Nothing warms the bones and soothes the soul like soaking in mineral-rich waters heated deep below the earth’s surface. Add open sky and a killer view to the picture, and you’ve pretty much achieved nirvana. It’s no wonder that people from all walks of life have long sought out hot springs across the United States.
Most of the country’s hot springs are concentrated in the western United States, a region particularly conducive to producing geothermically heated water. Regular soakers tend to have their favorite spots, and here we have gathered 12 of ours. With isolated natural pools for ambitious outdoor enthusiasts and thoughtfully designed retreats built around thermal springs for those seeking total relaxation, this list recognizes that there is more than one way to experience a hot spring.
Conundrum Hot Springs
Nestled in a meadow at an elevation of 11,200 feet in the majestic Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness near Aspen, Conundrum Hot Springs (pictured at top) features a main pool that fits around 15 people and a smaller cool pool. The natural springs offer stunning views, looking out over three nearby peaks that top 14,000 feet: Cathedral Peak, Conundrum Peak, and Castle Peak. A soak at this glorious, clothing-optional spot does not come easily. Simply arriving at the springs requires an 8.5-mile uphill hike, so most visitors stay overnight at one of 20 primitive campsites, which require a permit and a $6 reservation that can be made through Recreation.gov. Campers should be aware that there are no toilets on site and should visit between July and September to avoid camping in snowy conditions.
Granite Hot Springs Pool
This hot spring–fed swimming pool in the scenic Bridger Teton National Forest sits among huge evergreens on the banks of Granite Creek, just above Granite Creek Falls. About 30 miles southeast of Jackson, Wyoming, the family-friendly spot is beloved by locals and has a strict no-alcohol policy. It is open from late May to late October and from early December to early April. Summer visitors can drive the bumpy and winding, 11-mile access road to the springs, but in the winter, soakers arrive via snowmobile, cross-country skis, or dog sled. There are changing rooms and toilets on site, and entry is $8 for adults and $5 for children.
Esalen Hot Springs
For most of the day, guests attending spiritual retreats at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur have exclusive access to the property’s cliff-side spring-fed hot tubs with dramatic ocean views. But night owls can experience the magic during the public “night bathing” sessions from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. An attendant guides nighttime soakers from the roadside parking area down a steep, dark path to the baths, but guests are on their own for the return journey and should bring flashlights. Soakers choose from seven “quiet” or “silent” hot tubs, and there is a handicap-accessible tub with a lift and a wheelchair-friendly changing room. The tubs are clothing optional, but most choose to forgo swimsuits. There is a $35 entry fee during these public sessions; reservations can only be made the morning before visiting and are limited to groups of four.
Goldmyer Hot Springs
With a daily admission cap of 20 people, large crowds are never a concern at Goldmyer Hot Springs, located 60 miles east of Seattle in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Ancient forests surround these three minimally developed hot pools (and one cool pool), which were privatized as part of a mining claim in the early 1900s and served as a retreat for loggers and miners. One of the pools sits at the entrance of a horizontal mine shaft, creating a cave-like atmosphere. The 4.5-mile hike to the clothing-optional springs begins at the end of an unpaved forest service road. Facilities include an open-air cabana, outhouses, and campsites. Reservations are required (no groups larger than eight are permitted) and can be made by phone through the Northwest Wilderness Program, a nonprofit that now manages the site. Costs include a national forest pass ($5) and entry fees ($20 for adults, $10 for seniors). Camping is an additional $5 per person, per night.
Jemez Hot Springs
The mountain valley village of Jemez Springs, located about 45 minutes from Albuquerque, has attracted soakers since the late 1870s, when one of the area’s springs erupted into a geyser and locals enclosed the spot with a rock wall. Jemez Hot Springs is a day resort that features four mineral-rich pools surrounded by gently sloping terra cotta–colored banks that blend seamlessly into the peaceful red-rock mountain backdrop. Statues of pagan goddesses, Buddha, and the Virgin Mary are scattered throughout the wildflower-dotted gardens and around the comfortable lounge areas. Guests must be 14 or older to enter, and the entry fee is $25 for one hour, with discounted rates for longer visits.
Dunton Hot Springs Resort
Situated in an alpine valley in the San Juan Mountains about two hours southwest of Telluride, Dunton Hot Springs is a former ghost town that has been transformed into a rustic luxury resort complete with refurbished log cabins and communal, chef-prepared meals served in the old Saloon. There are six different hot, mineral-rich soaking options, including an outdoor spring near the main compound, a restored 19th-century bathhouse, and a natural pool overlooking the nearby Delores River. Nightly rates, which include food and beverages, start at $1,430 in the winter and spring and $1,730 in the summer and fall.
