Adventure, Destinations, hiking, Pacific Northwest United States, road trips, Travel Tips, United States, Western United States, winter sports

Secret Hot Springs for Winter Bliss

Secret Hot Springs for Winter Bliss

Is there anything more magical and inviting than a misty, secluded hot spring on a cold winter day? Maybe, but I haven’t discovered it yet. An uncrowded thermal pool is my happy place. Too bad I live on the wrong side of the country for serious adventures in warm, bubbly waters. Perhaps I can live vicariously through you?

What are Hot Springs?

Hot springs are formed when water, heated deep underground, bubbles up to form pools on the earth’s surface. Many of these pools are privately owned, and have been turned into luxurious spas, swimming pools, and tourist traps. Plenty of others can be found on public land, and exist in their wild, primitive state. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know where my affinity lies…

Many secret hot springs can be found throughout the United States, but not all of them are perfect for bathing. When spring water comes in contact with magma in volcanic areas, hot springs may be hot enough to boil. These pools are obviously not safe for bathing. Most wild hot springs are found in the western half of the country, much to my dismay.

Is there anything more magical than a misty, secluded hot spring on a cold winter day? Click To Tweet

What Makes a Perfectly Inviting Hot Spring Pool?

I’m sure the characteristics will be different for everyone, but just so we’re on the same page, I’ll tell you what we look for —

  • Seclusion. We’ve been to several hot springs resorts and they’re fun, but not exactly relaxing. We look for secret hot springs off the beaten path.
  • Easy to get to. The farther you have to walk, the more secluded you’ll find yourself. Sounds awesome, but we tend to visit hot springs that are less than two miles from the trail head, mainly because we just can’t wait to get there.
  • Hot, but not too hot. What’s the perfect temperature for bathing outside when the snow is flying? I’d say that 104℉ to 110℉ degrees is just about perfect, but we’ll take what we can get. Waters this warm will raise your core body temperature and aren’t suitable for pregnant women
  • Clean. The sad truth is that even secret hot springs have been loved to death. Soaking among trash is no fun, even if the water is perfect. Please respect your wild lands and practice Leave No Trace principles.

Tips for Enjoying Secret Hot Springs in the Winter

  • Dress in layers. There’s a good chance you that all sorts of temperature extremes will make appearances on this adventure. Be prepared.
  • The hotter the water, the quicker the soak. It may be tempting to while away the afternoon in that sizzlin’ pool, but soaking for too long in really hot temperatures isn’t good for you, plus it will make you all drowsy and you won’t want to trek back to your car.
  • Don’t forget extra water for drinking. It will be easy to trick yourself into thinking you’re hydrated if you’re surrounded by water. Don’t forget to drink up — before, during, and after your soak. And while we’re on the topic, I should mention that alcoholic beverages don’t mix very well with hot springs, or hiking for that matter.
  • Skip the cotton and invest in a pack towel. This huge towel from REI can hold up to eight times its weight and wrings out almost completely dry. Plus it weighs in at only 6.4 ounces.

Secret Hot Springs for Winter Bliss

Okay, so they aren’t really a secret, but these hot springs are really quiet, not too far from the trail head, and warm enough to relax in on a chilly winter day. The downside is that virtually all of the primitive hot springs in the United States are found out west. Have I mentioned that yet? If you live in Vermont, like me, or anywhere in the eastern half of the country, you really have to plan ahead. Secret hot springs road trip anyone? Here are the best wild hot springs for total winter bliss.

Spence Hot Springs – Jemez Canyon, New Mexico

Spence Hot Springs, NM - secret hot springs

photo credit: Charles Kiyanda

Located in the Santa Fe National Forest, an easy hike leads to Spence Hot Springs, with spectacular views and 100℉ thermal bliss. These springs are a popular destination on weekends, especially in the summer. Since you’ve got winter on your side, you shouldn’t have a problem with crowds. Make your trek in the early morning and you’re practically guaranteed solitude. The Spence Hot Spring pool is pretty small, with room for five to ten people. For more information, check out the Santa Fe National Forest website.

Keough Hot Spring – Eastern Sierras – Bishop, California

Keough Hot Springs, California - secret hot springs

photo credit: Dustin Blakely

The coolest part about Keough Hot Springs is that you can have a pretty laid-back resort experience for a fee or you can experience the primitive tubs for free. Normally I wouldn’t even mention the Keough Hot Springs Resort, but it’s pretty awesome for a commercial facility. They maintain several outdoor pools, a campground, and a couple of tent cabins and “modular retreats,” otherwise known as mobile homes. The place is pretty quiet in the winter, and it caters to families so it’s really clean and quiet.

