The Huckberry Guide to Hot Springs

In no particular order, these are the 17 best hot springs that you're definitely going to want to visit on your next road trip
March 8, 2016Words by Liv Combe

In these dog days of winter, there's only one thing that makes the endless snow better: the thought of a good long soak in a natural hot spring. Just like our Guide to Swimming Holes from this past summer, a hot spring represents everything that's good about winter: good friends, good beer, and beautiful surroundings. 

Which is why we reached to some of our favorite people — ambassadors, correspondents, brands, and colleagues — to get their picks of hot springs across the country. East coast pals, we apologize – as we suspected, turns out most of the geothermal activity is around these left coast parts, but all that means is that it's high time for a winter road trip out west. From Colorado to California, Idaho to New Mexico, we've got all the destinations you're going to want to hit up, with a bonus international round, to boot. (Some of our friends were having such a good time at these hot springs that they only had their iPhone on them to document the experience, which is fine by us. Just #dontblowupthespot.)

As you sink into the guide, take note of the iconography we've assigned to each of nature's hot tubs. Those hiking boots and the snowshoes? Those let you know whether this is a hot spring that you can get to straight from the parking lot, or if it requires a bit more of a haul in. The beer bottle? This lets you know whether or not it's kosher to bring booze along. (Just pack it in, pack it out. And remember that when water is involved, cans are much better.) The butt? Well, don't say we didn't warn you that there'd be a few locals in the buff. And the snowflake is obvious – this hot spring is best enjoyed with snow everywhere around you. 

And on that note, we'll see you out there. [H]

Mark Hansen
Topo Designs

Steamboat Springs is a Colorado mountain town that, for me, conjures up images of Billy the Kid riding a horse to the ski lift, skis attached to his saddle. It’s the full western ski town experience. And Strawberry Hot Springs fits right in. Just a few miles outside of town, it’s fairly accessible year-round, and has a great mix of natural and man-made pools of varying temperatures, all fed from a hot spring. It’s surrounded by trees and the build out is fairly minimal, so it doesn’t cloud the “in nature” experience. Sitting in the springs in the winter as the snow falls is not to be missed. Note: attire is family-friendly during the day, but at night the suits come off and people get a bit more au naturel.

The best way to experience Strawberry Hot Springs is to stay on location, which means you have access to the springs all night long instead of having to leave at 10:30 pm. They have a few interesting spots to stay — cabins, teepees, and my personal favorite, an old train car caboose. Reserving one of these spots is an amusing experience in the digital age — you can download a form, but you still need to mail it in along with a check and your proposed dates for staying. It’s first come, first served and you don’t know if you have your reservations until the check is cashed. I say it only adds to the charm.

How to get there: Follow directions on the website — they have a handy hand drawn map.

Logan Stoneman
Huckberry Customer Experience Associate

My best friend from college invited me on a weekend journey to this hot spring, back in the day, and I couldn’t say no. The only way to get to the Conundrum Hot Springs is by hiking 8.5 miles and climbing an elevation of 2,500 feet, so you’ll have more than earned your soak when you get there. The hike through the Rockies is challenging but awe-inspiring, with massive, open meadows and abundant wildlife. There are 16 campsites around that surround the hot springs, perched at the top of a saddle in the Rockies. The sites usually fill up, so get there early on the weekend to snag a spot closer to the warm hot springs. The vibe is 100 percent Colorado.

How to get there: From Aspen, drive turn right onto Castle Creek Road. Drive five miles up the road, turn right onto Conundrum Road, and continue 1.1 miles until you reach a parking lot at the trailhead. Park, and hike the 8.5 miles one way along the Conundrum Creek Trail until you reach the hot springs.

Will Watters 
Co-Founder, Western Rise

It’s extremely easy to get to the Orvis Hot Springs; like most southern Colorado springs, it’s set up as a resort. We’d passed by Orvis a couple times leaving Telluride and heading to the Ouray Ice Park, and finally decided to check it out just recently.

There are probably a few funky naked old people there, but overall Orvis has a pretty relaxed, funky small town Colorado vibe. There are seven different natural lithium hot spring pools with ranging temperatures, with the hottest being the “lobster pot.” Enter if you dare.

