It’s quiet, not too quiet, but really freaking quiet. I open the backseat passenger door of my Subaru and peer out into the darkness. The forest is illuminated by a lunar glow reflecting off the fresh white snow. In the distance I hear the sound of the Boise River flowing towards it’s restraints at Lucky Peak Reservoir. The cold Idaho winter begins to creep into my sleeping bag as I contemplate that burning question every overnight, outdoor experience asks of us… Can I hold it til morning?
There’s something so special about being in a wilderness environment by yourself. That little bit of risk, the solace, the self reflection. Turning it all off for those few hours, days, weeks for some. I don’t want to romanticize too much about spending one night out of cell phone service. I’ve met many people in Idaho that trek around the backcountry for 40 days hunting with a bow, by themselves. But I can’t help romanticizing my one night a little bit, because being alone in todays world is becoming so hard to come by.
Think about the last time you were alone. I mean really alone. Someplace where you couldn’t turn on your phone and call someone, or roll over in your sleeping bag and see a familiar shape next to you. I think for most of us it would be hard to remember the last time we were truly alone with the world. And I think it’s something we could benefit from as human beings. Were we built to be this connected? Maybe someday we’ll all be cyborgs like Elon Musk predicts, but during our evolution towards full blown robot, our primal hard drive malfunctions sometimes, and some solidarity certainly helps reset it.
So here I am, alone in the woods. Actually it’s the Boise National Forest, Willow Creek campsite to be more specific. About 2 hours from Boise, past Lucky Peak and Arrow Rock Damn towards the town of Atlanta. Yes, Idaho has a town named Atlanta and we all think Georgia when we hear it. It’s December in Idaho which means cold, snow, and less people. As the world fills and people get out into it more, you have to find your alone time in less desirable seasons. But in the winter cold, alone time is much easier to come by. A 2 hour drive, no tent, a sleeping bag and I’m in the quiet.
Apart from the much appreciated solitude of a night out alone, I’m here looking for a specific place, Loftus Hot Springs. A place I had never heard of, but it’s a great distance for an adventure. Two and a half hours from home, not too close, not too far, and who doesn’t love a natural hot spring soak in the middle of winter? Also, Loftus is undeveloped so I was banking on having it to myself. It’s also very accessible, located right along Middle Fork Road. You can find campsites seemingly at every mile of this dirt path. Troutdale at mile 33 is the closest option for Loftus.
Early in the morning I set out for Loftus. I’m looking for a turnout at mile 34, about 13 miles away from Willow Creek where I stayed. Past mile 34 at about mile 36 I turn around and head backwards. It was so easy to find in my head, next to the road, mile 34. But after two passes I didn’t see it. Everything is white in the winter, a lot of clearings look like turnouts, steam is rising from all the different geothermal cracks in the ground. I can’t actually find the mile 34 mark and of course there are no signs. After a few passes I have to pull my drone out to find it. Right after a steel bridge over the Boise River is a big scar in the hillside, and there I see the large steaming pool that is Loftus Hot Springs.
On this December day Loftus is a winter wonderland. Snow falls in the canyon, dusting the pine trees. The Boise River runs below as the geothermal water drains down in to it. Birds chirp, steam rises, a beautiful little water fall is the loudest thing out here as it playfully splashes in the soaking pool. I strip down to my birthday suit and hop in.
The nice sandy bottom is a soft seat for my bum as I sit under the waterfall and take in the beauty.
Today Loftus is a paradise, but I’m guessing during the summer it’s a different story. There’s only one pool and it’s pretty small. The turnout is large and there are campsites for miles. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an awkward wait on a summer Saturday. But on this Tuesday morning in December, it’s just me. Soaking in the solace by myself. Rebooting the primal hard drive.
Directions: From Boise take highway 21 up past Lucky Peak Reservoir and turn right on East Spring Shores Road towards Atlanta. Loftus is 34 miles from here on your left hand side. The road will change names a few times from Spring Shores to Arrow Rock, to Deer Creek, to North Fork Boise River and finally to Middle Fork Road for the last 22 miles. The turnout for the hot springs is at mile 34 next to the road and a big turnout. Right before the turnout is a bridge that takes you over the river. Immediately after crossing that bridge the turnout and Loftus Hot Springs will be on your left.
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