A woman in a red swimsuit floats at Kirkham Hot Springs in a large pool made of rocks with a river in the background.

The Complete Guide to Kirkham Hot Springs in Idaho

Everything you need to know about Idaho's Kirkham Hot Springs - how to reach the waterfall, when to go, and what to pack. We've got it all covered in our in our complete guide to Kirkham.

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Having a quiet and relaxing soak all to yourself in one of the most beautiful hot springs in Idaho - does it get any better than that? Despite its popularity, when we arrived at Kirkham's natural hot springs we were the only ones there to enjoy them.

Hot water cascading over a small cliff, literally washing away stress. Cozy, sandy-bottomed rock pools of steaming water with fantastic views over the river. Just us and our coffee. Well, our camera too! If you're looking for the same experience, we've got everything you need to know.

We've spent weeks exploring central Idaho and many of the hot springs in the area, seeking out the very best spots. Now we've put together the ultimate guide to Kirkham Hot Springs, so you can get the most out of your own visit. Below we'll talk about the unique features of Kirkham, how to reach the springs, the best time to visit, what you'll need to bring along, where you can stay in the area, and our personal advice on hot springs in general.

A woman in a red swimsuit stands under the hot waterfall at Kirkham Hot Springs with her hands held out to the sides

What Makes Kirkham One of the Best Hot Springs in Idaho?

Kirkham regularly tops the list of best Idaho hot springs. With so many unique spots throughout the state and in the immediate area between Lowman and Stanley, what makes this location so alluring?

We personally think it's a combination of several factors working to Kirkham's advantage. To start with, it's easily accessible. There's no hiking involved to get there. In fact, you can park in a relatively spacious lot, walk across the bridge and be in one of the pools in a matter of minutes.

It also sits on the site of a former campground, so there's a vault toilet that can serve as a changing room and trash services are provided by the USFS.

Thirdly, there's no denying the ideal setting and features of Kirkham. Though close to the road, the springs are perched on a hill overlooking the South Fork Payette River. The views throughout the area are beautiful, but almost nothing tops a soak in one of Kirkham's pools while taking in views of the wooded hills and rushing water.

Then, of course, there's the highlight of any visit: the cascade of hot water falling over the edge of the hill. Besides the hidden waterfall at Pine Flats Hot Springs, there's nothing quite like it. Standing under it's like being in a natural hot shower.

The Soaking Pools

When you first arrive at Kirkham you'll cross the gated bridge over to the former campground. Turn left to reach the vault toilet and, to make your way to the springs, turn right. At the far side of the campground loop you'll find a few pools and a small stream of hot water leading you toward the main pools.

Where the pavement ends you can continue straight toward a couple of other pools and a wood platform. You can also follow a trail to the left, which takes you out over the hill. Hot spring water spreads out across the ground and clouds of steam billow up around you as you walk. This trail will lead to one of the best, and largest, pools at Kirkham, but you can also access it from the lower pools as well. It's the perfect place to hang out for a longer soak and enjoy the views.

To make it to those lower pools, follow the steps down to the river. You'll have to do some light boulder hopping at this point, but there are several rock walled pools of various temperatures.

A woman in a red swimsuit sits in a shallow rock walled pool at Kirkham Hot Springs overlooking a river and hillside with steam rising in the background.

The Waterfall

Immediately after taking the steps leading down to the soaking pools you'll see the hot waterfall. Be careful on the rocks surrounding it, since they can get quite slippery. We recommend wearing sandals or water shoes (see 'What to Bring' below). And be warned: once you step under that waterfall, feel the hot water and pressure, you're not going to want to leave.

A black and white photo of a man standing underneath a hot waterfall running his hands through his hairA black and white photo of a woman standing underneath a hot waterfall with her hands up on her head

Getting to Kirkham Hot Springs

Kirkham Hot Springs is located in Boise National Forest, about 4 miles east of Lowman directly on State Highway 21. It's one of the most accessible and easiest to reach hot springs in the area.

Take note though, that rock slides are common along the roads leading here and that winter weather conditions can make roads impassable. There is also very limited cell service in the National Forest, so make sure you download offline maps before heading out and check current road conditions.

