There is nothing quite as enjoyable as relaxing in a bubbling hot natural pool surrounded by wild animals and wilderness. We’ve compiled a list of our 7 favorite hot springs in the Western US that shouldn’t be missed!
But first, a little…
Hot Springs Soaking Etiquette:
- If a pool is already occupied, ask to join but be okay with waiting your turn if they want some privacy
- Don’t crowd or run off other soakers
- Many hot springs are “clothing optional” but some aren’t. Check before you go, just in case
- Getting frisky in the hot springs is a super no-no
- Don’t gawk at nudie soakers
- If you have a dog and others are around, keep in mind that others may not be as fond as your dog as you are and keep them leashed and under control
- Keep your alcohol consumption limited both for your safety and to avoid getting loud and obnoxious
Don’t Forget These Hot Springs Staples!
7 Off-the-Grid Hot Springs in the Western US
1. Fifth Water Hot Springs, Utah
Fifth Water Hot Springs is by far the most amazing hot springs that we’ve been to in the entire US. It looks a bit like Kuang Si Waterfall in Laos but with piping hot water and without all the tourists gawking. The enticing, milky blue river is truly a unique sight to behold. It’s a bit of a drive and a bit of a hike but is an absolutely must-see if you find yourself in Utah!
From Salt Lake City take I-15 south for about 32 miles to exit 257 B-A for US 6 E toward Price. Keep left to continue on Exit 257 B and continue on US-6 E for 11 miles. Turn left onto Diamond Fork Road and follow the road until you see a sign that says Three Forks Trail head.
The trail is about 5 miles round trip. There is a sign at the trailhead of a map with a handwritten note on it saying “the trail is unmarked the whole way”. There are several trails off to the right that are well marked but you want the unmarked trail on the left. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see any other hikers along the path (as the parking lot will probably be full of cars) – as soon as you see this beautiful area you won’t want to leave either. You’ll come to a bridge, cross it, and keep on going. After another mile or so you’ll start to see the beautiful, milky blue waters flowing along the trail. Don’t stop there, keep on heading up to the waterfall at the top.
While the main pools at the end of the hike are the most spectacular, you can opt for more privacy anywhere along the river. Keep in mind that the water cools down the further downstream you get. There are lovely waterfalls and swimming holes to explore and virtually no people other than those hiking nearby.
But be sure you don’t miss the the main event! The pools at the top are more crowded, of course, but there are sectioned off private pools and the water is the hottest here. Lock down a pool early but you may need to share. Spend the day soaking in the pools which soaking in the views of the amazing surrounding canyon.
Hours and Rules:
No set hours and no rules other than to “leave no trace”. Keep in mind that you have a 2.5 mile hike ahead of you when you leave the pools so bring a headlamp if you plan on staying after dark.
There is quite a bit of camping in the Diamond Fork area depending on time of year and weather conditions.
No amenities near the pools or the trailhead.
2. Alvord Desert Hot Springs, Oregon
The Alvord Desert is just awesome overall and worth the trip, regardless of the hot springs. It a 12-by-7-mile dry lake bed and only averages 7 inches of rain a year. During the dry season, the surface is flat enough to drive across or land small aircraft on and you can drive for miles without spotting another single soul. It’s also a great place to visit if you are a speed demon – an unofficial women’s world land speed record was set in 1976 as she was clocked at 512 miles/hour.
Located in Southeastern Oregon, 9-ish hours from Portland, the Alvord Desert isn’t really close to anything. Alvord can be reached via the Fields-Denio Road (East Steens Road) from either the north (from Burns) or the south (from Fields). From the north, drive approximately 41 miles south on the dirt Fields-Denio Road from Highway 78. From the south, drive 23 miles north (12 miles paved) to reach the signed Alvord Hot Springs. The nearest town is Fields, Oregon, population 86. Load up on gas when you can because this place is way out there.
The Alvord Hot Springs are operated by a small general store right outside of the desert. For $8/person (at the time although the price seems to be continually rising) you can have a soak in one of the two pools and then a shower in the gravity shower (which is not very large or private but works in a pinch).
The temperature of the first pool is described as “hot” and the second, “scalding”, and indeed, they were. We only saw 3 brave souls attempt the scalding pool and their faces were bright red and they appeared to be in pain. The “hot” pool was quite lovely – the temperature was hot but not unbearable and the views of the surrounding area are outstanding. The pool is fairly deep but there are a random assortment of barrels that act as seats. If you’re lucky you’ll have some entertaining conversations with folks from all over Oregon who venture to the area for bird hunting season.
