Geothermal springs are, literally, hot tub time machines. Formed millions of years ago, these naturally occurring formations bubble out from deep within the earth at temperatures from just a few degrees above air temperature all the way to boiling. They’re related to gushing geysers like Old Faithful, but don’t worry -- these won’t shoot you into the air or burn your face off. Some exist on public land while others are part of private resorts, but either way, getting your soak on is a must for any visitor to the Northwest -- especially if your glutes are blazing after hitting the slopes.
Hot springs are the cure for tired muscles and hike-weary legs, thanks to the water’s high mineral content. For centuries before the naturopathic-crystal-Goop industry took off, these waters have been said to have all sorts of restorative properties. Whether scientific studies would agree, hot spring regulars tout the calcium carbonate, magnesium sodium sulfate, sodium carbonate and sodium chloride content in these “healing waters.” (Scan the label on a package of bougie mineral bath salts and you’ll see the same ingredients.)
Back in the day, getting to the good stuff used to require hiking in to a forest and wandering around until you found the springs. Thankfully, around the turn of the century, people began erecting hotels, tubs, showers, restaurants, and -- praise be -- bars to make the soaking experience more comfortable. The National Centers for Environmental Information counts some 1600-plus natural hot springs throughout the country, but especially concentrated in western states -- which means there are still plenty of hot springs hiding quietly in the middle of forests, but also a whole bunch set up like any other hotel pool.
Whether you’re looking for hot springs that are rustic or resort-like, for bachelorette parties or quiet skinny-dipping, western Montana and Idaho have a pool for you. Some require hiking boots and a map, others just a credit card.