Matt Johnson

The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Boat Box Hot Springs

Author: Matt JohnsonPhotos/Graphics: Mike HawthornePublished: Feb 19, 2023Updated: Dec 13, 2023

If you’re looking for a peaceful and serene place to relax, look no further than Boat Box Hot Springs in Stanley, Idaho. Nestled amongst the rocks along the Salmon River Valley, this hot spring provides visitors with an unforgettable experience of nature’s beauty.

We recently took a dip in Boat Box Hot Springs, and we absolutely loved it. Here’s everything you’ve wanted to know about

Many people don’t believe it until they see it, but Boat Box Hot Springs is a singular bathtub-style hot spring that you can soak in.

Boat Box Hot Springs (sometimes known as Elkhart Hot Springs, but for this we’ll just call it Boat Box Hot Springs) is one of the most popular hot springs in Idaho, and for a good reason. Located on the side of a river, surrounded by trees and a valley, this picturesque spot is sometimes referred to as the witch’s cauldron due to its unique tub shape and steam rising from the hot water.

Even before the current tub, the spring was an old wooden box that served the same purpose. A few years back, the wooden box was replaced by the current metal tub which withstands the elements a bit better.

Nonetheless, Boat Box Hot Springs is the perfect remedy for a cold morning in Stanley, with gorgeous views of swirling mist and golden sunlight as it rises above the mountains.

A special place for everyone to enjoy.

A trip to Boat Box should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Idaho.

What makes Boat Box even more special is that it’s maintained by the community and free for anyone to use. This little act of kindness just makes you feel good about people and the world in general.

The tub is hidden down from the road and isn’t visible until you get out of your car and peer over. The giveaway is the steam that appears by the side of the road. The tub can only fit 1-2 people comfortably, so don’t come with a big group expecting to all squeeze in!

Boat Box is pretty simple to work out, and happily, you have control over the temperature. Start by filling up using the white piping next to the hot water (be careful as it’s scolding hot!).

You can either choose to add ice-cold water from the river or let the air temperature balance it out. In peak season, there may be a queue forming, so arriving early or late may help avoid waiting times. Overall, Boat Box Hot Springs provides an amazing experience that will leave you feeling restored and rejuvenated!

Boat Box Hot Springs in the Winter
The Salmon River in the wintertime.

Where is Boat Box Hot Spring?

Located in Central Idaho, getting to Boat Box Hot Spring is pretty simple and straightforward.

It’s just off the southside of Highway 75, about a mile east of Stanley, ID. It’s super easy to find.

There’s not tons of parking – maybe 10-15 cars can fit as it’s just off the side of the highway. It’s nothing fancy in terms of where it’s at, but it’s something that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

If you’re coming from the west on Highway 21, you will make a left in Stanley onto eastbound Highway 75. Go down about a mile, and you’ll see the steam coming up from the Salmon River on your right. Take it slow, as it’s pretty easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. Fortunately, our GPS got us right to it with no problems.

Here, we’ve even provided an exact location with a map to help you find the hot springs.

Tips for a perfect soak.

Now that you’ve made it, we bet you’re ready to start soaking. Whether you’re looking for something quick to check off your bucket list or a long soak while you relax in the middle of the Sawtooth Mountains, we’ve put together a few tips to make the most of your trip.

Go early or late to avoid the crowds.

Boat Box can get busy, so plan your visit accordingly to ensure you have enough time to fully enjoy the experience without feeling rushed. Remember, the tiny metal tub can only fit 1-2 people in it at a time. If there are crowds, you might be waiting for a while. We went at 6am as the sun was coming up and there was nobody else there.

No big groups.

Bring a friend or partner, but don’t come with a big group expecting to all squeeze in! The tub is only comfortable for 1-2 people. If you do come with a group, you can always take turns and there are plenty of other hot springs in the valley to explore.

Bring your own towel and biodegradable soap.

The tub itself is drained regularly, but it’s always nice to bring your own towel and some biodegradable soap for a more hygienic experience. Since it’s drained into the beautiful Salmon River water, you want to be responsible and use something that isn’t going to affect the ecosystem in the cold river water.

Find the perfect water temperature.

Imagine being able to control the temperature of the hot springs as you soak. Well, you can at Boat Box Hot Springs. Visitors can control the temperature of the water by using the white PVC pipe next to the hot water and adding either ice cold water from the river or letting the air temperature balance it out. We used the cold water from the PVC pipe to get the temperature to a balmy 101°F which was absolutely perfect.

Practice hot springs etiquette.

Be mindful of others who may be waiting their turn, especially during peak season. Don’t stay too long so everyone gets a chance to experience this incredible hot spring. Don’t bring in glass containers or alcohol and please clean up after yourself. There isn’t a staff to maintain the hot spring so it’s up to everyone that uses it to take care of it.

Don’t miss your exit.

Take it slow when driving there, as there is a small lay-by on a sharp corner and virtually no stopping distance! Look for steam rising from the side of the road as a giveaway that you’ve arrived at Boat Box Hot Springs.

