Nothing beats a warm soak outside on a crisp day. You’ll have to ramble down dirt roads, hike into canyons, and cross suspension bridges to get to these hidden hot springs. But the effort will make the “ahhh” even sweeter when you finally slip into a steamy bath set in the middle of thick forest or beneath the glittery Milky Way. Here are 10 of our favorite hot springs in the U.S. and Canada.
Chena Hot Springs, Near Fairbanks, Alaska
In the middle of Alaska, 60 miles from any big-city light pollution, the Chena Hot Springs sit beneath one of the world’s most active bands of northern lights. Stay up late and simmer in a 106-degree boulder-rimmed pool at Chena Hot Springs Resort as you watch for the aurora borealis to streak the clear, dark sky. Your best chances happen between September and March. You don’t have to stay at the resort to soak in its pool, but overnight guests can request an aurora wake-up call when the night staff sees the lights. Day-trippers from Fairbanks often follow up a soak with a drink at the on-site Aurora Ice Museum’s ice bar or with outdoor adventures in the adjacent Chena River State Recreation Area.
Getting There: The resort’s hot springs and surrounding campground are 56 miles from Fairbanks. They’re located at the end of the paved Hot Springs Road, which tracks the Chena River and passes through the forested state recreation area.
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Travertine Hot Springs, Bridgeport, California
Even though these springs are located just a short detour off of the main highway, they still feel secluded and serene. From your seat in one of several pools, you can look out over a vast, arid landscape with the Eastern Sierras in the distance. At the bottom of Travertine’s natural pools is muddy sediment that feels soothing underfoot, especially after a long day of hiking. Rangers and campers from nearby parks frequent the hot springs, which are also a hangout for hippies and locals who occasionally enjoy bathing in the buff. The springs are located on parkland, and camping is permitted along the dirt road.
Getting There: Travertine Hot Springs is about two hours south of Reno. Take Route 395 south of Bridgeport for half a mile, then turn left at Jack Sawyer Road and follow the dirt road for about one mile.
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Goldmyer Hot Springs, Near North Bend, Washington
For hot springs soakers who want assurances that their natural hot pot won’t be overrun with crowds or littered with empties, Goldmyer is the place. These wilderness springs in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle are owned by a nonprofit organization that limits visitation to only 20 people each day. There are rules: No dogs, no alcohol, and no smoking. Reservations are required and need to be made at least two weeks in advance. You also will need a Northwest Forest Pass to access the trailhead. But the restrictions, enforced by live-in caretakers, help keep the peace in this wilderness area of ancient forest, with trees that are more than 900 years old. It’s a 4.5-mile hike (about two to three hours), mountain bike ride (about one to two hours), or snowshoe trek to the springs, which emerge from inside an old horizontal mine shaft and cascade into several pools. Overnight camping is only an additional $5.
Getting There: From Seattle, the springs are about a two-hour drive east. Take I-90 to exit 34 and then head north to Middle Fork Road, a gravel drive that continues for about 15 miles to the Dingford Creek Trailhead. Goldmyer Hot Springs advises using the directions on the website and not a GPS. Check the website for up-to-date directions and information on visiting these hidden hot springs.
Editor’s note: Be sure to check conditions for the access road to the hot springs, especially in winter. While the springs may be open, access to them may not be.
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Strawberry Park Hot Springs, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
For weary Steamboat Springs skiers and hikers, the Strawberry Park Hot Springs in the Routt National Forest are healing for body and soul, just as they were for the Ute Indians centuries ago. In the early morning light when the sun edges over the mountain ridge, bathers are treated to a billowy vapor that Native Americans claim contains their creator’s essence. An encounter is said to rejuvenate the soul, which is one of the reasons this spot is a favorite of Debbie Frazier, author of Colorado’s Hot Springs guide. Deer and foxes often visit the springs, leaving behind prints in the surrounding sand. After dark, children are not allowed. Stay on site in one of the rustic cabins or in a renovated train caboose, or camp out at the tent site.
Getting There: From Steamboat Springs, follow County Road 36 north for about seven miles until it turns into a dirt road. From November through May, you’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle or tires with chains. Shuttles run from Steamboat Springs.
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Hot Springs Cove, Near Tofino, British Columbia
Accessible only by boat or seaplane, Hot Springs Cove is a magical pocket of warmth tucked along a remote uninhabited stretch of Canada’s west coast. A half-hour hike from the Maquinna Marine Provincial Park dock takes you to the Hot Springs Cove pools via a boardwalk trail that cuts through an old-growth rainforest of curiously twisted cedars. The hot springs flow over a waterfall big enough to stand beneath. Then the steamy water spills into a rocky crease of narrow pools, each one progressively cooler the closer it is to the ocean. The space is cozy, and fellow soakers tend to be free-spirited types drawn to the surf-town vibe of nearby Tofino.
