Feel Better Now: The Best U.S. Hot Springs Resorts for a Soothing Soak

Where to go to seek the healing benefits of natural thermal springs in an immersive hotel setting.

Overhead view of Castle Hot Springs mineral pools with one person swimming

Castle Hot Springs in Arizona reopened in 2019 after an extensive restoration; it’s now a luxury, all-inclusive resort.

Courtesy of Castle Hot Springs

As I started to wind my way up the dirt trail in nothing but a swimsuit, white robe, and rubber sandals, I could feel the layers of life’s complexities peeling off behind me with each turn. After a car ride to the airport from my home in Northern California, a flight to Phoenix, an hour-long drive along a partially unpaved road, and now a few more meters by foot, I had at last arrived at my final destination: the natural thermal pools at Castle Hot Springs in Morristown, Arizona, a true oasis among massive saguaros and palm trees in the Sonoran Desert.

Like so many other soakers and bathers throughout the world, I was making an important pilgrimage to find mineral-rich waters, a personal health journey that began long before I climbed into the driver’s seat of my car and aimed it toward the airport.

Sometime during the past year, as I emerged from the pandemic-era, survival-mode blur, I began to regain awareness of everyday existence, including of my tangible self—my body. It dawned on me that I had survived the pandemic only to take on a new battle: the inevitability of aging. Middle age, complete with its achy joints and sagging skin, was staring me squarely in the face.

So, I called my Romanian father to ask him about something he’d told me about his aunt and uncle in Romania back in the day.

“Hey, Tata,” I said over the phone. “Didn’t Unchi Bibi and Tanti Valli go to some mineral spring resorts in Romania and swear by the healing benefits?”

“Oh yeah,” he replied. “They were sort of subsidized medical vacations, and it wasn’t just the mineral springs. They would go for two or more weeks and soak and get massages, and they said that it was like a rebirth after, that their joints didn’t hurt anymore, and they felt like new.” He explained that these hot spring resorts existed throughout Europe but that in Communist countries they were affordable for elderly people, who could go for next to nothing.

Fast-forward to December 2023: Inspired by my “spa heritage,” I found myself stepping into Castle Hot Springs’ 106-degree lithium-, magnesium-, and bicarbonate-rich waters in search of a post-pandemic, pre-menopausal 21st-century version of what Unchi Bibi and Tanti Valli experienced. My own rebirth, of sorts.

According to Greta Rybus, who spent the past few years documenting hot springs and soaking cultures around the world for her forthcoming photojournalistic book Hot Springs (Ten Speed Press, March 2024), that rejuvenation is something we are all looking for and need in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“There’s this numbness that happens when you go through a collective trauma,” says Rybus. “People want to feel cared for and alive [after being] in a state of numbness and heartbreak. And temperature is such a basic way to feel alive. When you’re in a hot spring, you can feel your blood pumping. You turn red. And when you step out of the bath, you feel really cold. It’s almost this instinctual way to be like, ‘I’m alive. I’m here.’”

One of the first things I noticed when I gently descended into the hottest bath at Castle Hot Springs (the soaking pools range from 86 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit) was that the bottom was sandy. I wasn’t expecting that softness and the sediment moving between my toes. It almost tickled. It was a reminder that this wasn’t a typical hot tub or swimming pool. Given their more natural settings, hot springs tend to promote a stronger connection to their surroundings and consequently to ourselves. It’s more than just a dip in spring water; it’s a sensory experience, one that forces you to put down your phone, adjust to the temperature, and confront the vivid colors and textures of the environment around you.

In fact, that confrontation is why hot springs are seeing a resurgence in interest, says Marcus Coplin, a naturopathic medical doctor, and medical director for The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and Murrieta Hot Springs Resort in Southern California. “They require a bit of an adventure. You cannot replicate a hot spring source; you must travel to get there. This could mean a car trip to a part of the country you haven’t been to before or a trail hike to a remote part of the wilderness. It evokes the feeling of a quest.”

He adds, “Each source is different. The mineral content, the environment, and the amenities supporting the water vary so much from site to site, which makes hot-spring seeking a fun and unique experience each time you go.”

Natural mineral water can either be cold or hot, the latter due to thermal energy from beneath the earth’s surface. “Water travels through the depths of geological time, dissolving minerals on its way to the surface, and emerges as springs with a chemical composition that can be used to hydrate and heal,” explains the Balneology Association of North America, an organization devoted to the study of therapeutic bathing, on its website. Numerous studies and research have shown that minerals commonly found in natural springs—including calcium, sulfur, sodium, lithium, magnesium, potassium, and iron—can enhance health and healing, including suppressing aches and pains, increasing oxygen levels, improving skin conditions, and aiding in relaxation and stress relief.

There are more than 250 hot springs throughout the United States, according to Hot Springs of America, which catalogs the country’s natural springs. They range from extremely rustic settings with no infrastructure to immersive resort experiences like Castle Hot Springs, with upscale accommodations, gourmet cuisine, world-class spa facilities, and activities.