Plenty of activities along the Salmon River.

A trip through the majestic Sawtooth Mountains is quite an escape, even if the Boat Box Hot Springs is just one component of your overall trip.

There is so much to see and do near the Salmon River that you could spend days exploring. There are plenty of camping spots along the river, fishing, and wildlife watching. The nearby towns of Stanley and Sawtooth City also offer great restaurants and unique local stores.

White Water Rafting Salmon River Idaho
One activity visitors love to do in the area is white water rafting. The Salmon River is an excellent river for various activities.

Nearby hot springs.

One of the other hot springs worth mentioning is Challis. It’s not too far away, maybe about 20 minutes to the west of Boat Box. However, it is a little more structured than Boat Box Hot Springs, so keep that in mind when you visit.

Challis Hot Springs is a family-owned hot springs destination located in the beautiful Salmon River Valley of central Idaho. The resort has been in operation for five generations and offers a relaxing getaway for visitors.

What I loved about going there were the two outdoor hot spring pools that were available. The Large Hot Springs Pool had a gravel bottom and was regulated at 100-102°F, while the Therapy Hot Springs Pool had a gravel bottom and flowed with a water temperature between 105-107°F.

The mineral water flow rate was constant, so chemical treatments were minimal. It was also mandatory to wear swimwear in both pools at all times.

What we love the most about Boat Box.

We’ve been to countless hot springs throughout the US, but Boat Box Hot Springs is easily one of the best ones we’ve been to.

What we loved the most was the fact that it’s tucked away in the woods, and you can experience nature while taking a soak. The water temperature is easy to control, so you get just the right warmth for your entire body. Plus, there are other activities along the Salmon River, like fishing and camping, which makes it an even more enjoyable experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the tub, but there’s much more to do in the area than just the hot springs.

Boat Box Hot Springs FAQs.

Chances are you still have a few questions. There’s nothing better than coming prepared, so here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Boat Box Hot Springs.

How do you get to Boat Box Hot Springs?

Getting to the hot spring is really quite simple. From Stanley, Idaho, head north on Highway 75 and continue for about 1 mile. The highway travels along the side of the Salmon River, so keep looking out of your right window, and you’ll see the Boat Box resting in the nearby rocks.

How much does Boat Box Hot Springs cost?

It’s totally free. It’s a community hot spring so there’s no fee to use it. All you need is a towel and some good company!

Is camping allowed at Boat Box Hot Springs?

No, unfortunately, camping is not allowed. However, there are plenty of other nearby campsites that you can check out along the Salmon River. Most of them are within an easy 20-30 minute drive from the hot spring.

What are the safety rules at Boat Box Hot Springs?

The safety rules here are pretty simple, just use common sense and respect your fellow hot springers! Don’t bring in any glass containers or alcohol and please clean up after yourself. Also, don’t forget to keep an eye out for any wildlife that might be lurking nearby.

How hot is Boat Box Hot Springs?

One of the best things about this hot spring is the ability to adjust the temperature. We found that a comfortable temperature for us was about 101°F, but you may want to make it hotter or cooler depending on your preference. If the temp gets a bit too hot for you, add in some cooler water from the pipe going into the tub.

What should I bring when I go to the spring?

You really don’t need to bring much with you when visiting the spring. Just remember to bring a towel, your swimsuit and some water shoes if you have them. There’s nowhere to set your stuff once you’re there, so bring a dry bag or plastic bucket to keep your belongings in.

Do I have to wear clothes?

Well, not necessarily (we saw some people skinny dipping while we were there), but it’s highly encouraged. It’s always best to think of others, and if you’re not comfortable being seen in the buff then it’s best to wear some form of swimwear.

What’s the best time to go to Boat Box Hot Spring?

In the summer months, during the day, there is a lot of foot traffic of people looking to take a dip. Our best advice is to go in the early morning or late evening when it’s less crowded, and you can relax without interruption. There are also fewer crowds in the winter as well. Don’t worry; the temperature of the water will stay consistent even though there’s snow on the ground.

Ready to take a dip in Boat Box Hot Springs?

Boat Box Hot Springs is an amazing place to visit for a relaxing and enjoyable experience. With its beautiful scenery, adjustable water temperature, and other activities nearby, it’s no wonder why this hot spring has become so popular in the Salmon River Valley of Central Idaho.

Take a dip and let us know what you think in the comments below!


Matt Johnson

Senior Content Writer

Matt is an experienced camper and glamping enthusiast with a Master's degree in Wildlife Science from Texas A&M University. Authoring posts for GlamperGear, he shares his wealth of knowledge on picturesque campsites, luxurious accommodations, and the best gear for outdoor adventures. His passion for nature and knack for comfort in the wilderness make him an expert guide for your next camping endeavor.

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One thought on “The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Boat Box Hot Springs

  1. MattGlamperGear


    Boat Box Hot Springs sounds like an amazing place to visit! I love that it’s maintained by the community and free for anyone to use. Do you know how long people usually spend soaking in the tub? Also, are there any other hot springs nearby worth visiting while in Central Idaho?

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