This weekend I turned 34-years-old. It doesn’t feel particularly different from 33, though attaching a number to it makes it a bit more real. As Emily said, you’re one year away from officially being out of your early 30’s. Thanks, hon.
Given our proclivity towards winter/early spring hot springs exploration, I rallied a group of friends and we headed up to Kirkham Hot Springs to ring in the next chapter of my life. Shockingly enough, many of us had never been to Kirkham before. I say shockingly because it is an easily accessible, beautiful hot springs, and actually quite a famous hot springs as far as Idaho is concerned. My main reason for avoiding a Kirkham dip stemmed from the fact that with its popularity also comes the potential for massive crowds, and if there is one thing that can destroy the blissful hot springs vibe, it is hordes of people infringing on your space. Even in the “off season,” Kirkham draws people from all over the state, so planning your trip around peak times is highly recommended.
Our idea to beat the crowds was to leave Boise at 8:00 a.m. Waking up early on a Saturday to drive two hours to hot springs on my birthday wasn’t exactly the way I imagined spending the morning, but I am so glad we did. We all met at our place to carpool/caravan, and also to have our celebratory mimosa/Guru donuts fix. I love mimosas in the morning, though admittedly I had never had one at 7:30 a.m. Suffice it to say, one mimosa was plenty to get me through the long car ride at 8:00 a.m.
Kirkham Hot Springs can be found via Google Maps on Highway 21; it is about a two-hour drive from Boise, depending on the weather. Similar to Bonneville, there are two ways to get to Kirkham from Boise: up through Idaho City on Highway 21, or Highway 55 to Highway 17 via-Crouch/Banks to Highway 21. Both ways are comparable in time, though I find coming up through Crouch/Banks induces less car-sickness due to fewer windy roads (mind you, they are still plenty windy, but not as windy as Highway 21).
We arrived at Kirkham around 10:15 and parked in front of the campground gates. The hot springs are connected to a larger campground (also called Kirkham), though the campgrounds are closed until May (which means the road to the campground/hot springs is also closed), so we parked along 21 in a pull-out area right before the bridge crossing the Payette to the campgrounds and walked to the hot springs. We were pleasantly surprised to find only two other people there. A family of three followed us through the campground gates, though they went further down river to a secluded, smaller soaking pool (which also had a wonderful view of the small waterfall across the river). The two people soaking in the larger pool took one look at the eight of us and promptly packed up their things and left. They apparently were less inclined to deal with people than we were.
With a handful of pools to choose from nestled along the Payette River, Kirkham meets everyone’s soaking needs. There are two larger pools and several smaller pools, and the temperature can vary depending on which pool you are in (of note, most of the pools are below the rock formation that guides the cascading steaming spring water down to the man-made soaking areas).
I strapped on my Keens and hopped down the dirt path leading to the hot springs, taking time to walk through each pool to find the one that felt perfect.
The rest of our group followed the path above the rock formation down to the pools, which is an easier route than trying to maneuver over slippery river rocks (especially because we had coolers and food). I found a larger pool with two smaller pools extending off of it (which were warmer than the main larger pool), and we all quickly set up our camp and stretched our bodies out in the heavenly hot springs. Upon arriving, a light snow dusted the ground; by the time we left, the clouds had cleared, and the sun beat down relentlessly on us from the unblemished blue skies. Emily and I both (consciously) forgot to put on sunblock, and subsequently burned different areas of our body. It’s a strange thing, getting a sunburn when it is 40 degrees outside.
We stayed at Kirkham for almost two-and-a-half hours before a large group of 20-somethings disrupted our quiet. We decided at that point to pack up and head home, and it’s a good thing we chose that moment—while we were packing, several large groups of people were crossing the bridge to the hot springs: our moment of solitude had come to an end.
If you’re thinking about planning a trip to Kirkham Hot Springs, here is a bit of advice:
- Arrive EARLY! I know, I know, early mornings are THE WORST. Especially early mornings on a Saturday when you’ve spent the entire week working your mundane 8:00-5:00 job. However, to truly enjoy hot springs I believe you have to be able to connect with your surroundings on a spiritual level, and that is hard to do when teenagers are making out while listening to hip-hop right next to you (probably taking pulls on their vape pens). In all seriousness, I do not think my review of Kirkham as “AMAZING” would hold if I had dealt with crowds.
- Bring river shoes. It always seems to be the thing people forget when they go to hot springs in the winter, but in order to comfortably maneuver around the entire Kirkham area, you will want river shoes. The rocks are sharp and unforgiving and will, in a phrase, fuck you up.
- Don’t forget the water and sunscreen! Drinking alcohol whilst soaking in a mineral-rich hot springs is the best, but you’ll feel your skin start to dry out and scrunch up, lips chapped, eyes dry, and you’ll wish you had packed a growler full of water and not a growler full of beer. But, obviously, also pack the growler full of beer.
- Kirkham is a pack-in-pack-out area in the winter. Please be respectful of everyone who wants to use the hot springs and clean up after yourselves. There were cigarette butts, empty cans, and other pieces of people’s shit that we picked up: let’s respect nature (and your fellow soakers) and bring a trash bag to clean up your shit.
All-in-all, I could not think of a better way to spend my birthday. Connecting with nature, surrounded by my amazing friends, I feel truly blessed to be able to experience such absolute beauty in this world. Kirkham Hot Springs is definitely on my favorites list, though that review is subject to change depending on the crowds this summer.