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I’ve gone on many a wayward search for the perfect hot spring. Some can be tough to find, but after driving down unmarked, barely passable roads for miles, I almost always discover what I came for: a natural hot tub, surrounded by river rocks, without a soul in sight. Here’s a cheat sheet to seven hot springs that won’t disappoint.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Midwinter, you’ll need four-wheel drive to reach Strawberry Park Hot Springs, outside Steamboat Springs. The access road is more manageable in the summer and local shuttles, are available year-round if you don’t have a suitable rig. Come after a day of mountain biking, hiking, or skiing in Steamboat, and soak in a picturesque collection of 104-degree mineral baths. You can pitch a tent on the property or rent a cabin, train caboose, or covered wagon to sleep in.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
Mammoth Lakes, California
The eastern side of the Sierra Nevada is packed with places to soak, though some are trickier to locate than others. Just south of the town of Mammoth Lakes, off Benton Crossing Road (look for the green church), you’ll find a vast, intricate maze of pools, a perfect end to a day spent rock climbing or tagging 13,000-foot summits. Wild Willy’s is one of the easier ones to find. It’s not a resort—just a free-for-all set of creek-fed pools, ranging from about 95 to 105 degrees, with striking views of the Sierra range.
Ainsworth Hot Springs
Kaslo, British Columbia
Once used by local First Nations tribes for healing and religious ceremonies, Ainsworth Hot Springs is a prime destination after a day heli-skiing, hiking, or windsurfing in the Kootenays. Visitors can swim through an extra-hot cave or lounge in a warm mineral-water swimming pool, with views of Kootenay Lake and the surrounding peaks. The on-site hotel was renovated in 2012, and guests get free access to the springs.
Ten Thousand Waves
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Located in the hills above Santa Fe, Ten Thousand Waves is less hot spring and more high-end Japanese-style spa. Alongside your shiatsu massage or Japanese facial, you can soak in private or communal tubs, modeled after Japan’s onsens, and recharge in a cold plunge or sauna. Come after a hike or mountain-bike ride on the extensive trail network near the Santa Fe Ski Basin, or book a Zen room to make a weekend out of it.
Hot Springs Cove
Tofino, British Columbia
You’ll need to charter a boat or seaplane to reach Hot Springs Cove, located about 27 miles north of Tofino, but it’s worth the effort. After a morning surfing Tofino’s Long Beach, book a boat with Bobby Kimoto Charters and the staff might even pick up a load of shrimp for you on the way back. Once you’re there, walk along a cedar boardwalk through an old-growth forest until you reach the salt- and fresh-water pools nestled between rocks and cascading waterfalls.
Sierra Hot Springs
Sierra Hot Springs is a no-frills resort that offers things like yoga retreats and new-moon drum circles. You can skip all that and come just for the indoor and outdoor thermal pools, plus cold plunges and saunas. Camp or stay in a bunk or room in the main lodge, or better yet, day-trip after skiing or climbing in Tahoe—an hour south—or from the mountain-bike mecca of Downieville, an hour west.
Chena Hot Springs
Located 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, at the end of a desolate road, Chena Hot Springs’ geothermal pools have attracted visitors for years. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the northern lights while you’re there. Stay on-site in the Moose Lodge, where electricity and heat are powered by geothermal energy, and you can request an Aurora wake-up call should the Aurora Borealis makes an appearance in the middle of the night. Depending on the season, there’s hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and dog mushing on site.