The roar of snowmobile engines interrupts the wintry silence of Granite Creek road. After just a few moments, whoops and hollers join in as the cacophony echoes across the wide, snow-padded valley. The group of riders pick up speed. Playfully, and with growing boldness, several sleds begin to veer off the main trail and frolic in the vast expanses of powder at their whim. The riders’ growing exhilaration increases as they flick throttles forward, gassing the engines of the snowmobiles and speeding onward. Masks flip downward against the biting wind as smiles and laughter break out underneath.
Destination: Granite Hot Springs. A truly undeniable wilderness paradise whose views and soaking pools render visitors speechless season after season. The vast majority of visitors go in spring, summer, or fall when the rutted and distinctly Wyoming dirt road follows ten miles down the serpentine Granite Creek and ends at a trailhead deep in the Gros Ventre Wilderness. In winter, though, getting to Granite is a different story.
After the road to Granite closes in late fall, access to the springs is limited to snowmobilers or those excited to spend a twenty-mile day striding on cross-country skis. Certainly, there is a beauty in a cross-country skier’s human-powered effort to reach the hot springs. But the snowmobile version has a physical effort too. Watching these riders play with their sleds and wrestle them into turns makes that clear. Its apples and oranges in a way, and however you get yourself down to Granite Hot Springs, you’re in for a treat.
The terrain, providing fun for beginner and expert snowmobilers alike, eventually leads to the foot of the Gros Ventre mountain range with steep walls sloping out of the valley. Granite Falls still cascades, even in the dead of winter, and the playful snowmobilers finally collect to a stop. High-fives abound before a few minutes shedding layers of protective gear and, bravely, most clothing down to swim suits. Steam rises off of warm bodies only to evaporate into the sparkling winter air. Across the creek, a piping-hot, thermally-heated pool of water gleams invitingly, lined with a circle of rocks. The riders gingerly descend into the gravel-bottomed pool, relaxing against the rock-lined boundary as their bodies acquiesce to the heat of the water.
At first there is a soothing quietness and lots of closed eyes as everyone gives in to a spa-like relaxation. Soon, the air cracks with the first snap of an aluminum beer top, and eager conversation fills in. Is there any better feeling than to be surrounded by friends deep in the heart of a still winter wood? No matter the vehicle – skis, snowshoes, sleds – it’s the warmth and friendship created by these adventures that makes them so worth it. Finding oneself chin-deep in a Wyoming wilderness hot springs is a memorable day however you plan it.
After hearty snacks and a good long soak, the group slinks out of the water and quickly dashes back into warmer clothes. Lots of warmer clothes. There’s a moment for pauses, last looks around, and photos. Then engines roar to life and they set off into the woods once again. The thin winter sun dipping fast and low behind them on the horizon.
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Images © Taylor Glenn