Editor’s Choice: Favorite Hot Springs for Healing
Schedule some mineral soaks into your next road trip. Shakti Editor Rising McDowell shares her favorite hot springs across the continental U.S., with tips for planning your visit and camping.
By Rising McDowell
‘I sensed a powerful medicinal quality about the water, and it wasn’t just me – one night I could hear others in a nearby tub discussing ailments of theirs that had gone away after soaking here regularly.’
Last fall I took a road trip up the west coast from LA to Portland and back. It was cold, the days growing shorter and my heart in need of comfort and nourishment. I was just coming out of a painful and emotionally turbulent time in my life and this road trip was designed to boost my spirits.
I planned mostly to meet up with friends who could help support me. Casually I threw a few hot springs into my itinerary as a plus. After my first soak at a spring outside of Santa Cruz, I quickly realized that mineral springs could provide as much healing for me as visiting with my loved ones. In a span of 3 weeks on the road, I soaked no less than a dozen times.
The physical benefits of hydrotherapy and mineral water have long been recognized by ancient cultures and modern medical professionals alike, but what about their emotional and spiritual benefits? Over the course of that road trip, I came to develop a deep respect for mineral springs as a source of solace, complete peace and reassurance on a primal level; hot springs are like the womb of the earth, a place for us to be warm, still and safe.
These springs have each offered something very special to me, and it’s my pleasure to share them with you. May they bring healing, vitality and hope. Happy soaking!
Sky Valley in Desert Hot Springs, California
Desert Hot Springs in a wealth of enjoyment in the Coachella Valley of Southern California. The hot mineral water originates from the Desert Hot Springs Aquifer, which is heated by geothermal forces and churns out water as hot as 180F. There are over a dozen resorts and spas in Desert Hot Springs alone where you can soak in the mineral water, and this isn’t even accounting for the greater Palm Springs and Palm Desert areas.
Coachella Valley is ripe with mineral water and it isn’t hard to find an option suited to your preferences. I chose to spend my weekend in Desert Hot Springs at Sky Valley Resort, in part because their tiny homes I found through Airbnb were only $70/night, including unlimited access to 9 soaking tubs, 2 warm mineral swimming pools, a sauna and mineral showers.
I am a hot springs lover and I have sat in many a hot spring. I can easily say that I liked the water here more than any other I have soaked in before. I felt an incredible and meditative sense of peace and wellness sitting in the tub. Maybe it was the silence of the desert. Maybe it was the glittering, starry night sky. Maybe it was the palm trees, the sand, the feeling of a secret gem buried in the desert. Maybe all those things were just the cherries on top.
The real cake really is the water. Homesteader Cabot Yerxa discovered several aquifers in the area in the early 1900’s and the first scientific analysis of the hot springs was performed in 1937. People have been flocking to the area to soak in the award-winning mineral water ever since. The water in the tubs at Sky Valley is completely unchanged from its natural state and varies between 115F and 146F.
I sensed a powerful medicinal quality about the water, and it wasn’t just me – one night I could hear others in a nearby tub discussing ailments of theirs that had gone away after soaking here regularly. Of course, many of these felt and experienced benefits have been backed by plenty of scientific studies on hydrotherapy.
Hot Springs, North Carolina
The town of Hot Springs is a scenic beauty worth a stop in its own right. While the springs are wonderful, perhaps the biggest attraction here is the Appalachian Trail and the massive French Broad River that intersects this sleepy town in Madison County, North Carolina.
You can browse photos of all their tubs online, check availability and make reservations either online or on the phone. The resort also offers group mineral baths for groups of up to 7, deluxe tubs with extended decks and lounge furniture, a variety of massage & spa services, as well as lodging options with their own private mineral baths if you want to stay the night.
Standing on the bridge where US-70 winds into town and becomes Bridge St., you can face south to see the glistening French Broad rushing towards you over a set of equally broad rapids. Hop on the legendary Appalachian Trail that crosses town for a 2-mile hike up to Lover’s Leap Overlook. It leaves right from the bridge and travels alongside the gorgeous French Broad before veering up switchbacks and taking you to 3 different overlooks.
