Hidden Hotsprings on the Salmon River

By Hannah Baker

Ravine on the Salmon River in Riggins, ID

I grew up in the valley nestled in the mountains of Idaho where over seven hot springs were within an hour away. None of them have the majesty and mysticism as Cable Car Hotsprings. This hidden gem is at the confluence of the Salmon River and French Creek, tucked in the side of the high desert hills and deep inside a bat cave. Directions are only available by word of mouth; what I’m sharing is exclusive.

Riggins, Idaho

The Salmon River carves a ravine that cradles Riggins, Idaho- a river town with less than 300 locals. Riggins feels haunted like a small, sleepy town Stephen King would write about. I’ve seen people get drunk on cheap beer and whiskey and ride coolers down dirt cliffs. Cars make one wrong turn and plummet into the gorge. Still, Riggins is a home base where adventurers return after weeks of backpacking, fishing, rafting and kayaking on the river.

The Salmon River

The river snakes from Galena Summit in the Sawtooth Mountains for 425 miles. Its length and the lives it takes earned it the nickname ‘The River of No Return.’ Rapids hide boulders that bury unsuspecting rafters. On calm stretches, the pristine water holds all your weight as if floating on a cloud. One summer evening, my raft-guide friend showed me the way to Cable Car Hotsprings. We kayaked across the river near French Creek and trekked two miles up switch-backs through blackberry bushes and sagebrush. 

Cable Car Hotsprings

An old mining shaft waited at the end of the trail. A concrete dam held a small pool of mossy water spilling out from the mouth of the cave. We put on our headlamps and crawled in on our knees. About 50 feet back- when the daylight disappeared and the air was hot and humid- the tunnel opened up into a room. Hot water poured from a spout out of the earth creating a cleansing, natural bath.

Of Idaho’s abundant selection of hot springs, Cable Car is the most unique one I’ve visited. The journey there is not for the faint of heart, but the destination is unlike any other place in the world. 

Beach on the bank of the Salmon River.

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