One of only two legal swimming spots in Yellowstone National Park (the other being the Firehole Swimming Area), Boiling River is actually the confluence of the Boiling River hot spring and the Gardner River. Located in the Mammoth area of the park and about three miles south of the North Entrance, this is a popular spot. The trick to enjoying your soak is to find areas where the hot and cold waters from the two rivers mix to create that “just-right” warm temperature. Proceed with caution, as the hot spots are truly hot. Also, the river is lined with slippery rocks and can have a swift current, so consider bringing water shoes. Boiling River is only open during the day and closes during the spring when the river is too high to safely enter. On-site facilities are limited to one vault toilet, and the entry fee to the park is $25 per vehicle.
Travertine Hot Springs
This well-known soaking spot on public land near the border of California and Nevada is free, easily accessible, and a good pit-stop for folks road tripping along Highway 395. The pools enjoy sweeping views of the Sierras and are surrounded by craggy rock formations and marshy fields. A concrete-lined tub near the parking lot is the largest and most convenient of the pools, but visitors can easily find many smaller natural pools in the area. The rocks lining these pools have an interesting multi-colored, streaked patina in spots where the mineral-rich water has flowed over them. Plan for the possibility of nude folks; this is a clothing-optional spot. To find the springs, head south on route 395 from Bridgeport for half a mile, then turn left at Jack Sawyer Road, just before the ranger station. There is a pit toilet on site.
Riverbend Hot Springs Resort and Spa
Before adopting its current name in 1950, the New Mexican town of Truth or Consequences was aptly called “Hot Springs.” This small community about two hours south of Albuquerque sits on top of a hot spring and has a long history as a spa town. It is home to 10 commercial bathhouses; Riverbend Hot Springs, a hotel and spa that boasts the town’s only open-air soaking option, stands out among the rest. Visitors can use the spa’s communal pools or book one of four private pools, and every option sits next to the Rio Grande and enjoys mountain views. After dark, the property is gently lit with multi-colored lighting, making for a romantic scene. Overnight guests get unlimited access to the communal pools and discounted rates on private pools; day passes are $12 for a one-hour soak. Guests must be 12 years or older to enter.
Chena Hot Springs Resort
To soak in a hot spring while gazing at the Northern Lights, head to Chena Hot Springs Resort, 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks. While the resort itself gets mixed reviews for its dated lodging options, visitors can purchase a pass to access only the main attraction—an outdoor hot-spring lake with an unobstructed view of the sky. The lake is only open to those 18 or older, but an attached indoor pool area welcomes all ages. Other on-site attractions include an ice museum with elaborate ice sculptures, an ice bar, and a kennel offering dog sled rides. Entry is $13 for seniors, $15 for adults, and $12 for children.
Arizona Hot Springs
These springs are located about an hour southeast of Las Vegas in an area known for its slots, but not the kind you find in Sin City: The three clothing-optional pools sit inside a scenic slot canyon near the Colorado River. Visitors can arrive via kayak or raft, but most opt for the 3.2-mile one-way hike that culminates in an ascent of a tall metal ladder. The trail starts at the White Rock Canyon trailhead just south of Hoover Dam on Arizona State Highway 93. Because hot springs and hot weather are not a good mix, the springs close from May 15 through September 30; ample water and sunscreen are essential year-round on the sunny hike.
Hot Springs Cove
While they’re not actually in the United States, these isolated pools on the west coast of Vancouver Island are not far from Washington’s northern border. The natural hot springs are tucked away in Maquinna Provincial Park, which is reachable by a 1.5-hour boat ride or 20-minute seaplane flight that can be arranged through outfitters in Tofino, British Columbia. A 1.2-mile boardwalk through lush rain forest leads to a geothermal waterfall that empties into a cluster of small pools that eventually connect to the ocean. Be prepared to scramble over some sharp rocks to reach the water. There are toilets and changing rooms on site, and the park entrance fee is $3. Boat transfers begin at $129 (round trip) and flights at $89 (one way). The trail to Hot Springs Cove is currently closed due to storm damage. Check the BC Parks website for updates.
Ready to soak?
Here are a few tips to ensure a positive soaking experience.
Respect the Heat
Like any hot water experience, soaking for long periods in a hot spring is not advisable. Take frequent breaks and make use of cool pools when they are available. Hydration is your best friend; always drink lots of water when soaking.
Prepare for Nudity
While many developed hot springs do not allow people to wander around in the buff, some do, and primitive hot springs are often clothing optional too. Don’t let this deter you—avid soakers tend to be respectful of other people’s space.
Leave No Trace
Some of the best hot springs in the United States are located in remote natural surroundings that could be damaged by heavy human traffic. With this in mind, visitors should tread lightly by visiting in small groups, packing out any trash, and following Leave No Trace principles.
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Liz Weslander Midwest-based, j-school-trained journalist and copywriter who writes regularly about travel, the outdoors, and art.