If you know anything about the Millers, it’s that we are obsessed with hot springs! A hot spring is “the emergence of geothermally heated groundwater up to the surface,” but the real definition of hot springs is: “FUN!” Hot springs range from odorless to super-sulphuric, from deserted to crowded, and from undeveloped to luxurious, with everything in between! Most hot springs offer a range of temperatures, including a super-scalding pool, all the way down to an icy plunge, often in a nearby river.
The majority of hot springs are found in Western states. Read this great Outside Magazine article about “The Love and Madness of Hot Springs in the West“! Here, we highlight ten of our favorites, in no particular order … plus a bonus National Park dedicated specifically to these healing waters! If you are intrigued by hot springs like we are, you’ll want to add them to your travel bucket list for future exploration!
Goldbug Hot Springs – Elk Bend, ID
Goldbug Hot Springs is a natural series of six waterfall-fed pools along Warm Spring Creek, with a sand and gravel bottom dammed by boulders. Access to this hot springs, located between Salmon and Challis, requires a four-mile round trip hike, but ahhh what a beautiful hike it is! The hike in can be difficult for the last half-mile, climbing a total of 1,350 feet, but it’s well traveled and accessible. With an average temperature of 113 °F, depending on the time of year, it’s the perfect play to soak your hiking legs. It has received more publicity lately (thanks, Instagram) and can be crowded, so it’s best to go early, but your early arrival lets you grab the gorgeous morning light spilling over the mountains into the canyons below. A review of Goldbug Hot Springs hilariously noted: “if steep hikes, rocky paths, morning baptists, or evening hippies will deter you, then please, by all means, be deterred!” You are allowed to tent camp in the area, but the nearest RV Campground recommendation is Elk Bend RV Park. (on public BLM land, dogs allowed)
Strawberry Park Hot Springs – Steamboat Springs, CO
Strawberry Park Hot Springs are beautiful mineral springs fed by Hot Springs Creek in a natural setting, just seven miles north of downtown Steamboat. Their water stays very hot year-round, and even the coolest pool temperature can be as warm as 102 °F. The drive there is on a jutted 4WD road (but passable even in a passenger car), lined with amazing old-growth aspens. If you want to feel those silky mineral waters au naturel, it’s adults only — and clothing optional — after dark, oooh la la! Fun fact: it’s called Strawberry Park because the strawberry business flourished here in the early 1900s, and the famous Remington berries were originally grown on this land. They have sandy-bottomed, stone-lined soaking pools, rustic cabins and tent sites, and even massage and Watsu therapy. It’s remote, it’s rustic, and it’s surrounded by trees and mountains, with the aura that you’ve stepped back in time. (privately owned, no dogs)
Mount Princeton Hot Springs – Nathrop, CO
Open since 1860, Mount Princeton Hot Springs are located in the Collegiate Mountains between Buena Vista and Salida, and your reward for this location is towering peaks and forests surrounding this oasis. We loved this place because the developed pools of natural spring water (no sulfur! no stink!) create the ultimate “do-it-yourself” hot springs. In the area they call “creekside,” a series of individual “hot tubs” are made out of rocks. Hot water comes out of a pipe at 140 degrees, and flows downstream through the various hot tubs. Meanwhile, next to the hot tubs, is an icy cold creek. By shifting just a few of the loose rocks between your hot tub and the river, you can let as much or as little cold water into your area, to mix with the hot water, and form the perfect temperature for YOU! Beyond Creekside, there are other pools, including one with a 400′ water slide; you can even opt for a full spa experience with fitness classes and yoga, or stay on-site at their resort hotel. (privately owned, no dogs)
Boat Box Hot Springs – Stanley, ID
Boat Box Hot Springs proves that hot springs can come in many shapes and varieties! If quirky is your thing, how about a metal pot alongside the Salmon River in Stanley, Idaho! We love Stanley (population: 63) for its low valleys, soaring peaks, outdoorsy people and totally kick-back attitudes … and also, the unforgettable Cauldron of Doom hot springs! OK, its not really called the Cauldron of Doom, but how else to describe a hot springs that is basically a big soup pot …? The white pipe on the left dumps in super boiling hot, natural spring water. You use the attached bucket to add icy cold river water, and make it just the right temperature for you! Since the pot is very small, you’re either crashing knees with strangers, or limiting your time, or acting really weird so they forgo the cauldron and take one of the shallow spring pools instead. From downtown Stanley, take State Highway 75 N. Boat Box will be on the right in 3.3 miles. We stayed at Stanley RV + Camp, but there are lots of camping sites in the area, particularly around nearby Redfish Lake.
