Yesterday afternoon, a couple of friends and I took a trip to Weir Hot Springs near the Idaho-Montana border in Lolo Pass. We set out a little bit late (for a winter trip), but made it there while there was still natural light. This is extremely important, because finding Weir is like finding a needle in a haystack! We now have the location down to an art. The turnout is past Jerry Johnson Hot Springs by about 9.5 miles and it’s at the end of a guard rail. But the most helpful clue is that it’s around mile marker 142 going towards Lewistown, Idaho on the right side of the road. Finding this place at night was near impossible before we discovered these helpful locators (and even with them, if you blink you miss it).
Anyways, the second reason for going earlier during winter is that you don’t want to hike the trail in the dark (at least we didn't like that idea after hearing about other friend's horror stories). Now, I had only been to this particular hot spring once before yesterday, but that was this past summer. Normally the hike takes a short 15 minutes, but that time definitely doubles during winter! You basically end up ice skating most of the way, especially since this year has not seen much snow at all and what has fallen was packed down. Now when I say ice skating, I mean crawling on hands and knees to avoid the inevitable (falling on your face)! At one point, I sat on my bottom and slid down an ice slide. Luckily, I was holding on to a rope between two trees and a friend caught me before I went down the snowy hill and into the river (it wasn't as bad as it sounds). Let’s just say this adventure was not for the faint of heart!
|There's the "trail," but should more accurately be called a luge course.|
|Here's proof (that my friend was kind enough to capture) to show that I wasn't lying about the hands and knees part! Helpful hint: purchase yak-traks or cat-tracks or whatever the things are called that go around your boots for traction.|
We could tell we were near when we saw a cloud of steam rising off the pool. Finally, we saw the rather large man-made hot spring (the wall to keep water in is man-made) and it was completely packed! At least 16 people were crowded in it, but in my experience hot spring goers are considerate and pleasant, so the big group that had been there a while decided to leave shortly after we reached the top. In the end, my bruised and skinned knees (through two layers) were completely worth the trouble! We ended up staying for a couple of hours, which is probably really bad for you, but the water temperature was delightful and well deserved after our treacherous hike.
Any virgin hot spring goers should note that alcohol is always present and welcome. Our idea to bring wine was risky since the bottle could have broken, but in the end we enjoyed our wine by candlelight (yes, we also brought little tea lights because we are classy like that). The wine did make for an interesting trip back to the car. Let’s just say I wasn't the only one on my bottom and knees this time around!
Altogether, if you live in Missoula or are visiting, you should definitely make the trip out to Weir (or Jerry Johnson, which is more commonly attended and about ten miles prior to Weir). They are both beautiful, day and night, and they both have rivers next to them creating a serene scene.
What other hot springs have you visited? And where?