By: Malcolm Mayhew
Geothermally heated groundwater circulating deep beneath the earth occasionally makes its way up to form small pools of varying temperatures on the surface. The best of these hot springs are scattered around the world from the Cascate del Mulino in Tuscany and the Pamukkale in southwestern Turkey to the famous Blue Lagoon in Iceland. And while it may seem like a modern-day luxury to bask in the steam of these natural hot springs, pools like these have been attracting people for centuries.
The high mineral content of natural hot springs is known to have countless therapeutic benefits that boost circulation, soothe sore muscles and joints, restore breathing and improve a number of skin conditions, such as psoriasis. Even better — an extended dip in a natural hot spring is one of the best ways to unwind and calm the mind and spirit.
Some might argue that a man-made hot tub swirling with chlorine is just as good, but Mother Nature’s Jacuzzis are chemical-free and offer superior scenery. So whether you come to find relief from pain, detoxify your body or just melt away the stress of daily life, get ready to sit back and enjoy the many benefits of a hot springs soak.
Chena Hot Springs Resort
Popularized in the days of the gold rush when weary prospectors came to ease the pain of rheumatism caused by grueling work and hard living, Chena Hot Springs Resort is still Alaska’s most popular place to unwind. Just 56 miles northeast of Fairbanks, near the Chena River State Recreation Area, this natural lake-sized hot spring is a spacious boulder-rimmed pool hovering around 106 degrees all year. Cool off with a drink at the resort’s ice bar, or stay up late and soak beneath the blaze of the aurora borealis as this resort is positioned beneath one of the world’s most active bands of northern lights.
Travertine Hot Springs
White Mountains Area, California
Leave U.S. Route 395 south of the little-known town of Bridgeport and follow a dirt road to discover a half-dozen easily reachable but surprisingly secluded California hot springs. From its source, scalding hot water cools as it pours down alien-like tufa rock formations to the pools below. The bottom of the springs is a rich gray travertine mud that makes a dip here extraordinarily unique, while an ADA-accessible cement tub near the road offers relaxation to all guests. These rustic springs are not a commercial establishment, though, so save your entrance fee, pack a bottle of wine and enjoy stunning views of the Eastern Sierra.
Dunton Hot Springs Resort
Set amid an alpine valley 8,700 feet up in the wild San Juan Mountains of the Colorado Rockies, this completely restored ghost town just over the hill from Telluride is perhaps one of the most picturesque settings one can imagine for a hot springs resort. Guests here can relish in the resort’s calcium bicarbonate hot springs from inside a restored 19th century bathhouse, beneath the stars in one of the resort’s pools or from right beside the river’s current. Best of all, the entire spread, including hand-hewn log cabins, a saloon and miles of hiking trails, can be rented for corporate getaways and weddings.
Allegheny Springs at Omni Homestead
Hot Springs, Virginia
Not all hot springs reside in the West. In fact, one of the most charming hot springs resorts in the country sits on a 2,000-acre spread within Virginia’s stunning Allegheny Mountains. Here, 23 U.S. presidents — including Thomas Jefferson in 1818 — have come to experience the property’s two major hot springs. The resort’s Gentlemen’s Pool House, built in 1761, is the oldest spa structure in the U.S., and the Spa Garden is a 19th century emerald-colored pool of warm, gently bubbling spring water surrounded by a European-inspired landscape. This family-friendly getaway also offers a 2-acre water park including slides and a lazy river.
Breitenbush Hot Springs
Two hours from Portland is a unique 154-acre hot springs sanctuary surrounded by the mountains of Mount Hood National Forest. This clothing-optional retreat offers three natural stone pools (one of which is designated as the silent pool) for contemplative soaking as well as a cedar cabin steam sauna perched over geothermal water and paired with a plunging tub flowing with cold river water. Guests here can easily disconnect from digital distractions since the resort is beyond a cellphone signal and offers no internet connection. Even electricity is limited to the small amount the resort generates from the Breitenbush River.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Whether you’re in Steamboat Springs to make turns in the legendary champagne powder, cast a fly in the Yampa River or explore the renowned backcountry, a days-end jaunt to the hot springs is absolutely essential. And while downtown offers the larger Old Town Hot Springs, a short drive delivers the weary adventurer to the more peaceful, natural Strawberry Park Hot Springs, snuggled amid a beautiful and secluded mountain setting. Strawberry Park is family-friendly during the day and adults-only at night, and all-night guests can even enjoy a massage before retiring to one of the resort’s rustic cabins.
Riverbend Hot Springs
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
For centuries, the Native American tribes that populated southern New Mexico have considered the mineral-rich hot springs there to be sacred places with therapeutic properties. Today, Riverbend Hot Springs is the only open-air hot springs on the banks of the Rio Grande. In addition to two riverside stone pools and a cascading arrangement of five pools on the river deck, an assortment of clothing-optional private pools offer guests seclusion while overlooking the river and nearby Turtleback Mountain. To maintain a meditative vibe throughout, the resort doesn’t allow guests under 12 years old. Better yet, the pool areas are considered whisper zones, and closing time is always a silent hour.
By: Malcolm Mayhew