Chasing Hot Springs: Wandervan Winter Roadie

Trip date: December 8-12, 2021

It’s been a dream of mine to explore the beautiful state of Idaho. After hiking the John Muir Trail this past summer, I didn’t think I would find myself venturing out of my home state of California, let alone venturing out in a Wandervan! It was Wednesday, December 8th around noon when I landed in Boise, Idaho. I met up with a friend from San Diego and after picking up our home on wheels at Wandervans, our hot spring journey began.

The pick-up process was super easy and convenient! After a 10-minute Uber ride from the airport, we arrived at Wandervans. After finalizing our reservation before our flights, we received an email confirmation reflecting all the details of our medium-sized van. Details include year, make/model, license plate, and van ID number. The people at Wandervans understand that travelers arrive in town at odd hours, so when you arrive simply search for your van ID and make sure to match the license plate number. Simple as that! After a quick review of all details, and instructions we hit the road to our first campsite; but not without a quick stop at Walmart to stock up on snacks and meals for our journey! Our Wandervan was equipped with a fridge, allowing us to buy sandwich things and save money on the road!

With the days being short, and the sun setting around 4:30 PM we planned to camp the first night near our first hot spring and soak in the morning. This was the first time I’ve ever driven a van this size, and I must say it handled very well, especially on those mountain roads.

We woke up to unexpected snow the next morning, a complete winter wonderland. After changing into our suits for the hot spring, we remembered that the van came stocked with an espresso maker, and our days never did start without first making caramel hot chocolate mochas.

Our first hot spring, Trail Creek Hot Springs. Located outside of Warm Lake, ID Trail Creek’s hot spring consists of two decent-sized soaking pools along a cold creek. As soon as we arrived, it started to snow. Surprised to find a near-empty parking lot, with only one other camper van, we enjoyed a short walk as we headed straight towards the creek and immediately saw the pools from up above.

A winter wonderland and we had it all to ourselves. At first, the pool was too hot to soak in, almost unbearable; until we found the magic nozzle allowing cold creek water to fill up, cooling the hot springs down a bit, allowing us to soak comfortably. We easily spent 3-4 hours here, as more people arrived we chatted with the locals and told them about our hot springs journey. They went on to suggest a few of their favorites, most of which we already had on our list, and a few that we have since added.

Finding a place to camp for the night was not hard at all. I was nervous about finding big open spaces to fit the van, knowing that campgrounds were closed for the winter season, but Idaho is full of dispersed campsites that are also open year-round! We may have not had a table or restroom, and since the van already came equipped with a table and camp chairs, using the restroom on the road was something we were no strangers to. We enjoyed chili beans with cheese and Fritos on our first night. Having a camp stove and kitchen kit was perfect, and I’m so glad we thought to add that on at the last minute. The kitchen kit comes with a pot, a pan, coffee/espresso maker, plates, cups, mugs, and cooking utensils for 4 people.

It was already day 3 of our 5-day winter roadie, and our next hot spring required a little hike. Because of seasonal campground closures, one would have to hike nearly a mile to Bonneville Hot Springs from the road that doesn’t block the campground entrance. As hikers, and out-of-staters we didn’t mind the hike much. It was actually nice to get out of the van and stretch our legs a bit, not that the van doesn’t have standing room, just getting some fresh air really amped us for this hike. When we arrived, we figured it would be smart to not block the closed campground entrance, so we parked a little further ways down the road to an open parking area, adding a quarter-mile to our 3/4 mile hike. Again, and to our surprise, there was no one else parked. We would enjoy a solid hour solo soaking here before a few others started to arrive.

I couldn’t believe what we were hiking into. After the snowstorm that hit the night before, everything was completely covered in powder! Steam rising from the hot creek, and snow melting alongside the creek was something out of a dream. The colors were so vivid and unreal. We spent some time wandering around the creek, snapping photos, and soaking in multiple pools, and then it started to snow again. Winter dreams become a reality right before our eyes. We wouldn’t leave Bonneville without first polar plunging in the creek. After leaving the pools and the creek, I headed to the bathtub that was covered in the cutest little cabin. This bathtub is big enough for only 1, has a pipe as the main source, and was just perfect before the hike back to our Wandervan.

Feeling a little giddy after that amazing soak, we made snow angels in front of our Wandervan before making sandwiches for lunch and hitting the road to our next campsite. We had plans to soak at Boat Box and Sunbeam Hot Springs, but by the time we arrived at Stanley, ID there was a winter storm warning we had to keep an eye for. We would camp nearby, and check out the hot springs in the morning.