How to get there: From Ridgway, the Orvis Hot Springs are located 1.5 miles south, just off of highway 550. Take a right on County Road #3 and continue until you see the main facility, massage yurts (!), and the steam rising from the hot springs.

Jeremy Collins
Meridian Line

The best time of year to hit the Penny Hot Springs is any time that you are overworked, tired, or just whining. Although it has a long history of closure, commercialism, and re-opening, these days hitting up the hot spring is a pretty simple experience: just hop in and enjoy the soak.

How to get there: From Carbondale, drive south on CO-133 S. After 12 miles, the hot springs will be on your left.

Amanda Ciesielczyk
Co-Founder, BoldBrew Creative

After hearing about the Piedra River Hot Springs by word of mouth, it quickly became my favorite because it’s an easy hike to get in, it’s not touristy, and it’s truly a local’s paradise. Located right on a rushing, chilly river in the secluded Colorado Rockies, these hot springs range from 100 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes them an excellent destination for a short winter hike and lazy afternoon with some friends and a few cold beers.

How to get there: From Pagosa Springs, Colorado, head southwest and turn right onto US-160 W/San Juan Street. Drive for 20 miles and take a right onto Usfs 622. Drive for 7.3 miles, and park. The hot springs are a short hike away on the marked trail.

Robert Bernthal 
President, Duckworth

The Norris Hot Springs, AKA Water of the Gods, is no secret to Montana locals. I first came here in the late 80s on a snowy January night, which means it was as cold as Montana gets in the winter. I hadn’t visited many hot springs before that and the fact that it was snowing and very cold outside and we were in 100 degree water was completely insane to me. Snow piled up on our heads.

These days, Norris is a mainstream place where you'll find families and tourists on weekends when they place live folk and bluegrass music. But if you catch it mid-week and in the off-hours by yourself or with friends, it’s a throwback gem to 1970s and draws a very mellow crowd. [Editor’s note: And if you decide to play Designated Driver to five of your paying friends, you’ll get a free soak pass for your next visit, and a free plate of nachos. We won’t say no to that.]

How to get there: From Bozeman, follow MT-84 W/Norris Road for about 28 miles. The hot springs will be on the left.

Kylie Turley
Writer, Photographer, Huckberry Ambassador

I grew up in Idaho and come from a long line of Idahoans who have been soaking in cool spots for years. This is one of my favorite spots because it’s so secluded. Here, you’ll find classic Idaho mountain vibes: pines and evergreens all around, with the jagged Sawtooth mountain peaks in the distance. Elkhorn Hot Springs, AKA Boat Box, is located right on the gorgeous Salmon River, which makes it a perfect destination after a long day of fishing or hunting.

The nice thing about this tub is that it’s really only big enough for four people. If you pull over on the side of the road and there’s already another car there, you’re better off trying another spring. Since the bowl is so small — it’s maintained and kept clean by locals — you only really soak with people you know. Soaking in the dark is always fun; it's so nice to go at night because you can see the constellations so clearly and the night sky explodes with stars.

How to get there: You can find this hot spring on the Salmon River in the Sawtooth National Forest right off the highway near Stanley.

Michael Van Vliet
Writer and Co-Founder, Fresh Off the Grid

Located along the rocky bank of an creek, these hot springs have fine sandy bottoms with a minimal amount of silt. During the summer months, they are frequented by tourists from all over the country, the rest of the year the springs are dominated by party-hardy college students from University of Montana - which is the reason for the night time closure. However, if you can show up during the middle of the week, or better yet, during Thanksgiving Break or even Christmas Break, you may be able to get them all to yourself. We did, and it was amazing.

We've been to a bunch of hot springs on our road trip - some we are willing to share with the internet and some we are not - but we love this one for its diversity of pools. The first pool is fed by a hot spring waterfall, which is pretty amazing. However, this pool is submerged under the river from late-winter to late-spring. The second pool is shaped like a fountain and is close enough to the river to take a quick cool-down dip. And the third pool is located in a beautifully serene meadow. So there are a lot of options to choose from.

