Soak your worries away in trailside hot springs

Of all the joyous surprises of the trail — a cold can of beer bobbing in a stream, a group of day hikers with food to spare, a wonderful view at the top of a stiff ascent — perhaps no pleasure compares to finding a steaming, private hot spring.

Why do hot springs and hiking go so well together? Is it the chance to finally get clean, to soak away the soreness? Or is it the realization that nature sometimes provides us, unexpectedly, comforts that exceed her challenges?

To get you started on a winter of contented soaking, we've assembled a list of five trailside hot springs. Some are rustic and remote, some are developed, but all of them offer a delightful respite after a long day on the trail.

Share your own favorites below.

Hot Springs to See

 

Name: Valley View Hot Springs

Valley Vew springs
Top pool of Valley View hot springs, Colorado
(Photo: Orient Valley Land Trust)

Type: Developed

Location: Near Villa Grove, Colorado

Description: Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Crestone, Colo., Valley View Hot Springs is on land owned and managed by the nonprofit Orient Valley Land Trust. With plentiful camping, cabins, and several developed pools, Valley View is an ideal basecamp for hikes in the Sangre de Cristos or in the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park.

From the lower developed pools, a series of undeveloped ponds ascend into the foothills, each one slightly hotter, more scenic, and remote than the last. The top-most pool offers wonderful solitude. Valley View also has trails and a cave with the largest bat colony in Colorado!

Note: Valley View is clothing optional and the Orient Valley Land Trust charges a modest fee for access.

More Information: Orient Valley Land Trust

 

Name: Conundrum Creek Hot Springs

Conundrum Creek
Conundrum Creek Hot Springs, Colorado
(Photo: USDA Forest Service)

Type: Undeveloped

Location: Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of the White River National Forest, Colorado

Description: Located at the base of the spectacular 14,000'+ Maroon Bells peaks, this warm springs offers incredible views, silence, and contemplation. This spring is approximately nine miles into the backcountry on the Conundrum Creek Trail, a challenging trail in a designated wilderness area.

Evan Pletcher, Forest Service employee, says "it's a pretty amazing place, though it's crowded in the summer. I like going in the fall, but if you're prepared to deal with snow and the possibility of avalanches, you can head up in late spring too. The water is 100 to 105 degrees — nice and warm!"

Note: Due to the popularity of the area, the Forest Service asks visitors to follow all posted regulations and strict Leave No Trace Ethics.

More Info: White River National Forest

 

Toketee / Umpqua Hot Springs
Umpqua/Toketee Hot Springs
(Photo: USDA Forest Service)

Name: Umpqua/Toketee Hot Springs

Type: Semi-developed

Location: Hot Springs Segment of the North Umpqua Trail, in Umpqua National Forest, Oregon

Description: Just a few miles from the Toketee Lake Trail head, a .3-mile side trail leads to a small covered structure that covers the 108-degree Umpqua Hot Springs, also known as Toketee Hot Springs. This small covered pool provides a wonderful respite for hikers traversing the 80-mile North Umpqua Trail. 

The nearby Toketee Lake Campground offers swimming, fishing, and developed camping for those who would rather visit the Umpqua Hot Springs on a day hike.

According to Katina Verardo, Forest Service volunteer, "the hike in is very easy, and a new bridge makes it even better. There are four pools and the main pool is covered with a little shelter." 

More Info: Umpqua National Forest, (541) 957-3200

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name: Hot Springs

Hot Springs NC
Arial view of Hot Springs, N.C.
(Photo: Karl Gustavson)

Type: Fully developed

Location: Hot Springs, North Carolina

Description: The hot springs in Hot Springs, N.C., are right next to the trail, but they aren't rustic. Instead, two local businesses, the homey Broadwing Farm and the more developed Hot Springs Resort and Spa, provide access to the local waters, which are not only warm, but also lightly carbonated.

The Appalachian Trail winds through the center of town, and the famous views from Max Patch bald mountain are approximately 20 trail miles north. There are plenty of accommodations in town, but seasoned hikers will appreciate Elmer's Sunnybank Inn, a cozy eccentric place with great rates and all-you-can-eat vegetarian food.

More Info: www.hotspringsnc.org

 

Name: Alvord Hot Springs

Alvord Hot Springs.
Alvord Hot Springs, Oregon
(Photo: Mike Sisk/Wikimedia Commons)

Type: Semi-developed

Location: Private lands adjacent to Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area, near Frenchglen, Ore.

Description: Near the base of the 10,000'+ foot Steens Mountain, on a broad expanse of playa, Alvord Hot Springs offer true isolation and scenic beauty. These primitive, sulfur-rich springs offer views of herds of wild horses, the towering Steens Mountain, and some of the darkest sky in North America.

