The region’s coziest winter camping is located along Highway 12 in Idaho’s Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. The Lochsa Lodge, a historic, year-round resort on the Lochsa River just an hour west of Missoula, has wood stoves, clean bathrooms, a nice restaurant, and a bar with a selection of mostly local brews on tap. Also, this affordable and simple long-weekend destination is within a half-day drive from Spokane.
Our weekend started as any Montana adventure should: with an epic Good Food Store shopping and noshing trip in Missoula paired with a delayed start as we rolled off the slushy highway past dark. We easily found the main lodge with gift shop for checking in, and we set out to find cute little Cabin #7. Out of the car, we took deep breaths, cracked the first beer, and stepped through the screen door into a very dark and cold room. Our eyes adjusted enough to notice the neat stack of split firewood along a wall.
Not quite knowing what to expect when we reserved a “rustic” cabin, each of us valiantly tried to hide any confusion or disappointment from the other, accepting that we might be in for three cold nights in a screened-in shelter without electricity or heat. Just as I was thinking that we might need some Schnapps, I began to make out a second door in front of us. Stumbling past a shin-high bench, I made it to the actual entrance of our living space, and the warmth of the wood stove welcomed us.
Our cabin was everything we needed it to be over the next few days. We marveled at the lights, outlets, and clean towels, along with kindling and paper for our fires that had been carefully set on the hearth. The ample screened-in porch space served as kitchen, refrigerator, and gear storage.
Heated bathrooms and a shower were only steps away, and on one such trip a family of white-tailed deer greeted me as I stepped out into the cold, starry night.
Once we were settled in and fed that first night, we came up with a plan to check out as many of the local hot springs as possible. As hard as it was to stop playing cards by the fire and leave the comfort of our classic cabin, we were rewarded for making the short drives and treks to some local natural hot springs. // (Angie Dierdorff)
Angie Dierdorff wants to make it to every hot spring in the Pacific Northwest by 2025. She has been an Out There contributor since 2008.
Staying at the Lochsa Lodge
Lochsa Lodge is a year-round lodge, restaurant, bar, and store located along north-central Idaho’s Wild & Scenic Lochsa River. Winter lodging options range from $75-$185 per night depending on your choice of a rustic cabin with shared bathrooms and wood heat, cabins with private bathrooms (some with propane heat), and various lodge units with private bathrooms suitable for couples and families. View all the cabins and lodge rooms as well as the restaurant menu at Lochsalodge.com.
Getting There: The Lochsa Lodge is located 57 miles west of Missoula, Montana, on Highway 12, just west of Lolo Pass and the Idaho/Montana state line.
Hot Springs Hikes Off Highway 12
Weir Hot Springs, a scant half-mile up a straightforward, if slippery, trail, is a lush, creek side paradise attainable by even pre-K soakers with attentive parents, and certainly by myself and my nimble companion. Multiple waist-deep pools sit picturesquely perched above the softly muttering Weir Creek, with thick mist creating a Cretaceous feel.
As we lazily pondered the pool’s origin, and whether or not we’d retained the necessary muscular rigidity to make the return trip, we glimpsed a contented couple languidly vacating a higher, hotter pool, and decided to extend our stay. The decision and dicey barefoot scramble proved worth the effort. Bubbly chatter faded into the burbling stream below, and we could easily imagine ourselves alone in this mist-shrouded pool for two.
The following day, relaxed almost beyond walking ability, we bravely endured an even shorter and flatter hike, and plopped into the first shin-deep pool of Jerry Johnson Hot Springs. It fronted a shimmering waterfall and warbling Warm Springs Creek, and thankfully we had ample libations to see us through another long, perfect day of soaking.