By Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Some are strictly for looking at and others are for soaking it up. Proceed with caution. Since natural hot springs can bubble up from beneath the earth’s surface above the boiling point, most of the unregulated ones—including Yellowstone National Park—are extremely dangerous. However, America has gorgeous destination spots where thermal waters are safe (ideally 98 to 106 degrees) and naturally loaded with beneficial minerals such as sulphate, calcium, magnesium, sodium, and bicarbonate.
Chena Hot Springs
56.5 Chena Hot Springs Road
Fairbanks, AK 99711
Let them know you’d like an “aurora wake up call” should the Northern Lights make their appearance while you sleep. Nowhere else in America can you experience the vibrant colors of Aurora Borealis dancing across a vast northern sky as you soak in a natural geothermal rock pool.
It’s worth the effort to travel 56 miles northeast of Fairbanks where prime time viewing is August through May. Discovered in 1905, water in the outdoor natural hot springs lake that’s abundant in sulfate, chloride, and bicarbonate of sodium, has an average 106 degrees year-round. Day guests can visit the hot springs and pools—as well as the Ice Museum—without a reservation.
Calistoga Mineral Pools
Calistoga Visitor Center
1133 Washington St.
Calistoga, CA 94515
It’s got even more going for it than the lush grapes hanging heavy on Napa Valley vines to make world class wines. This international destination sensation is doubly blessed with gifts from Mother Nature. And in Calistoga, you can both observe a geyser and enjoy a treatment. In the center of town, Old Faithful Geyser displays regular eruptions, about every 15 to 30 minutes, of up to 80-foot-high sprays lasting up to 10 minutes.
Take the waters in any of a dozen locations offering indoor and outdoor thermal spas, pools, volcanic ash mud baths, and classic bath houses. Drive 75 miles north of San Francisco to visit a day spa or stay overnight. Spread over 17 lovely acres, Indian Springs Resort and Spa is one of California’s landmark properties. Four thermal geysers supply the steam rooms, Olympic-sized pool, and secluded adult pool open until midnight under Napa Valley starry nights. A historic Mission Revival building houses the mud baths that have a unique mix of thermal water and 100 percent pure volcanic ash.
The Springs Resort & Spa
165 Hot Springs Blvd.
Pagosa Springs, CO 81147
Colorado is positively bubbling with hot springs, perfect after a day of hiking or skiing amid Rocky Mountain splendor. Thirty minutes from Wolf Creek Ski Area, along the banks of the San Juan River in Pagosa Springs, steaming waterfalls tumble down rocks in the scenic background. They hold the Guinness World Record for the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring, measuring 1,000 feet deep.
The Springs Resort Bath House has daily passes available to the general public to enjoy 23 terraced hot mineral pools, a cool water swimming pool, warm waterfall pool, a Jacuzzi and a family-friendly Blue Lagoon pool fed directly by the mother spring. Overnight visitors can check in at the resort for 24-hour access to the outdoor soaking pools. Visit the website to see current pool temperatures displayed beside a property map.
Breitenbush Hot Springs
Breitenbush Road SE
Detroit, OR 97342
You’ll be welcomed to the retreat and conference Center by a Shinto Torii Gate. Escape to a community in the heart of Oregon’s Willamette National Forest where a 154-acre wildlife sanctuary is as peaceful as a place can be. This also means no cell phone or internet connectivity. Hunker down in a cozy cabin for a major healthful dose of natural beauty; wellness workshops; organic and vegetarian meals; dance and yoga; meditation; the healing arts.
In the meadow surrounded by mountain views, three rock-lined natural pools are fed by hot springs; four spiral tubs vary in temperature from very warm to very hot; a deep cedar tub is bracingly cold for a quick plunge. It’s rather remote for a short visit, but if you’re just passing by, day use is available.
Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park, AR 71901
www.nps.govTake a self-guided tour and go ahead…drink the water, say the park rangers. The hot springs flow from the western slope of Hot Springs Mountain, part of Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountain range noted for its quartz crystal deposits. Congress under President Thomas Jefferson was so impressed that they set aside this parcel of land in 1832, well before the National Park Service was created.
The tiny park includes parts of downtown where Bathhouse Row is a National Historic Landmark District. At America’s only historic collection of row bath houses, Quapaw Baths & Spa operates an indoor steam cave and natural thermal mineral water pool built in the early 1920s over a natural thermal spring right in center city.