Soak Your Winter Blues Away in America's Most Beautiful Natural Hot Springs
You deserve it!
Geothermal springs are, literally, hot tub time machines. For centuries, hot springs bubbling from deep within the earth have been the cure for sore muscles and hike-weary legs. The same ingredients found in Goop-approved mineral bath salts (calcium carbonate, magnesium sodium sulfate) are naturally gracing these heated waters, where temperatures range from lukewarm to steaming hot.
And while you might not be able to soak up the healing benefits in all hot springs (gushing geysers like Old Faithful aren’t exactly inviting), don’t worry—there are 1,600-plus geothermal springs across the country that National Centers for Environmental Information deems are safe for a dip (and, you know, won’t shoot you 50 feet into the air).
From rustic to resort-chic, you’ll find a mix of natural bathing holes and man-made spas that channel the miracle water into temperature-specific pools perfect for a romantic getaway or relaxing retreat. Some are on public land in national parks, others are in hotels, restaurants, and—praise be—bars. Some require hiking boots and a map; others just a credit card. No matter what vibe you’re after, taking a dip in these restorative thermal waters is a surefire way to soak your winter blues away.
Just miles from Yellowstone National Park and an hour’s drive from Bozeman, near the tiny town of Pray, Montana, Chico caters to a more upscale crowd than most hot springs resorts. Expect horseback riding, a spa, and a Wine Spectator-approved, Champagne-focused wine list. Opened in 1900, the resort’s property now encompasses 635 acres with 112 rooms between the historic main lodge and more newly constructed cabins. It still maintains its Montana charm, though, with live music in the saloon at night and 360-degree views of the Absaroka Mountains. Three open-air, concrete-walled pools—a large, generally 98°F pool plus two smaller, hotter pools (about 104°F and 106°F)—are fed by a nearby spring. Day passes are available year-round, but lodging does book well in advance—up to a year in advance for the high season between May and September.
Just when you thought New Mexico couldn’t get any funkier, along comes the dusty desert town of Truth or Consequences, which sounds like an episode of Deadwood, but is actually a mountainous respite awash in mineral springs. In fact, before changing its name to that of a radio game show (seriously), the town was called Hot Springs after its all-natural pools formed from a rift in the Rio Grande some 50 million years ago.
Today, you can melt your stresses away in any number of local bathhouses, but the cream of the crop is Riverbend Hot Springs. The resort’s jacuzzi-like springs sit along the shores of the Rio Grande, offering dreamy views of the iconic river and the surrounding Caballo Mountains. Infused with 38 cleansing minerals that’ll leave you feeling good inside and out, the waters reach up to 115ºF—the kind of too-perfect temperature that’s hard to pry yourself away from. It’s $25 to soak in the common pools, with access to hammocks and fire pits for optimal desert quaintness, but it’s 100% worthwhile to pay a bit more for a private pool. The only consequence in Truth or Consequences is the regret you’ll feel if you don’t take advantage of all the ways to relax.
Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains of western Arkansas, a bucolic landscape nicknamed “Valley of the Vapors” for the steam billowing from its abundant thermal waters, Hot Springs National Park is the Disneyland of natural hot springs. Since the early 20th century, “Spa City” has attracted everyone from gangsters and politicians to professional ballplayers, all of whom flocked to soak in the ornate, Gilded Age bathhouses on Bathhouse Row. Today, only two of said bathhouses, Quapaw and Buckstaff, are actually used for bathing, and feature traditional tubs in lavish facilities that look like something on the Titanic. Quapaw has both private rooms and a massive communal area with numerous pools ranging in temperature from 95ºF to 104ºF, while Buckstaff has been offering private soaks—plus a full range of other spa services—since 1912. Al Capone isn’t usually someone to take advice from, but hell, he had good taste in hot springs.
Also known as Samuel’s Hot Springs, these natural pools sit just two hours outside of Boise in Cascade, inside Payette National Forest. This is about as picturesque as it gets when it comes to wintertime soaks. Concealed by a dense patch of trees and dammed off by giant boulders, the springs butt up against a creek so that visitors can listen to the sounds of a busy stream as they let the steamy, 110-degree water melt away their worries. Although the hike through the forest is relatively quick—it’s just a 0.2-mile jaunt from the parking lot off Warm Lake Road to the pools—the trail is pretty steep and gets slippery come winter, so use caution. (Safety first, total relaxation second!) Bonus: From here, Gold Fork Hot Springs and Vulcan Hot Springs are both within an hour's drive.
