March 7, 2012
Location: North Bend/I-90
Length: 9-20 miles round trip
Recommended Hiking Time: 2-5 hours
Rating: Easy to More Difficult
Goldmyer Hot Springs is probably my favorite winter camping destination. Nestled along the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River and surrounded by mountains leading up to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the scenery is unbeatable and at the end of your day you can relax in a natural hot tub! All that and it’s within 50 miles of Seattle!
If you have been curious, but apprehensive about winter camping, Goldmyer is a great place to start. And right now you can drive to within 4.5 miles of it, which means you only have to hike a short ways in and out and since it is fairly low in elevation, it’s not as cold or snowy as winter camps further up the Central Cascade passes.
While also excellent in the summer, for some reason I only seem to make it out here in the winter. It must have something to do with my yearning to still get outdoors even when the weather is anything but welcoming. Fortunately, this trip allows me to enjoy the beauty of falling snow or dripping old growth trees, while sitting in a piping hot bath listening to the sound of the roaring creek.
While the shortest hike in is along a road, it is incredibly tranquil and scenic with the river within sight or earshot the entire time and a very gentle grade for the slight climb to the hot springs. A few minutes from the parking lot you cross a bridge with a great view of a waterfall, which was particularly full last weekend due to the heavy snow earlier in the week. The snow made the forest more enchanting and the surrounding mountains more impressive, especially in Sunday’s clear, sunny skies, but it also meant a more strenuous snowshoe in with a heavy pack full of winter gear.
We were fortunate, though, to have a path of somewhat compact snowshoe tracks to follow (the couple who hiked in the night before said it took them almost 5 hours to cover the 4.5 miles). It still took us longer than usual to make it to the hot springs (about 3 hours), so it’s a good idea to check conditions when you call to make your reservation ($15/person, 20 people max). Eventually, though, we got to a fork, took the lower route on the right, and after crossing a foot bridge over the river, we knew the caretakers’ cabin was only minutes away. We were lucky that it was fairly warm and we only had some short-lived light rain, but the trees did try to start some snowball fights and the warmer weather meant a lot of melting so we were grateful for the tarp we brought to hang over our camp.
After setting up our tents by the river and storing our food, we took the steep trail up to the hot springs to warm up our cold, wet feet and relax our sore muscles. While the hike up is always longer than I remember, it is well worth it. Just past the signpost marking the outhouse, you round a corner and see the river cascading below you and the covered “cabana,” an open-air wooden hut where you can change, hang your towel, and have a seat if you need to cool off. We striped down pretty fast since it was chilly out and hustled bare foot across the snow to the pools. (Please note that the springs are clothing optional, but no one is going to judge, so do whatever you are comfortable with.)
The main pool is cave-like and goes back about 25 feet to a small bench and a rock wall with a few flat areas to set lit candles. The water here is hottest and then it cascades down to a 2-3 person pool, and then to a 4 person pool that is slightly warmer than body temperature and very comfortable. For the brave there is also a cold plunge fed directly from the river, which is fridgid, but quite refreshing if you have been in the hot pool too long. This time of year, though, just getting out to put your clothes on can feel like a cold plunge.
There are many ways to get to the hot springs, but the easiest and most common way is the walk on the road I described here. To get there take 1-90 to Exit 34 and head north on 468th Avenue for about a mile before turning right onto the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road. There is a fork early on, but you can take either way since they rejoin just before the pavement ends. Then enjoy the bumpy, gravel road for roughly 12 miles (high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles recommended — see the photo and video below if you don’t believe me). You’ll continue past the Middle Fork Trailhead and Campground and just after a major bridge you’ll see a road on the right. Take it about 5.5 miles to a parking area and gate.
Until somewhat recently this road was gated at its starting point due to wash outs (making it a 20 mile round trip hike), but now it is open and the road is in good shape (actually better shape then the Middle Fork Road leading up to it). If you’re looking for more of a hiking challenge, though, you can add miles by hiking in from the Middle Fork Trail (~10 miles one way) or extra elevation by hiking in from Snow Lake or other areas of the Alpine Lakes. However, I would reserve these for the summer time since the snow is pretty heavy right now, which makes route finding a lot more difficult and increases avalanche danger in the higher elevation routes. Winter doesn’t look ready to make an exit yet either, so I don’t expect that to change any time soon.