Soaking in the hot springs is the perfect after-hike treat. While there might be some secret natural pools in the area, I opted to rent a tub at Hot Springs Resort and Spa, just a block from the bridge into town. Tubs are $25/hour before 6pm (for 1 person, or $42 for 2-3), and are private, clothing optional, and emptied and cleaned between uses.
Better yet, they are perched on private outdoor decks that overlook the French Broad. The mineral water filling the tubs is unchanged from its natural state, and wavers somewhere around 104F.
Mercey Hot Springs in Firebaugh, California
This remote location is close enough to I-5 and the Bay Area to be reasonably accessible, but far enough off the beaten track to feel like a retreat in the middle of nowhere. Enjoy absolute quiet and wide-open skies here at Mercey Hot Springs.
Mercey offers individual soaking tubs that you can freely fill and re-fill with warm mineral water to your liking. There is also a warm mineral swimming pool, sauna, and clothing optional tub area to enjoy that are open all night. I chose to camp for the night, and it cost $45 for a campsite comfortably nestled in the trees that was a mere 20-second walk to the soaking area.
Quiet and peace and clearly important here, and signs abound requesting soft voices and no amplified music. I arrived after dark and my soaking experience was the perfect serene ending to my day. I was delighted that they offered a common library area for reading and getting online outside of your soaking time. I was even more impressed that the WiFi reached all the way to my campsite.
But don’t get the wrong idea, Mercey is much more rustic than any resort experience. Both the clothed and nude soaking areas were completely dark – no lighting at all. On this moonless night that I visited, I would’ve been screwed without my light. I saw someone using their phone to see, but when it started raining I was glad I had my headlamp with me.
Despite the lone-ranch type feel, or maybe because of it, I really liked my night at Mercey. It felt so low-key, simple and down-to-earth. I appreciated all the hand-carved signs, the interesting mosaic tiles in the bathroom, and the historic western architecture. Do be aware that the water is high in sulfur, and the scent and feel of the water obviously reflect that.
I would absolutely come again, but NOT from the western end of Hwy J1 which had so many hairpin turns that even driving 15 MPH with my brights on, I nearly drove off the road more than enough times. Definitely come from the eastern end of J1, which is an easy 15-minute drive off of I-5.Mercey Hot Springs Trip Advisor Reviews of Mercey
Hot Springs in Ashland, Oregon
Located conveniently off I-5, Ashland is a quintessentially west coast town of about 21,000 known for its annual Shakespeare Festival, lots of trails and walkable gardens, and a Pacific Crest Trail crossing. There are a variety of soaking options in Ashland, two of which I’ll cover here.
The most affordable and community-oriented option here is Jackson Wellsprings, a catch-all center offering soaking facilities, a mineral pool, steam room and sauna, massage and spa services, camping, lodging, a café and community events and workshops. Car camping is only $25/night with all amenities included, including WiFi and a community room for hanging out inside before 10 pm. Daytime use is only $10 for adults and $8 for students.
The water is highest in sodium, chloride, silica and sulfate and it has that unmistakable slippery sulfuric feel, and it feels so good. The convenience of so many services in one place is really hard to beat, and the staff couldn’t be more friendly and welcoming. Plus soaking becomes clothing optional after 8pm or sunset, whichever comes first.
A more luxurious and pricey option is Lithia Springs Resort, just a block down the road from the Wellsprings. Lithia offers a variety of suites and bungalows each equipped with their own private tub and mineral water routed right to the room. Each reservation also comes with a full hot breakfast buffet, scones and tea in the afternoon, internet, and access to a fitness room, saline swimming pool and Jacuzzi.
My stay at Lithia last summer was the definition of luxury. I felt like a queen soaking in my mineral bath right in the living room of this gorgeous, airy and modern guest suite. The Spa Bungalow with large soaking tub was $159/night, but their cheapest room with tub runs about $119 and they also offer a room without a tub but with a mineral shower for $109. I can’t imagine the water is very different from that at the Wellsprings, but the rooms are gorgeous and extra amenities are a real treat.
