Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, within Clearwater National Forest in Idaho, is a natural hot springs with three sources that can be used for soaking. Previously, these hot springs were primarily used by backpackers used as a source of relaxation mid-journey. About 20 years ago, the Forest Service began closing the Jerry Johnson Hot Springs at night, prohibiting camping, as the the springs started to show major damage. However, Jerry Johnson Hot Spring remains a sight to behold and a wonderful refuge from busy life.
Some Jerry Johnson Hot Springs Quick Facts
Length: 2.6 miles
Time to Complete: 1 hour
Elevation Gain: 265 feet
Season: May to October
5 Rules for Observing Hot Springs Etiquette
Before we get to the what and where let’s go over some generally-acknowledged rules when it comes to visiting hot springs. Hot springs are natural phenomena that we all enjoy, but if we don’t take proper care of them we could lose the right to visit these magical waters. Please heed ALL of the following rules when visiting any natural hot spring.
1. Keep the noise down.
Many visit natural hot springs for quiet, reflection, and relaxation. Be mindful of others when visiting a hot spring and try to keep your noise levels down.
2. Be welcoming and respectful.
Just because you are the first person/people to get to a hot spring does not make it yours. Be welcoming and friendly to all who come to enjoy a soak in the natural hot spring. Some people may choose to soak nude and some may not. Do not stare or otherwise make people feel uncomfortable, whether they are clothed or not.
3. Leave No Trace.
So, so important. Leave no trace means packing out anything you packed in and leaving places better than you found them. Do not leave trash at the hot springs. My recent visit to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs I packed out a few pieces of trash others had left behind.
Jerry Johnson used to be open at all times, but now has nighttime closures in effect. This is mostly due to overuse and irresponsible bathers trashing the site. If we don't all do our part to follow the rules and leave the hot springs better than we found them, we could lose access to these wonderful natural hot springs all-together.
4. Do not bathe.
Though the warm waters of natural hot springs are reminiscent of a bathtub, they are not! Do not bring soap, shampoo, or any other personal hygiene product into the hot spring. Not only does no one want to soak in your dirty bathwater, but more importantly hot springs are a fragile, balanced ecosystem that is easily disrupted by the harsh chemicals in soaps.
5. No glass.
Do not bring any glass items near the hot springs. This is how people get injured.
Something to keep in mind is that Jerry Johnson Hot Spring is Idaho’s most popular natural hot spring. The easy accessibility and 3 well-defined pools mean that you will almost definitely see (and share the pools with) other people.
Directions for Getting to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs
Now that we’ve covered proper etiquette for using a natural hot spring, let’s discuss how to get there.
The Jerry Johnson Hot Springs are located in the Nez Perce/ Clearwater National Forest in Central Idaho, close to the Montana border and Lolo, Montana. The Warm Spring trailhead is located at the Warm Spring Pack bridge between mile markers 152 and 153 on Highway 12.
The bridge is hard to miss, located on the north side of the road. There is space for a few cars on the north side of the road with room for many more cars across the street. There are no parking or entrance fees. There is a pit toilet located in the parking area.
Hiking Warm Springs Trail at Jerry Johnson Hot Springs
Once you park at the trailhead, cross the Warm Spring Pack Bridge over the Lochsa River. After the bridge, the trail heads either left or right. Take a right onto a wide, well-worn path.
After about 1 mile of easy walking (with just a few muddy patches depending on the season) you will come to the first hot spring source, the waterfall pools. The waterfall pools are created from hot water coming directly out of the river bank and have very steep trails descending down to them.
When I visited in July of 2019, these pools seemed to have been washed out. The rock walls keeping the hot water in the pools seem to have been washed away and as a result the water was tepid at best.
Continue on from the waterfall pools and you will soon come upon hot spring source number 2. The pool will be directly in your path. Though not very deep, this pool is easily accessible and can fit several people. The hot water comes directly out of rocks above the pool and trickles down into the larger area.
Many people stop at source number 2. To find source number 3, continue passed the pool and up a slight hill. This hot spring, in my opinion, is by far the most scenic and was also the warmest during my visit. The large pool is set out of sight of the other sources, looking down on a mountain meadow with mountaintops visible over the trees. We hiked in at 7 am on a weekday and had the spring to ourselves for over an hour.
Warning Regarding Potential Nudity
I said it once already but I’ll say it again. This is a popular hot spring and chances are you will see someone without their clothes on. This hot spring used to sport “clothing optional” signage that has since been taken down, but many still choose to enjoy the spring au natural. Be respectful of your fellow soakers.
Camping near Jerry Johnson Hot Springs
Since the Jerry Johnson Hot Springs close overnight, you will need elsewhere to stay. Here are some recommendations:
Jerry Johnson Campground: located about a mile west down Highway 12 from the trailhead, this campground is primitive. There are 20 RV sites with a paved driveway, picnic table, and fire ring, but no hookups. Water is provided by a hand pump and the restroom is a vault toilet. Pets are allowed on a leash and the campground in handicap accessible. This campground has very few trees, little to no shade, and costs $8 per night.
Powell Campground: located 5 miles east of the Warm Springs trailhead, Powell Campground is adjacent to the Lochsa River. The campground is comprised of 3 paved loops among shade provided by shrubs and mixed conifers. This is one of the only campgrounds in the area to offer electric hookups and can accommodate large parties. Powell has 4 vault toilets and 1 flush toilet. A single site without electricity costs $14, while sites with electricity cost $20 per night.
Lochsa Lodge: While I can’t attest to the lodging here, the breakfast we had after soaking in the hot spring was phenomenal. Lochsa Lodge is one of the few places open all winter long. They offer hotel-style rooms in their 2 lodges and private cabins for rent as well. They also have a gas pump (with diesel!), convenience store, and full-service restaurant.
A Natural Wonder
Natural hot springs are an incredible phenomena. We each have a responsibility to do our part to maintain these natural wonders so we can all enjoy them for many years to come. If you’re planning a visit to Jerry Johnson or any other natural hot spring, treat these places with the reverence respect they deserve; national forests belong to us all.
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