How to get there: From Missoula, head west into Idaho on US-12/Lolo Creek Road for just over 50 miles. The road over Lolo Pass can be treacherous in the winter, so be sure to check road conditions ahead of time. Once you’ve reached the hot springs parking lot, the trail to the springs is fairly short (a little over a mile) and flat. Throw on your hiking boots and head in.

Ros Reaume
Huckberry Merchandise Planner

I came across the Frenchman’s Bend Hot Spring on a ski trip to Sun Valley with friends three years ago, which has now become an annual tradition. This is my favorite hot spring because it not only is nature’s cure for the cold of an Idaho winter wonderland, but the location is extremely remote (it’s inside a state park) and incredibly beautiful. There is nothing better than the striking contrast of freezing cold temperatures while you’re in a steaming hot spring.

How to get there: From Sun Valley, drive 10 miles east on Warm Springs Road. The hot springs will be on your left.

Forrest Mankins
Roadtripper, Explorer, Huckberry Ambassador

Last year, I decided to drive south from Portland and spend some time in southern Oregon with some friends. On our last night camping, we decided that it would be great to check out Crane Hot Springs and rent one of the cabins that are right next to the springs. For a modest price, you get showers on site, as well as a commons area with coffee and WiFi – a bit more civilized than many of the springs around, but it’s an amazingly relaxing way to rest your body after many days out on the road.

Crane Hot Springs isn’t remote in the sense that you have to hike far to get there, but Crane is in the middle of nowhere in the high desert country of Oregon, where the population is sparse. It’s amazing to discover another side of Oregon like this – you always think about the amazing forests, the Gorge, and Mount Hood, but this is another side that’s equally beautiful.

How to get there: Follow driving directions here.

Zach Piña
Huckberry Managing Editor

Hilltop Hot Springs was a happy accident – a quick cursory search of the greater Mammoth Lakes area on Google Maps revealed a number of available options. However, while en route to one of them, I realized our tiny rental car wasn't going to make the trek down the snowy, unplowed road leading to our original destination. And while surveying our surroundings from the main paved road, I noticed a faint plume of steam emerging from an adjacent hillside. Closer inspection revealed a semi-packed parking lot and trail, so we parked on the side of the road and hiked in. As luck (and better research upon returning home) would have it, Hilltop is actually somewhat known for having one of the best tubside views of the surrounding valley between the Eastern Sierras and the state of Nevada.

Not only is it relatively convenient to access from nearby 395 and the town of Mammoth Lakes, it's also a very easy, 5 - 10-minute hike from the parking lot. One particularly neat feature about this tub is that it's been somewhat built out by the locals. Not only is it comfortable for three or four people (expect to wait your turn during peak hours), the water being piped in can be controlled by a valve within reach of the tub itself, letting you cool or warm the tub's overall temperature accordingly.

How to get there: Getting to Hilltop isn't hard – head around a mile or so down Benton Crossing Rd. from 395 (look for the Green Church) and turn left into the small parking lot. Just follow the path to the top of the hill – don't forget to bring your towel, and always (always) leave it better than you found it.

Jonas Goldsmith 
NEMO Equipment

Bridgeport, California is just north of Mammoth, so for trips to the east side of the mountains to ski or climb, the Travertine hot springs are the perfect end to any adventure. These are natural springs, so after just a very short walk from the road, you’re in the perfect mountain setting, sitting in a pool of naturally warm (not scalding) water. To boot, you have an amazing view of the Sawtooth Mountains. It’s the absolute perfect setting.

How to get there: From Bridgeport, California, head east on 395 South toward School Street. Turn left after you’ve gone just under a mile, and continue another 0.2 miles. Take a slight left, drive for another mile. Park your car in one of the spots and walk to the hot springs.

Erin Miller
Huckberry Brand Operations Manager

Sykes Hot Springs is a classic Big Sur destination, but not those for the faint of heart; it requires a ten-mile hike in [hence the snowshoes, although it never snows in Big Sur] no matter the season. Due to moderate temperatures along the central west coast, any time of year is good to make this overnight trip. With an elevation gain of 1,500 feet, this isn’t recommended for people without some backpacking experience.

