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Camping Near Hot Springs!

September 18, 2007
Filed under Camping Destinations, Southwest Camping, West Camping

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By the grace of geology, the earth has provided its inhabitants with natural hot springs in scattered locations around the world. Naturally, the most prolific hot spots are near geothermal zones, and most in the United States are in the West. A number of hot springs occur east of the Mississippi, but they are, for the most part, highly developed resorts far from the natural water source and often rather expensive – not exactly what we would call “camper friendly.” The springs we’ve included are places where you can blend your camping activities with a relaxing soak!

Mystic Hot Springs, Utah

In ancient times, Ute, Shoshone and Piute Indians sometimes camped on the warm ground near these hot springs. They soaked in the hot water and painted themselves with the red mud. When the first settlers passed through on the Old Spanish Trail, the hot springs became popular as a resting place.

At Mystic the water comes out of the ground at a steaming 168 degrees F. It cools as it travels down a channel and runs into eight personal soaking tubs and two pools. As the hot mineral water purifies your body, the view overlooking the Sevier Valley purifies your mind.

Today the owner of Mystic Hot Springs, Mike Ginsburg, is doing his part to preserve what he can from a bygone era, purchasing unwanted pioneer cabins from the 1860s and bringing them to Mystic. When you’re not soaking your stresses away, the countryside offers plenty of opportunity for outdoor recreation. In the Sevier Valley, you can go river rafting, visit a salt mine, or explore Indian ruins. There are also miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.

A day-visit soaking costs $7.50. A campsite is $15 per night (soaking included). And an RV site with hookups is $30 per night (soaking for two included). Mystic Hot Springs: 435/527-3286; /mystichotsprings.com/.

Agua Caliente Hot Springs, California

In 1775, the Spanish explorer Juan de Anza was the first European to visit this area (hence the name Agua Caliente-Spanish for hot water). In later times, pioneers, prospectors and soldiers enjoyed these hot springs. Today, Agua Caliente Hot Springs is a 910-acre San Diego County Park, complete with a picnic area and a large campground with shady trees at some sites.

Located near the south end of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California, this is an ideal destination for winter recreation. At Agua Caliente, there are two hot spring pools. One is a large outdoor pool that is kept at a natural 90 degrees F. The other pool (102 degrees F) is protected inside a glass-walled building and features whirlpool jets.

If it’s solitude you’re looking for, be forewarned that from September to May this is one of San Diego County’s most popular parks. The Anza-Borrego desert is prime four-wheeling country, with numerous canyons for exploration afoot, on ATV, dirt bikes, or off-road SUVs You’ll find ancient pictographs 1.5 miles off the Great Overland Stagecoach Route of 1849. In the springtime, desert wildflowers put on a show.

There are 140 campsites; a combination of tent sites and RV sites with hookups and a dump station. Campground fees are $25 for full hookups, $20 for partial hookups, and $15 for tent sites. Individual campsites may be reserved up to 12 weeks in advance. Agua Caliente Hot Springs: 858/565-3600; /co.san-diego.ca.us/parks/camping/agua_caliente.html/.

Sierra Hot Springs, California

This retreat center, buried deep in the Sierra Nevada, is a perfect place to relax, reflect and get in touch with your natural side – all hot springs pools are clothing optional. When you are done washing away layers of city dust, there are plenty of options for other activities to do. Hiking trails crisscross the 700-acre property, and there’s lots of room for mountain biking in the national forest next door.

There are four soaking pools at Sierra Hot Springs. The Temple Dome Hot Pool is enclosed in a large geodesic dome, featuring stained glass and skylights. Two cold plunges are also inside the dome. Outside the dome, a large sundeck surrounds the Warm Pool. The Meditation Pool, a seasonal pool in a secluded section of the property, is perfect for personal reflection. The Phoenix Baths are seasonal pools inside private rooms, and the warm spring water is drained and refilled between users.

Because Sierra Hot Springs is a non-profit organization, a membership ($5 a month) is required to visit the hot springs, but it can be purchased when you arrive. Both campsites and RV parking (no hookups) are available. Both cost $27.50 per person, but include full use of Sierra Hot Springs facilities, including the pools, showers, guest kitchen and hiking trails. Free high-speed WiFi is available at the spa’s lodge. Because of fire danger, no camp stoves or fires are allowed. A soak in the pools with no overnight stay starts at $15. Sierra Hot Springs: 530/994-3773; /sierrahotsprings.org/.

Summer Lake Hot Springs, Oregon

In the Oregon high desert, at the base of the Winter Ridge Mountains, lies Summer Lake Hot Springs. Fields of waving grass stretch before you, undulating as they meet the sky at the horizon. This isolated location is the perfect place to toss your cares into the wind and soak in the springs’ rejuvenating waters.

