A man sits in a hot spring pool along a rocky cliff and looks down towards a river in a wooded area of Idaho

A Complete Guide to Pine Flats Hot Springs

Pine Flats Hot Springs is one of the most unique places to soak in central Idaho. Follow the tips in our guide for making the most of your visit.

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Nestled along the scenic banks of the Payette River in central Idaho, Pine Flats Hot Springs offers a unique blend of relaxation and adventure. There's a feeling of seclusion along the trail leading here, betraying the fact that it's easily reachable most months of year. The cliffside setting is unlike anything else in the area, and the steaming hot geothermal pools immediately welcome you in for a relaxing soak, making this a definite must on your list of Idaho hot springs.

For those willing to put in just a bit more effort there are even more perks to visiting Pine Flats, including some private pools tucked away along the bank of the river and even a hot waterfall that's hidden from view when you first arrive.

Our first visit was, as you might already suspect, a very memorable one. We want to share what we found in this guide and help you plan your own unforgettable visit to Pine Flats, so read on for all our tips on how to get there, what to bring, and how to make the most of it.

Discovering Pine Flats Hot Springs

We arrived to the small day use lot of Pine Flats on a drizzly weekday morning, grabbed our bags and hit the short 0.3 mile trail leading out away from the campground, following clearly marked signage for the hot springs. Due to the cold rain we were a bit quick to dismiss the views, but it's a scenic walk along the river's edge.

One of the first things to strike you when you arrive is how the rocky cliff makes this place so unique. Hot steam rises off the steep slope as warm water trickles its way down to the river. Though we've explored multiple hot springs in central Idaho, this one still stands out as a particularly fun place to soak.

After getting some inside tips from a family who arrived ahead of us, we navigated our way along the rocks, seeking out a two person sized pool at just the right temperature. The hottest pools can be found higher up, their temperature depending on distance from the source. We did find that some of those were too warm to be comfortable, while a few of the lower cliffside pools were only lukewarm.

Once we'd gotten in a short soak we decided to follow up on one of those tips and head downhill, very carefully, to the river. To be honest, we probably wouldn't have ventured much further on our own because the water level was fairly high and it was absolutely frigid, but we were assured there were some great pools hidden from view behind some boulders, along with a waterfall.

That turned out to be a great decision. The pool just downstream is one of the best we've ever found and the cascade of hot spring water coming down from the cliff above is a great way to melt some stress.

A woman in a red swimsuit sits in a hot springs pool under a waterfall cascading down the side of a cliff

Planning Your Visit to Pine Flats

Whether you're just coming through for a day trip or you want to spend more time exploring the area, we've got some tips on making the most of your trip to Pine Flats.

Thick fog hangs over a dense landscape of tall pine trees

How to Reach Pine Flats Hot Springs

Pine Flats is located in Boise National Forest and makes for a great day trip from Boise, which is about an hour and a half away. Stanley, just over an hour to the east, is the gateway to the Sawtooth Mountains and an ideal base for all sorts of outdoor adventures, including more hot springs visits.

From Boise you can take Highway 55 north to the Banks-Lowman Highway and head east through Garden Valley to reach the hot springs. Alternatively, you can follow a slightly longer route up the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway (Highway 21) until you reach Lowman, and then head west.

When coming from Stanley you'll simply follow Highway 21 to Lowman, where you'll take the Banks-Lowman another 5.6 miles to Pine Flats. If you're already going this route, make sure you don't miss out on our other favorites, Kirkham and Bonneville Hot Springs.

Since cell service can be very limited in the National Forest, we'd recommend downloading offline maps before you head out, and checking road conditions and weather forecasts ahead of time.

Best Time to Visit

If you're looking for a quieter and more private experience, the best time to visit Pine Flats is definitely early in the morning on a weekday. As the day goes on expect lots of visitors, especially during popular summer months. Keep in mind also that the springs are essentially attached to the campground, so they're likely to be busier than other locations.

While Pine Flats Hot Springs is accessible and open year-round, the winter months bring a unique set of challenges. The campground itself will be closed, meaning you'll have to hike further from the main road in snowy conditions and the cliff's surface around the pools can be icy.

