A woman in a red swimsuit and black beanie sits on the edge of a natural hot spring soaking tub with her back facing the camera looking down the Salmon River

A Guide to Sunbeam Hot Springs in Idaho

Visit Sunbeam Hot Springs' unique riverside soaking tubs and experience the history of Idaho's thermal springs with our complete guide.

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Outdoor enthusiasts converge on Stanley Idaho for access to the pristine natural beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains. It's known as a gateway destination where thrill seekers can experience whitewater, alpine hiking trails, climbing, and mountain biking from one small mountain town.

But Stanley also offers a tranquil retreat away from the adrenaline rush. It's home to more than a few natural geothermal springs and Sunbeam is one of the best in the area. You'll find Sunbeam Hot Springs nestled along the Salmon River and Highway 75, just twenty minutes from the center of town, putting it within easy reach of anyone looking to explore all the Sawtooths have to offer.

For centuries it's been a source of respite. Native Americans considered it a sacred place of healing. In the early 20th century it underwent development by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Locals and travelers are still drawn to the warm, soothing waters that seem to melt away stress.

In this practical guide to Sunbeam Hot Springs, we've put together tips from our personal experience to help you plan a memorable visit. We'll cover the best time of year to go, what you'll need to bring with you, and provide some honest insight on how to have a relaxing soak.

How to Get to Sunbeam Hot Springs

The three routes leading into Stanley are all scenic byways so no matter where you're coming from your visit to Sunbeam will begin on a good note.

A drive from Boise will take about three hours along the Ponderosa Pine Byway, passing through Garden Valley and Lowman. This is a terrific way to maximize the number of Idaho hot springs you visit. After passing through the town of Stanley on Highway 21, and reaching the T intersection, head north along Highway 75 for thirteen miles, where you'll reach Sunbeam's parking area.

If you're making your way north from Twin Falls you'll be coming up 75, which is also the Sawtooth Scenic Byway and you'll head directly to the springs.

The eastern route, from Challis, is known as the Salmon River Scenic Byway and will also lead you directly to Sunbeam. The parking area can be found at these GPS coordinates: 44.267544, -114.748069.

Note that cell service can be extremely spotty along these routes, so be sure to download offline Google maps to your phone before heading out. You can also monitor road conditions in real time on 511.idaho.gov when planning your visit.

The sun rising over rolling hills in Stanley Idaho with the Sawtooth Mountains in the background catching pink and golden light

Experiencing Sunbeam's Tubs and Pools

Once you've pulled off the highway at Sunbeam and parked you'll notice a stone bathhouse that remains from the 1930s. Now it's part of the historic interpretive site, but visitors also use it as a changing room. Next to the bathhouse is a modern pit toilet.

The hot springs are split into two areas by these buildings. If you head down the hillside directly from the parking area, which is on the left side of the bathhouse, you'll see two soaking tubs along the bank of the river. To the right of the buildings is a paved walkway. From here, trails lead down to the rock walled geothermal pools.

A stone bathhouse sits at the end of a paved trail among heavy green foliage

If you arrive early enough in the day, or you're prepared to wait for a turn, you can experience a unique riverside soak in one of the tubs.

Scalding hot water cascades down a crude system of pipes from the source, which measures about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Start by filling the tub with fresh water. You may need to rearrange the pipes to get a good flow. The day we arrived the tubs were empty and there was no spring water going into them. You should be able to plug the drain hole at the bottom with a rock or something that's been left for that purpose.

The next thing you'll want to do for an enjoyable soak is collect some cold river water and add it to the tub, until you've found the perfect balance of water temperature. We'd recommend bringing a small bucket or some other water tight container in case nothing's been left behind.

Several pipes run down the hill at Sunbeam Hot Springs into a large blue tubClose up on hot natural spring water running out of a pipe into a blue soaking tub at Sunbeam Hot Springs

The tubs could fit a small group, but they're really the perfect size for just two people. With that in mind, limit your time, especially on a busier day, so that others have a chance to enjoy them.

In our opinion, the tubs are what make Sunbeam so special. In the past there was another tub, called Boat Box, just down the road but it was washed away by the river in 2023. Now these ones are the only opportunity for a hot tub like experience right on the bank of the Salmon River.

Looking down on the Salmon River at two soaking tubs sitting on the bank

On the other side of the springs you'll find a slightly different ambiance. Because of its easy access and close proximity to Stanley, Sunbeam isn't a highly guarded secret. Crowds can grow, particularly later in the day and on weekends. This is also a family friendly spot, so you're almost sure to encounter some younger kids.

If a more secluded and private soak is what you're after you should also plan a visit to Bonneville or Pine Flats Hot Springs.

The soaking pools along the river will vary in size, depth, and temperature. Depending on the river level and how much cold water is mixing in, some pools can be more comfortable than others. Take some time to test them out and find one to your liking.

