• Aria Zoner

A Thru-hiker's Review of The Hot Springs Trail

Today, I’d like to share with you a few questions and considerations that were brought up by 2017 Hot Springs Trail thru-hikers Buck-30 & Steady. Buck-30’s end-of-the-trip review of The Hot Springs Trail and its guidebook, which I’ve taken excerpts of from his trail journal on Postholer, may leave you wondering a few things; so in case you saw them and were wondering the same things too, I decided to clarify.

I appreciate Buck-30 & Steady for sharing their journey with the world and for giving us all important insights into this trail and its guidebook. In this post, I’ll be sharing my own thoughts alongside their review because when read together, I feel a better understanding of this trail can be obtained. You’ll even learn 5 Author Insights I’ve never written about until putting together this post.

I’m also excited to share that I’ve just added some of their considerations into the guidebook.

Let’s begin by looking at what was said about the trail, overall:

“The HST is an amazing route and adventure. However, be aware that in my opinion it is much more difficult than the guidebook and website lead on. I absolutely loved the HST and felt that the difficulty was completely within my experience and comfort level. But this isn't the easy "96 hot springs" jaunt that seems to be portrayed. This is your warning! Don't be fooled by the 96 hot springs. To me this wasn't a trail about hitting 96 hot springs and chillin' all summer. This was a trail about thru hiking a hard 2,400 miles and getting the bonus of soaking in some amazing hot springs occasionally when it worked out. None of this surprised me, I could read between the lines and was prepared for the difficulty but others with less experience might assume this trail is easy based on the 96 hot spring tag line.” – Buck30

Author Reply:

There are 2 important things to know about the HST:

With Challenge Comes Reward. This has been the motto of the HST since it was first made public. If you’re looking for a flat, groomed, and easy to thru-hike trail, like Buck-30 said, this certainly isn’t it. The HST is just as much about climbing to the summit of a remote mountain as it is soaking in hot springs and eating from the Farmer’s Market booth. But in my opinion, this ebb & flow between relaxing & invigorating experiences is a therapeutic way to travel.

This is a trail of paradoxes. On the HST, there are places where you can rest and places where you must commit. Places where you can feast and places where you may need to fast. In other words, there will be easy days and harder days.

*NEW AUTHOR INSIGHT 1: In writing this, I’ve realized there are several other paradoxes experienced on this trail worth mentioning. I've outlined them in this post. For now though, let’s hear what this adventurous duo's review of the guidebook is.

A Thru-hiker's Review of The Hot Springs Trail

Review: Guidebook

“1) Guidebook:

The guidebook is absolutely essential…Here are a few observations / constructive criticisms:

Zoner is an incredibly positive person and the HST is his baby. I found the guidebook to be overly positive. As in everything that was awesome was clearly called out as awesome but everything that was not so awesome was either worded such that it wasn't so bad or more frequently not mentioned at all. It felt a bit like lying by omission. Bernie had warned me about this and I found it true as well. I just got used to Zoner-speak. Like "vague" means non-existent or "wagon road" means some sort of road that barely exists (also, when we read some sort of weird word like "wagon road" this generally meant expect something different than usual). Also, what exactly is an "outback road"?”

Author Reply:

On its way across Nevada, the HST follows several historic wagon roads, including a small portion of the California & Pony Express Trails.

Wagon Roads

Throughout the guidebook, instead of just simply saying creek or road, it will say something like avoid an access road (to towers), or join a service road (along powerlines), in this case follow an outback road (across an open expanse).

Out·back [out, bak] – a remote and usually uninhabited region

If the book says to follow an outback road for 5m and you find yourself walking thru a town, you’re probably not in the right place.

Just kicking up dust; but seriously, here’s a quick look at something more noteworthy.

With my curiosity peaked, I did some word searches on The Hot Springs Trail Official Guidebook (2018).

Here’s what they are:

Amazing – 4

Awesome - 0

Difficult to locate – 2

Faint – 3

Obvious - 5

Outback road – 2

Wagon road – 3

Easy – 13

6 easy to follow (segments)

2 easy to miss (junctions)

1 easy to navigate (XC)

1 easy bailout (option alert)

& 1 easy scrambling (segment)

Vague – 0 (Thanks to you Buck-30!)

While generally everyone can agree that something like a viewpoint or natural feature is amazing, whether or not a place sucks, is difficult to get thru, or is not pleasing to the senses somehow is a matter of one’s own sensitives, abilities, and physical fitness levels. While a hot spring may be cloudy, littered, and crowded one day; it can be deserted, clean, and very inviting the next. While one person may find a particular section overgrown, steep, or unmanageable; another may have hardly even noticed those aspects of it.

*NEW AUTHOR INSIGHT 2: Some of the words in the guidebook have been used to avoid repetition, but others are used to differentiate between unnamed but similar things.

Review: MAPS

“B) The maps in the guidebook are small and black and white. I couldn't possibly hike just with these. I couldn't even read the elevation numbers on the contour lines or really read the maps at all. I was thinking of printing my own set of color maps but decided not to which was a good decision. The guidebook paired with my phone GPS app was totally sufficient for navigation. Color maps would have been nice but not necessary. And I used the data points and notes on the black and white maps on a daily basis, I just couldn't really read the maps.”