From Boise

The quickest route to reach Kirkham from the Boise area is by taking Highway 55 north and turning east onto Highway 17 in Banks. This drive takes you through Garden Valley and past several other hot springs including Pine Flats. The drive should take just under two hours.

An alternate route is the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, also known as Highway 21. This will take you north through Idaho City and you'd continue east on 21 after reaching Lowman. This drive is also about two hours.

From Stanley

If you're making your way to Kirkham from Stanley and the incredibly beautiful Sawtooth Mountains, it's an easy and scenic one hour drive along Highway 21.

A woman in a red swimsuit carefully steps down from large rocks toward a hot waterfall at Kirkham Hot Springs

Planning Your Trip to Kirkham Hot Springs

Day Use

Kirkham makes a perfect day trip adventure from Boise or Stanley. Because of how popular it is (more on that below), we'd recommend a very early morning start. When we arrived at sunrise we had it all to ourselves, but by about 9AM the crowd was growing steadily.

Remember cash for your $5 day use fee to park outside the gate. Alternatively, you can display a valid interagency pass. We have the America the Beautiful pass, which has saved us tons of money, not only at national parks, but also at USFS managed sites all over the country.

Where to Stay

If you're planning a longer visit to the area, you'll need to find an alternative to Kirkham Campground, since it's now open for day use only.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options for sites near Kirkham, managed by the Forest Service and, as a bonus, they each have other hot springs close by.

Bonneville Campground | 22 sites that are available for reservations, plus some additional sites that are first come first serve. Short walk from the campground to Bonneville Hot Springs.

Pine Flats Campground | 24 sites that are available for reservations, plus some additional sites that are first come first serve. Located among ponderosa pines on the bank of the Payette. Short hike from here to Pine Flats Hot Springs.

Hot Springs Campground | Three group sites and 8 single sites available for reservation. Located directly on Highway 21 so less secluded than others, but convenient access across the road to a small hot spring.

Grandjean Campground | 31 primitive sites on a first come first serve basis. Close to Sacajawea Hot Springs and more remote than other options.

Other lodging options for staying near Kirkham Hot Springs are limited, but Southfork Lodge, Sourdough Lodge, and Sawtooth Lodge all have great reviews and are within 10 to 30 minutes.

Our preference, being surrounded by public land in the National Forest, is to find boondocking opportunities and camp for free. We were able to find some gorgeous spots right along the river and off Highway 21, about twenty minutes away from Kirkham. Keep in mind that these locations and reserved campsites can fill quickly during busier times of the year.

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What to Bring

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.

Cash or an interagency pass. You'll need $5 cash to park at the day-use area and visit Kirkham, 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 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 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.

A woman in a red swimsuit and black beanie relaxes in a shallow pool at Kirkham Hot Springs with a wood platform behind her

Best Time to Visit Kirkham Hot Springs

Ideal Seasons for Soaking

While Kirkham is open year-round, we'd highly recommend visiting in the late spring, summer or early fall, ideally between June and October.

High water levels during spring run-off mean that hot springs pools in the area can be washed out and too cold for soaking. One advantage Kirkham has over others is that there are a few pools high enough to be safe from the river water and the waterfall creates a wonderful contrast to the ice cold water, even if it is hitting your feet.

If you do intend to go during the winter months, be prepared for some difficult and potentially hazardous road conditions.

Avoiding Crowds

The best time of day to visit is in the early morning, at or just before sunrise. This is your best chance to have the springs all to yourself or with only a few others. Kirkham is a very popular spring and, especially during the summer you can expect crowds beginning in the late morning and continuing on throughout the day, even on weekdays.

A woman in a red swimsuit and black beanie stands on a rocky hillside with steam billowing up around her from hot springs

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 bag and clean up any items you do find.

Use the bathroom before heading out to the springs. Though Kirkham does have a restroom, a short walk away from the pools, many springs in the area 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, 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 experience this hot springs waterfall for yourself? Pin this post for later!

A woman in a red swimsuit floating in a rock walled pool with text overlay that says 'Complete Guide to Kirkham Hot Springs'

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