Hours and Rules:
Clothing is not optional at this hot springs. The pools are accessible 24 hours only if you are camping there. Alcohol is permitted in moderation.
The general store offers campsites across the road which is convenient if you’d like to do some late night hot spring soaking. You can also camp anywhere on the Alvord dry lake bed but there are no bathrooms and you should “leave no trace”.
The general store that operates the hot springs also sells a few basic essentials and firewood. They have the soul bathroom in the area which you will likely appreciate if you are staying for any length of time.
3. Bagby Hotsprings and Austin Hot Springs, Oregon
Bagby is an Oregon hot-spot so while it is an awesome and unique setting, it can also get rather crowded. Austin Hot Springs is right down the road and while it’s popular with the locals from the nearby towns, it’s not the “hot spot destination” that Bagby is. If you’re in the area you should definitely make time for both to get two very different lounging experiences.
Austin Hot Springs and Bagby Hot Springs are in the same general area, about 12 miles from each other, both about 60 miles outside of Portland. You’ll find Austin on the side of Highway 224. Park where you see a bunch of other cars parked on the shoulder of the road and follow the short trail to a spot along the Clackamas River filled with locals.
To get to Bagby, follow Highway 224 to Ripplebrook Guard Station. Then follow Forest Service Road 46 for 4 miles to the junction with Forest Service Road 63. Turn right and follow Road 63 for 4 miles to Forest Service Road 70. Turn right onto Road 70 and follow it for 6 miles to the Bagby Trailhead. You’ll need to purchase a parking permit and then hike 1.5 miles to the site.
Be aware that the surrounding roads are not maintained in the winter.
The Pools at Bagby:
Bagby has 3 bathhouses on the site. The main house has 5 private rooms (but there’s usually a wait), each with a cedar log tub inside. The lower bathhouse 3 log tubs and a large round tub on an open deck. And the upper bathhouse is about 100 yards away from the other 2 and has one large round tub on an open deck. The open decks are public, meaning that anyone can enter the pools and they tend to be overfilled with naked hippies.
Boiling hot water pipes directly into the tubs of the private rooms so you’ll want to fill up a bucket of cold water at the lake nearby to control the temperature. Buckets are available in each room.
The Pools at Austin:
Hot water bubbles up from the river bed and there are a few small pools sectioned off right on the side of river. So if the pool is a bit too hot for your taste you can easily splash some river water into your pool to cool it down. Loads of locals come here to BBQ and drink beer.
It’s not the private, relaxing experience that Bagby can be but you are bound to meet some entertaining drunk locals.
Hours and Rules:
Bagby Hot Springs are open for 24 hour use but alcohol is prohibited at the site. Nudity is allowed on the bath decks, but not in the open areas around the bathhouses. There don’t appear to be any rules at Austin although you’d probably feel a bit uncomfortable sans bathing suit.
Camping is not permitted at Bagby Hot Springs or along the trail to Bagby. There are loads of forest roads in the area for backcountry camping.
There are no amenities at either hot spring but several small towns in the vicinity. Stock up on snacks and water before you go.
4. Hart Mountain Hot Springs, Oregon
The entire area of Hart Mountain is truly amazing and not very well known by Oregonians or anyone for that matter. While you soak in the natural hot pools you are truly in the middle of nature with unobstructed views of the spectacular landscape. Camp in the conveniently located campgrounds, take a drive around the loop road (if you have 4-wheel drive), gaze at the wildlife, and experience all that this fantastic and remote area have to offer!
Hart Mountain Hot Springs is located in Southern Oregon in the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge area, 67.4 miles northeast of Lakeview.
There are 2 hot pools conveniently located in the campground in the Antelope Refuge at Hart Mountain. One is a 7 by 10 feet soaking pool and is very pool-like as it is enclosed in a walled area with benches surrounding the pool. It can probably fit 6 people comfortably.
There is another, more natural pool directly across the parking lot. There are no walls so you have nothing separating you from the beautiful views of the surrounding mountainous landscape. Go early to catch the sun rising over the hills and antelope grazing nearby. And then go again at sunset while enjoying a glass of wine.
Hours and Rules:
No hours, no rules at the pools. The campsite quiet hours are 10:00pm until 6:00am.
There are several campgrounds in the Hart Mountain area but the hot springs campground is the most popular as it is just a short walk from the pools. There are 30 camping sites and you can stay for up to 14 days.
Pit toilets and drinking water available at the campsites. No gas or stores nearby.
5. Three Forks Warm Springs, Oregon
Full disclosure – these are warm pools, not to be confused with hot pools. So if the weather is exceptionally chilly while you are visiting this may not be the relaxing experience you would like it to be. However if the weather is right, first finding, and then hanging out at the Three Forks Warm Springs is an exceptional adventure complimented by breathtaking scenery that you’ll likely have all to yourself.