Temps dropped to 12° that night, marking it the coldest night of our trip. Thankfully, our Wandervan came equipped with a built-in heater! This heater is amazing and kept us warm throughout the night! The electrical system on these Wandervans will automatically shut off saving you the trouble of wondering that you’re going to drain the van’s battery. It is recommended that the van run at least 20 minutes before running the built-in heater, and in less than 10 minutes, the van warmed up to a solid 70°. The only bad thing about getting so comfy in a van when it’s that cold outside is when you have to go out for the restroom.

The next morning we decided to check out Boat Box and Sunbeam hot springs before the storm hit around 11 AM. Unfortunately, Sunbeam was not hot or deep enough to enjoy a morning winter soak, and by the time we arrived at Boat Box, a couple had set up a nice little champagne breakfast. We decided to head back towards Lowman just as the storm arrived.

The drive from Stanley to Lowman was a bit nerve-wracking, I will admit. Knowing the storm was headed our way, not really having the most experience with a van this size, and literally, no one else is on the road, was a bit intimidating, but we took it slow and made it just fine. If anything, I was probably being a little dramatic. We arrived at a packed parking lot for our third hot spring, Kirkham. Being a Saturday afternoon, we figured we wouldn’t have these pools to ourselves, and arriving at a full parking lot proved just that.

I can’t blame anyone there that day. It was absolutely a dream to soak in such conditions after that storm. After walking around for a while deciding which pools we wanted to soak in, we noticed a couple getting ready to leave. We scored a pool all to ourselves that afternoon, and even though we didn’t get to enjoy the hot spring waterfalls of Kirkham, we definitely enjoyed the hot spring waterfall at Pine Flats!

Pine Flats and Kirkham hot springs are two of the most popular hot springs in Idaho. Easily accessible, with multiple pools, we could have spent all weekend just at these two springs! Located less than 20 minutes away from one another, one can easily turn these springs into a quick weekend adventure year-round!

We camped in Idaho City on our last night, as we made it closer to Boise to drop off the Wandervan. We knew it was going to snow that night but was not expecting the 8 inches we woke up to the next morning. Actually, a snowplow is what woke us up around 5: 30 AM plowing the parking lot that we were camped in, and all around our van!

It was a nice, slow drive back to Boise that morning. We wanted to make sure that the van was clean and ready for its next big adventure, so when we arrived back in Boise- we stopped at a car wash to quickly wipe down and clean out the van. A van wash is not required but is highly recommended before returning your rental.

The drop-off process was just as simple as picking up. After arriving at Wandervans, I parked the van in any open spot and completed the included paperwork, remembering to note any damages that may have occurred on our trip. Thankfully, we didn’t have any issues. It is asked that you take photos of the van upon return, and email them to complete the drop-off process, and that’s it! Although, it was a lot harder saying goodbye to our home on wheels, but forever grateful for this opportunity and now having new life goals.

Planning to visit any of these hot springs, or hot springs in general?

Check out this quick hot springs etiquette list for a fun relaxing soak!

♨️ 𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐍𝐨 𝐓𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐞 (𝐋𝐍𝐓): Leaving these places better than you found them. Pack out EVERYTHING you brought with you. Towels, swimsuits, drinks, food, gear- nothing should be left behind.⁠

♨️ 𝐒𝐤𝐢𝐩 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐨𝐚𝐩 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐥𝐨𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧: Even if your product is biodegradable, hot springs have no way to drain- meaning the products you wear while soaking remain in the pool and can be harmful to the environment.⁠ Ditch ’em. ⁠

♨️ 𝐁𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐢𝐝𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐬: Simple as that. Most people that go to a hot spring are simply there to relax and soak. Please be considerate and do not blast music- nobody enjoys a rowdy crowd.⁠

♨️ 𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐠𝐥𝐚𝐬𝐬𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐭 𝐡𝐨𝐦𝐞: Having a drink at a hot spring is a nice way to wind down, but please leave the glassware at home. Glass bottles break easily, and are nearly impossible to clean up in a hot spring.⁠ Bring a reusable bottle.⁠

♨️ 𝐂𝐥𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐦𝐚𝐲 𝐛𝐞 𝐨𝐩𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐥: Always double-check the policy on nudity at hot springs before arriving. If you encounter someone soaking nude give privacy and look away. If you choose to enjoy soaking nude, be respectful of others and use common courtesy.

♨️ 𝐍𝐨 𝐜𝐚𝐦𝐩𝐢𝐧𝐠: If camping IS allowed, please camp at least 500 ft. away from the hot springs.

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