoy) for soaking with tubes connecting to the boiling hot spring which you can use to fill the tub. A bucket is also close by for grabbing water from the Salmon River to cool off the tub, as it quickly gets hot when you fill it with only hot spring water! You can also empty the tub and refill it after each use. This was our favorite hot spring as we could actually fully submerge! 

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Boat Box Hot Springs: Our Favorite!

About 7 or so miles down the highway, we found Cove Hot Springs. These hot springs have a campground and are a bit smaller. We found a good little hot pool and soaked for a while here, wishing we brought a shovel to dig it deeper and build up the sides to prevent cold water from the river from coming in. 

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Cove Hot Springs!

At 11 miles down the road, we found Sunbeam Hot Springs! Sunbeam is definitely the biggest of all of the springs we found, with about 5 pools. It's also the most popular. I highly recommend bringing a six pack of beer, seltzer and sitting with a good book for a while at the springs. 

Wildfires in Idaho closed Highway 21, which was our original planned route back home towards Walla Walla. This meant we weren't able to stop in Lowman at Kirkham Hot Springs. We plan to visit this one when we're back again in the beautiful Sawtooths!

As someone who normally likes to get some distance in when I'm in water, it was so refreshing and relaxing to take a break from intense swimming and just soak. I forgot how much I missed going to the spa because of COVID on this trip...we even researched the cost of hot tubs on the way home! 

Sunbeam Hot Springs - The Most Popular

Overall, I'm so grateful for being able to take time to relax during COVID. I know so many people are not in the situation to be able to take time from work and get away right now. I know for mental health reasons, it's important for me to spend time outside, away from work, and recharge. It felt even good to take a break from intense swimming, too. We accumulated a lot of mileage on this trip - both on the car and on our feet (averaging 7 miles a day hiking). I am grateful for the rest and this beautiful western land.

 

I can't go without saying that our trip was interrupted by the massive wildfires that have been raging through Washington, Oregon and Idaho. My heart goes out to all of those people and animals affected by the wildfires; houses burned to the ground, land charred. I am skeptical of the sustainability of living in a place that deals with this kind of disaster on a regular basis, exacerbated by climate change. For now, I will do my part to respect this beautiful western land, teach others to respect it and do my part to reduce my carbon footprint. 

 

My hope is that this blog inspires people to experience and respect the beauty of the water and forest around us here in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. 

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NOTE: I am not an expert and this site is meant to give you tips on OWS and some ideas for adventures. If you're really serious about OWS, a swim coach is probably helpful. Your safety is ultimately in your own hands. Be smart out there and have fun!