Monday, August 10, 2009

Here's to Hot Springs Harley and Keeper Ken

Published in the Post Register in September, 2009.

Somewhere out there, Hot Springs Harley and Keeper Ken are keeping an eye on Idaho’s hot springs.

The two mysterious men and their fellow “Keepers” have mythical status among Idaho’s “soakers” – people who spend a good share of their free time seeking out and soaking in Idaho’s abundant hot springs. Most have never met them. Harley, Ken and The Keepers have single-handedly engineered and built some of Idaho’s best non-commercial soaking spots, according to hard-core fans of Idaho hot springs.

The season is waning for non-commercial public springs, but autumn is an ideal time to get in a last soak or two before winter. Various federal or state government agencies – or, in other cases, The Keepers – have made some modest improvements to some of these springs.

One of the Keepers (complete with official membership card) is a young man out of Boise who prefers to be known as “Joshua James,” a soaking aficionado who says he’s personally visited 110 of Idaho’s 120 “soakable” hot springs. (To find the other 10, he says, “you’ve got to know a guy who knows a guy who knows where they are.”) The main task of the Keepers, he says, is maintaining the Skinnydipper hot springs.

Joshua James runs a couple of web sites and an online forum:, and soaker forums available at ( it would be much appreciated.

Among the easiest non-commercial hot springs to access (and not maintained by the Keepers) is Sharkey Hot Spring a few miles up a graded dirt road above Tendoy, which is tended to regularly by the Bureau of Land Management and has two soaking pools. On the other end of the spectrum is Goldbug Springs in the Salmon Mountains, which requires a pretty strenuous three-mile hike into an unimproved spring and falls. There are hot springs throughout the Lowman and Stanley area and down the Salmon River at Sunbeam, plus others sprinkled through eastern Idaho.

James has a list of recommendations if you go soaking in any of the area’s non-commercial public springs:
o Never take glass to a hot springs – broken glass is a major problem for soakers.
o Visit the more popular hot springs weekday mornings when they’re less apt to be crowded or over-run with weekend partiers.
o Check with the local office of the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management to get updated road and trail conditions.
o Haul out everything that you bring in, and maybe bring an extra bag to do a little tidying up for prior visitors.
o Take drinking water or fluids that contain electrolytes, as soaking can dehydrate the body.
One of his favorite soaks is the Slate Creek springs in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, accessible via a Forest Service road and short walk, just west of the Sunbeam area. It includes a wooden “soaking” box that folks try to keep mended. When you arrive, the soaking box should be empty – you just insert a plug and the box fills in about 15 minutes.

“When you’re done you pull the plug, and the next people who come replace the plug,” he said.

Of course, the advantages to commercial hot springs is other folks have taken care of putting in or pulling the plug, the only hike is from the parking lot, and some of the larger ones like Heise and Lava don’t close when the weather turns. An excellent source for information on commercial springs is, run by Oregonian Karin Burroughs.

She’s says a lot of people still swear by the health benefits of hot springs.

“I find that to be really common,” she said. “Largely the people that we see at hot springs tend to be middle aged and older. "We’ve had people swear up and down … about the health benefits of soaking. Some hot springs contain lithium, which can have a calming effect from drinking the water.”

Burroughs’ web site is free to people wanting information on commercial springs, but if you want detailed information on non-commercial springs she charges a one-time $10 fee for a lifetime membership. The site lists 140 hot springs in Idaho and more than 500 total for the 11 western states, and she is in the process of adding hot springs of Costa Rica.

Burroughs agrees with James' etiquette list and adds one more – people who arrive at a public spring first get to set the tone. If you prefer skinny-dipping but there are already folks there in the swim suits, keep it clean. If you arrive to find a pool full of au naturale bathers, you’re pretty much obliged not to ask them to put something on (you’re also not obliged to strip if you’re not so inclined).

If Harvey and Ken are there, they might even tell you a few secret soaking locations, if you ask nicely.

1 comment:

  1. It's nice you give kudos to Harley and Ken.

    The two of them were responsible for building, besides Skinnydipper, Bonneville Hot Springs 20 miles above Lowman. I had the pleasure of looking through Harley's picture scrapbook many years ago during (if I remember right) a New Year's Eve soak at Bonneville.