Bonus! Right down the road is Valley Creek Hot Springs. If solitude is more your style (because Boat Box can be busy!), try Valley Creek, a little-known and very peaceful pool accessed on the road behind the Stanley Museum.
Arizona Hot Springs – Willow Beach, AZ
Arizona Hot Springs (aka Ringbolt Hot Springs) are along the Colorado River, south of the Hoover Dam. They consist of thermal springs that has been dammed up into four small pools. You’ll take a strenuous 6-mile round-trip hike to get here, requiring patience, leg strength, and LOTS of water … but don’t even try to go May 15-Sept 30 of each year, because the whole shebang will be closed due to extreme heat. The hike starts out in flat desert, gradually transitions to rocky mountainous paths, and sandy wash canyons, some as narrow as 6 feet across. The water coming out of the hot springs emerges from the source of the springs at a balmy 124 degrees, decreasing to 108, 104 and finally 100 in each of the subsequent pools. Below pool #3, the water cascades downward to the Colorado river. You do have the option to visit Arizona Hot Springs via arrival by boat, and then climbing a very long, very rickety, very poorly stabilized 20+-foot ladder up. Some also tent camp in the area, but RV campers find excellent accommodations at Willow Beach Campground, 15 miles south of the trailhead. (dogs allowed but not recommended due to extreme hiking conditions and lack of a place for them to safely hang out at the springs)
Norris Hot Springs – Norris, MT
Norris is a funky little spot in the Madison River Valley near Ennis, but most of the people we hung with seemed to have journeyed over from Bozeman, about 35 miles east. The crowd getting their soak on is super laid-back, enjoying local food and drink; as well as music, either pre-recorded or performed live on various days, mostly weekends, from the poolside geodesic dome. The 30×40 foot pool, built in the 1880’s, has a wooden bottom made from locally-milled fir planks from which super-hot water seeps upward at 60 gallons per minute and average temperature of 120 degrees. HOWEVER: an occasional sprinkle from their overhead piping system keeps the water ahhhhhh-mazingly perfect — below 100 in the summer, and up to 106 in the winter! The pool’s 38,000 gallons of water are drained every night and refilled with steamin-hot, fresh water over the course of 8 hours. The poolside “No Loose Dogs” Saloon serves up wine, local microbrews, and locally-sourced menu items, many even made with veggies and ingredients grown by the owner on-site. If you can navigate the tight turns and steep entrance, you can even RV camp on-site. (privately owned, no dogs — loose or otherwise)
Spence Hot Springs – Jemez Springs, NM
Spence Hot Springs has a remote, natural setting, but no shortage of visitors, owing to its location just a short (3/4 mile) hike from the main road, which traverses the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The trail can be slippery down a decline about 800 feet into a canyon, before crossing a bridge and continuing up a short-but-steep incline. What is unusual about Spence is that it has a natural, in-cave sauna! Crawl into the VERY small crack in the rocks (that Philip is pointing to in the photo below) … and suddenly you’re in for a pore-cleansing, sweat-drenching, lung-expanding sauna experience like no other! That’s right … you can get the complete spa experience free of charge! Beyond the sauna cave, it’s a small pool, and more of a warm-springs than a hot-springs, with a constant temperature right around 95 degrees. It’s small, heavily visited, and quite popular, so be prepared to make new friends! We camped at the beautiful Jemez Falls campground — lots of solitude, but no RV hookups. (Forest Service land, dogs allowed)
Bonus! Also in this area is McCauley Hot Springs, though after I describe it, you may want to take a pass! You know those Japanese pedicures where you put your feet into a basin with tiny little fish that attack your feet and eat all the dead skin? Yep — that’s what Macauley Hot Springs is like. Baby piranhas! Although the 4-mile hike in was wonderful, and the pools and small waterfall were nice, those aggressive little killers moved in for the attack just a few minutes after we arrived. Eeeek! Attempt it … only if you dare!