Stewart Mineral Springs in Weed, California
Stewart Springs is a mountain favorite in northern California offering mineral baths, a wood-burning sauna, on-site access to a rushing mountain river for cold-water plunging, and a variety of massage services and overnight accommodations including camping and private cabins. Nestled in the Mt. Shasta foothills, this property is totally WiFi free and rooms also lack phones and TVs.
Access to the mineral baths here is in private tubs only. Tubs are $35/75 minutes, and are drawn in small private rooms in the bathhouse. While you can access the sauna and cold plunge during your tub time, your 75 min. timeframe to soak will not change. Purchase of a mineral bath includes a full day of access to the other bathhouse amenities.
The water here is incredibly high in silica and it is important to move lightly in the bath to avoid scratching yourself, as the silica shards can irritate the skin. Many regard the water here as healing and sacred, and Steward Springs was even visited by renowned Japanese water researcher Dr. Masaru Emoto.
Tent camping here is $35/night and cabins are $120/night. They also offer “motel” rooms for $90/night and “apartment” rooms at varying price points. Use of the bathhouse sauna, showers, and river access are included in overnight stays, but mineral baths are not included and must be purchased separately.Stewart Mineral Springs
Grover Hot Springs in Markleeville, California
This hot springs, part of Grover Hot Springs State Park about an hour south of Lake Tahoe, is a great pit stop for an eastern California road trip. There is an abundance beautiful wooded campsites available a short drive (about 2 minutes) from the soaking facility for $25/night.
What I like about this spot is how hot the water is and how expansive the area feels. Grover sits roughly between Hawkins and Thornburg Peaks that top out at about 10,000 ft. The hot spring itself is situated in a beautiful alpine meadow at almost 6,000 ft. elevation, surrounded by pine trees and wide-open skies. This spacious valley offers plenty of hiking and biking trails in addition to soaking and camping.
Admission to the hot spring pool is $10 and includes access to a medium-size pool filled with hot mineral water, a large swimming pool of cool water, bathrooms and hot showers. The pools are typically open year-round, but check the website just to be sure. This area can get at least a few feet of snow in the wintertime, so be prepared for such conditions if you plan a winter trip.
I might not trek out to this hot spring just to soak, but I love knowing about it because I travel through California frequently and it’s the perfect way to break up long days of driving. The hikes in the area are really worth checking out too. There are several creeks (Shay, Buck, Hot Springs creeks) that wind through the area and lend themselves to some very nice hiking and picnicking.
Umpqua Hot Springs in Idleyld Park, Oregon
Umpqua is arguably one of the most scenic and stunning hot springs in the nation. Tucked away deep in the Umpqua National Forest and set on a hillside against the North Umpqua River, this hot spring is absolutely worth the trek. The trailhead to the springs is about 1.5 hours drive off the I-5 in Roseburg, and the hike to the springs is only about a 10-minute walk.
You will probably want to stay the night at one of the multiple campgrounds nearby. The ideal soak schedule varies depending on the time of year, but for winter visits when the days are shorter, I recommend arriving the night prior, camping and soaking the next morning. Camping at the Toketee Group Site was $10 for the night. The springs are the least crowded early in the morning, and by afternoon more of the day-trip crowd arrives.
Don’t worry too much about crowds, though. There are 8 pools to choose from, 3 of which are hot and another 3 warm. The river is accessible but only by a steep 80’ rope-assisted climb down to the bank. The freshwater spring to be found across the river is a special bonus for those willing to cross. Clothing is optional and most visitors here choose to forgo it.
While rich mineral water fills the pools year-round, the Forest Service access road is not plowed in the winter and turns the 10-minute walk into a solid 2-mile hike. I haven’t seen the springs during snow season but I am sure the expansive view of the river and the forest from the covered platform amidst the tubs is indescribable at that time of year.Umpqua Hot Springs More On Umpqua National Forest