Four hot springs are on the Summer Lake property, and the spring filling the main soaking area pumps 25 gallons a minute of 113-degree-F water into the 15×30-foot pool. The pool and bathhouse were constructed in 1927, and are still used today. In the early days of the springhouse, town residents used the pool for bathing, shaving, doing laundry and soaking aching joints. Prior to the discovery of the springs by white settlers in 1843, Native Americans recognized the healing qualities of the springs – they called them Medicine Springs.

Pull-through RV slots with full hookups and tent campsites with fire pits and picnic tables are available. RV prices starts at $25; camping is $10 per person. Spending the night allows you complete access to the bathhouse and pool. A daytime soak with no overnight stay costs $5. Summer Lake Hot Springs: 541/943-3931; /summerlakehotsprings.com/.

Miracle Hot Springs, Idaho

Agriculture has made its mark on the edge of the vast southern Idaho desert. But long before settlers came to this area, hot mineral springs bubbled to the surface. Today, one of those has been developed into Miracle Hot Springs, a small, rustic resort near the mouth of Salmon Falls Creek.

There are 19 private soaking pools and two outdoor swimming pools. All private pools are drained, cleaned and refilled with fresh water between every use. The temperature of the private pools is user adjustable. The larger outdoor pool is kept warm. The other outdoor pool is partially covered and has a temperature of about 105 degrees.

Spend a night, weekend or longer at the RV Park or tent campground situated along Salmon Falls Creek. There are 11 sites with electric and water hookups, plus numerous tent sites, some secluded. The central feature of the park is a large Russian olive tree that has leaned its numerous trunks over, creating a sprawling shade zone. Overnight stay for an RV costs $20, and the tent sites go for $10 per night. Miracle Hot Springs: 208/543-6002; /mhsprings.com/.

Hot Springs Resort and Spa, North Carolina

Deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the tranquil banks of Spring Creek and the French Broad River, you’ll find the Hot Springs Resort and Spa. A 100-acre resort with 12 modern whirlpool-style hot tubs, Hot Springs is the only natural geothermal spring in North Carolina. The tubs are supplied with a continuous flow of 104-degree natural mineral water.

Located across the road from the mineral baths is the Hot Springs campground, with more than 100 tent sites and full RV hookups. Because the Appalachian Trail crosses through the town of Hot Springs, the spa is a favorite stopping place for hikers. The campground, along the banks of the French Broad River, is shrouded with trees offering shade. Campground amenities include picnic tables and fire rings, clean restrooms, and showers. The tent sites start at $20, price depends on location and amenities. RV sites starts at $35. A soak in the springs starts at $12. Hot Springs Resort & Spa: 828/622-7676; /nchotsprings.com/.

Lehman Springs, Oregon

Nestled in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon at 4300 feet, Lehman Hot Springs is surrounded by the 3.9-million acre Wallowa-Whitman and Umatilla National Forests. The springs were discovered by accident in 1871 by two hunters, John Teel and James Lehman. Recognizing the value of the springs, they quickly filed a claim on the land.

Today, hot mineral water flows from 57 separate springs. Each spring ranges in temperature from 145 to 157 degrees and together they produce a total of 185 gallons per minute. There are three developed pools. The first is very hot (110 to 116 degrees F). The second, a soaking pool, is between 102 and 104 degrees. The largest pool is maintained between 85 to 95 degrees, depending on the time of year. The pools operate on a continual flow-through basis, so no chemicals are used.

Both RV slots ($20 a night) and campsites ($12 a night) are available. The RV spaces include water and electricity, and a dump station is available. The campground is wooded and private, with a few sites along the springs’ drainage creek. Soaking in the hot springs (price not included when camping) costs $7 a day. Activities in the area include hiking, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling and ATV riding. Lehman Springs: 541/427-3015; /lehmanhotsprings.com/.

Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, New Mexico

In the quiet solitude of northern New Mexico’s high desert, you’ll find the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. This resort and spa features 10 pools with a unique combination of soothing minerals. Native Americans have always known about the healing power of these hot springs. Ancestors of today’s Tewa tribe constructed pueblos and terraced gardens that overlooked the springs. This village was called posi or poseuinge, which means “the village at the place of the green bubbling hot springs.”

Ojo Caliente is adjacent to national forest and BLM land, offering a diverse landscape that ranges from lush river valley to stunning desert mesas. There are numerous hiking and biking trails, including an easy hike to the nearby Posi Pueblo ruins. You’ll find the remains of pueblo walls and kivas (rooms used for worship by ancient Native Americans). Abandoned mica mines are accessible by mountain bike. Or, simply stroll along the banks of the Ojo Caliente River and soak in the Southwest sun.

The cost for swimming in the mineral baths varies depending on the time of day and day of the week, but prices start at $12. RV and tent camping under the cottonwoods offers a private, peaceful setting along the Rio Ojo Caliente River. Rates for RVs start at $30, rates for camp sites begin at $12. Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs: 505/583-2233; /ojocalientesprings.com/.