Now for a walk on the wild side. Just below the Keough Hot Springs Resort are a few rustic soaking pools. They’re right off the road so little or no hiking is required. These pools overlook the high desert and are mostly clean and uncrowded, especially in the winter. Nudity is common among soakers, but people seem to be really respectful of this special place. To get there, take Keough Hot Springs Road and head toward the resort, then turn right on the second dirt road. After you cross the stream, the hot springs will be on your left. No camping at the springs, but there’s lots of camping nearby in the national forest.

Deer Creek (Bigelow) Hot Springs – Central Cascades, Oregon

Deer Creek Hot Springs, Oregon - secret hot springs

photo credit: Celeste Ramsay

Deer Creek Hot Springs is a little pool that  sits right next to the McKenzie River in the Central Cascades of Oregon. With room for just four people, it’s imperative that you hit this one up in the early or late hours of the day. It closes after sunset to keep things from getting rowdy. The pool is a lovely 103℉ in the summer months. In the winter, it can be much colder because it mixes with the nearby river water. For more information and directions to these luscious hot springs check out the Oregon Hot Springs website.

Bonneville Hot Springs, Boise National Forest, Lowman, Idaho

Bonneville Hot Springs - Boise National Forest, Idaho - secret hot springs

photo credit: Erin Pass

Idaho is one huge mecca of geothermal activity, with more than 130 hot springs to choose from for your indulgence. If you’re planning the ultimate hot springs road trip, Idaho is the place to be, but if you can only choose one pool, choose Bonneville Hot Springs.

Bonneville Hot Springs can be found at the end of an easy ¼ mile hike. You may need snowshoes, but that just makes it more fun. There are several pools here for soaking, and even a soak shack with a bathtub and piped-in water. There’s a great little campground open in the spring through fall, but visiting when the campground is open makes for more crowded soaking. Head out in January and you’ll be rewarded with sandy-bottomed pools all to yourself. For directions to Bonneville Hot Springs, head over the the Boise National Forest website.

Ready to take the plunge? I want to hear all about your favorite hot spring experiences. I’ll be totally jealous of course, but it will just light the fire for more adventures!

Are you on Pinterest? I’d love to connect with you there! And if you found this post useful, please pin away!These western US hot springs involve short hikes and are totally wild and secluded. Perfect for winter soaking!

 

35 Comments

  1. We live in Santa Fe and have a Yoga Pavilion on the Glorieta Mesa. Our favorite hot spring is at Montezuma, just north of Las Vegas, NM and about an hour from our house or the yoga campground and pavilion. There are 7 or 8 pools of varying temperatures from the lobster pot — around 118 F to pools just above body temperature. Local volunteers clean the most popular pools once a month. There are no facilities other than garbage cans and lights and the pools are free, located on the grounds of the United World College which looks like an European Castle and all are a short walk from the road. We love to take visitors there, so contact us through our website if you are planning to visit the area and we’ll go for a soak.
    Jivan recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

    • Jivan, thank you so much for sharing this!! I am heading out that way in January, and am seriously considering checking this out! It sounds amazing. I will contact you if I have time to get out that way!

  2. Jo

    Excellent options. You know I especially enjoy hot springs in winters – there is something surreal (and mildly insane) about getting into a pool when its freezing outside. The insane part is what makes this so much fun 🙂 Thanks for the list.

  3. I grew up near Hot Springs AR, so I know of the regulations for health in hot springs because we have bath houses. But I’ve never trekked to secret ones in the wild – guess I need to! 🙂

  4. I could totally use a visit to some hot springs right now, I’ve been teaching in the subarctic with -30 to -40 temperatures and snow on the ground since October and could so use some warmth right now! I hope I can try out some of the ones you suggested some time soon.

  5. I’ve been to several thermal baths in Europe an absolutely loved them. But, they are privately owned ones and not out in nature like the ones you’ve got here. These would be even more awesome. I would like to think everyone kept them in pristine condition too and take their rubbish with them. Loved the little pool in Oregan where the family is sitting almost huddled together.
    Kerri recently posted…Why traditional Modena Balsamic Vinegar is the best in the worldMy Profile

  6. I’m bookmarking this page right now. These are great ideas! I love visiting hot springs. I learned about them as a fluke, and now we actively seek them out. So far, my favorite are Benton Hot Springs and Tecopa Hot Springs (both in California), but I can’t wait to experience more!
    Patricia recently posted…You Deserve to be Pampered – Make the Marilyn Monroe Spa Your Next StopMy Profile

    • Awesome, Patricia. California has so many great ones, it was hard to choose my favorites, and I’ve been to a few that I can’t even remember the names of. The draw of the west coast is strong in me!

