A relaxing soak in a natural hot spring is seriously hard to beat!
I mean, c’mon, what beats finishing a hike, taking a dip in their warm therapeutic waters, and then retiring to your campsite for a night of campfire laughs and stargazing?
Today, I’m going to break down how to find and (safely and responsibly) enjoy the best natural hot springs in the United States for the complete beginner.
Here’s our ultimate guide to natural hot springs!
What Is a Natural Hot Spring?
Although there’s no universally accepted definition, most consider a hot spring a naturally occurring geothermal pool that’s hotter than 98°F.
Any water temperature under this is generally considered a warm spring. Of course, not all hot springs are safe for human bathing – many are far too hot for people (or otherwise unsafe) to enter.
Those that are safe for bathing can be divided into two main types: developed and undeveloped.
A developed hot spring is one that’s been built up with a commercial purpose. Expect to see manmade hot tubs or pools, changing rooms, and possibly a full-blown resort. A fee is required to soak in these springs.
An undeveloped hot spring, on the other hand, has few if any manmade improvements. The water is usually collected in a natural catchment, although this is sometimes improved by creating primitive rock rings, especially near rivers.
Although both types of natural hot springs are enjoyable and worth a visit, our focus is on undeveloped hot springs in this guide.
Where to Find Natural Hot Springs
Natural hot springs are easier to find today than ever before.
Most popular hot springs – and many under-the-radar ones as well – can be found with a simple Google search. In fact, many can even be found on Google Maps with accurate driving directions.
If you have a preference, make sure to differentiate between developed and undeveloped hot springs during your search.
Know that hot springs are most abundant in the Western United States,
For example, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming all have a wide variety of fantastic natural hot springs that are excellent for bathing.
That said, many other states throughout the country also have hot springs. As just one example, Texas has quite a few of these geothermal pools. Perhaps, the most popular in the state is Boquillas Hot Springs in Big Bend National Park.
This interactive map of thermal springs in the United States from the American Geosciences Institute is another useful tool, although not all of the listed springs are suitable (or safe!) for bathing.
Why Visit a Natural Hot Springs?
A soak in a natural hot spring has a host of benefits:
- Relaxation – The warm healing waters act as a fantastic natural stress reliever to rejuvenate your body and mind.
- Soak Muscles & Joints – Hot water is soothing on aching muscles and joints. That’s why I love soaking in a hot spring after a hike!
- Socialization – Whether you visit with friends or pick up conversation with another bather, the most popular hot springs can act as hubs for socialization (or head out early in the morning on a weekday for complete privacy).
- Outside in Nature – Just being outside in nature benefits your overall mental and physical wellbeing. I like to think of hot springs soaking as a form of forest bathing!
- Potential Therapeutic Benefits – The minerals found in many natural hot springs have been linked to a host of potential therapeutic benefits, including detoxification of toxins within the body.
Out of all the natural hot springs benefits, my favorite is the thrill of finding them. Whether located just off the road or deep in the backcountry, coming upon these natural oases for the first time is an adventure all in itself.
Natural Hot Springs Etiquette and Safety
Natural hot springs have inherent risks. It’s essential you’re familiar with these before soaking in them.
It’s likewise important to familiarize yourself with hot springs etiquette before your trip. Not only will this ensure both your own enjoyment and the enjoyment of other bathers, but it’s also necessary to keep these natural soaking pools open for years to come.
- Temperature – Always check the temperature of a backcountry hot spring before entering it. Temperatures can fluctuate wildly, especially on springs that commonly mix with cold river water.
- Water Quality – Understand that water quality is rarely monitored at backcountry hot springs. Therefore, you should understand that human and animal feces, animal remains, trash from other bathers, natural pathogens, and other contaminants can affect water quality. Never drink hot springs water.
- Sharp Objects – Rocks, broken bottles, and other sharp objects can rest obscured at the bottoms of pools. Always wear sandals or at least check the bottom of each pool before entering.
- Drowning – Never dismiss the risk of drowning, even in very shallow pools. Anytime water is involved, it’s essential to stay extra vigilant. Always soak with a partner and avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
- Stay Hydrated – Hot water can quickly dehydrate you to dangerous levels so make sure to stay hydrated and take frequent breaks during your hot springs outing.
- Leave No Trace – Always follow the Leave No Trace Principles whenever visiting a natural area, including an undeveloped hot spring, to limit your impact.
- Follow Rules – Make sure to follow any posted rules or regulations, although these are somewhat uncommon at wild hot springs.
- Respect Others – Treat other users with respect. Know that some people are there to socialize while others want to enjoy the natural peace and quiet. Don’t crowd into an occupied pool. Ask before entering or wait your turn if space is limited.
- Clothing Optional – Nude bathing is popular at backcountry hot springs. But, unless you're there alone, it's wise to ask other bathers what they're comfortable with (especially if they're wearing swimsuits).
Like any other outdoor adventure, remember to let someone know where and when you're going before your next hot springs soak.
Take an Adventure Nap at a Natural Hot Springs!
Set up your hammock at a hot springs for the ultimate adventure nap!
The Mock ONE is always a great choice for hammock hanging but is ideal for chilling at hot springs thanks to its built-in stand.
Check back often as we plan to add guides to the best hot springs in each state as well as individual natural hot springs reviews!