When my college-aged son Quinn mentioned that his girlfriend, Amy, would be visiting Idaho after the holidays, I thought, hey, we have to take her on a snowmobile trip to Burgdorf Hot Springs!
Quinn had participated in a winter trip to Burgdorf when he was maybe 10, and he instantly thought that would be perfect.
“Let’s show Amy an iconic Idaho adventure to the rustic hot springs deep in the mountains of Central Idaho. She’ll never forget it!” Quinn said. “It’s definitely one of the most unique trips in Idaho, especially in the winter — it’s gotta be on my top five list. It’s such a blast to ride through so much snow going through some really cool mountain country.”
Amy is from Connecticut. She and Quinn go to Colby Sawyer College in New London, N.H. They’re used to the mountains in New England, but natural hot springs don’t exist in that area.
We alerted our kids Tom and Elena about the trip, and they all wanted to go with no prodding, especially if mom and dad were paying!
During the week leading up to the trip, it was pounding snow in McCall and the West Central Mountains, and big snow was forecast Friday and Saturday. That made me nervous … I hoped that the McCall snowmobile trail groomer would be on top of things to provide a smooth ride to the hot springs.
We had at least six inches of snow at our cabin in McCall on Saturday morning. We all piled into my Ford F-250 and it sure felt nice to have a big truck with high clearance as we’re driving up an unplowed Warren Wagon Road that morning to meet Cheap Thrills at the trailhead and get our rental sleds.
David Wagers and his three kids, who were joining us for the day, had an epic morning, breaking through more than 15 inches of wind-blown powder on West 4 Lane south of Donnelly to meet up with us in McCall. Wagers had to stop and chain up his truck to get to Idaho Highway 55, but they were still on time. Now that’s a set of dependable friends.
Kade Wagers is a good friend of Quinn’s from Boise High. Dave brought his two twin girls, Savannah and Delaney, both of whom are 20 and studying pre-med.
Cheap Thrills had all of our rental sleds all lined up and ready to go at the trailhead. We rented multiple two-person sleds to economize on the trip. The Wagers brought one of their own two-person sleds and rented another one. The Cheap Thrills crew gave us an excellent safety talk and explained how to operate the brand new sleds, all of which were equipped with hand warmers and electric starters.
We peeled out of the snowmobile parking lot and headed up the trail at about 10:30 a.m. It was bombing snow, but there was a single snowmobile track we could follow on the main road from the ‘bilers who already had embarked for the day’s adventure.
Cheap Thrills provides a really nice full-face helmet with an adjustable visor as part of your rental. Most of our gang, including Quinn’s girlfriend Amy, used their one-piece snowmobile suits, which are very roomy and warm. They also have warm boots, if you need them.
I led the group single file on our snow machines up Warren Wagon Road. It’s about 20+ miles to the springs. I could see fairly well because the snow was like “cold smoke” — super light without that much moisture — and it didn’t stick to my visor. I just tried to focus on the track in the middle of the road to avoid going off the edge and getting stuck in bottomless snow.
That whole area north of Payette Lake feels like my home away from home. I love to mountain bike Bear Pete Trail and the Loon Lake Loop, hike or backpack the 20-Mile Trail, paddle Upper Payette Lake — it’s just an awesome mountain playground. All of these memories come to mind as we’re traveling up the snow road.
About 15 miles from the trailhead, we stopped at Secesh Summit, turned off the engines, and enjoyed a quiet moment “in the middle of nowhere.”
I was relaxed now, knowing it would be a cinch to reach the hot springs. We continued north to the left-hand turn for Burgdorf, and looked in awe at the fire-killed trees surrounding that area from last summer’s wildfire. I felt so thankful that the fire did not run over the top of Burgdorf.
In about 45 minutes total travel time, we arrived at Burgdorf and parked the sleds. There were about 15-20 people there already. A young couple who also rented from Cheap Thrills hauled in their young children, both of whom seemed to be less than 5 years old, on individual sleds. I was impressed with their spirit of adventure.
We all brought our swimsuits and towels, a few beverages, and a hearty lunch. It was time to get changed and soak.
One of the employees working there had been keeping the men’s changing room warm by keeping the wood stove stoked with plenty of wood, and they also rigged a heated stone floor by running a hot water pipe underneath the changing room. That made things really cozy and warm while you got changed into your swimsuit.
And then, the penultimate moment comes, when you step into the natural hot water and feel your body melt instantly. The main pool is kept at about 101 degrees, and there are a couple of piping-hot smaller pools adjacent to the main pool. I like to warm up in the main pool and then get cooked in the hottest pools for a few minutes, before returning to the main pool.
“I could have sat in that pool all day with the snow coming down, sharing laughs with everyone,” said Amy.
She enjoyed looking at the non-stop mountain views on the way to the springs. “It was great to be able to sit on the back and take in all the beauty,” she said. “You guys are so lucky to call this place home!”
Floating in the pool, you look across the giant hulk of Bear Pete Mountain to the west. We’ve also seen gobs of elk grazing in the meadow immediately to the west of Burgdorf in the spring. The rustic nature of all of the log-hewn buildings at Burgdorf makes the whole place feel really down to earth.
“Burgdorf Hot Springs in the winter is a quintessential Idaho experience for our family. You feel like you are escaping the modern world and stepping back into a simpler time,” noted Dave Wagers. “What a great adventure in the winter. Sharing experiences brings us together as a family. The trip gave our gang a chance to take a step away from our busy lives and truly enjoy an iconic Idaho experience.”
Indeed, I felt blessed to be able to share the whole Burgdorf experience with Amy and our kids and friends. We had a leisurely lunch and rode back to the trailhead at a little faster speed. Some light freezing droplets were fogging up my visor from time to time, but no big deal. The snowmobile trail was more packed down and wider from more use on the way back.
Quinn let Amy drive the snowmobile back to the trailhead. It was the first time that Wendy, Elena and Amy had driven a snowmobile. They were all jazzed by the experience.
“Fresh powder, snowmobiles, a long hot soak, and good friends, who could resist?” Wagers says, summing it up perfectly.