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updated 12/12/2011 2:04:46 PM ET 2011-12-12T19:04:46

After a day on cross-country skis in the Bitterroot Range along the Idaho-Montana border, the dinner of spaghetti with elk meat was just the thing.

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We had driven the 58 miles(93 kilometers) from Missoula, Montana, to northern Idaho's Lochsa River corridor for a long weekend of Nordic skiing, the scenery a dazzling composite of mountains, snow-robed cedar trees and the rippling Lochsa, part of the congressionally-designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, three thermal pools in the Clearwater National Forest, beckoned with the prospect of a good soak.

We used Lochsa Lodge in Powell, Idaho, as a base for our adventures. From there it was just a couple of miles (kilometers) to a day of Nordic skiing across virgin snow blanketing the forest, and 12 miles(19 kilometers) to the U.S. Forest Service trails at Lolo Pass, where Idaho and Montana meet and the Lewis and Clark Expedition crossed the Bitterroot peaks in 1805.

The Lochsa River is an easy walk from the lodge dining room, which served the spaghetti one evening, and the next morning enough eggs, bacon and pancakes to carry us through a ski day with just trail snacks for lunch.

The log inn that opened in 2002, to replace a historic lodge destroyed by fire, faces about a dozen cabins and a building with four guest rooms. Cordwood for stove heat occupies the porches. Snowmobilers park their machines by some of the cabins and at others, Nordic enthusiasts stand skis on end in the white mounds shoveled high among the buildings.

Parking our car in a turnout on U.S. 12, we skied on national forest roads and then branched off to places tucked away. For the more adventurous who are properly prepared, there's the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area. At Lolo Pass, the Forest Service offers seven miles(11.25 kilometers) of trails exclusively for skiers and another 27 miles(43.5 kilometers) for both skiers and snowmobiles. The trails are not patrolled, and not all are groomed. The visitor center has a helpful staff, sells parking passes and houses interpretive displays.

Reaching the first of the Jerry Johnson pools took us on a one-mile(1.6-kilometer) hike through old-growth forest, the trail easy for walking because visitors preceding us had compacted the snow. The second and third pools are within about half a mile (kilometer) of the first. The easy walk from U.S. 12 after crossing a foot bridge is one reason for the popularity of the natural pools. We managed to miss the crowds, but people expecting to soak in solitude might be disappointed. The spectacular setting along Warm Springs Creek nourishes a convivial experience, though, and when the pools are busy, conversation tends to flow about as freely as the stream. Clothing is optional.

Also for the thermally inclined, there's the privately operated Lolo Hot Springs seven miles(11.25 kilometers) inside the Montana border. Amenities include a concrete, outdoor pool fed by hot water; an indoor soaking pool; lodging; and a restaurant.

Driving back to Montana, we passed a grove of towering cedars designated in memory of historian, conservationist and public-lands advocate Bernard DeVoto, and then crossed the Idaho line.

Our weekend ended in Missoula, where lodging includes bed and breakfast inns and a hotel on the Clark Fork River waterfront, in the city's eminently walkable downtown. The restaurants are eclectic, likely encouraged by the large presence of the University of Montana. No elk spaghetti, perhaps, but plenty of good alternatives.

___

If You Go...

LOLO PASS RECREATION AREA: http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/clearwater/VisitorInfo/winter_rec/winter_rec.htm.

LOCHSA LODGE: http://www.lochsalodge.com/ or 208-942-3405. Located in Powell, Idaho, in the Clearwater National Forest. Open year-round. Lodging, food service, groceries, gasoline. Accommodations include cabins and lodge rooms. Rooms that sleep four, $85.

GETTING THERE: The nearest airport is in Missoula, served by Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, United Express and Allegiant Airlines.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Let there be lights!

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    Christmas lights are displayed at the main square in Nice, France on Dec. 9. (Lionel Cironneau / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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    The façade of St Mary’s Cathedral is lit up during the Lights of Christmas celebration on Dec. 18 in Sydney, Australia. (Mark Kolbe / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    The lights of the world's biggest floating Christmas tree are turned on Nov. 26 at the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The tree is 278 feet tall and is lit by 3.3 million light bulbs. (Rocio Badiola / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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    The interior of Salisbury Cathedral is illuminated by candles carried by choristers during the annual 'darkness to light' advent procession on Nov. 25 in Salisbury, England. The service - which begins with the medieval cathedral in total darkness and silence before the Advent Candle is lit at the West End -is one of the most popular services of the liturgical year. (Matt Cardy / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is lit Nov. 30 in New York. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    A house is decorated with Christmas lights Dec. 1 in a street in the village of Calle, near the northern German town of Bremen. The sign reads: Merry Christmas. (Morris Mac Matzen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Brothers Beckman, 3, Preston, 6, and Westley Giang, 5, from left, are transfixed as holiday lights are switched on Nov. 27 for the first time this season at their house in Brea, Calif. Homeowners in the Eagle Hills neighborhood of Brea began decorating for the season in earnest. (Mindy Schauer / Orange County Register via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Christmas lights in the shape of the Eiffel Tower shine near the real thing (in the background) Nov. 27 on the Rue Saint Charles in Paris. (Mal Langsdon / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Shoppers walk beneath Christmas lights Nov. 27 on South Moulton Street in London, England. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    A man blows his trumpet from the Old Town Hall Tower as a Christmas tree is illuminated Nov. 26 at the Old Town Square in Prague. (David W Cerny / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Christmas lights illuminate Vienna's city centre Am Graben on Nov. 24. (Lisi Niesner / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Berlin, Germany

    Vehicles drive along a festively illuminated Kurfuerstendamm on Nov. 22 in Berlin. (Wolfgang Kumm / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (25) Holiday lights
  2. Image:
    Corey Rich courtesy of Heavenly Ski Resort
    Slideshow (27) Hit the lifts

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