Visiting Goldmyer Hot Springs: Western Washington's Natural Spa

Posted by: Josh Garwood

Hot springs usually fall into one of two categories: unmaintained, dug out pools overcrowded with local enthusiasts, or developed resorts, complete with showers, restaurants, and concrete. The former can be a gamble—hot springs are a natural petri dish for a variety of diseases (such as E. coli). But the latter can too often feel like a theme park or the spa at a local gym. Finding a hot spring with a natural feel that isn’t also risking your health can be a challenge.

Here in Western Washington we are lucky enough to have Goldmyer Hot Springs, a tiny, steaming oasis in the middle of the Cascades’ temperate rainforests.

On the way to the hot springs. Laura Lancaster

Goldmyer was a popular tourist destination in the early part of the 20th century, but was abandoned in the 1960s after extensive flooding. After decades of neglect and overuse, the former owners donated the land to the Northwest Wilderness Programs, who restored and today manage the springs, employing rotating caretakers to process visitors and maintain the pools (including bi-weekly cleanings).

From the caretaker’s cabin, visitors climb up through a canopy of ancient old growth—douglas firs, western hemlocks, and pacific silver firs—toward the sound of a roaring waterfall.

Getting closer. Laura Lancaster

Rounding the corner of a steep precipice brings the springs into view where there's an opening of a cave, framed with moss and ferns, with steaming water spilling out into two lower pools. Nearby is the cabana, a rustic, open-air structure, perfect for grabbing a quick bite to eat or changing out of sweaty hiking clothes. The pool furthest from the cave is the coolest—about 104 degrees with the temperatures rising to a steaming 111 degrees Fahrenheit inside the cave. Those who make it to the back of the cave are well-rewarded: a simple bench at the end far of the cave is perfect for enjoying the sauna-like atmosphere. A third pool, fed by an ice cold stream, quickly cools down any overheated bathers, leaving behind skin that is tingling and refreshed.

Five miles from the nearest forest service road, Goldmyer is close enough to civilization for easy access by dedicated weekend warriors, but logistically complicated enough to dissuade Instagram addicts. (Although, speaking frankly, it’s probably best to leave your camera at home for this one: Goldmyer is clothing optional, and most days find a mix of bathers in swimsuits and in the nude.)

Plan your Trip Today

Goldmyer in all its modest yet welcoming glory. hundertmorgen_

Visitors are limited to 20 per day to ensure that Goldmyer remains pristine for years to come. This limit is strictly enforced, so you'll need to make a reservation in advance to ensure that you aren’t turned away at the gates.

While many visitors will choose to hike out after an afternoon of soaking, overnight camping is also available for an additional $5. Note that campfires are not permitted on the Goldmyer premises.

Getting There

You're in the right place. Laura Lancaster

_NOTE: Conditions change frequently along the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie. Check the Goldmyer website for the most up-to-date travel info. _

There are multiple access points for Goldmyer Hot Springs, so choose the right one for your experience and fitness level.

1. A long, difficult drive followed by a short, easy hike.

Drive east from Seattle on I-90 and take exit 34, just past North Bend. Turn left onto 468th Street and drive north for a half mile. Turn right onto the Middle Fork Road and travel 9 miles (the paved road will turn to gravel and then dirt) to the Middle Fork campgrounds. Just after the campground, look for a dirt road heading uphill to the right. Follow this road another five miles until you reach the Dingford Creek Trailhead. This last road is minimally maintained, and a number of washouts over the years have made it impassable to all but high clearance, four wheel drive vehicles. Do not attempt this road if your car has low clearance.

From the Dingford Creek Trailhead, hike the old road 4.5 miles to a marked intersection. Take the right fork, following the signs to Goldmyer Hot Springs, cross over the river, and hike up a short hill to the caretaker's cabin to check in.

2. A short, easy drive followed by a long, difficult hike.

Drive I-90 east from Seattle and take exit 52 at Snoqualmie Pass. Drive under the overpass and continue on for about a mile until you reach the parking lot for the Snow Lake Trailhead near the Alpental ski resort. Hike the Snow Lake Trail 3.2 miles to the intersection on the far side of the lake. Take the Rock Creek Trail, heading downhill and to the right.

The trail here, while well maintained, is significantly more rugged than the popular Snow Lake Trail, crisscrossing talus fields before switchbacking 4 miles down to the intersection with the Middle Fork Trail. Turn right and follow the Middle Fork Trail 2.5 miles until you reach Burnboot creek. Carefully cross the three downed logs that serve as a foot bridge. On the other side of the creek are signs directing you toward the caretaker’s cabin.

3. A short, easy drive and hike followed by some serious bushwhacking.

This one is only for hikers experienced in route finding. After exiting I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass, follow signs for the PCT (between Alpental and The Summit) that lead to the trailhead for the PCT out of Snoqualmie Pass. Follow the trail for 2.5 miles until you reach a fork. Take the Commonwealth Basin Trail to the left to its end at Red Pass.

This is where things get a little interesting. The trail below is where the Pacific Crest Trail ran before it was rerouted over the Kendall Katwalk. From Red Pass, pass by the “trail not maintained beyond this point sign” and hike 3.5 miles down a steep slope into lush old growth. The trail will eventually run alongside Burnboot Creek, leading you to the log crossing to Goldmyer along the Middle Fork Trail.

The tiny, yet wonderful Goldmyer Hot Springs. Laura Lancaster

All in all a visit to Goldmyer Hot Springs isn't some epic backcountry excursion. But if you're looking for a relaxing soak in nature without the crowds and with the chance to camp overnight, this is a super special place tucked into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Oh, and you're right next to a gorgeous, roaring waterfall the entire time. It really doesn't get any better than this.

Written by Laura Lancaster for RootsRated.