We were calling it our “Last Ditch Road Trip”; an ode to the end of summer and ushering in the change of seasons. Our van isn’t winterized and, given it was going to be the last two weeks in October, we were anticipating unpredictable weather. Along with a few extra blankets, we brought our bikes, hiking shoes, and a guidebook about hot springs in the Pacific Northwest. All gear was used (and we were so glad for those extra blankets!). We had a very loose plan of heading down Montana through the Bitterroot Mountain Range into Idaho and then swinging North back home. However, should the weather or my health turn poor, we could scoot across to the coast for a bit of storm-watching and seafood eating.
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We kicked off our trip on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Kimberley, BC with a beautiful ride down Magic Line and clear views to the snow covered Rockies. Crossing the border into Montana, we stopped for 2 days in Whitefish where we cruised along the Whitefish Trail and hit up a short ride on the Summit Trail, at the (closed) lift-access resort. Still feeling great the next morning, we rode the more technical trails at Spencer Mountain before heading down into Missoula, MT. In Missoula, we experienced what turned into our ride highlight: the Fenceline Trail. It was an easy, fun, swooping trail that took us through forest and grassland with views of the Bitterroot Mountains to the south-west. With no technical features, it was a trail where minimal (if any) braking was required.
Despite the cool evenings (a campfire took the chill off nicely), we experienced temperatures in the high-teens (C) during the day. More surprisingly was that my body was reacting very well to the continuous activity. Although tired, it was “out of shape tired” and not “lupus tired”; of which, I have learned how to distinguish. Thus far in the trip, I had managed 5 rides in 4 days between 3 towns.
Counting ourselves lucky with the riding done, we looked forward to a few days of lower elevation hikes in the Bitterroot Mountains and – possibly – some hot springs. Once again chancing upon beautiful fall weather, we took advantage and headed to Blodgett Canyon for an out-and-back hike. With the river running next to us along the canyon floor, we stopped at the 8km mark for a light lunch before turning back to our campground. The setting sun enhanced our hike back as the canyon walls and autumn leaves were lit up in various golden hues.
Finally, the weather turned. We woke the next morning to a drizzly-but-not-quite-snowy type of precipitation. We did the 5ish km round trip hike to the Blodgett Canyon Overlook, keeping well back from the edge as the wind whipped around us. Grateful we hiked the actual canyon the day before, we scooted back down the trail to the safety of our van and considered our options. Finding a brewery, we spent some time there before heading out to Lake Como for a chill afternoon/evening.
Waking up to snow, we lingered over our coffees and went off in search of a hike. Meandering below the Warm Springs Ridge trail, we debated whether we should move on over the pass and head to Salmon, Idaho (where there was likely warmer weather). The Bitterroots truly captivated us and we wanted to see if we could hike the aforementioned ridge trail the next day so we decided to brave one more night in the cold and pass away the afternoon at Lost Trail Hot Springs*. It was so cold the next morning, both of us shivering, we drove to the nearest town and had breakfast, letting the highway warm up and be cleared of snow before attempting the pass.
Realizing I really hadn’t taken a day off yet, I suggested we keep heading out toward Sharkee Hot Spring, about 30 km outside of Salmon. I’m not even sure if I needed the day off. I am still learning what my limitations are but I knew I didn’t want to push myself too hard and be unable to enjoy the rest of our tip. The weather didn’t appear to be warming up and a hot spring was available, we went and checked out the Bureau of Land Management developed hot spring. With a suggested donation of $3, this place was a delight and we soaked in the natural waters, shaking our heads as the sun did come out.
Salmon had both a biking area and another nearby hot spring, convincing us to stay the night at a local recreation site on the Salmon River (it is a worthwhile aside to note that once we entered Idaho, there were recreation sites up and down the Salmon River, approximately 20-30 km apart, and many of them allowed free camping. These sites had outhouses, picnic tables, fire rings, and boat launches). Discovery Hill riding was open grassland, cross-country style of riding. We did a 15 km loop that provided us with wide expanses of the Bitterroot Mountain range.
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We headed to another highlight of our trip: the Goldbug Hot Spring. I heard about this one through an article in Backpacker magazine and I am so happy we had the opportunity to visit. A 3.5 km walk in, the first 2.5 km were relatively easy but the last 1 km was a steep up, even grabbing a couple of roots for balance (not recommended for anyone with mobility concerns). I struggled with the hike in as a 15 km bike ride + 7 km return hike is a pretty intense day for me now but it is so worth the effort. When you’ve finally caught your breath, you realize there are 3 pools that are being filled with a spring from below and cooled from waterfalls cascading above. Yes: waterfalls cascading into hot pools. It was reminiscent of a tropical paradise but…in Idaho. We relaxed for a couple of hours, entranced by the view of the valley, but when the sun dipped down below the steep walls above we figured we should get moving and find our next camp spot (another free rec area!).
So…cold…When we woke up, water we had left out had a solid 5cm ice sheet over it. Checking out hot springs book, there was supposed to be 3 before we hit our turnoff. Quickly making coffee, we cranked the heat and got on the road. We can now say we sat in the Salmon River, in October, drinking coffee. The Sunbeam Hot Springs bubble out into the river and locals have created rock pools. Once sufficiently warmed, we continued our trek to Sun Valley/Ketchum, ID. With the sun out, we stopped at the Galena Lodge just before Ketchum and checked out a very small portion of the nearly 100km worth of trails at this network. Traditionally a cross-country skiing area, they’ve been investing in trails for summer use in recent years. Not surprisingly, we ran into some snow and I do hope they have the foresight to invest in fat biking grooming and rentals because this area was an absolute blast and I would love to come back and try the trails a bit earlier in the season.
On the recommendation of a US Forest Service staff member, we stayed at a closed-but-not-gated campground for the night. Once again, cool weather created a late start and I was feeling in need of another day off. While I did laundry, Adam went for a ride. A late lunch later, we went to find the Frenchman Bend Hot Spring, just outside of town. Being the hot spring is located on public land, it is actually permissible to camp anywhere (called dispersed camping. After a long soak in the hand-made rock pools, we drove down the road and planned to use the hot springs as a warm up in the morning before heading to Hailey and riding the trails there. A 12 km, cross-country ride through grassland had me feeling a bit…underwhelmed. Perhaps I was tired but, although I enjoyed being out and on my bike, I was growing bored on trails with little to no features. It was time to start heading home anyway.
Although my last ride of the trip may not have provided me a great thrill, I never – not for a second – forgot to appreciate the simple fact that I was outside, on my bike, having a great vacation. I was – and am – grateful for being physically able to do so. I will always have so many unknowns in my life and vacations are likely always going to be a similar pattern of “plan but be flexible”. Quite frankly, I had no idea how this trip was going to turn out but it went smoothly and I never felt ill.
- 8 bike rides
- 4 hikes
- 6 hot springs (5 different ones)
- 6 breweries
- Countless amounts of fun!
*We both learned a bit about hot springing on this trip. Lost Trail, in particular, was a huge disappointment. A commercial one, it was $8/psn and gross. They fill a large cement pool every morning which is emptied and cleaned at the end of the day. Comparatively, the other ones were free/by donation and constantly flowing.