Is there anything more satisfying than soaking in a natural hot spring after a day of outdoor adventure? Don’t think so.
But not all thermal pools deliver the same experience. That’s why we’ve rounded up a short list of some of the most spectacular riverside hot springs. Fair warning though, some of these scenic soak spots are harder to get to than others, so you may have to bribe one of your paddling friends to take you there.
Head to the River to Find Some of the Best Natural Hot Springs in the West
1) Sunflower Hot Springs
While it’s hard to narrow down the best hot springs on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River—there are six in the first 52 miles—Sunflower Hot Springs is definitely a favorite. Approximately 30 miles into a Middle Fork Salmon River rafting trip, paddlers are rewarded with magnificent 102°F hot springs at river’s edge. Made up of several shallow pools, the real attraction here is the perfect natural shower that cascades over a rocky ledge from 10 feet above. Who says there aren’t showers on a river trip?
2) Ryegrass Hot Springs
Located in Oregon’s Owyhee River Canyon, one of the most remote and wild places in the U.S., Ryegrass Hot Springs can be accessed via a long hiking trail but is mostly known by paddlers who take advantage of the steamy waters during spring when the river is typically accessible to boaters. Nestled in the grasses at the river’s edge, the two rock-lined pools are small, but provide stunning views of the canyon. The water can often be too hot though, so the secret here is to come prepared with a vessel to transfer a bit of cold river water into the springs to create the perfect soak. In high water, these riverside hot springs may wash out.
3) Kirkham Hot Springs
Located along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway just outside of Lowman, Idaho, Kirkham Hot Springs are popular for a reason. This incredibly scenic and easy-to-access soaking spot features warm water that cascades down from a cliff into several geothermal pools of varying temperatures right alongside the South Fork of the Payette River. There’s also a campground here, so while you’ll definitely have to share (and pay a small fee of $5 to park), this thermal paradise is worth checking out.
4) Carson River Hot Springs
The Carson River Hot Springs are a set of primitive soaking pools that can be found along the banks of the East Fork Carson River in California’s Eastern Sierra. These off-the-beaten-path hot springs can be accessed in several ways, including backpacking or a high-clearance 4WD vehicle during summer and fall when river conditions typically allow for crossing. If you have the know-how, however, the easiest way to get to them is a rafting trip from Markleeville. Opt to camp nearby to take advantage of relaxing in the steamy pools under a vast starry night sky, or as the sun rises.
5) Bigelow Hot Spring
About 60 miles from Eugene, Oregon in the Willamette National Forest, Bigelow Hot Spring is a small, natural soaking spot that’s nestled into a small grotto on the side of the McKenzie River. Also known as Deer Creek Hot Spring, this wild, riverside hot spring is best visited during summer and fall when the area isn’t washed out by high water and the water temperatures will typically range between 102°F and 104°F. Fortunately, a quick 200-yard hike from the parking area allows visitors to scope out the situation. If conditions aren’t ideal, there are two developed hot spring pools at Belknap Hot Springs Resort just five miles away that are open year-round and available to the public for $15 per day.
6) Piedra River Hot Springs
For those willing to make a 3-mile round-trip hike, Colorado’s primitive Piedra River Hot Springs are a hidden treasure in the wilderness of the San Juan National Forest. Completely wild in nature, these rejuvenating riverside hot springs are ever-changing as visitors will often rearrange rocks and create new pools to divert the cold river water from the area. You’ll want to visit in summer or early fall when snow isn’t blanketing the access road and making the pools too cold for soaking. And don’t be surprised if you have to share the hot springs with wildlife visitors.
7) Diamond Fork Hot Springs
While technically located on Fifth Water Creek, a tributary of the Diamond Fork River, Utah’s Diamond Fork Hot Springs (a.k.a. Fifth Water Hot Springs), are as picture-perfect as they get. From the Three Forks Trailhead in Diamond Fork Canyon, which is about an hour from Salt Lake City, it’s a relatively easy 2.5-mile hike to the hot springs. Once there, you’re rewarded with a number of gorgeous, blue-hued soaking pools and a series of three waterfalls, the lower of which drops right next to the main soaking pool. Before you go, check with the Forest Service about current conditions, especially if you go in winter when the last stretch of road to the trailhead may be closed.
8) Arizona Hot Springs
Reached by boat or a 6-mile hike, Arizona Hot Springs is an incredibly unique soaking spot along the Colorado River about 4 miles below Hoover Dam. At a primitive camping area just downstream of Ringbolt Rapid look for the mouth of a slot canyon a few hundred yards from the water. As you venture into the canyon following a trickle of warm water, the trail eventually dead ends at a waterfall and a metal ladder that leads to a series of hot pools above. Nestled within the towering canyon walls, the pools get progressively hotter as you head toward the source of the hot spring so take your pick.
9) Barth Hot Spring
Deep in Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, this is remote soaking at its finest. Shortly after splashing through Black Creek Rapid, one of the more gut-turning rapids on a Main Salmon River rafting trip, paddlers can calm their nerves and warm up at Barth Hot Spring. A quick but steep hike takes you to a chest-deep natural tub where hot water trickles up from deep in the ground to create a steamy infinity pool perched high above the river.
10) Remington Hot Springs
Because of their close proximity to Lake Isabella and Hobo Campground in California’s Sequoia National Forest, Remington Hot Springs may be a more popular spot, but the experience doesn’t disappoint. Accessed via a short, but steep trail from a parking area on Kern River Canyon Road, the series of fairly large, man-made stone tubs, which are perched along the Lower Kern River, are soakable year-round and typically range from 95°F to 105°F. Who cares if you have to share, these pools are pretty perfect.
11) Boiling River Hot Springs
For a one-of-a-kind national park experience, Boiling River Hot Springs in Yellowstone near the park’s Mammoth Hot Springs area shouldn’t be missed. From a small parking lot, an easy, .3-mile walk takes you to an area where a hot spring flows directly into the Gardiner River and mixes with the cold river water to make an area that’s comfortable for bathing. Because this soaking spot is within national park boundaries, it’s only open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is often closed during the spring due to dangerous conditions. Even during summer months, the current here can be very strong, so take care.
Please respect the places you find on The Eddy and always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures.
Photos from top: Ryegrass Hot Springs – Jillian Lukiwski; Sunflower Hot Springs – Justin Bailie; Kirkham Hot Springs – Idaho Tourism; Bigelow Hot Spring – Outdoor Project Contributor John Cody; Diamond Fork Hot Springs – Lawepw/Flickr; Barth Hot Spring – James Kaiser; Boiling River Hot Spring – Wesley Fryer/Flickr