If you’re looking for a unique and challenging trek with a rewarding soak in rugged, natural hot springs, then Bailey Bay Hot Springs might be for you. The hot springs are accessed via a trail from Bailey Bay, then via a Forest Service canoe stationed at Lake Shelokum, then via another trail to the hot springs. The hot springs are located near the northern end of the lake, inside the western shoreline. Hikers can continue on the trail along the lake instead of using the canoe, but this route is NOT recommended due to the rough condition of the trail and the need to ford a river, while crossing a falls overflow. The canoe is your best option as reported by Steve and Toni Jefferies, who attempted this arduous trek during the 2021 cruising season; they share their story as follows.
August 10: Before making our way to Bailey Bay, we explored Yes Bay, located a few miles west. There are a couple of good anchorage spots along this long, somewhat narrow bay. About mid-way along the eastern shore is Yes Bay Lodge, which we renamed No Way Lodge since it is no longer open to the public. The next morning we awoke to pretty much continuous drizzle. The forecast suggested it might reduce over the next few hours; regardless, we had hopes of hiking the trail to the hot springs once we reached Bailey Bay. Leaving the bay it rained hard and continued throughout the morning, but fortunately, little wind against us and only about a two-hour cruise.
It was rather foggy as we entered Bailey Bay and heavy rain made visibility difficult. No one else was around. As we cruised onward, we had high hopes of finding a supposed mooring buoy. It is not located where indicated on the chart, but we did find it – a solid looking series of tires mounted on top of each other. Depth more than 50 feet with a predicted tidal change of only 2 feet. Hardly any current and well protected from all but northeast winds. The buoy is in a good location, only 50 yards from the shore and the start of the trail, which is indicated by arrowhead-shaped markers on a tree. Still raining hard, so we planned to wait a bit before going ashore. We now had high hopes of finding the hot springs and not meeting any bears on the way. Of course, we will be carrying ski poles to make noise and bear spray in our packs.
Waited for the rain to quit; sadly, it kept returning after teasing us several times. At last, at about 2 p.m. a blue sky appeared, and we decided we would leave for the hike. The trail begins on shore opposite the mooring buoy, so we kayaked over to the shore and pulled our kayaks beyond the high watermark. There is no posted information, but close to the shoreline is a blue canoe on a platform. Presumably it is available for use since there are no signs saying otherwise. You do need to bring your own paddles. The trail itself starts out well marked and maintained, with rocks, gravel, and split logs. It’s uphill, but fairly easy-going through a tree line towards Lake Shelokum. The trail is unlike trails in the lower 48 States, which by this time in summer have little water and are dry. Not so here in Alaska in the temperate rainforest – water continuously ran down the trail, testing our footwear.
For the most part, it was pretty easy walking until we got close to the top. After maneuvering around and over several watery parts of the trail, we arrived at the creek from Lake Maude, which was crossable in hiking shoes. Maybe Grundens or Xtratuf’s would work. In fact, there were two parts of the stream to ford, and you had to be very careful to avoid slipping. Instead, we elected to take off our hiking boots, hang them around our necks, and carefully step through barefooted. On the other side of the stream, we attempted to dry off and reboot.
We anticipated that the next part be the easiest section of the trail, because we were now close to the lake and could see the very scenic waterfall. We had hiked approximately .8 miles. To our surprise the going got even tougher as we arrived at the lake and started around the lakeshore trail. We should have learned, based on our previous experience attempting an Alaskan Forest Service trail. It’s like they tease you with a nice easy well-maintained trail at the beginning, and then after you’ve committed, suddenly the trail builders abandon their work. At the beginning of the lakeshore trail, we noticed another canoe stored next to the lakeside with Forest Service markings on it, and one paddle. If we had known how hard the trail would be, we would likely have elected to use the canoe and paddle along the lakeshore. With this prior knowledge, it would be smart to bring a couple of paddles and lifejackets and avoid the trail completely.
“Trail” is too kind of a word, because although the path was very clear, it was also not maintained the entire way, and often obscured by dense vegetation. It also involved more creek fording and clambering up and down through large boulders. It had taken us about 40 minutes to complete the .8 miles up to the lake and stream fording; we continued navigating the very difficult lakeside route for another hour. One of us! hadn’t paid attention to the information showing that this trail was approximately 1.7 miles long. On a regular lakeside trail 1.7 miles long would normally take us about 40 minutes. Not so on this lakeside! After an hour and 40 minutes total, we were only halfway along the lake to the location of the hot springs. Reluctantly, we turned around and prepared for the challenging return hike, including both the clambering and the shoes off Maude Creek stream. We fortunately made our way back without any accidents, even though by now, boots were completely soaked. Once across the creek, we made good time back down to the bay, where we discovered our kayaks high and dry. Lots of bugs, but we quickly jumped back in the kayaks and paddled over to the boat, pleased to be able to rid ourselves of soggy footwear and clothing. And for Steve, it was time for a well-deserved beer.
So, what did we learn? First, start any Alaskan trail hike in the morning and assume it’s going to be an all-day endeavor. If we had started earlier, we probably would have persisted and done the remaining 3/4 of a mile to the hot springs. Poor planning. Second, this trail demands Grundens or Xtratuf boots. No way hiking boots suffice. Third, if we did it again, we would take a couple of paddles and lifejackets and use the Forest Service canoe on the lakeside, rather than clamber along the lakeside trail. Assuming the canoe is sound, it would have been a much easier venture. It was especially disappointing in view of having watched a YouTube video showing a family hiking up to and enjoying the hot springs earlier in the year. We think it was filmed in May or perhaps earlier, and at this time the water was not flowing as fast. Mark it down as another learning experience. Maybe one day we will return with the grandkids, and they can lead grandma and grandpa to the hot springs. That would be fun!
by Toni and Steve Jefferies