Some things in nature are quite unattainable, even for adrenaline junkie standards. But you wouldn’t be considered one if you didn’t at least try – that’s the basic motto of all challenge seekers out there.
And there might be a new challenge for you.
If you’re a Washington resident or just a hiking devotee, you most probably have heard of the semi-mythical place called Gamma Hot Springs.
You may or may not have been there. Maybe you know a person who knows another person who’s conquered the impossible trails of North Cascades in the search of the spring and you think to yourself: “What makes Gamma Hot Springs so elusive? Is it even worth it?!”
Well, we shall find out.
|Address||Darrington (the starting point), Washington|
|Location||Gamma Ridge, North Cascades|
|GPS||N 48°09′09″ W 121°03′48″|
|Open||All-year-round. Be mindful of the weather. It’s a long hike.|
Nestled very deep into the North Cascades wilderness and glaciers, below Gamma and Glacier Peaks, Gamma Hot Springs makes for one exhilarating journey. Yep, a journey because a quest to this hot spring and through this wasteland is nothing short of adventurous. This type of setting already speaks for itself. It’s not like a hike that you’d need to complete to get to Buckeye Hot Springs. Here, it’s all trees and bushes, washed-away trails, blow-downs, ridges and river banks, with no other way to do it but to camp for a few nights.
The mythical status of Gamma Hot Springs has a massive foundation. It’s far into the mountainous woods, unreachable for (most of) us mere mortals. Getting there will take 5-6 rough days, energy, sweat and maybe even tears, and even that is no guarantee that you’ll actually find the springs. Any experienced hiker has the ability to make this journey possible, but it’s finding Gamma Hot Springs themselves that’s tricky. Yet, those who never back away from a challenge often succumb to its potential thrill. Yes, a journey and a quest!
Here’s All That We Know About Gamma Hot Springs
- Type: Hike
- Temperature: 140-145F (60-62C)
- Category: Hot
- Coordinates according to Geonames: N 48°09′09″ W 121°03′48″
- Satellite map: https://www.geonames.org/5795234/gamma-hot-springs.html
There’s a reason why the most frequent question about Gamma Hot Springs is “How do I get to it?’ or “Where can I find it?”
Considering its… inconvenient location to say the least, not many people have had enough grit to take on this expedition through the rough wilderness, therefore not much has been documented over the years, which basically means that we have little to no valid information about it. The maps are off, coordinates don’t add up, suggested directions don’t match.
After a certain point in your hike, you’ll have to rely on your intuition and it’s totally plausible and reasonable if you find yourself feeling a bit frustrated about it.
The mystery of finding Gamma Hot Spring is what almost everyone’s trying to solve and in doing so, making it accessible for people.It’s evident, based on the very thorough research that we have done, that many people aren’t exactly fond of sharing information about their refuge of Gamma Hot Springs, which seems to be something the few people that have made it there choose to gatekeep.
How Can We Find Gamma Hot Springs?
As we have already covered, suggested directions to Gamma Hot Springs don’t always add up. Some of the trails – like Suiattle River Trail – haven’t been maintained for decades (based on WTA reports), even if it’s still the most frequently suggested route to this day. You’d need to drive to the end of Suiattle River Road, near Darrington, WA, and then join the trail with the same name.
Here’s a map from Seattle to Suiattle River Road:
This is the route suggested by Hot Springs of British Columbia:
Right after crossing the Sauk River bridge, turn left onto Suiattle River Road #26 to reach your starting point for the hike. It is 22.6 miles (36.3 km) to the trailhead of the Suiattle River
To get to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) #2000 junction, you’ll have to go for up to 10.8 miles (17.5 km) via the Suiattle Trail #784. When you come to a fork in the road after about 0.9 miles (1.5 km), turn right (south) and then left into Upper Suiattle River Trail #798. The trail is not maintained after this point.
You must search for a sign that reads ‘Gamma Ridge Way’ after traveling around 0.12 miles (0.2 km).
Around the trailhead, there are no restrooms or campsites, but 0.6 miles (1.1km) up the trail, there is a tiny creek with drinkable water. There won’t be any more water along the journey, so make sure you stock up.
You will come across a lot of plants and blow-downs in the first mile. The trail next changes to switchbacks and climbs steeply through another area of trees that has blow-downs but is less overgrown. After around 2.9 miles (4.8km), it enters the first meadow, which is close to the camping area.
Through forests and meadows, the trail continues up the ridge. You’ll come across another excellent campsite around 1.9 miles (3.2 km) further, on top of the hill, in an open, even meadow with a fantastic view. It is extremely easy to lose the track in the grass, so simply keep going straight to the top of the ridge. From this point on, climbing gear and the necessary skills are required. The route to Gamma Peak initially follows the ridge. Gamma Ridge by Richard Droker, 1994
Continue on after passing the campsite and crossing the first gully. The snow-covered hillside is very steep. Sticking to the top of the ridge is an alternative to crossing the gully if you don’t have an ice axe. Around 0.56 miles (0.5km) separates the campsite from the Gamma Hot Springs turnoff. Cross the final gully and start climbing the trail to the mountain onlyif your destination is either a Glacier or a Gamma peak.