Getting There: From Tofino on Vancouver Island’s west coast, it’s a 90-minute boat ride or 20-minute seaplane flight to the dock at the provincial park. En route, local boat charters including The Whale Centre point out isolated First Nations communities as well as gray whales, sea otters, sea lions, and bald eagles.
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Jordan Hot Springs, Near Silver City, New Mexico
It’s a six-mile trek to get to this 94-degree backcountry pool near the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, but getting there is part of the experience. You’ll descend into a slot canyon, make as many as 15 river crossings in mid-calf to waist-high water, and see stunning multicolored cliffs and spires where the valley widens. Then you’ll finally reach the hot springs, which measure about 20 feet across and are fed by a warm cascading waterfall. “The lengthy approach makes the plunge even sweeter,” says Steve Silberberg, a backpacking guide with Fitpacking.com. A canopy of trees around the pool casts shady relief from the Southwestern sun. The entrance fee to the park is $10 and backcountry campsites are nearby.
Getting There: It’s only 44 miles from Silver City to the Gila visitor center, but the steep, winding mountain terrain on State Highway 15 takes two hours to drive. The hot springs are a six-mile hike from the visitor center via Little Bear Canyon trail.
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Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, Elk City, Idaho
Sixty-five miles southwest of Missoula, Montana, these hot springs are hidden on the remote eastern slope of the Bitterroot Mountains in Clearwater National Forest. But they’re no secret to tequila-toting University of Montana revelers and others who’ve given forest rangers good reason to post “clothing optional” warning signs. Cross a suspension bridge and follow a one-mile trail along Warm Springs Creek to reach Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, named after a prospector who built a cabin here in the 1800s. Fed by a waterfall, the hot creek-side pools encircled in smooth rocks are all at slightly different temperatures. If they’re crowded, continue up the trail for more soaking spots where there’s a better chance of encountering moose or elk. The Jerry Johnson Forest Service Campground is nearby.
Getting There: From Missoula, travel west on U.S. Route 12 over the scenic Lolo Pass and into Idaho. Near mile marker 151 is a parking lot and trail that leads from the suspension bridge over Lochsa River to the springs. The hike is an easy one to one-and-a-half mile route. If you’re visiting in the winter, make sure to check road conditions and consider bringing snowshoes.
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Granite Hot Springs, Near Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Just south of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, the Granite Hot Springs pool sits at the base of a cliff in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, part of a wilderness area that spans more than a million acres. After exiting the highway, it’s a long and scenic drive on a bumpy 12-mile dirt road—just long enough for the anticipation to build. The waterfall-fed hot springs pool, a couple of hundred yards from the parking lot, is ideal for families. There’s a deck around it and a rustic changing room nearby, both built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The large natural pool is open from May through October and from mid-December through early April. In winter months, it’s accessible only via snowmobile, dogsled, skis, or snowshoes. Local companies offer tours, and there’s a small admission fee. The Granite Creek Campground is one mile away.
Getting There: The pool is about a 45-minute drive south of Jackson off of Highway 189/191, which follows the Hoback River through Hoback Canyon.
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Ainsworth Hot Springs, Near Nelson, British Columbia
Cross the border into the Canadian Rockies for the unique experience of floating in hot springs that circulate through a horseshoe-shaped cave. The 108-degree mineral waters swirl waist-deep to create a natural steam bath in caverns filled with stalactites. Legend has it that indigenous people discovered the hot springs when visiting the area in late summer to pick huckleberries. Today, much of the landscape remains unchanged, with the glittering Kootenay Lake set against mountain peaks capped with snow year-round. A day pass at Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort gives you access to the cave as well as the resort’s warm mineral pool and chilly glacier-fed pool.
Getting There: Drive about three hours north of Spokane, Washington, to Nelson, British Columbia. From there, follow the west bank of Kootenay Lake for another 45 minutes to Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort.
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McCredie Hot Springs, Near Eugene, Oregon
At McCredie Hot Springs, a little string of hot pools lines the edge of Salt Creek, where you can sit and enjoy a warm soak with the sound of a river rushing by. Here, in the middle of the Willamette National Forest, bathers shift rocks to create just the right mix of warm and cool water in the pools, which can range from 98 to 114 degrees (temperatures can be dangerously hot, so proceed with caution when enjoying the hot springs). In winter, this area, at an elevation of 2,000 feet, is often blanketed in snow, so you can have a roll in the white stuff and then watch it melt off your skin in the hot springs. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon after hitting the slopes in Willamette Pass or snowshoeing at Salt Creek Falls, one of Oregon’s highest waterfalls.
Getting There: From Eugene, follow Highway 58 east for 46 miles. McCredie is between mileposts 46 and 47, just east of Oakridge and near Blue Pool Campground in Willamette National Forest. The springs are about 200 yards from the roadside parking lot. Note that the campgrounds are closed in the winter and operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.
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What to Pack
Women’s Swimsuit for Hot Springs
More from SmarterTravel:
- National Parks That Are Better in Winter
- 10 Unforgettable Places to Sleep in National Parks
- 12 Gorgeous Photos of America’s National Parks
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.