Top 5 Hot Springs Experiences in the West

Seek out these natural hot springs for an unforgettably soothing and scenic soak in the outdoors

Sarah Barthelow

A Flight to Remember

Hot Spot: Hot Springs Cove, Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada The Draw: Accessible only by sea or sky (plus a mile hike in), Hot Springs Cove (pictured above) invites visitors to soak in one of the naturally forming hot tide pools fed by a boiling river and watch as the water cools as it mixes with the rising tide of the Clayoquot Sound. Getting There: Charter a sea plane out of Tofino for a scenic 15-minute flight north. Alternatively, bring your own boat or hop on a Zodiak tour to spot spouting whales and curious shorebirds along the way. Where to Stay: Black Rock Oceanfront Resort, Ucuelet, B.C. Have breakfast overlooking the Pacific crashing below onto the resort’s namesake volcanic rock formations. Additional Activities: Hang ten on a surfboard on some of the West Coast’s most coveted breaks. For the more cautious, venture out in the winter months for some serious storm-watching.

And Then There Was One

Hot Spot: Jackson, Wyoming The Draw: Rife with geothermal activity, northwestern Wyoming boasts many hot spots and bubbling waters, the most famous of which is Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring (you know, the one with all the pretty rainbow colors). In the past few years, rangers of the forest service and national parks have cracked down on where bathers can take a dip, closing first the popular Huckleberry Hotsprings (due to overcrowding) followed by Kelly Warm Spring (on account of brain-eating amoeba…seriously). Luckily, Granite Falls Hot Springs south of Jackson Hole still welcomes guests to an improved pool hovering above the rushing river and flanked by towering conifers. Getting There: Arrive via ski or dog sled in the winter months or drive the dirt road in summer. Where to Stay: Skip the on-site accommodations at Granite Falls and head back through Jackson to the Wildflower Lodge and its charming luxury B&B atmosphere complete with home-cooked breakfast. Additional Activities: Visit the nearby National Elk Refuge for some wildlife spotting.

Deb Casso/Getty Images

Twilight Views

Hot Spot: Olympic National Park, Washington

The Draw: On your next camping trip, opt to soak at family-friendly Sol Duc Hot Springs resort tucked up into the ridges of the Olympic Mountains and watch as the sun sets through the trees in one of the nation’s largest rain forests. For the more adventurous, hike 2.5 miles into Olympic Hot Springs where natural pools are fed by thermal flows from deep in the mountain range’s volcanic underworld.

Getting There: Hop a ferry from Seattle and drive toward the coast.

Where to Stay: Rent a cabin at Sol Duc Hot Springs resort and opt for evening soak after exploring the trails of Olympic National Park. Additional Activities: Visit the recently restored Elwha River, where after 100 years under control of a dam, the waters were once again allowed to flow free in 2011 after the largest dam removal in US. history.

Fire and Ice

Hot Spot: San Juan Mountains, Colorado

The Draw: Southwestern Colorado boasts more than just world-class skiing. A string of hot springs fed by the Rockies’ volcanic history welcomes visitors for an indulgent après ski or just a quiet winter getaway. Stop in at sulfur-free Ouray Hot Springs to swim a few laps in the heated pool or brave the “lobster pot” at nearby Orvis Hot Springs in the town of Montrose (clothing optional) where water temperatures can reach 114 degrees. Then head down the Million Dollar Highway to Durango’s Trimble Hot Springs, where visitors have flocked for centuries to bask in the supposed therapeutic powers of the mineral waters.

Getting There: Drive a scenic mountain highway. Where to Stay: Treat yourself to a luxurious retreat at the exclusive Dunton Hot Springs, where the historic cabins of this remote ghost town and all-inclusive packages offer visitors a visit to remember. Additional Activities: Shred the steep chutes at Telluride Ski Resort or catch a rafting excursion down the San Miguel River.

Thomas J. Story

Steamy Road Trip

Hot Spot: Northern Utah The Draw: Start at the northern end of I-15 and stop off at some of Utah’s best soaking spots. A short (10-minute) walk into Saratoga Hot Springs at the shores of Utah Lake lands you at a natural hot springs pool floating against a panoramic backdrop of the Wasatch Mountains. Despite a state-wide ordinance banning nudity, many prefer to take a dip au naturel. For those looking to make a day of it, head for the trailhead at Fifth Water Hot Springs for a 5-mile trek to a remote (but heavily trafficked) spot, where three tumbling waterfalls help visitors find that “Goldilocks” spot with a perfect temperature.

Getting There: Road trip!

Where to Stay: Pitch your tent at Honeyville’s Crystal Hot Springs and campground and spend the evening tackling the spiral water slide and lounging in optimal temperatures fed by both hot and cold springs.

Additional Activities: Visit one of the many museums geared toward dinosaur lovers as you traverse the state: Try the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City or the Museum of Ancient Life in Thanksgiving Point.