Jerry Johnson Hot Springs has become one of the most popular springs in the Missoula area for lots of reasons.

REASON #1: It’s a lovely, winding drive down Highway 12 over Lolo Pass, into scenic Idaho, along the Lochsa River and through the Clearwater National Forest. It’s only 63 miles southwest of Missoula, making the drive a pleasant hour-and-a-half or so. It’s a very do-able afternoon trip. There’s lots of parking at the trailhead and outhouses as well.

REASON #2: The trail isn’t daunting at all; first cross the neat wooden bridge reaching across the Lochsa, then it’s just a gentle mile-long walk to the pools through cedar forest that opens up into a creek-bottomed canyon. Large, mossy boulders are scattered along the way.

REASON #3: Pools pools pools galore. The first pool you pass is plenty hot, with a mellow creek bubbling in to cool off the temperature. Continue up the trail to find the main soaking area with small to large pools with rock edges and sandy bottoms. The smallest can fit three soakers while the largest can fit up to 25. You’re sure to find friendly folks with their beers and their dogs. Keep going on the trail and you’ll pass some fire pits with fallen-tree seats and another set of small translucent blue-green pools.

REASON #4: Though you can’t camp here (the hot springs closes after dark and soakers who chanced it have been known to get fined), the Jerry Johnson Campground is only a mile away, between mile marker 150 and 151. Beware: there isn’t much shade at the camp site, and July/August can be blistering here.

REASON #5: The springs have gained a crowded-party reputation, which isn’t everyone’s first choice when it comes to a relaxing soak. The waterfall-fed pools are often submerged from cold snow runoff in the spring. But the good thing is: Weir Creek Hot Springs is only eight miles away, so you didn’t drive all that way for nothing.

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