The History of Sunbeam Hot Springs

We've already mentioned that Sunbeam has been regarded as a restorative and even sacred place for centuries. The Lemhi-Shoshone people used the springs for healing and as early as 1821 they had been discovered by European fur traders, who referred to it as a "boiling fountain".

The bathhouse, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937, used to hold pools and tubs where the public could visit for a soak. Info boards on-site today give more details on the innovations here, such as a pump system that circulated hot spring water through the cold river to maintain the perfect soaking temperature.

During WWII the bathhouse fell into disrepair from lack of personnel and funds, but what remains today is a tribute to the CCC and their ingenuity. Visiting Sunbeam today is a unique way to experience the history of Idaho's thermal springs.

A stone bathhouse along a paved path with a stone bathroom of the same design partially in the foreground on the left

Staying Near Sunbeam Hot Springs

When planning your trip to Stanley you'll find no shortage of overnight options. Whether you're looking for a campsite with hookups, a comfortable room in a rustic lodge, or free camping on public land, the choice is yours.

Campgrounds

The US Forest Service manages more than a dozen campgrounds within a short drive of Sunbeam. Visit their website to see details on each of them. USFS are designed for self-sufficiency so they don't have water, sewer, or electric hookups.

If you're in need of more amenities, have a look at Mountain Village Resort's RV Park, located right in the heart of Stanley.

Lodging

Max out the relaxation factor of your visit by checking into one of these hotels:

Mountain Village Resort | An anchor point for Stanley that includes the “Merc” general store, gas and service station.

Redfish Lake Lodge | A historic lodge built in 1929. Eight rooms in the main lodge with 21 cabins and 11 suite units spread around the property.

Stanley High Country Inn | A rustic option with 12 rooms right in the heart of Stanley.

Boondocking

The Sawtooth, Boise, and Salmon-Challis National Forests all come together near Stanley, making it a great area for dispersed camping. You'll need to check the respective USFS websites for details on each district's regulations. We've also tagged a couple of our favorite boondocking spots on our Google map of the area.

Keep in mind that the Sawtooths become extremely popular in the warmer months so free campsites will fill quickly.

What to Do in the Area

When you come to visit Sunbeam Hot Springs you'll want to set aside plenty more time for all that central Idaho and the Sawtooth Wilderness have to offer.

Premium whitewater rafting on the rivers, as well as kayaking and canoeing on gorgeous alpine lakes are popular activities. Hiking trails lead into the pristine Sawtooth Wilderness.

Of course there are plenty of other Idaho hot springs close by, including notable spots like Kirkham and Mountain Village Hot Springs.

Other spectacular outdoor destinations like Sun Valley and Craters of the Moon National Monument are within reasonable driving distance.

Idaho Hot Springs Etiquette

We always like to include a few reminders about proper etiquette when visiting natural hot springs.

Generally speaking, practice Leave No Trace principles, making sure to stick to existing paths and not trampling the wildlife. Don't introduce anything into the water, including soap, shampoo, lotion, or sunscreen.

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 bag and clean up any items you do find.

Use the bathroom before heading out to the springs. While Sunbeam does have a pit toilet on site, many don't. 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, but the unofficial rule is that the farther away the hot springs are, the more likely it is. At a location like Sunbeam, which is in close proximity to the state highway, it's unlikely.

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.

Common Questions about Sunbeam Hot Springs

Is there a fee to visit?

No, there are no fees to visit Sunbeam Hot Springs. You can park and enjoy the springs at no cost.

When is the best time to visit?

The springs are accessible 24 hours a day, but we'd strongly recommend visiting early in the morning for the most peaceful experience. Even when arriving at sunrise during the summer we had several other soakers with us.

Between June and October is the best time time of year to go, but because of the nature of the tubs and the ease of access you could still have a nice hot soak during colder months. The natural pools alongside the river will be washed out in the spring and unusable. If you go in the winter be prepared for plenty of snow and ice with hazardous road conditions.

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What should you bring to the springs?

Pack a bag. Even though you'll be right off highway 75 and near your parked vehicle, we still recommend bringing a bag to keep your items dry and organized. If you don't already own a dry bag, we recommend these ones.

Sandals or water shoes. Something with tread for stepping onto slippery rocks or walking downhill on steep slopes. There isn't any rock scrambling at Sunbeam, but you'd be better off with something that straps on or ties rather than flip flops.

An adequate amount of water. Soaking in the hot water can dehydrate you quickly, so don't overlook the basics.

Your swimsuit. Speaking of basics. Note that the pit toilet or bathhouse serve as a covered changing area.

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. Speaking from experience, no matter how short of a distance you are from the car, 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 bucket or container for collecting river water and adding it to the tubs. Need a compact option? This collapsible bucket has a dozen uses for vanlife.

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.

Love the look of these hot springs? Pin it for later!

A woman in a red swimsuit sitting on a soaking tub with text overlay that says "Sunbeam Hot Springs A Complete Guide"

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