Looking to hot springs hop, perhaps with some spa services on the side? Visit a bona fide hot springs town, like Steamboat Springs, Colo., Hot Springs, Mont., Or head to Wyoming’s Hot Springs County, where ample amounts of mineral-rich water has led many resorts to crop up in a relatively close radius. The city of Desert Hot Springs, in California’s Coachella Valley, is another worthy destination, with plentiful soaking options ranging from retro to plant-filled oases.
But sometimes, there’s no beating the simple pleasure of soaking in hot water in a rustic, natural environment, where the amenities are few and swimsuits are usually optional. Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport, Calif., The site of my blissful post-camping soak, is a prime example of a more rustic kind of hot spring; Goldmyer Hot Springs near Washington’s Cascade Mountains limit entry to 20 people per day and require a four-and-a-half mile hike to access the springs. While there are few “secrets” in the internet age, rustic springs that require some effort to access often come with seclusion, and the opportunity to be surrounded by nature while you soak.
When visiting any hot spring, particularly those with limited services, take extra care to leave no trace – overuse, littering and poor maintenance can lead to closures.
In the East
Hot springs offerings in the Eastern US are decidedly less numerous than in the West. But what Eastern hot springs lack in quantity, they make up for in stature. At Saratoga Springs, NY, home of the Saratoga Spa State Park, you can find the Roosevelt Baths & Spa in the Gideon Putnam hotel. Preserved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 as part of a New Deal initiative, the waters have been a major draw to the area throughout the 20th century (and now can be paired with massage services, body treatments and more).
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Roosevelt was far from the first president to seek the healing benefits of hot springs. Thomas Jefferson allegedly spent 22 days at the Gentlemen’s Pool House in Hot Springs, Va., Which is now a part of the Omni Homestead Resort. The original pool house, built in 1791, is reportedly the oldest spa structure in the US, and is being rehabilitated with a planned reopening later this year.
George Washington did not need any such frills when he’d seek out a soak in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., which he first visited as a 16-year-old assistant to a land surveyor. Berkeley Springs State Park has recreated “Washington’s Bathtub” (and hosts an annual celebration in its honor every March), alongside more modern bathing offerings at the park’s Roman and Main bathhouses. President Andrew Jackson passed legislation to protect the area that is now Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Ark., In 1832 (technically predating Yellowstone by 40 years). While there are no longer any opportunities to bathe outdoors, there are places to drink and touch the water and two locations for soaking on the park’s historic Bathhouse Row.