Don’t climb the summit or cross the last gully if your destination is Gamma Hot Springs. Instead, take a right and descend the ridge. It is not advised to try to follow the creek’s drainage because it is quite risky. Find a path that loosely follows the center of Gamma Creek and its tributary. Due to the snow, you won’t be able to see the track right away, but keep an eye out for it as you descend.
After 1.5 miles (2.5km), you will arrive at the location where Gamma Creek and its tributary meet. You will come to a very steep drop if you go straight; instead, take the slope to the right. Cross the tributary and continue along Gamma Creek for another 0.58 miles (0.5km). Be careful because it’s challenging to keep track of the trail on the rocky hill. Additionally, it’s crucial to stay around 10 to 20 feet up on the bank after crossing the tributary rather than immediately descending to the creek. You should then be able to recognise the smell of the springs.
The small pool is situated next to the creek on an open slope. You can control the water’s temperature by rearranging the rocks, regulating how much cold water you want to stream from the creek and into the pool.
One tent can fit in the campsite across from the pool to the left of the creek, but there is another camping spot about 300 feet farther downhill, although it may take up to an hour and a half to reach it.
Here’s a full report from over 25 years ago that details the journey with some pretty sophisticated terms and details, including photo material and individual assessment of each day of the hike.
Yes, it’s an outdated source. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of consulting recent reports. The trails from the report have definitely been washed away since then. However, it’ll still give you enough of an inside look into what to expect and what kind of precautions to take into account during your planning and preparation process.
We’re also providing you with a YouTube video uploaded in 2009/2010. This is a relatively newer source full of lots of interesting things that may or may not be integral to your planning.
The Final Takeaway
You would be correct to assume that this type of hike is not for the inexperienced or fainthearted. It’s not impossible because people have done it and even left their mark on the place – as reports have suggested, there is a little pipe next to the hot spring that lets new visitors know who was there before them and when by writing little notes – but it requires considerable skill, proper gear, being good at navigating through trail-less forest, knowing your limits and a lot of guts.
It’s important to be clear about the fact that thorough individual research is needed before taking on this hike. If you do know a person who knows a person, ask them. If you think that your backcountry navigating skills are on point, then trust your intuition and make a plan that falls within the scope of your abilities.
As mentioned above, If you wish to complete the hike to Gamma Hot Springs, after a certain point – once you reach the even meadow that’s perfect for camping – an ice axe, climbing equipment and extensive backpacking experience will have to come into play. If you’re not up for a complete hike, that’s no reason to feel discouraged at all. Because, again, this hike requires understanding your limits.The stop at the meadow still offers you views that are just as incredible as those of Gamma Hot Springs. This is about the thrill of the journey, not as much about the destination. It’s certain that this will be an unforgettable experience either way.
To answer the question from the beginning of this article, you wouldn’t be far off in assuming that Gamma Hot Springs might not be worth it. As far as we know, the springs themselves are tiny, with barely enough room for 2 people.
However, this is a completely subjective matter that doesn’t apply to everyone.
Once you set your mind to hiking to Gamma Hot Springs, you’ll realize that this hike really is not about having a soak in a tiny spring, but about the satisfaction of completing the quest and finding it. Though there is an obvious appeal in having a dip in a hell-hot pool surrounded by alpine views in complete solitude. This most definitely would be an extremely rewarding experience.
And when you go, do bring a camera with you, please! The world needs to see some proper pictures.
Frequently Asked Questions
The most suggested entry is from the Suiattle River Road, near Darrington, WA. Take the Suiattle River Trail #784. Hike for around 11 miles to get to PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) #2000 junction. Then head south onto Upper Suiattle River trail #798, where you’ll see a sign that says ‘Gamma Ridge Way’. Hike for 4 more miles, where you’ll encounter two campsites along the way. Cross the first gully on your way. In 0.56 miles you’ll reach Gamma Hot Springs turnoff.
Don’t climb the last gully if you want to get to the hot springs. Instead, take a right and go down the ridge. Find a path that accompanies the center of Gamma Creek and its tributary.
After arriving at Gamma Creek and its tributary meeting point in about 1.5 miles, take the slope to the right, cross the tributary and go along the creek for 0.58 miles. At about that point, you’ll start to smell the springs.
The pool is situated next to the creek on an open slope.
For a detailed description, please scroll up.
There are quite a few hot springs in northwestern Washington and North Cascades, including Gamma Hot Springs which are recognized as the most remote hot springs in Washington.
While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the latest information about these hot springs sites, life happens, weather happens, and property owners happen. We always recommend you go to the official hot springs’ web page and/or the relevant state authority page to check conditions, times, and prices (where relevant) before you head out. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your soak!