Kids, hot springs, bathing suits, and philosophy

by Ashley Steel /
Ashley Steel's picture
Oct 11, 2011 / 0 comments

Last weekend, my 9-yr-old and I backpacked in to Goldmyer Hot Springs on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River in western Washington.  The hot springs were the site of a lodge in the early 1900s and boast source water of 120 degrees F even now.  They are now owned by a non-profit corporation whose goal is the long-term preservation of the hot springs and surrounding wilderness.  It was a 4.5 mi hike along a gated old logging road with only minimal elevation gain.  The hike was much more beautiful than one might expect for a road.  Running along the river, the road is graced by large trees, some of which were even changing colors, and frequent views of clear pools and the cobble-bottomed river. One of the best features of road-hiking with kids is that you can walk along in a wide formation. This enables singing, talking, skipping, and other nonsense that can be very difficult on a narrow and uneven trail.


 Goldmyer Hot Springs



The first bit of philosophy is about gear and preparation.  How many times can it be said?  Be prepared.  Have the right gear.  I grabbed our smallest backpack out of the garage (really a daypack), loaded in some gear, strapped it onto my daughter, and away we went.  It's only 4.5 miles on a road right?  About a 1/2 mile into the trip, the pack started slipping down because the straps just couldn't be tightened enough around her little waist.  We tried wrapping fleece around her waist to "fatten her up" and wedging fleece under the shoulder straps to lift the pack off her shoulders.  We removed weight and, as already mentioned, sang songs.  But in the end, a pack that doesn't fit is just an unnecessary and painful problem that could have been avoided.  Solution: try the pack on in advance and, if it doesn't fit just right, borrow one that does.  Kid's shoes need to fit on trips, everyone needs the right clothes for the weather, your bag needs to be light, and you probably need to do some work in advance (yah, preparations) to make it all happen.

We arrived in good spirits after crossing an impressive new bridge and ringing the big bell at the caretaker's hut.  We were taken to a camping spot just a few meters from the river and got our tent assembled quickly in advance of more rain.  Hot chocolate, "Meals Ready to Eat" cheese and cracker appetizers, cheezy rice with canned chicken and fresh tomatoes ... all fun (if not delicious).  The campground has a nifty pulley system all set up to hoist the "bear" barrels supplied to every campsite.  And, fresh water could be pumped and filtered right from the river.  Body and spirits revived, we head up the 1/2 mile trail to the actual hot springs.

It's already dark.  We have headlamps and flip-flops with which to navigate the path.  The hot springs are clothing optional which engenders much discussion within our little group of two women and two girls.  Do you have to go naked?  What if you want to wear a suit?  What if there is a man there?  What if everyone else is naked? ....

Philosophical detour number two.  Everything can be educational.  Kids should make their own choices (within the realm of what's safe and the realm of what's acceptable to their family).   We talked about how to be respectful of whoever is at the hot springs.  We agreed that we could each make our own decision about what to wear.  It's a private decision and a personal one.  Now, some parents might opt not to expose their children to potential nudity, fair enough.  I decided that I'd rather have the experience and the conversation while she is still young enough to consider my opinion potentially valuable.

We wandered in the dark, alongside a roaring creek.  Up, up, up ... and up.  And, suddenly, we arrived at a roofed platform for changing and hanging towels, balanced on big rocks.  We changed and tiptoed down to a small rock pool of warm water and slipped right in.  The only smell was, surprisingly, of the wet forest around us.  We lit a candle and put it in a metal dish to protect the hot springs from melted wax.  Then, we settled in to explore.  We found a higher pool with much warmer water and, behind that, a little wall that held back water in a long skinny, mist-filled cave.  Low sounds emanated from the cave where, we assumed, someone sat at the back playing a pipe and relaxing.   Eventually a young woman emerged and explained that there was a small bench at the very back and that she had only been humming softly, unaware that we could hear.  We all wanted to go back there and check it out.  But, our evening cave visit was short.  The water was hot and waist-deep on the adults.  Breathing hot steam in complete darkness, it was a long way to the bench at the back.  The experience alternated between claustrophobia and ethereal peacefulness.


The Grandfather tree



The next morning, we headed back in daylight.  Using a laminated trail guide, we identified a dozen kinds of ferns and hugged The Grandfather, one of the largest trees I've ever seen.  Once we made it back, we found the cave much more manageable.  We also discovered a 4th cold pool full of icy river-water.  Use of the site is limited to only 20 people per day so the springs were still peaceful and quiet (hopefully our kids didn't change that).  We soaked and soaked.  Hot, cold.  Hot, cold.  Hot, cold.  Until, like Cinderella at the ball, the clock struck noon, check-out time!  Had two hours really elapsed?  We zipped "home", broke camp, made a quick snack, and started back to our cars.  The pack was still too big but the rain had stopped and the warm water had relaxed us.  Most of the way out, we planned exciting backpacking adventures for next year.  Did we decide to wear bathing suits?  Any of us?  Well, it's a personal decision and we hope you'll respect it either way.   


Goldmyer Hot Springs



Finding hot springs to visit with your kids:

- A mapped database of over 1600 hot springs in North America with water temperatures!

- Hot springs around the world.



Ashley Steel is the Traveling with Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. Read more at  her website and book: