Many Old West highways passed by hot springs. Dusty travelers relished bathing and relaxing in the warm mineral waters, which were believed to have curative powers. The allure of a good soak still holds. In addition to the well-known hot springs, such as those in Calistoga, California, and Yellowstone National Park, you might be surprised to find some off the beaten path.
Sierra Hot Springs, Sierraville, California
Tucked into the pines above a high alpine valley, a large copper geodesic dome seems a little out of place until you walk inside. Candles, stained glass, skylights, and three pools create an atmosphere of airy relaxation in the Temple Dome. This is just one of several inviting areas at the clothing-optional Sierra Hot Springs, 25 miles north of Truckee near Highway 49.
The Temple Dome includes an interior hot pool and two cooling pools. Outside the dome, there's a swimming pool and sundeck. An outdoor "medicine bath" is designed for quiet contemplation. And private baths are available. The lodge, built in the 1860s, has five private rooms with shared bath and a dormitory. Camping is permitted on the property's 700 acres, which border the Tahoe National Forest. The Globe Hotel, in the town of Sierraville, is also owned by the hot springs. Visitors to the hot springs must purchase a membership at $5 for 30 days or $20 for a year, which does not include use of the facilities (day use ranges from $20-30).
Steamboat Hot Springs, Reno, Nevada
The Paiute war chief Winnemucca reportedly encouraged miners en route to the California gold hills to enjoy these soothing waters. But when news of the silver strike at Comstock reverberated across the nation, the springs became a focal point of the area. Mark Twain even penned "Cure a Cold," a story about the springs, while living in nearby Virginia City.
At today's Steamboat Hot Springs, superheated steam and cool mineral spring water are mixed in an artesian well. The comfortable water (102-104°F) is then pumped into seven private indoor tubs—each room a different color depending on its intended chakra—and one outdoor flow-through tub. Massages, body wraps, and healing stones are available. Reservations are recommended and private mineral baths run $25/hour per person.
Ouray Hot Springs Pool, Ouray, Colorado
Nestled in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado and known as the Switzerland of America, Ouray is home to five hot springs. The most prominent, Ouray Hot Springs Pool, resides in the heart of the postage-stamp town. Opened in 1926, the pool has recently undergone a complete redesign, doubling its capacity to more than 2,000 and resulting in five independently operated pools, four of which (a family-friendly shallow pool, hot pool, lap pool, and activity pool) occupy the original pool's boundaries. There's also the Overlook pool, which is technically two pools separated by an infinity edge waterfall, with stunning views of the nearby San Juan mountains. If the water isn't relaxing enough, the adjoining fitness center maintains massage facilities. The town, a National Historic District, offers many outdoor activities—from hiking and biking during the summer months to skiing at nearby Telluride in the winter. Admission is $18/day for adults, $12/day for those ages 4–17.
Burgdorf Hot Springs, Burgdorf, Idaho
Frequented by gold miners in the 1860s and '70s, rustic Burgdorf Hot Springs is deep in the Payette National Forest, about 45 miles north of McCall. Its 15 cabins are perfect for those who want to rough it: Each has a wood-burning stove but no electricity.
Water enters the sandy-bottomed springs at 112°F and flows into the main pool (5 feet deep) at 100°F. Two smaller pools that keep at around 113°F, and a shallow partitioned-off area for children, are nearby. Although Burgdorf appears on many maps, it has more ghosts than town to it. An unimproved road, open from mid-May to November, provides access to the springs. During winter months, the springs can be reached on cross-country skis or by snowmobile. Admission is $10/day for adults, $5/day for those 12 and under.
Vichy Springs Resort, Ukiah, California
Located in the heart of bucolic Mendocino County, Vichy Springs is best known for its Vichy waters: highly mineralized H2O that is inherently bubbly and similar to France's own legendary Vichy aqua, which is said to have soothed the painful conditions of everything from arthritis to paralysis. In fact, Ukiah's Vichy Springs is the only warm-water, naturally carbonated mineral baths throughout all of North America.
Established in the mid-19th century, the 700-acre private resort is home to a chlorine-free Olympic-size swimming pool, open seasonally; a communal hot pool that runs at 104°F; and fourteen 90°F tubs (10 of them inside, the rest outside) filled with waters emerging from 30,000 feet below the earth's surface. There are also numerous hiking trails, including an hour-long out-and-back route to Chemisal Falls, where a refreshing natural pool makes for the perfect cooling off spot. Rates range from $35/person for two-hours or less, or $75/person for full-day use.