Where to Find Natural Hot Springs in California
California famously sits along the Pacific Ring of Fire, that vast, continents-spanning zone of geological high drama characterized by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The state’s unique geography is also responsible for its outstanding scenery and other awesome natural features, among them naturally occurring, mineral-rich hot springs.
Dotted all over the state from the dense forests of the northern coast to the high Sierras and amid the southern deserts, countless hot springs beckon you to soak in their steaming waters. Such an experience promises to relieve aching muscles and lull you into a sense of thorough relaxation. If you’re ready to add a hot spring sojourn to your adventure bucket list, check out some of the following spots in California.
Seeking Hot Springs in California
Natural hot springs in California and across the world have enticed humans for centuries, but the benefits of soaking in their mineral-rich waters are timeless. These include improving circulation, relieving stress, relaxing muscles, and softening the skin. Native Americans have long considered hot springs as sacred places and use them ceremonially. Wealthy wellness seekers around the turn of the 20th century turned nature’s spas into resorts. The result is a number of historic hot spring properties still open across California. Note that some are better preserved than others.
If you’re seeking the best hot springs in California, do your research because the experience varies greatly by location. Some hot springs sit in the wilderness, whether steps from a remote road or a long hike out from civilization; others have been transformed into luxury resorts in some of the state’s bigger cities and towns. So a hot spring experience could mean camping under the stars or booking a suite at a plush resort that offers a full menu of spa treatments. You’ll also want to know in advance if the hot spring you’re heading to has a clothing-optional policy (many do), what kinds of facilities are available, and whether there’s cell phone service in more remote areas.
Natural Hot Springs in Northern California
At Mount Lassen National Park, one of the premier destinations in California for witnessing geothermal phenomena, you can stay overnight at Drakesbad Guest Ranch and soak in its hydrothermal, spring-fed pool. Due to its high elevation, the ranch is only open and accessible from June to mid-October. Reservations are essential.
Vichy Springs, near Ukiah, about two hours north of San Francisco, boasts naturally carbonated mineral baths similar to those in Vichy, France. Soaking in these bubbling, 90-degree Fahrenheit baths is an unforgettable experience, along with swimming in the Olympic-size pool, and plunging into the 104-degree hot pool. You might also take a short hike to Chemisal Falls for a dip in the cool pool at the base of the cascade. The 700-acre resort is over 160 years old and counts among its former guests Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain.
Another historic resort is Wilbur Hot Springs, a 1,800-acre preserve just east of Clearlake. The century-old hotel offers cabins, hotel rooms, and bunk rooms, all with a rustic ambiance. Day visits are also possible. The hot springs at the site, which have a unique composition of minerals, flow at around 145 degrees. Chemical treatment is unneeded due to their continuous flow. The waters are channeled by a system of flumes into numerous baths, with soaking temperatures ranging from 98 to 109 degrees. Another highlight is the Fountain of Life geyser, which erupts every 45 minutes.
Also in the wine country, the small town of Calistoga is famous for its geyser and mud baths. These unusual spa treatments, offered by several spas and resorts in Calistoga, involve floating weightlessly in a bath of hot spring water mixed with volcanic ash and peat moss. At Dr.Wilkinson’s, the spa that pioneered the treatment in 1946, the mud bath is followed by a dip in a mineral whirlpool bath, a stint in a steam room, and a special blanket wrap. An even older, and more luxurious, local resort is Indian Springs Resort and Spa, which has welcomed guests to its signature red mud bath since 1861. It boasts one of the largest mineral pools in the state.
Hot Springs in the Sierras
Natural hot springs in the Sierra Nevadas represent some of the more remote hot spring destinations, which visitors often combine with a wilderness adventure. Near the Nevada border north of Truckee is Sierra Hot Springs, a 700-acre resort offering pools, and individual soaking tubs at temperatures from 85 to 110 degrees, as well as a dry sauna and sundeck. The hottest pool sits under a stained-glass geodesic dome, and the meditation pool has a sandy bottom. Camping and lodge accommodations are available. Another rustic mountain spot is Travertine Hot Spring in Bridgeport. Scalding-hot spring water flows down travertine rock formations into a series of pools in the midst of an alpine meadow. Bring your own towels and water. Also look into Mono Hot Springs on the edge of the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Benton Hot Springs east of Mammoth Lakes, and Grover Hot Springs State Park just outside Markleevville in the High Sierra.
Natural Hot Springs in Southern California
Did you know there’s a natural hot spring right in the heart of Los Angeles? Beverly Hot Springs, discovered in the 1930s, features a large hot pool and cold plunge pool sourced from naturally carbonated spring water. The spa also offers a sauna, steam bath, and full menu of treatments, including a signature bamboo fusion massage.
Between Los Angeles and Palm Springs is Glen Ivy Hot Springs, known as “Club Mud” for its red clay mud baths. The luxury resort offers 19 pools, among them hot and cold plunge pools, 104-degree mineral baths, and a Roman-inspired bath house.
Possibly the most famous of all California’s hot spring destinations is Desert Hot Springs in the Coachella Valley. Leftover from the resort town’s first surge in popularity are numerous resorts with gorgeously restored, and certainly Instagram-worthy, mid-century modern architecture. And the glory of those natural hot springs remains timeless. From motels to pricey luxury resorts to quaint boutique hotels, virtually every lodging option in Desert Hot Springs offers at least one pool filled with natural mineral water.
Written by Joanne Thomas for Knockaround