The Three Forks Warm Springs are located on private land in Southeastern Oregon, about 9 hours from Portland. From Jordan Valley, head west along Highway 95 for 16 miles to a sign for Three Forks and the Soldier Creek Watchable Wildlife Loop. Turn left and drive along a dirt road for more than 27 miles to a junction, where you’ll turn right. After a few miles, you will reach the edge of the Owyhee Canyon rim. From there is a steep 1.3 mile decent into the canyon on a rutted road. If you don’t have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, high clearance, and/or some serious cojones you’ll want to park at the top and walk down. If it is raining or if the forecast calls for any slight chance of rain you shouldn’t risk the drive. It’s really out in the middle of nowhere so you’ll have no cell reception and it’s unlikely you’ll see another soul for days.
Part of the fun of the Three Forks warm pools are actually finding them. Arm yourself with GPS coordinates (N 42.53020 W 117.18389 3965′ elev) and download your map prior to leaving civilization. The warms springs and much of the land heading upriver toward the springs are private land but for the time being the landowner allows hikers to visit. Be respectful so that we can continue to enjoy it.
The route begins on a 3 mile, 4-wheel drive road heading east from the campground. Cross the bridge over the North Fork Owyhee. You can drive this as far as you feel comfortable and then park or you can simply walk from the campground. There are several different routes you can take from here. We ended up following several roads toward our GPS location but on the way back we followed the river.
The warm springs are a small natural pool at the base of a small waterfall with amazing views of the river and the canyon. Bring lots of water and snacks and spend the afternoon soaking and lounging and marveling at the surrounding landscape. If it’s warm enough outside, take a dip in the river on your way back!
Hours and Rules:
No hours, no rules. However since the land is private, be sure to pack out what you pack in and respect the land.
4 primitive campsites with 1 pit toilet.
No water is provided and there are no stores around for miles. Bring plenty of supplies in case it rains while you are there.
6. Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado
While not in quite as natural of a setting as some of the other pools listed here, Hot Sulphur Springs is a spa and resort that offers lodging and massage services in a pristine location. You can stay in one of the quaint hotel rooms, relax in the lodge by the fire, enjoy a relaxing massage, and then have a long soak in one of the 21 mineral pools that range in temperature to suit everyone.
Hot Sulphur Springs is a resort and spa that is located in the small town of Hot Sulphur Springs about 96 miles west of Denver. If there is snow on the roads they can be impassable.
There are seven natural springs flowing above the largest fissure that have been flowing constantly for hundreds of years, surfacing at about 104ºF to 126ºF. Over 200,000 gallons of natural hot mineral-rich water flow through their 21 mineral pools and baths every day at controlled temperatures of 95º to 112ºF.
There are smaller, private pools for 2 (it would probably be awkward if others tried to join), as well as larger, community pools. The price for daily use is $18.50/person or you can get a room and the entrance to the pools is included.
Hours and Rules:
Open year round 8:00 am – 10:00 pm. No nudity or alcohol allowed in the pools.
There are several campsites near the spa and resort but they are not plowed in the winter. The spa offers reasonably priced, cozy rooms that are just a short walk to the hot springs. The spa also has a main lobby area with a fireplace as well as free continental breakfast in the morning.
There are several stores, restaurants, bars, and shops in the town of Hot Sulphur Springs.
7. Penny Hot Springs, Colorado
Similar to Austin Hot Springs in Oregon, Penny Hot Springs is a roadside favorite with the locals. It is right outside of Carbondale which is a darling little town and the hub for a variety of outdoor adventures in the area. Penny Hot Springs is the perfect way to relax at the end of a long day of hiking or skiing.
Located along the Crystal River just past Carbondale, near Aspen; look for cars pulled off on the side of the road and the springs right beneath the parking area.
Boiling hot water seeps up from the ground and a few medium pools have been sectioned off right alongside the flowing river. The water is hot but if the tide is right, cool water from the river flows in to create the perfect temperature. If you get too hot you can hop over the short rocky barrier into the frigid river. The pools can get crowded at the end of the day so prepare to make some room and some new friends.
Hours and Rules:
No hours, no rules.
There are a few campsites in the area but they close in the winter due to heavy snow. There are also several hotels in Carbondale.
There are plenty of stores, restaurants, bars, and shops in the nearby town of Carbondale.
Enjoy! And Don’t Forget to Bring…
- A towel
- A bathing suit
- A headlamp or flashlight
- Flip flops
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