Indian Springs Resort, Colorado

Frank and Jessie James were here. So were Sarah Bernhardt, Walt Whitman, the Vanderbilts, the Roosevelts, John Denver, and Clint Eastwood. In their time, they have all come to Indian Springs. The high altitude (7600 feet), crisp Colorado air and soothing mineral baths do wonders for the soul.

There are four bathing options available. The most unique are the geothermal cave baths, carved out of the solid-rock mountainside with several sunken hot tubs in each cave. The baths are divided by gender, and bathing is in the nude. Other (non-nude) bathing options include outdoor Jacuzzi baths, private indoor baths, and a mineral-water swimming pool. The pool, enclosed under a translucent dome, warms the air enough for tropical plants like palm and banana trees to grow.

Clear Creek County, just 30 minutes west of Denver and where Indian Springs is located, has plenty of other activities to do, too. Raft down Clear Creek. Take a tour of the Argo gold mine and try your hand at panning for gold. Hop aboard and journey back in time on the Colorado Historical Society’s Georgetown Loop Railroad. Drive to the top of Mt. Evans, the highest paved road in North America. And when you’re exhausted from a day of exploring, return to Indian Springs and rejuvenate for another day of adventure.

Prices for using the baths and pool vary, but start at $14. The resort offers 32 campsites for tents or RVs (water and electrical hookups). Campsite prices begin at $24, and include a bathing discount. Indian Springs Resort: 303/989-6666; /indianspringsresort.com/.

Ouray Hot Springs Pool, Colorado

Surrounded on three sides by 13,000-foot peaks, residents of the town of Ouray call it the “Switzerland of America.” The Rockies have never looked more majestic. In 1927, to entice tourists to visit this little mountain town, residents built Ouray’s hot springs pool. It is a huge geothermal-heated pool, measuring 250×150 feet. Temperatures range from 96 to 106 degrees F, and there are designated sections for soaking, swimming laps, diving, sliding into the water, and shallow areas for playing with children.

There’s no question Ouray is a small town (813 people), but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm and scenery. Plus, visitors love Ouray for its wide variety of outdoor activities. If trout fishing is your thing, then this is your hot spot, because the Uncompahgre River runs along the edge of town, and the fish are hungry. Of course, hiking trails shoot out of town in every direction, and off-roading (or “Jeeping” as the locals call it) is hugely popular. Ouray is really in the mountains – even though the famous ski area of Telluride is only 10 miles away, it takes 50 miles to drive there!

The best place for campers to stay in town is the 4J+1+1 RV Park. There are 10 sites for tents and 58 for RVs, many with full hookups. Drinking water, picnic tables, grills, and lavatories with showers are provided. Prices start at $20. Entrance into the hot springs pool costs $10 for adults. 4J+1+1 RV Park: 970/325-4418; /ouraycolorado.com/

Wild Water

We are familiar with the wilderness hot springs near the towns of Mammoth Lakes and Bridgeport, California. These are wild and non-commercial establishments. You should bring your own fresh drinking water and food for the day. For more information on “wild” hot springs, check out the website /swimmingholes.org/. You’ll find loads of hot springs and cold swimming holes all over the U.S. that are on the wilder side of natural.

Hot Creek is south of Mono Lake in the Inyo National Forest, near the town of Mammoth Lakes. Numerous warnings to avoid scalding water are posted near new the hot spring. The hot water mixes with the cold creek water, and by moving about in the creek, you can adjust the temperature of the water flowing over your body. Hot Creek’s hot spot is located about four miles east of Mammoth Lakes along Highway 395. Go left (north) on Hot Creek Hatchery/Airport Road for a couple of miles. Follow the signs. Camping is available at nearby Oh! Ridge Campground along Highway 395.

Travertine Hot Spring is just a few miles outside of Bridgeport, along California Highway 395, and is one of our favorite “natural” hot springs. It’s easy to get to, as far as “wild” hot springs go, and it has an upper and lower pool, but no adjacent camping. It can be crowded on weekends, but this one does have a beautiful view of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Drive Highway 395 south out of Bridgeport. Turn left (east) at Jack Sawyer Road, just before the Ranger Station. Follow Jack Sawyer Road for about a mile.

Buckeye Hot Spring is located in Toiyabe National Forest, just north of Bridgeport and on the edge of Yosemite National Park. The hot mineral water cascades over the top of a cave, and Buckeye features warm pools next to an adjacent cool brook. To get to Buckeye from Bridgeport, go north on Highway 395, turn left (west) and go about seven miles on Twin Lakes Road. Go right (north) on Forest Road 17 for about three miles. A left turn at Forest Road 38 will take you to Buckeye Campground. You drive up a gravel road, past the campground, and at the top is a parking area; hike the short trail down to the hot springs.

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