Shivering in soggy sleeping bags, hoping the tent didn’t collapse in the pounding rain, we waited for dawn to explore the hot springs cave.
Ahh, adventure. Our lives would be boring without it. Memorial Day Weekend is the perfect time to give in to your wanderlust.
My daughter Phoebe and I took a trip last month to Goldmyer Hot Springs about 30 miles east of Seattle in the foothills of the Cascade Range. Don't go expecting poolside bar service or a classic rock band playing next to the pool. This is a primitive hot springs that requires a five-mile hike to see. Best of all, there is no Wi-Fi or cell service.
A snake crawled out of a muddy hot springs near Pony just before we climbed in, so I know that slithery things sometimes like a dip in the hot water, too. That’s why we waited for daylight to explore the cave. It looked spooky enough the night before when we couldn’t see the end of it and our imaginations conjured up all sorts of creatures living there.
In the morning light, we explored the 35-foot-long cave that sits above two waterfalls, and found it crystal clear and monster-free.
As our eyes adjusted to the dim light, we paddled through the warm water to a wooden plank bench at the far end. Ferns and moss dangle across the opening and a mist rises from the rocky shelf, giving it a picturesque quality that resembles a Thomas Moran painting of Yellowstone Park.
The hot springs is surrounded by old growth cedar and is tucked against the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. One impressive cedar next to the trail has a trunk 12 to 13 feet in diameter. One guest said it was the largest he'd ever seen in the Middle Fork Valley.
The hike in is as special as soaking in the hot springs. Lime green moss hangs off 80-foot-tall cedars, car-sized boulders are laced with lichen, waterfalls cascade down rocks next to the trail, water lilies bloom in marshy ponds, and the clear Snoqualmie River runs alongside.
Since the campground is about a half-mile away from the springs, a private soak is a real possibility. Even though there were two other groups of people there when we were, including three generations of a Seattle family of five, we never had to share the springs with anyone else. Even so, we did not take advantage of the “no suits required,” no matter how much prodding I got from friends back in Montana before we left. If you visit the springs and want to soak only with people wearing suits, you have to put in a special request.
The water temperature in the cave is 107 degrees and the upper pool temperature is 102. The lower pool’s temperature is in the mid-90s. It's warm enough to relax, but not so hot that your heart starts to palpitate.
I have a reputation for missteps on family outings, like forgetting to pack the tent, or using duct tape to attach flashlights to our bike handle bars to ride the Hiawatha Bike Trail with its mile-long tunnel. Of course, they came loose.
I made only two errors on this trip. I left the instructions on how to set up our borrowed tent in the truck at the trailhead and the sleeping mats were left nice and dry back home in Billings. These two errors contributed to the soggy sleeping bags.
'Swallow a Prius'
It is highly recommended that you not take a Subaru up the six-mile jeep trail to get to the trailhead, so we borrowed a 4X4 truck. When we arrived, it looked like we were already there because in the lot were two Subarus. I will say the jeep trail has deep pot holes, which one guest said are large enough to “swallow a Prius.”
Goldmyer Hot Springs was initially developed as Crystal Hot Springs Resort in the early 1900s by William Goldmyer, who hiked from California to the Seattle area in 1868. He promoted it to miners and loggers and later used a Model T bus outfitted with railroad wheels to get people from Seattle to the springs. Reportedly, they made the trek faster than you can today.
The hot springs limits visitors to 20 per day and they are very strict about this rule. Caretakers live at the site and make sure everyone is comfortable and following the rules.
We reserved about a month out, but during the summer months, you need to make reservations even earlier, especially if you are going over a weekend, which we did. The limit is necessary because the springs only holds 10 to 15 people at a time.
There are outhouses, but no drinking water and fires and pets are not allowed. Follow the Boy Scout motto of "be prepared," even though the hosts will help you out if you are in a bind.
The hot springs was everything we’d dreamed of. I couldn’t quit singing “Bali Hai” from the musical “South Pacific” because that’s just what it's like — a mythical place.