Despite having known about these hot springs for decades (and having lots of near-misses with them, like dates where we planned to go there but didn't)—I have never done this hike before! Finally, my friend Beth galvanized me into action: that and the fact that we were learning about monkeys in school and we'd watched a documentary about the Japanese Macaques that like to sit in hot springs when the weather is cold. (I'm sure you know the ones.) So, off we went to be monkeys.
Before we even got to the trailhead we knew it was going to be beautiful. I had to turn off the audiobook we were listening to (much to my children's annoyance) because it was just too gorgeous. I needed all my attention to look at the scenery! I suppose it was a combination of the beautiful warmish weather—and the angle of the sun coming through the yellow cottonwoods—and the fact that we had a picnic and the whole day free just to explore—it made all of us feel pretty much on top of the world!
I have to say that this was one of the most beautiful hikes I've ever been on. There was lots of scrub oak and maple forest, and interesting looming cliffs, and the river flowing with us all along the trail. And it was partly that we caught the Fall at such a lovely time. Half of the trees were bare already, with just a few leaves left hanging to glow like fireflies in the morning sun. And the other half of the trees were still gloriously leafy and colorful, and shone through the bare-branch frames like stained glass.
The bare trees meant that we were walking over various stages of leaf-carpet throughout the hike. It felt so perfectly Fall-ish!
When we started out it was quite chilly in the canyon (which is what we had wanted—I thought the hot springs would feel nicer on a chilly day!). The boys were wearing their swimming suits as shorts, and we girls had our swimming suits under our clothes. The sun wasn't very high above the canyon walls for awhile, so there was lots of hiking in and out of shadow and tree-tunnel.
Teddy looked around with considerable interest.
It really isn't a hard hike at all. More of a nice walk. It took us about an hour and a half to get up to the hot springs because we were walking with a two-year-old who thinks it's a good idea to pick up every rock and pinecone on the trail. But the slope is very, very gentle and the trail is mostly smooth.
This particular two-year-old had also gotten it into her head that we were there for the sole purpose of having "a pit-nit" and eating "do-durt." This was in the plans, but not YET. It was a source of great disappointment and tears and dragging along.
Finally Sebby saved the day. He was a hero. He took charge of Goldie and had her walking and giggling and cheerful as a little lark in five minutes. I don't know what magic he was working. It had to do with finding little treasures for her and making games and pretending about tiny "homes" they were seeing along the trail. She clung to him so trustingly, and listened to his whispered secrets and smiled her tiny smile. Oh, that Sebby! He is a star.
After hiking a while, you cross the large stream and start following a smaller one.
I loved this part of the trail because it was so leafy and sheltered. The stream had all kinds of cool rocks in it, covered with moss.
And we started to see greenish-aquamarinish patches in the water, and we started to smell sulfur in the air. Sebby, who had been feeling the water every now and then as we hiked up, stuck his hand into the stream and then pulled it out in surprise: "It's…not freezing anymore!"
The water got bluer, and the sulfur smell got stronger.
And then we were at the lower waterfall! One of the warm soaking pools is just below this lower falls. We went on to see what else we could see. And just around the bend, we saw:
This! The bright turquoise water, falling down in little cascades from pool to pool. It was so beautiful it took our breath away!
Everyone wanted to strip down to their swimming suits and get in right away, but Sebby and I kept hiking up a little way, to the upper waterfall. It was streaming down a rock, and there was a little cave behind it, which Sebby wanted to explore:
Looking downstream, with the bright water and the bright leaves. So beautiful.
And now the best part! We started testing out the pools. There were several different temperatures. Some were just warm and bathtub-y, which was perfect for Theodore, so I mostly stayed in those with him. The other children climbed all around and went in and out of the hot and semi-hot and warm pools. Everyone took a turn holding Teddy, so I could explore too, and take some pictures.
The hot pools have a strong sulfur smell, of course, but we didn't mind it (Sam certainly noticed it when we got home, though! Ha), and they are very nice for sitting in. There are lots of natural rock seats and the pool bottoms are fairly flat. I do wish we had been wearing sandals, though. I thought it would be too hard to hike in sandals, but the hike was easy enough it wouldn't have mattered. And it would have been nice to have our feet protected. Several of us got cut on sharp rocks.
There was a sort of rock waterslide here. Everyone liked that.
Abe's favorite place to sit was right on this hot waterfall. It was SO warm there, and if you sat just to the left of where he is in this picture, you could let the warm water fall on your legs and feet. It felt so nice. There was a little rock cavity which the boys called "the oven" because it was so steamy inside. They would put their hands in and then come out trailing ribbons of steam.
Theo really loved it. You can't much tell from the pictures, but he was cooing and splashing and kicking his little feet in the water. And protesting heartily anytime we lifted him out.
We stayed as long as we could; soaking; trailing our hands in the waterfalls; getting hot and then climbing out all boneless and steamy to cool off, and then plunging in and getting hot again. No one wanted to leave! But eventually more people started arriving, and we started feeling that perhaps sharing the pool with seven children wasn't exactly what they'd all been dreaming of. Anyway, we were getting hungry, so we reluctantly dragged ourselves out of the pools, and balanced on the sharp rocks while climbing into dusty shirts and jackets (which immediately became muddy shirts and jackets), and perched on boulders while scrunching wet feet into socks and shoes. Theodore screamed indignantly the entire time as I peeled off his wet clothes and balanced him on Abe's outstretched arms to change his diaper, and stuffed him into his warm suit and crammed him into the backpack. Then he promptly fell asleep.
The rainbow of colors—red and orange and yellow leaves, green river grass, aquamarine water—was like nothing I've ever seen. Like something from Tolkien.
I was afraid we'd be cold and wet as we hiked down, but the afternoon sun was warm as we walked, and we were quite comfortable. The light was, if anything, more brilliant than before.
After a while, something set Goldie off again. We sat her on a log to calm down. She was SO sad and her despair was so SUDDEN and COMPLETE, we were all trying not to laugh. After a few minutes she cheered up (I think it was when I said I was a mommy bunny and she could be my baby) and proceeded to talk nonstop to me the entire rest of the way down, pausing only for the occasional breath. "I was so sad and I sat on the side on a log but now I'm so HAPPY and I'm a CHEERFUL-girl and I hold your hand and I'm a brave little BUNNY" figured prominently and repeatedly in the narrative.
These R2D2s talked in beeps the whole time. They kept up a running translation. "Beep-beep, beep beep beep beep-beep! That means, Mommy, I found a pinecone!"
Malachi and Seb walked ahead, making monkey noises. Abe kept hiding off the trail, letting me walk by, and then creeping up behind me and scaring me out of my wits. The girls attempted to do the same, but I usually spotted them and had to act surprised. Abe, on the other hand, gave me several genuine near heart-attacks.
Can you spy a tiny girl?
I love seeing yellow leaf-light reflected in water.
A closer look. Liquid gold!
The leaves were coming down in a constant, glittering shower. Looking up into that sky, it was like staring into an ocean, with bright yellow fish glinting quicksilver through the water.
When we finished hiking down, we drove to a park in Spanish Fork Canyon, and finally ate our "pit-nit," much to Goldie's relief.
The girls played train with a long stick they found.
The children ran around, and Teddy and I sat and soaked in the sun and yellow light. Then the wind picked up, making us all chilly again, and I told the children to all stay in one place—just for one second, for goodness sake!—so I could take a picture. And then we headed home. But determined to come back again when we can!