After a day hiking around Wildhorse Lake or running up Little Blitzen Gorge, Alvord Hot Springs is an exotic and isolated place to soak. According to Mike Kelly, BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner, "the springs are located on private lands, and the owner allows folks to visit. The tubs are very unimproved. Primitive camping is available on BLM lands nearby."

Note: This spring is located on private land, and not regularly maintained.

Tips for Safe Soaking

Hot springs are large pools fed by water warmed deep in the Earth's crust. Though soaking in natural springs is usually safe, it does present some real risks.

Here are some tips to minimize the risks and maximize the enjoyment of your soak.

Bring a friend

Enjoying the blissful solitude of a hot spring can be great, but a little company can enliven the experience immeasurably. Hot, deep water can present hazards of its own, and a friend is valuable backup in the unlikely event of an accident.

Hydrate

Hot springs can easily exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit and, because you're submerged, you might not realize how much you're sweating. Combined with the exertions of your hike, this creates a risk for dehydration. Even minor dehydration can cause muscle soreness, which is precisely what many people go to hot springs to avoid. Alcohol is a diuretic and can accelerate dehydration, so overindulging, tempting though it might be, is not a good idea. Bring ample cold water in a sealed bottle and sip often.

Be aware of heat

Undeveloped hot springs vary widely in temperature. What may appear to be a tranquil pool could be a boiling mass of superheated water hot enough cause serious burns. More worrisome, some hot springs (particularly those near tectonically active areas like Yellowstone National Park) can vary in temperature from day to day and even from hour to hour.

During my visit to Hobo hot springs in Saratoga, Wyo., the water was pleasantly warn when I first entered, but after a few minutes, a hot plume of water surged in. Instantly, I was sweating, and leaped out of the pool, much to the amusement of several older locals, who remained submerged to the neck the whole time. For this reason, I avoid undeveloped hot springs without a history of use, and check the temperature of the spring with a candy thermometer before taking the plunge.

Be aware of cold

Marinating in hot water on a freezing day is a unique pleasure, but just because the water's warm, doesn't exempt you from the risk of cold air. Ears and noses can get dangerously cold, despite the hot steam. Pack a warm hat that you don't mind getting damp, and don't be shy about wearing it while soaking.

Don't slip

In the winter, a thick layer of ice can surround hot springs. In the summer, warm overflow from hot springs encourages the growth of slippery biofilm and algae. Both surfaces are extremely slick, so exercise extreme caution with your footing around hot springs.

Be hygienic

Some hot springs can host dangerous bacteria or fungi. People with open cuts or sores, or who have suppressed immune systems, would be well advised to avoid hot springs for this reason.

Though it might seem excessive, it's an important courtesy to other hot spring users to pre-wash before your dip. No one wants to marinate in days' worth of a stranger's trail-dust. So take your bandanna and a bottle filled with warm water 200 feet downhill and rinse off the worst of your muck, sunscreen, and bug dope before entering the springs.

Hot springs water can contain dangerous levels of heavy metals, or alkali minerals, so an "instant" cup of hot tea or Ramen right out of the spring is a bad idea.

Seek out known springs

The risks of scalds, falls, and odd bacteria can outweigh the rewards of being the first in a spring. Contact local hiking clubs, land management agencies, and outfitters for the safest and best hot springs to visit.

Unconvinced of the potential dangers of hot springs? Check out this delightful public service announcement from the Nevada Bureau of Land Management.

 

We know we didn't cover all the hot spots above. This is where you come in.

Do you have a favorite trailside hot spring? Tell us about it.

Filed under: Outdoor Skills, Places

Comments

GaryPalmer
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January 6, 2012 at 11:14 a.m. (EST)

 

Here's also a few other nice hot springs to soak in, I have been to these.


thumbnailCAYVB1X8.jpg

San Francisco Hot Springs in western New Mexico

newmexico.org/explore/hot_springs/san_francisco.php


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Huckleberry Hot Springs in NW Wyoming between Jackson Hole and Yellowstone

www.rei.com/.../wyoming/hiking/huckleberry-hot-springs/21372

meadow4.jpg

Meadow Hot Springs near Beaver in Cenral Utah
www.utahoutdooractivities.com/meadowspring.html

Bill S
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January 6, 2012 at 12:46 p.m. (EST)

One danger not mentioned in the article is poisoning and suffocation. It turns out that a number of hot springs, being associated as they are with volcanic activity (geothermal, after all), have a large amount of carbon dioxide and various sulfur-containing gases. Some pools in the Mammoth Mountain area have seen fatalities from this, as have some others in the Owens Valley area. Same with some pools in Nevada and New Mexico that I have heard of. Some, but not all, of such pools are now posted. So be very very cautious.

One of the pools in Owens Valley has for generations been a "mandatory" stop for skiers, climbers and backpackers returning from the Sierra and White Mountain backcountry for a bit of relaxation before the long drive home.

