For many of us, the holidays are packed.
December often means traveling, a busy schedule, and keeping up with friends and family. It can be a challenge to take time for yourself.
But self-care is especially important this time of year. Your same old routine might not be enough to truly help you slow down, unwind, and relax your mind.
The best remedy for relaxation? Visit a hot springs you can swim in. What better way to reset than floating in a natural hot tub under a million stars?
Studies have shown that when you regularly immersion bathe — fully submerging your body in heated water — you reap specific physical benefits like calming tense muscles and increased circulation.
The hydrostatic pressure — the increased pressure of mineral-dense water pushing on your body — boosts your blood flow and can reduce inflammation and pain. Plus, hot springs are naturally high in minerals, which is great for detoxing the skin.
The US is full of natural hot springs. If you’re road tripping, make sure to look up where you can find some along your route. Consider looking for hot springs locally, whether you’re staying near home or going somewhere new.
But the best natural hot springs in the US don’t have to be at expensive hot springs resorts and spas.
These 5 hot springs are for people who know cold and snowy conditions are the best time for hot springs. If you’re someone who would rather have a challenging hike between you and a hot spring instead of an expensive entrance fee, this list is for you.
Read on to find our 5 favorite primitive hot springs for a truly “wild” reset this holiday season.
McCredie Hot Springs, Oregon
Restrictions: Leave No Trace, day use only
About an hour west of Eugene, Oregon, are McCredie Hot Springs. Locals love McCredie because it’s so easy to reach, making these springs a (very) worthy side trip, especially in winter.
If you’re anywhere near Eugene this winter, this should be a hot springs vacation spot.
Barely a quarter mile from the road, you’ll find these informal pools nestled along both sides of Salt Creek’s banks. Simply park and walk 10 minutes. The directions really are that easy.
Towering pines surround the muddy banks of Salt Creek’s flowing water. With 2 larger pools and a number of smaller ones, there are plenty of places to lay back, breathe deep, and gaze at the treetops.
These pools are wild and unmaintained. That means clothing is optional, and there are no facilities — so you may want to leave the kids at home. Look for a dry (ish) spot to leave your towel and clothes along the river, and bring a headlamp if you’re staying after dark.
Unfortunately, that also means McCredie has no scheduled trash or serviceable waste pickup. Because McCredie is so close to the road and accessible for most, it gets busy in the warmer months. Carry your trash out with you!
Parking for McCredie Hot Springs is in a Day Use Area. It’s essentially a pull off along the Willamette highway.
Rainbow Hot Springs, Colorado
Facilities: Trash service, no bathroom, camping
Restrictions: Leave No Trace, USFS Rangers regularly visit
Not far from the mountain town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, if you drive east towards the steep and spectacular Wolf Creek Pass, you’ll hit a dirt road turnoff that leads to a trailhead in a large grove of aspen trees — and that trail leads to a truly incredible place.
Because of its location in the San Juans, Rainbow is a snow-packed but well-traveled route all winter long. Make sure to bring a reliable backpack like The Meta that can fit a towel, a jacket — and still have room for a camera.
While it’s a 5-mile hike (10 miles roundtrip) to the pools of Rainbow Hot Springs from this point, you’ll get the best of Colorado. A scenic trail switchbacks several hundred feet down a steep hill to a lush riverbank. There are designated campsites here with trash cans serviced by the USFS in warmer months.
The pools of these natural hot springs are along the edge of the wide, shallow San Juan River. Because river levels fluctuate with the season, there are anywhere from 2 to 6 main pools here.
Visitors regularly re-stack rocks around the springs to capitalize on the flow of the water and the time of year, which changes the number and size of the pools. Rainbow also has 3 smaller, more intimate springs above the river.
While the hike in is relatively easy, and the pools can certainly get busy, they're remote and wild enough that clothing is optional. If you go on a quiet day, watch for elk, grouse, and at least one other group of humans!
Goldbug Hot Springs, Idaho
Facilities: Trash service, Bathroom, limited camping
Restrictions: LNT, USFS Rangers regularly visit, no nudity
While it’s only a 2-mile hike to Goldbug, this steep initial climb makes you work for it. You’ll be ascending 1300+ vertical feet along well-groomed trails to reach the pools near the top of a valley.
The Goldbug trail winds from a trailhead near a busy road through a dense pine forest. As you near the pools, you’re rewarded with impressive views of the Salmon River Mountains.
This Idaho treasure offers over a dozen soaking pools of different sizes. Many of the pools waterfall into each other, creating a slow-cascading stream of steaming water.
Goldbug tends to get a lot of foot traffic in the warm months, and the first part of the hike is on private property. Be especially conscientious of LNT principles.
Due to the remoteness of this area, consider an overnight trip. There are multiple gorgeous, flat sites just before the water. It might be the best way to spend some quiet and private time in the mellow waters.
Jordan Hot Springs, New Mexico
Facilities: None, dispersed camping
Restrictions: Leave No Trace
If you like remote and challenging hikes, this is the hot springs for you. While it might take more work than others on this list to reach the hot water, the payoff is sweet.
Jordan Hot Springs is not necessarily for day-hikers. It’s 7.5 miles one way, or 3-4 hours of hiking. This would be an excellent overnight winter camping trip in the center of the remote and beautiful Gila National Forest.
Jordan is best done in fall or early winter, when you can hike in sandals or shoes that can get wet. The trail crosses the Middle Fork of the Gila River and crossings vary between ankle and thigh-deep.