With temperatures that range from a brisk 65°F to a steamy 134°F, the various pools at Utah’s Crystal Hot Springs have been a soothing balm for centuries. Long before the town of Honeyville was established, Native American tribes and Chinese railroad workers soaked up some of the most mineral-rich waters on the planet here—a tradition that continues today, but now with the addition of warm water slides and waterfall grottos. Open year-round, the resort boasts three mineral hot tubs, a soaking pool, and an Olympic-size pool, plus an on-site campground with tent and RV sites.
The definitional oasis in the desert, Castle Hot Springs is a beacon of relaxation and luxury in Arizona’s Bradshaw Mountains, about an hour north of Phoenix (as well as from Scottsdale, the “Spa Capital of the US”). In centuries past, local tribes like the Apache and the Yavapai basked in these crystal-clear springs, which, at 120°F, are among the hottest non-volcanic springs in the world. Now home to a lavish resort with perfectly manicured lawns and al fresco tasting menus, the natural pools are picture-perfect in their canyon confines, surrounded by green-tinted rocks and cacti. The springs are only accessible to resort guests, which adds to the overall peace and quiet of the whole experience.
About a half-hour from the Wolf Creek Ski Area, you can soak your sore muscles post-ski in Pagosa Springs at The Springs Resort and Spa, where 23 natural pools sit along the banks of the San Juan River. Named Pagosa, the Ute word for “healing waters,” by the Southern Ute Indian tribe who first discovered these miracle springs, the geothermal waters contain 13 minerals that are dispersed to pools of varying temperatures—some of which reach up to 114 degrees. While Colorado’s mountain towns are more than blessed with hot springs, this one happens to plunge to a staggering thousand feet deep—earning it a Guinness World Record. The real selling factor, though, is that 24-hour access means you can take advantage of the dark sky community and stargaze any time you want.
From the reservation desk, Fairmont looks like any other family-oriented Western hotel, its two-story lobby decked out in impressive taxidermy. But further inside, you’ll find a heated, Olympic-sized indoor pool, an indoor 104°F soaking pool, and a large, warm outdoor pool with a corkscrew water slide ready for your enjoyment. All of the above are naturally fed by pipes from a nearby spring, but the water is lightly chlorinated to boost sanitization. Guests of the 153-room hotel have 24-hour access, but public day passes are also available for less than $20, and anyone can enjoy the property’s restaurant, casual cafe, and bar after they soak.
The Rio Grande is the thermal gift that keeps on giving, as evidenced by these natural springs found in west Texas’s vast, remote, and underrated Big Bend National Park—a setting ideal for an anti-social soak, since you’re far more likely to encounter roadrunners than humans out in the middle of the desert. Located along the north shore of the Rio Grande, about four miles upriver from Boquillas Canyon, the springs sit in the foundation of the long-gone riverside bathhouse originally built by homesteader J.O. Langford. Found at the end of a short path through tall grass, they resemble a rustic, stone-clad hot tub and offer tranquility in an all-natural setting—the “floor” of this 105°F spring is straight-up mud. When the Rio Grande is high enough, you can perch yourself on the edge, dangling one leg in the hot spring and the other in the cool river. Just make sure to rotate so that the calcium carbonate, calcium sulfate, sodium sulfate, sodium chloride, and lithium are equally dispersed to both limbs.
If you’d prefer your hot springs experience sans hiking or getting pine cones in your hair, look for a hot springs resort like Quinn’s. Located in the tiny town of Paradise, Montana, Quinn’s features six outdoor, uncovered concrete pools of varying temperatures, all fed by naturally heated mineral water piped in from a nearby spring. (Hop from the super-hot pool to the cooler pool for the most “refreshing” experience.) Quinn’s has the feel of a casual lodge, with a main building and cabins for rent, as well as a dining room, bar, and sizable gift shop. Note that walk-in swim passes are limited, as guests receive first priority. The crowd is mostly local with some travelers who are treated to an ultra-scenic drive along the Flathead River from points east or the Clark For River from points west.
Matt Kirouac is a travel writer with a passion for national parks, Disney, and food. He's the co-founder and co-host of Hello Ranger, a national parks community blog, podcast, and app. Follow him on IG @matt_kirouac.