Author Reply:

I agree with everything except for the “couldn’t possible hike just with these” part. Just remember, your legs will still work out there; and like water, The Hot Springs Trail follows the path of least resistance. You might be interested to know, that on many of the discovery hikes while pioneering this trail, all I used were DeLORME state atlas maps! I was able to do this because 95% of the HST is routed on roads and existing trails. The remaining XC segments, for the most part, follow a dominant land feature – such as a drainage or a ridgeline.

The main thing I’d like to point out here is that the maps in the guidebook have been zoomed in & out according to the level of detail that is needed to navigate that segment - generally speaking.

Sample Map

*NEW AUTHOR INSIGHT 3: In spring of 2017, I discontinued the Official Map Set for the HST. It was a black & white book but could be made full color and available again if you'd like. The entire set would retail for $80. The 4 sub-parts on their own would be $20-30 each. Just let me know in the comments below or DM me and I’ll make it happen.

Review: Data Points

“C) An elevation number for each data point would be a nice addition. Would give you a nice high level of your days walking.”

Author Reply:

This suggestion will be included in the second edition of the guidebooks, along with a GPS ground-verified line on the printed maps which we’ll get into more about just below.

Review: Hot Springs

“D) A hot spring summary would be nice. They are usually buried in the detail and an overall summary of the hot springs and which sections they are in would be nice, including how far off the trail. Same comment for resupply. An overall summary up front of the guidebook would be nice, similar to how the Nevada book was done. Resupply is called out at the start of each section for the other sections.

Otherwise, the guidebook was excellent. I especially like how water, hot springs and other important points are bolded. It made it really easy to read quickly and not miss anything important.”

Author Reply:

For detailed information about each of the 100 hot spring areas that can be visited while traveling on the HST, pick up a Hot Springs Trail Almanac. It’s an official guidebook companion that contains revealing images, gives GPS coordinates, and has brief (1-2 sentence) descriptions of each spring, how the camping works, what features it has, its temperature and elevation, and website URLs & fee amounts if it’s a resort. This Almanac is not necessary to thru-hike the trail or enough TO thru-hike the trail. It’s a stand-alone check list for the soaking aficionado who is looking to #thrusoak, whether it’s from the armchair or the trail.

*Thru-hiking: Successfully completing the journey from end-to-end

*Thru-soaking: Touching, soaking, or visiting all 100 hot spring areas

*NEW AUTHOR INSIGHT 4: The wild and at times hard to reach places that are visited while traveling between each hot spring area is what is described in the main guidebooks. The HST Almanac contains the information that would be “buried in the detail” of how to complete the journey, regarding each spring. This info is heavy and worthy of a book of its own.

While the guidebook is dry with “Reach a junction in 3 miles then go left to the hot spring.” The Almanac is more mouth-watering with pictures and descriptions like this for each of the 100 areas…

Twelvemile Hot Spring:

The Nevada Trail, Section 8: Wells to the NV/ID Border

NVT Mile Point 523.2: Located in the Snake Mountains, under BLM rules.

Source Temp: 104°

Elevation: 5,830ft

Spring Type: Long cement pool in a rocky canyon, on the banks of Bishop Creek.

Features: Therapeutic soaking, a cold plunge, and year-round fresh water.

Camping: Several campsites are passed on the final approach to the spring.

GPS Location: N 41 14.550 W 114 56.902

*NEW AUTHOR INSIGHT 5: The Almanac reveals one more thing about the HST if you’re counting. There’s 101 hot spring areas that are mentioned in the guidebooks and are considered part of the trail. To visit hot spring area 101 though, you’ll need to use a raft!

Review: GPS App

In Buck-30’s journal, he mentions a GPS app numerous times. This is not something that is available to the public or for sale. It was a file that we had created together. The version that will be available to the public is still being developed. Buck-30 was aware going into his journey of how inaccurate his line would be once it was zoomed-in upon, out in the field. By the time you get yours it will be ground-truthed and verified against the paper maps.


Buck-30 has followed up with me about this GPS app idea and has said:

“I kinda hope no one ever GPSs the whole trail though. Having all this information is great but not having a ground truthed GPS track will keep it on the adventurous and exciting side. Everyone just wants a Guthook app these days, don't give in!”

*BONUS AUTHOR INSIGHT: I gotta say, in a lot of ways I agree with Buck-30. At this point, more people have said that they don't want to have an app than have said that they do, so…

What are your thoughts on having a GPS app for The Hot Springs Trail?

Speak your truth in the comments below now or forev…(oh wait, my battery just died!)

If you learn anything from this post, let it be that no matter how many hot spring areas a trail visits, that number should never be associated with its level of difficulty or ease.

I think this image below best describes how the HST compares to other long-distance trails:

Long Distance Trail Grades:

What do you think Buck?

To read Buck-30’s actual book review, go here >

P.S. While your there, leave yours as well. Your feedback is appreciated!

Buck-30 & Steady on The Hot Springs Trail - 2017

Congratulations to Buck-30 & Steady on their successful, although at times slippery, trip on the HST this year - and thanks again for your input and contributions which have made this trail smoother and hopefully more enjoyable for future users.

Until next time, Happy Trails! - Aria Zoner

To read Buck-30’s account of their 2017 adventure, go here >