FromSagetoSnow
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January 6, 2012 at 6:09 p.m. (EST)

We lost Kennedy Hot Springs on Glacier Peak to a mudslide in 2003.  A shame.

I have a healthy respect for H2S (hydrogen sulfide).  H2S likes to lay in low spots like hot springs.  Luckily it stinks at low levels.  At high levels it kills the sense of smell and then you.  I always wondered why people steer clear of furmaroles on Mt Hood and Baker but willingly go into steam vents on Rainier.  Seems odd.

giftogab
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January 7, 2012 at 11:58 a.m. (EST)


From-Card-167.jpg

This is AZ Hotsprings above the Colorado River. It is below Hoover Dam. There are springs all along the canyon to hike to from the river banks.

GaryPalmer
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January 7, 2012 at 1:09 p.m. (EST)

 

Is that you giftogab in the shades? Looks inviting!

giftogab
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January 7, 2012 at 1:25 p.m. (EST)

No...I am in Red.

whomeworry
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January 8, 2012 at 12:29 a.m. (EST)

There are  a couple of places I used to go in the interior of the Sierras, one east of Mammoth and south of Red's meadow, the other east of Mt Whitney, but now they are crowded to the point in summer that they are no longer enjoyable IMO.  Both sites are degraded from overuse.  Even in winter these sites sometimes draw a surprising number of admirers, despite the fact one of them isn't even on the USGS maps.

Ed

campingwithcharlie
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January 8, 2012 at 10:09 a.m. (EST)

While in alaska we stopped at a Artic Circle Hot Springs. It is fully developed with a naturally fed 99 degree f pool. Even in the winter with air temp at -30 the pool is still 99 degrees. The main house was transported at the turn of the century to its current location and still rents some of the original rooms. There are bungalows you can rent with hot tubs fed by spring water at 138 degrees. You have to fill the hot tub and wait a few hours before you can climg in.

 

Erich
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January 9, 2012 at 12:56 p.m. (EST)

I've been to Alvord Hotsprings several times though it has been 15 years since my last visit. The photo doesn't do it justice. The soaking springs are in concreted pools that have old washing machine tubs for sitting. The expanse of the Alvord playa borders the east side of the springs and the Steens uplift is to the west, a pretty dramatic place.

On the Alaska Highway(Alcan) east of Watson Lake, is Liard Hotsprings It is only somewhat developed. The valley has a lot of flora that are unique to an area so far north. 

Besides the gases that can pose a potential risk in hotsprings that Bill S mentioned, there is a nasty little amoeba that one can get from a soak. Although rare, it is almost always fatal. Here is a link to an article about it.

http://articles.latimes.com/2008/dec/29/health/he-springs29

Seth Levy (Seth)
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January 13, 2012 at 11:49 a.m. (EST)

Erich,  I saw the springs from the top of Steens a few years ago, but never ventured over.  I should have! N. Fowleri is an evil critter, for sure, but unlikely to harm you unless you get it up your nose.  Oddly, there have been a few reports of people contracting fatal N. Fowleri infections from snorting tap water!  Some other amobeas in tepid water can cause skin infections, some serious, but few fatal.

giftogab
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January 13, 2012 at 6:01 p.m. (EST)

Seth! YES..Netty Pots seem to be the culpret with the tap water thingy....I simply cannot even dream of the netty pot stuff. I use the Hemalayin salt inhaler instead.


SALT.jpg

Erich
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January 14, 2012 at 11:22 a.m. (EST)

There have also been infections of N. Fowleri  from swimming in lakes and rivers. Fortunately it is quite rare, and while usually it "crawls" in through the nose, it can enter through open sores as well. Just thought people should be aware.

The Steens area is quite a dramatic place. North is French Glen and the Malheur Wildlife Sanctuary, south is the "town" of Fields and pronghorn territory. I've seen mustangs on the western slopes of the Steens.

Callahan
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January 16, 2012 at 1:07 p.m. (EST)

www.Soak.net 

Seth Levy (Seth)
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April 20, 2012 at 6:22 p.m. (EDT)

Friends - I would avoid Conundrum Hot Springs for the next few months.  Apparently, a bunch of dead cows are frozen in the cabin there.  No joke: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/04/18/150889549/in-colorado-frozen-cows-are-a-conundrum-in-conundrum

Rick-Pittsburgh
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April 20, 2012 at 6:31 p.m. (EDT)

Seth said:

Friends - I would avoid Conundrum Hot Springs for the next few months.  Apparently, a bunch of dead cows are frozen in the cabin there.  No joke: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/04/18/150889549/in-colorado-frozen-cows-are-a-conundrum-in-conundrum

Oooh oooh.... USE EXPLOSIVES.

It worked for a beached whale in Oregon...

Well it kinda worked:

Callahan
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April 21, 2012 at 12:16 p.m. (EDT)

- Hot Springs, add the hot springs from www.Soak.net that are along the route.

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