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  • Aria Zoner

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

In 2017, long-distance hikers Buck-30 & Steady completed the Hot Springs Trail despite running into several major obstacles. Their adventure is documented in a journal, written on Postholer which I'd like to add clarity to, in case you saw it and were left discouraged or wondering about a few things.

I appreciate Buck-30 & Steady for sharing about their journey and for giving future prospective hikers 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, and how these 2 hikers helped change it, can be obtained. Let’s begin by looking at their thoughts on the HST, 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.” – Buck-30


There are 2 important things to know about the HST:

1. With Challenge Comes Reward. This has been the motto of the HST since it was first made public. If you’re looking for a groomed and graded trail to thru-hike, like Buck-30 said, the HST certainly isn’t it. That said, improvements to trail tread are to be expected as interest and usage of this trail increases.

2. This is a trail of paradoxes. On the HST, there are places where you can rest and places where you must push. Places where you can feast and places where you may need to fast. In other words, there will be easy days and harder days. But in my opinion, this ebb & flow between extremely relaxing & extremely invigorating experiences is what makes this trail more therapeutic in nature than other long-distance trails I've done in the past.


It's no secret that Buck-30 has hiked more miles on Little Debbie snack cakes than anyone in the world and as you'll also read about in his journal, he loves hiking to a Diet Coke. So, I wasn't surprised that he sounded a little achy and fatigued out there. If you're going to be hiking this trail, I'd recommend upgrading your nutrition so as to keep your energy levels high and the sense of difficulty in elevation changes low - plus soreness, gas, and other common ailments that can make a trail seem more difficult than it needs to be. That said, I also understand that eating the way I do is not for everyone, and that it's not always a lack of nutrition's fault. In wake of their journey, and based on what they did during their adventure, I added official bypass options to all of the major (or possibly more difficult) XC segments. Unfortunately, this usually means walking on roads, which if taken to the extreme (every XC bypass), will greatly add to the amount of road miles experienced on this journey, and I believe, the perception of difficulty as there is less reward here, places to take a break, or reasons to move at a more relaxed pace. To their surprise, Buck-30 & Steady needed a lower route at one point for safety reasons, as whether moved in on them while camping at 10,000ft, dropping a foot of fresh snow on them overnight. Thankfully, they found their way and warmed up at the next hot spring.



“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"?”


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

Wagon Road

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

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

If the guidebook says to follow an outback road for 5 miles and you find yourself walking thru a small town, you’re probably not in the right place. Just kicking up dust! With my curiosity peaked though, I did some word searches on The Hot Springs Trail Official Guidebook (pre 2018). Here’s what they were:

Amazing – 4

Awesome - 0

Vague - 6 (Defined as "unclear" but read as requiring discernment en route)

Outback road – 2

Wagon road – 3

Easy – 10

- 6 easy to follow (segments)

- 2 easy to miss (junctions)

- 2 easy to navigate (segments)

- 1 easy bailout (option alert)

- & 1 easy scrambling (segment)


Thanks to Buck-30's feedback, I replaced the word vague with "not obvious", "could be difficult to locate", or "may be overgrown" and eliminated the words "around", "near", and so many others by replacing them with more descriptive ones like "to the north" or "0.1 miles". I also rewrote the entire guide, taking it from the perspective of me personally guiding you thru the journey, to a third person perspective, simply describing the route. This step removed hundreds of "you" & "I" words and changed the feel of the guide entirely, I think for the better.

As far as "lying by omission" goes, while generally everyone can agree that something like a waterfall or a hot spring is amazing to behold, 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 tastes, abilities, and sensitivities. While one person may find a particular section overgrown, steep, or unmanageable; another may have hardly even noticed those aspects. The same can be said for the springs. While a hot spring may be deserted, clean, and crystal clear one day, it could be cloudy, littered, and crowded the next. But since even these labels are relative depending on what you're used to or were expecting, I avoided using them as well.



“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.”


I agree with everything except for the “couldn’t possible hike just with these” part. You might be interested to know, that on the discovery hikes while pioneering this trail, all I used were maps from a DeLorme state atlas! I was able to do this because 95% of the HST is routed on existing roads and trails. The remaining 5% is comprised of XC segments that follow dominant land features such as drainages or ridgelines.


As you may know, the Hot Springs Trail began as a personal journey, and personally, I love looking at maps. Thanks to Buck-30 & Steady's comment, I went back over the guidebook and added over a dozen pages of new maps by rescaling the old ones. This means that now, the maps are zoomed in & out according to the level of detail that is needed to navigate the segments covered by them, relatively speaking of course. Despite this change, and as recommended in the guidebook, these narrow "strip maps" are still best used in conjunction with state atlas (1:200,000) scale maps so as to better see the bigger picture, including what distant objects on the landscape are and most importantly where potential bailout options may be.



“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.”


Directions for traveling between each hot spring area is what is described in the HST Guidebook. The HST Almanac is a separate book containing the information that would otherwise be “buried in the detail”. The HST Almanac is not necessary to complete the journey or enough on its own to complete the journey. Available since 2015, the HST Almanacs have evolved over the years just as much as the trail has. From 83 areas back in 2015, to 100 today.


The HST Almanac was available in 2017 but was only a shell of what its current form is. After reading Buck-30 & Steady's comment, I updated it with better grammar, more details, a Points of Interest section; plus, I made it available for the first time in full color. While the guidebook is dry with descriptions like “Reach a junction in 3 miles then turn left.” The Almanac is more mouth-watering with pictures and descriptions for each of the 100 hot spring areas that read more like this…

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: Cement pool nestled in a rocky canyon, on the banks of Bishop Creek.

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

Camping: No campground. Stealth camping not recommended within 0.25 miles of spring.

GPS Location: N 41 14.550 W 114 56.902

The HST Almanac reveals one more thing about this trail if you’re counting. There’s actually 101 hot spring areas mentioned in the guidebook (post 2017). To visit hot spring area #101 though, you’ll have to raft for upwards of 140 miles!



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


This suggestion will be included in the second edition of the guidebook, along with a relative difficulty grade for each segment and a ground-truthed GPS file, which I'd like to discuss next.



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 hike that at times his line would be inaccurate once he zoomed-in on it, out in the field. By the time you get yours, it will be ground-truthed terminus to terminus and the paper maps will then be re-verified to match it and republished.


A few months after his hike, Buck-30 followed up with me regarding his initial GPS file request and 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!”

I gotta say, in a lot of ways, I agree. At this point, more people have said they don't want to see an app than have said that they do.

What are your thoughts on a GPS 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.


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

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

Read Buck-30’s account of their 2017 adventure then check out the new Official Guidebook with all of Buck-30 & Steady's contributions, now included.



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