A beautiful trail winds through a rough and winding canyon, through shrubby desert sage and grassy meadows. Expect to see boars, bears, and coyote.
The pool itself is deep enough to swim and soak in. It’s the perfect temperature if you don’t like scorching hot springs, staying at a cool 94° year-round. There’s a low salt and Sulphur content in Jordan’s water, so it has hardly any smell.
Jordan Hot Spring has no services or facilities because of how remote it is. But don’t let its location turn you off — this New Mexico secret also has the least number of visitors out of the other hot springs on this list.
Fifth Water Hot Springs, Utah
Facilities: Trash service, bathroom, camping
Restrictions: LNT, 4WD to reach Trailhead in winter, no nudity
Utah — known for its deserts, elaborate canyon systems, and Martian landscapes — also hosts the most unique hot springs on this list: Fifth Water Hot Springs. Its unique location should place it at the top of any thermal springs list for the United States.
Only 45 minutes from Provo is an oasis in the sand and brush of a beautiful, small canyon. At a 4.5-mile roundtrip, this is an easy and mostly flat hike and is friendly for just about anyone. A comfortable travel duffle is the perfect size for carrying a towel, warm clothes, water, and snacks.
Located along the bright, milky blue water of Fifth Water Creek, the pools of Fifth Water look like a postcard. It’s even more serene after fresh snow!
There’s 2 pools adjacent to the cascading waterfalls of the creek for a front-row seat. Or, wander higher up the riverbanks to claim a bit of privacy in a number of smaller, more shallow pools.
The contrast of the aquamarine water against the arid greens, reds, and browns of the valley are unforgettable. Plan on about an hour of walking each way to reach the springs on a well-marked trail — just enough time to dry off!
Parking is strict, so don’t take a chance on a $100 ticket for parking on the road. Go early (or stay late!) if you can. The parking lots fill fast because most visitors agree: it’s one of the best primitive hot springs in the US.
Natural Hot Springs Etiquette for Visitors
Hot springs are all about respect: for fellow visitors, yourself, and the water and land itself. Here are some things to consider before you visit any of these hot springs locations this winter:
Local Laws: Make sure to follow local rules, including COVID protocols. Depending on the hot springs, you may need to get reservations, hiking permits, or camping permits.
Dogs: If you’re bringing your dog, make sure the hike is friendly for Fido. Plan to keep them leashed at all times and pick up and carry their waste. Or, just leave them at home to really relax.
Noise: While hot springs can be busy, fun, chaotic places, they can also be peaceful, calming, and rejuvenating. Be aware of how much noise is too much noise. Other visitors may not want to listen to music on full blast, or deal with a rowdy group.
Nudity: Many backcountry hot springs tend to be clothing optional. By virtue, hot springs are an open and accepting place, for all identities and body types. Don’t engage in objectifying behaviors. Be respectful, welcoming, and kind. In other words…don’t make it weird.
Leave No Trace principles: LNT principles are what keep hot springs safe and accessible. These are things like properly disposing of trash and waste, leave what you find, like not trampling nearby plant life, and planning ahead and preparing for your visit.
Just like you, no one wants to visit a cloudy hot springs covered in trash and waste. Anything you arrive with, you’ll have to carry out. Plan ahead for where and how you will go to the bathroom — the soaking pools are not the place.
What To Bring to a Natural Hot Springs
A trip to the nearest hot springs is its own unique experience, and you’ll need a few essential things to stay comfortable. Here are some suggestions:
Towel: The water is hot, the air will likely be cold, and a good towel is your first defense against the temperature difference. Choose a thick, effective towel that can make that transition from swimsuit (or nothing) to clothes easier.
Headlamp: If you’re staying late and have to walk back to your tent or your car, a bit of light will be crucial.
Clothes: Dress for the weather after you get out of the pool. A swimsuit and very warm, wicking, comfortable clothes to change into afterwards is the best way to bookend your hot springs soak.
Pack your warmest hoodie just because, or if it’s snowy and cold, put on the warmest leggings, jacket, and boots you have. Whatever makes the walk back to your camp or car the easiest!
Camping gear: Camping in winter is very different than camping in summer. Double-check that list so you can stay warm and dry in the cold weather between soaks.
Water: Between hiking to the pools, and spending time in the hot water, it’s easy to get dehydrated on a hike. Don’t forget to pack a water bottle!
Your AP Bag: Stash your beanie, a pair of flip flops, your phone, towel, and anything else you need for to stay organized.
Natural Hot Springs Are Calling This Winter
Some years, the best holiday gift is relaxation and rejuvenation. What better way to melt your cares away than making the journey to a quality hot springs?
Not only is the water and experience a crucial way to reset at the end of the year, but getting there can be half the fun.
No matter what adventure you’re headed on to next — whether it’s chasing waterfalls in Utah or wandering the lush riverbeds of Oregon — you need to be able to carry all your gear without a fuss.
That’s why we make our bags the way we do. With sustainable and durable materials. Not to mention easy access and functionality. Because we know having the best bag for your adventures is crucial.
Ian Krammer is a Denver-based mountain climber, copywriter, and dog-lover. When not writing, he can be found climbing Colorado’s tallest mountains and looking for the best cheeseburger in the Rockies. To get in touch or follow his adventures, follow him on Instagram @coloradorambler