Once you’ve conquered the grueling climb, you get to the good stuff — the river and the hot springs. The difficulty of getting here make it a little more exclusive, which means that the people you meet in the backcountry are all nature enthusiasts and fairly like-minded — all down to chill, share some beer, and kick it.

Pro tip: once you’ve reached the river, hop on over to the north bank — the south is too much to deal with with a pack on and exhausted legs. Start with a faux ice bath in the river, and then make you way in ascending order up through the three pools, from closest to the river (the coolest) to farthest from the river (the warmest).

How to get there: Driving south along Highway 1, look for a left turn onto Coast Ridge Road soon after you pas Pfeiffer State Beach. Drive 12 miles along the road until you reach the parking lot at the trailhead. Follow the marked trail up to the hot springs.

Julian Bialowas 
Huckberry Ambassador and Designer at Hipcamp

Completely rebuilt in 2010, San Antonio Campground is located right next to the San Antonio River, at 7,600 feet above sea level. The area is full of Ponderosa pines, and you’ll see tons of wildlife around. Anglers, rejoice – the paved walking trail along the river (once you hike in, that is) gives you all kinds of access to the river’s rainbow trout.

How to get there: find out more on Hipcamp.

Chris Brinlee Jr.
Writer, Explorer, and 
Huckberry Ambassador

My buddy Alex Strohl and I were driving to Whitefish, Montana after a shoot in Whistler, BC, taking our time along the way. It was the middle of winter and temperatures were hovering in the teens; I thought that he was crazy for wanting to strip down when there was ice and snow on the ground. But as we made our way down the icy path to the springs, it quickly became apparent that we were in for a treat. The scenery was perfect, the water was warm, and there wasn't another soul — a major perk when you hit up Lussier Hot Springs during the week.

How to get there: take the forest service road to the left after heading 4.5 kilometers south from Canal Flats, British Columbia. Follow this road until you reach these coordinates: 50°07'23.7"N 115°46'36.9”W.

Wylie Robinson
Co-Founder, Rumpl

I found the Termas El Amarillo completely randomly during a six-week trip in Chile’s Carretera Austral. This hot spring is very Chilean — there are no raging parties, people aren’t trying to get to crazy; they’re there to vibe out in the forest and soak. It’s a very local scene; families are there with their kids. Nobody spoke English. It’s my favorite hot spring because it’s the least touristy spot I’ve ever been to, either at home or abroad.

How to get there: Check out the website for instructions. Be sure to brush up on your Spanish first!

Shayd Johnson
Canadian, Helicopter Co-Pilot, Huckberry Ambassador

I found the Pitt River Hot Spring on a helicopter trip. It was one of our stops along the way, and we landed on a bridge nearby to hike in. The water is crystal clear, since it appears to be filtered through a nearby granite wall. You’re surrounded by a beautiful forest with moss hanging on the trees, and your view is the river flowing by you as you sit and relax. It’s very chill. I've only been lucky enough to visit this particular hot spring once, but I will likely be going back soon.

How to get there: from the Pitt Lake boat launch, you can call a water taxi that will take you across to the other side of the lake, where you can mountain bike along the logging road until you hit the first bridge that crosses the Pitt River. Hang your first right after the bridge and follow the river up until you see a rope tied to a tree, use the rope to hike down to the river where you will see the pools.

Liv Combe has never been in a hot spring. She made this guide so she could fix that.
She's the Senior Editor at Huckberry in San Francisco.

Images ©: 1,13; Zach Piña. 2; Kellen Mohr. 3; Mark Hansen. 4; Active Junky. 5; Orvis Hot Springs. 6; Summit Post. 7; Amanda Ciesielczyk. 8; Panoramio. 9; Kylie Turley. 10; Megan McDuffie. 11; Search-RS. 12; Forrest Mankins. 14; YouTube. 15; Carter Krewson.16; Maddy Minnis. 17; Chris Brinlee Jr. 18; Courtesy of Wylie Robinson. 19; Shayd Johnson.

 


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