Kirkham Hot Springs – Lowman, ID
The gorgeous Kirkham Hot Springs is about 40 miles north near Lowman, Idaho on the banks of the Payette River. With soaking pools + misty waterfalls, it is a mystical, Lord of the Rings type experience! Having heard horror stories of hundreds of people crowding the springs every afternoon, we went early at 9 AM. From the highway, it sure didn’t look like much. But climbing down the hill, we were rewarded with solitude, steamy mist rising off the rocks, and the perfect start to the day. Kirkham is completely natural, with no man-made enhancements or changes. Ahhhhh! Now that’s refreshing … untouched nature at its finest! Many other natural hot springs pools can be found along Highway 21 in this area. (Forest Service, day use only – no camping, pets allowed but there are not a lot of places to secure them)
Mystic Hot Springs – Monroe, UT
If you’re a “weirder is better” type person, Mystic Hot Springs just might be up your alley! A completely funky place that was just our style, it’s dumpy, hippie, weird and wonderful! A bunch of bathtubs have been sunk into the hillside, and the rock continues to grow over the edges of them from the mineral water constantly flowing. Varying levels of warmth (from tepid to scalding) are delivered to the tubs via diversion channels uphill. You sign up for a two-hour window and can move from tub to tub as you please, and as the few other people there during your time slot do the same. You can stay in your own RV or tent at their on-site campground, or go rogue and stay in one of their old busses that have been converted into 1970’s-style hotel rooms! The whole free-love, do as you wish, “drop out and tune in” vibe is everywhere, from the communal tent area to the critters (hello peacocks!) roaming the property. It was definitely one of our most memorable experiences yet! (private, no dogs)
Burgdorf Hot Springs – McCall, Idaho
Burgdorf Hot Springs has been called a “rustic backcountry oasis, frozen in time,” a unique place located on a historic site. Burgdorf Hot Springs has been in operation since 1870, and you can even come here in winter … but it’s gotta be by snowmobile! Take a dip in the 50×85′ large pool (100-104 degrees) … the two 6×6′ smaller box hot tubs (REALLY hot tubs –114 degrees) … or how about a power-scrub in the tub-tub, out in the middle of a field! Located at the base of the mountains of the Payette National Forest, 32 miles north of McCall, and close to the tiny ghost-town of Warren. Reservations are required and day soak passes are available in two hour blocks. Burgdorf has rustic cabins for rent (very rustic: no water or electricity — basically camping indoors!), but our favorite place to RV camp in the area is Ponderosa State Park. (privately owned, no pets)
Bonus! Also in the McCall area, is Trail Creek Hot Springs. If rustic Burgdorf is even a little too civilized for you, this place is unmarked and about as natural as a hot springs can be! Your inner hippie will approve.
Hot Springs National Park – Hot Springs, AR
A summary of hot springs could not be complete without mention of our nation’s one-and-only National Park dedicated to these healing waters! Hot Springs (the town) is known for its naturally heated springs, heated to 146 degrees and emerging from 47 different springs around town. Though there were once nearly two dozen bathhouses, the National Park Service has preserved only eight of the buildings, and only two of them still operate as bathhouses. The Fordyce Bathhouse has been historically restored and can be toured, while the Quapaw Bathhouse is still available for natural bath treatments. Four separate pools of spring water are heated to 95, 98, 102 and 104 degrees, and the 1922-era elaborate ceilings and tile work have been retained. Private baths can also be arranged, and a steam room is also available, consisting of an underground cave where 146-degree water flows down the rocks and emanates from the capped spring. A bowl and spoon of icy cold water was provided for continual body dousing, and wow, was that an incredible experience!
If you’re HOT for hot springs like we are, make a place in your adventure planning for these always unique and frequently surprising natural treasures!