The rejuvenating benefits of hot springs are well documented, for both body and mind. File these six standout natural soaking pools away for when the time is right to travel again. They’re an ideal way to get back out there.
Conundrum Hot Springs
Conundrum Hot Springs knows no equal. Perched at 11,200 feet, deep inside the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area between the mountain towns of Aspen and Crested Butte, it reigns as North America’s highest elevation hot springs. And arguably it’s most scenic. While soaking in one of Conundrum’s 100-degree natural pools, you look straight down the valley into an endless array of alpine peaks set against a Colorado-blue sky. The springs themselves vary in size (the largest is about 3-feet deep) and are tucked into a wildflower meadow surrounded by snow patches, small stands of pine and fir trees, and occasional glimpses of waterfalls trickling down the nearby mountainside.
Conundrum is accessible only by foot, requiring a 9-mile pilgrimage up the vertiginous Conundrum Creek Trail through black bear country. But that hasn’t dampened the springs’ popularity. If anything, it’s increased Conundrum’s lure—at least among the backpacking sect. In 2018, in recognition that this fragile ecosystem was perhaps being loved to death (and that crowds spoil the backcountry experience), the U.S. Forest Service implemented a permit system. Hot springs seekers can secure a permit online at recreation.gov.
The permit system opens two months in advance: in February for soaking from April 1 through July 31, in June for soaking from August 1 through November 30, and in October for soaking December 1 through March 31. Permits include a reservation at one of the 20 primitive campsites surrounding Conundrum Hot Springs. Definitely plan to stay the night.
Bog Hot Springs
If you’re seeking solitude and simplicity, it’s hard to beat Bog Hot Springs. Tucked into the remote northwest corner of Nevada, at the border with Oregon (think: 4.5 hours south of Bend and 4.5 hours north of Reno), it’s almost a shock to encounter the roadside pools after so many miles of seeing nothing but high desert plains. The unexpectedness is part of the delight. As is the fact that Bog Hot Springs is an actual bog—spongy ground with 130-degree water gurgling up from below. The piping-hot water then flows via a creek into a shallow channel about a mile long, where it mellows out to more optimal soaking temperatures. The best part? The water in the channel stays crystal-clear and clean, no matter how many bodies show up to soak, thanks to the strong flow of source water.
Bog Hot Springs is a truly primitive hot spring. There are no access fees, no amenities, and no nearby services. Follow the locals’ lead by finding a private spot along the sandy-bottomed channel and rearranging some rocks to dam up your own pool. Go north along the channel (toward the source) for the hottest sections, move further down for cooler. These hot springs generate a good amount of mud, making them ideal for pelotherapy, the therapeutic application of clay (mud) to facilitate natural healing within the body.
Laird River Hot Springs
Location: BRITISH COLUMBIA
Thanks to its position along the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire—a worldwide arc of active volcanoes and seismic activity—British Columbia is a literal hot spot, boasting 85% of Canada’s hot springs. Among this bounty of soothing waters, Laird River Hot Springs stands out. It’s the second-largest natural hot spring in the country, consistently hot at 120 degrees, and blissfully remote, located in the province’s sparsely-populated north, almost at the Yukon border. It’s not uncommon to spot a moose feeding in the lukewarm-water swamps along the 10-minute stroll from the parking area to the springs. And you’ll definitely see bison along the highway en route.
Laird River Hot Springs has been a preserved area since 1957, when it was known as the “Tropical Valley” due to the lush plant life influenced by the warmth of the springs. Some of the flora and fauna you’ll encounter are unusual, from rare orchids to carnivorous plants to lake chub, a tiny fish capable of living in warm water (look for them in the swamps). British Columbia has done an admiral job protecting this unique habitat by adding a vehicle-accessible campground, composting toilets, and a changing room. A wooden boardwalk traverses the sensitive swamps and boreal forest leading to the natural soaking pool. Don’t miss the Hanging Gardens, located a short walk past the pool, where calcium deposits have formed a high, terraced wall supporting a rich diversity of plant life.
Pine Flats Hot Springs
You almost have to see Pine Flats Hot Springs to believe it. Located on the banks of the pristine South Fork Payette River in Idaho, the small, roughly circular geothermal pool is the base of a steaming hot waterfall, which pours in from a towering rock cliff. Access the pool by kayak from the river, or hike the quarter-mile path from the eponymous Pine Flats Campground. From the path, the final section down to the pool is steep and rocky. Less adventurous soakers can stick to the easier-to-reach pools nearby or the one at the top of the cliff.
Pine Flats Hot Springs is a 1.5-hour drive from Boise. Considering the springs are accessed through a campground, and the surrounding area is an adventurer’s dream destination, it might make sense to stay awhile. Whitewater rafting and kayaking on the South Fork and Main Payette Rivers are the main attraction, with multiple local outfitters offering guided half- and full-day trips. Trout fishing on the South Fork Payette River is a close second. Otherwise, hiking, biking, and horseback riding on the 1,300 miles of trails throughout Boise National Forest are all in play. As is wildlife photography. More than 300 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians call this place home. Deer and elk can even be spotted within Pine Flats Campground. The campground often fills all 24 sites during the summer so it’s best to plan ahead.
Travertine Hot Springs
The Mono Basin east of California’s Yosemite National Park is rich with geothermal activity. If you have to pick just one spot, Travertine Hot Springs wins for ease of access combined with the best overall experience. There’s no cost (the springs are on Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest land) and you drive straight to the meadow, which is located just a couple dirt miles off of US 395. The first pool, the most popular, is steps from the parking area, or take a walk through the maze of slick travertine rock to encounter a half-dozen more. Each pool offers a panoramic view of Sawtooth Ridge, part of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains, under a wide-open sky.
The healing power of these pools is well known, dating back to the Paitue, the lands’ first inhabitants, who consider the area sacred. Today, the hot springs have more of a festival atmosphere (expect to share your experience with Yosemite climbers, European tourists, and local nudists), but the healing vibe remains. The calcium carbonate from the travertine is just one of the many detoxifying minerals that infuse the rejuvenating waters. The pools are lined with mud, providing a direct connection to the earth. It’s common to see veteran soakers smearing mud on their bodies as a remedy for everything from arthritis to psoriasis. The clay is also good for acne, so don’t hesitate to coat your face. Be sure to save time to meander around the travertine rock formations. This too feels therapeutic.
Goldmyer Hot Springs
Whether hiking by foot in the summer or by snowshoe in the winter, making the 5-mile trek through the forested foothills of the Cascade Mountains to Goldmyer Hot Springs is part of the magic of the experience. After following the mighty Snoqualmie River through fern-lined, moss-laden, old-growth forest, you reach the Welcome to Goldmyer sign, where live-in caretakers limit hot springs hopefuls to just 20 per day. What follows is almost too good to be true: among all that wilderness, a tiered series of three perfectly-sized interconnected pools built of stone lead up to a cave where geothermically heated water has found its way to the surface through an old mine shaft. At the source, the water is 125 degrees. By the time it reaches the cave (yes, you can wade all the way inside—there’s even a bench in the back to sit and contemplate), it’s cooled to about 110 degrees. From there, the mineral-rich water cascades over the edge into the pools, where it becomes progressively cooler until reaching the final pool at a temperature of 104 degrees.
Goldmyer Hot Springs is lovingly maintained by Northwest Wilderness Programs, a Washington state nonprofit established in 1976, specifically to provide a wilderness experience for the public while protecting this rare ecosystem. For those looking to make a day or two of it, Goldmyer provides eight gorgeous campsites, clean outhouses, and even bear canisters to store your food. Advanced reservations required at goldmyer.org, not only for camping but also for soaking.