How-To’s of Hot Springs

Soaking in a natural hot spring is magical.  It’s not just the temperature of the water, but it’s also the miracle of how the water is naturally heated by magma or hot rocks far beneath the earth’s surface that creates a truly visceral experience.

If you are new to soaking in hot springs, you might be a little unsure about the whole experience of heading out into the wilderness to soak with complete strangers…strangers who might or might not be nude. Sounds a bit awkward, right? It can be if you aren’t prepared for it. You might also be wondering if hot springs are family friendly? Not to worry! We’ve got you covered with a few tips how to soak in the springs safely and responsibly.

Etiquette can vary slightly from spring to spring, but the following tips are generally accepted:

  • Dress code: Which suit should you wear, your swim suit or birthday suit?  Either!  We’ve seen both.  If you plan to visit a hot spring, plan to be comfortable with nudity.  You don’t have to join in if you don’t want to, but be respectful of those that opt to go without. Gawking or staring isn’t polite. Also, we recommend nixing your camera if people are soaking in the nude.  Regardless of clothing, respect the privacy of anyone soaking if you opt to take a picture.
  • Respect the vibe: People visit hot springs for different reasons.  Some to hang out and chat, and others to take in the peace and solitude.  Take a moment to get a sense of what the tone is if you arrive and others are there.  Speaking of vibe, this doesn’t mean music.  If you love music while you soak, consider purchasing some waterproof ear buds and keep the peace.
  • Sharing is caring: Let’s be honest, it’s pretty unlikely that you are going to be alone at a hot spring.  If you aren’t the first person at the pool, it’s polite to offer some sort of greeting to those already soaking. If the pool is small, it’s nice to ask if you might join or patiently wait your turn.  Speaking of turns, don’t hog the good spot in the tub too long.
  • Don’t dunk your head: Springs have been known to (rarely) have some pretty gnarly things in them, namely the brain-eating amoeba called naegleria fowleri.  This nasty critter enters the body through the nose, so keep your head above the water.
  • No glass: It’s important to stay hydrated, but pack your beverages in a plastic or stainless container with a lid so it doesn’t spill into the springs or break.  Broken glass is a major bummer for everyone.
  • No shoes:  Taking off shoes and rinsing your feet helps minimize carrying dirt into the water.  Many springs have a bucket to help with rinsing before entering.
Note the rinse bucket for washing feet at this hot spring
  • There should be only one P in SPRINGS: It should go without saying, but don’t pee in the pools.  See the leave no trace section below for tips how to manage human waste around the springs.
  • Bring a friend:  As they say, happiness is the only thing that multiples when it’s shared, right?  Soaking is an epic experience, so it’s fun to have someone there to share it with.  Plus, sometimes hot springs attract some unsavory types and it helps to have someone to chat with to steer off unwanted conversation or advances.  We’ve never had any issues during our soaks, but it’s always good to be on the safe side.
  • Kids: This is a tricky topic. In our experience, people have seemed welcoming of children at all of the springs we have visited. The kids we’ve seen in springs were respectful of the vibe and were pretty quiet. At this point with our daughter, we have kept her out of the tubs due to the risk for brain-eating amoeba or other microorganisms that might be lurking in the waters (versus the concern over her disrupting other soakers). Plus kiddos are not as good at regulating their body temperatures and can become dehydrated quickly. When we’ve visited hot springs with her, we either take turns holding her or she rests next to us at the spring. We are sensitive to other soakers and chose to visit at times when she is mellow and quiet. If/when she gets worked up, we will either walk with her to another area or opt to return when she calms down. For additional info about traveling with kids, check out our blog post about it.

Leave No Trace

Many hot springs are situated on either BLM or National Forest lands, and often do not have resources allocated to maintain the springs, restrooms, or trash removal. For these reasons, it’s important that everyone pitches in to keep the space clean so they can remain open for others to enjoy.

  • Be a hot springs steward: Pack it in, pack it out! Bring everything with you that you carried in, plus if you see any trash laying around, pick it up!
  • Human waste: Honor leave no trace principles for human waste.  If there are facilities available, use them.  If not, moving a minimum of 200 feet (70 adult steps) from water and burying human waste 6-8″ deep in an inconspicuous spot where others will not happen upon it is best.
  • Don’t camp too close: Guidelines recommend a minimum of 200 feet from any water source and pick a durable surface that has been used before. If you need pointers how to find campsites, check out our Free Campsite blog post.

We hope you enjoyed learning our tips. If you have any additional suggestions, please leave a comment below!

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