In the spring, high river levels could wash out or make it impossible to reach the waterfall pool. Overall, the best time to visit is in the summer or fall.

Looking across a river at a heavily wooded hill with a landslide in the middleA shirtless man from the shoulders up as he stands in front of a small hot springs waterfall and looks off to the side

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What to Bring

Pack a bag. We always recommend bringing a bag on your hot springs adventures. Since Pine Flats is located down a short trail it'll make carrying your belongings easier. You'll have a place to set everything when you arrive, can keep things dry, and it helps prevent anything being left behind. If you don't already own a dry bag, we recommend these ones.

Cash or an interagency pass. You'll need $5 cash to park at the day-use area and visit Pine Flats, or you can display an interagency pass, such as the America the Beautiful (National Parks) pass.

Sandals or water shoes. Something with tread for stepping onto slippery or loose rocks and going up or down steep slopes. Also, speaking from experience, the rocks you'll be climbing over can be surprisingly sharp. Leave the flip flops at home.

A water bottle and an adequate amount of water. Soaking in the springs can dehydrate you quickly, so don't overlook the basics.

Your swimsuit. Speaking of basics.

A towel. We love our quick drying and packable towels. They do a great job and we don't have to haul around bulky bath towels.

Warm dry clothes. Again, speaking from experience. We thought it would be a quick walk back to the van, so we didn't bring any other clothes. You'll be thankful for an extra layer or two when you get out of the hot water and are hit by a cold breeze.

A headlamp or flashlight. Heading out early in the morning or planning a sunset soak? Bring along an adequate source of light for the trip back to the car.

Staying at Pine Flats Campground

The most convenient place to stay when visiting Pine Flats is at the campground directly adjacent to the hot springs. There are 24 campsites available for reservation between May and September and each has a picnic table and fire ring. Trash services, drinking water, and vault toilets are all available on-site, along with a camp host.

The campground is set among the tall pines on the South Fork Payette River, making for a really scenic and peaceful place to sleep.

Other Places to Camp

Nearby alternatives to Pine Flats Campground include Bonneville and Grandjean Campground. Perks to both of these is that they're also in close proximity to other hot springs. Bonneville shares its name with the springs down a short wooded trail and Grandjean is just minutes away from Sacajawea Hot Springs.

If you're looking for a free overnight stay, we're always supporters of boondocking, and Boise National Forest has plenty of great options in the area.

Hot Springs Etiquette

Let's talk about proper hot springs etiquette. First and foremost, these are natural spaces that are often free to visit and undeveloped, so they're not looked after full time. It's our responsibility to be good stewards and to leave them better than we found them for the next visitor. That means not introducing anything into the water, including soap, shampoo, lotion, or sunscreen.

Generally speaking, practice Leave No Trace principles, making sure to stick to existing paths and not trampling the wildlife.

If you're going to bring a beverage, leave the glass containers behind. Make sure to pack out anything you do bring in. Unfortunately we've found lots of trash and personal items left behind at just about every spring we've visited. To offset this, you can bring a trash bag and clean up any items you do find.

Use the bathroom before heading out to the springs. Many of them don't have a restroom on site. If nature calls while you're there, please find an appropriate place, away from water sources.

It's possible you'll encounter some nudity. The official rule is that public nudity is prohibited, and you're less likely to come across a nude soaker at heavily visited springs such as Kirkham or Sunbeam. But the unofficial rule is that the farther away the hot springs are, the more likely it is.

Pets aren't allowed in the hot springs, so it's best to not bring them. If you must for some reason, please keep them leashed.

It all comes down to loving your neighbor. You may find yourself sharing the hot springs with others. Most people come to relax in a peaceful environment. Don't blast loud music or ruin someone else's experience. Simply put: enjoy the hot springs while being considerate of others.

Want to visit these springs? Pin it for later!

A woman in a red swimsuit sits in a hot springs pool beneath a waterfall with text overlay that says 'Discover Idaho's Pine Flats Hot Springs'

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