  7. This post is awesome! I’ve visited many springs (I just went to Yellowstone last year), but I’ve never actually been IN one! Sounds amazing. Saving this post. 🙂
    Bailey K. recently posted…6 Reasons to Stay at The Ridge Tahoe ResortMy Profile

    • Hi Bailey,
      The Yellowstone Hot Springs are really cool, but just too hot. I do think there are hot springs in that area that you can relax in. Now you’ve got me curious…

  8. I love how natural all those springs look. I’ve only done hot springs in Iceland, Japan and New Zealand where they were all commercialised and not so natural… well at least definitely not secluded! (the Japanese do them well in Aso!)

    Katie
    http://whatskatiedoing.blogspot.co.uk/
    Katie recently posted…Girls Dinner @Duck and WaffleMy Profile

  9. This was an amazing post. I really want to experience these hot springs…but I might have to go for the luxury hotel version. I can’t fathom walking back to my car all wet and cold. Haha Maybe one day…

  10. Hot springs are one of the most relaxing things! The pools in Budapest left me feeling like a new person! Thanks for these tips, I’ll be sure to make use of them at every opportunity I get! I only wish I could indulge more.

  11. What a great post — I loved all the photos. I really want to visit the hot springs in Iceland someday. I’ve heard it’s so amazing!

  12. Great post Tara. There is a hot spring here in the PNW (the Sol Duc – which I’ve been too several times). It is an amazing benefit to sit in a really warm soup while it’s really cold out – the only problem is getting out and getting that cold blasted on your body 🙂
    Hung Thai recently posted…Why we decided to do a destination wedding and why you should tooMy Profile

  13. What an amazing list! The springs here in Florida are mostly cold (which is a good thing most of the year) but these sound amazing!

  14. This is such an interesting concept. When I got to New Zealand in the middle of winter, one of the first places Kevin took me was a hot-springs spa and it messed with my mind to see steam and wet bikinis and parkas all in the same place!
    bettyl-NZ recently posted…Waipipi beachMy Profile

  15. I’ve never been to a hot spring before…never really gave it much thought until now. Me thinks I gotta give this a try! 🙂

    • Highly recommended, Heather – and if you don’t want to start with wild pools, there are plenty of Hot Springs resorts around the country. We love Sol Duc Hot Springs in Olympic National Park.

  16. I would love to visit a hot spring! These sound amazing. Thanks so much for sharing!

    LiveLifeWell,
    Allison
    Allison Jones recently posted…Living Life Well in 2016My Profile

  17. I too, like yourself, live on the wrong side of the map to easily go to these awesome places. I need to put these locations on my bucket list for sure!

  18. What a great post! I didn’t know there were so many different hot spring. I have to admit…this looks so relaxing…I’m going to have to go 🙂

  19. Pinned this! I love hot springs… there are several near our home in Austria that I love going to in the winter months when it’s snowing. I hope to one day go to Iceland and enjoy the hot springs there as well. Thank you for sharing!

    • darla

      Hi Ashley, I am looking for hot springs in Austria that are outside in nature. Most of what I can find on line are spas. Do you have any resources that I could read about Austrian hot springs? Or do you have names of hot springs that you think are great. Thanks in advance for you time. Darla

  20. How gorgeous I have always wanted to visit a hot spring they are meant to do wonders for your soul and mind.

  21. There are so many awesome hot springs in Oregon that I have yet to visit! This is a good reminder of where I want to go this winter. Great post!

  22. I think I wouldn’t want to leave. I can only imagine how relaxing laying there would be!
    Leslie recently posted…Another Day At WorkMy Profile

  23. It’s the coldest day of winter so far in Houston, so these hot springs sound so dreamy right now!!

    xo, Alice

    • I know, Alice. It’s just 3 degrees here in Vermont! I love being outdoors, but I just don’t have it in me today!

  24. i would soooo love to go and visit one of these!!!

  25. Wow those photos are amazing. I’ve been to a couple of hot springs, but my favourite has to be the blue lagoon in Iceland. So atmospheric x

    • Sarah – I went to the Blue Lagoon years and years ago, but I still remember it as a really cool experience. We got to smear mud on ourselves an lay around on the docks. It was so much fun!

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