What I realized after three blissful days at Castle Hot Springs was that the renewal I felt (I’m not sure three days was enough to cure my joints, but I became relaxed and centered and eager to integrate more wellness rituals into my day-to-day) was as much about the journey as the destination. The experience was so magical because of what it took to get there, not just physically but within myself: recognizing my need and the benefit of seeking out a natural therapy that dates back centuries. For those who would like to take to the waters and absorb this age-old remedial technique, these are the best hot springs resorts in the United States, properties where you can both stay and soak.

1. Castle Hot Springs

The highest natural spring pool at Castle Hot Springs in Arizona

Take in the minerals of the natural spring waters at Castle Hot Springs, an oasis in the Sonoran Desert.

Courtesy of Paul Markow/Castle Hot Springs

  • Location: Morristown, Arizona
  • Why we love it: The beauty of the Sonoran Desert combined with the serenity of the springs and the nothing-to-worry-about nature of this all-inclusive spot make for a perfect wellness getaway.
  • Book now

The legacy of Castle Hot Springs, about one hour north of Phoenix in a beautiful, secluded valley of the Sonoran Desert, dates back to the late 19th century, when it was first transformed into a wellness destination where travelers could experience the curative benefits of its healing waters. A fire in 1976 and another in 1996 brought operations to a halt. But Castle Hot Springs found new life in the 21st century when the luxury all-inclusive resort reopened in 2019 following an extensive restoration. Guests can arrive at and depart from the property on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and however long they stay, the nightly rate includes accommodations—which range from sleek brand-new Sky View Cabins and Spring Bungalows with outdoor soaking tubs to the 100-year-old Historic Cottage that can sleep up to 6 people—as well as all meals, gratuities, guided hikes and activities, yoga and meditation classes, in-room snacks and drinks, and access to the waters. There are three hot springs; the highest (and closest to the source) is about 106 degrees Fahrenheit. One tier down is a 96-degree pool, and a bit further along the canyon is the deepest pool, with a temperature of 86 degrees. The spring water also supplies the resort’s central swimming pool. To round out the wellness experience, guests can tack on spa treatments from an extensive massage, facial, and Reiki menu and reserve personal energy alignment and wellness sessions for a chakra tune-up, breathwork, an astrology reading, or an exploration of their elemental constitution. Whether you’re looking for an adrenaline boost with daytime activities like traversing the on-site via ferrata course and taking rigorous e-bike desert rides or for a restorative, restful retreat, Castle Hot Springs is, more than anything else, a place to get off the grid and focus on the mind and body with intention.

2. Chena Hot Springs

The Aurora Ice Museum at Chena Hot Springs in Alaska

Come for the hot springs, stay for the Northern Lights and the Aurora Ice Museum.

Courtesy of Marquise de Photographie/Unsplash

  • Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Why we love it: This eco-friendly Alaska outpost isn’t just ideal for soaking. From fall to spring, guests have a good chance of spotting the northern lights, and the property is home to a year-round ice museum.
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These thermal springs, located 60 miles outside of central Fairbanks, were discovered in 1905 by gold miners; six years later, a bathhouse and 12 small cabins were installed for visitors seeking a warm bath in waters rich in sulfate, chloride, and sodium bicarbonate. Since then, Chena Hot Springs has expanded to include the 40-room Moose Lodge, 32 standard Fox Rooms that can sleep up to four people, eight Bear Family Suites that can sleep up to six, as well as rustic cabins, camping, and yurt accommodations. The property uses geothermal energy for heating and electricity and to keep its on-site Aurora Ice Museum cold year-round. This employee-owned establishment also offers massage services, an on-site restaurant, northern-lights tours, dogsled rides, and horseback riding, among other activities. The main draw, however, is the chance to see the dancing aurora borealis from the beauty and warmth of the hot springs.

3. Dunton Hot Springs

A person soaking in an outdoor mineral pool at Dunton Hot Springs with trees in fall colors in the background

At Dunton Hot Springs, you can relax in outdoor mineral pools while viewing gorgeous mountain landscapes.

Courtesy of Dunton Hot Springs

  • Location: Rico, Colorado
  • Why we love it: The snowy mountains and steaming hot springs set against the backdrop of an abandoned former mining town call to us on numerous levels.
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Located in southwest Colorado’s highly mineralized San Juan Mountains along the Rockies, Dunton Hot Springs is a collection of 15 beautiful, uniquely decorated log cabins from which resort guests can access the property’s 19th-century bathhouse and natural mineral springs. Against the cozy alpine backdrop, guests can indulge in the springs that are rich in iron, manganese, and calcium bicarbonate and that range in temperature from 85 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Guests can go for a dip in the bathhouse, in the two outdoor pools, in the more natural setting at the source of the springs, or—if they book the Well House cabin—in their own private hot spring bath and cold plunge pool. Enhance the wellness aspect of the healing water by scheduling spa treatments such as a neuromuscular integration that focuses on structural alignment, by participating in the complimentary on-site yoga classes, or by signing up for a sound-bath session. All meals are included in the nightly rate and are served in the old saloon at the heart of the property. Regardless of which cabin you choose, you’ll have mountain and meadow views for days.

4. Indian Springs

Overhead view of the main Olympic-sized swimming pool at Indian Springs in Calistoga, California

At Indian Springs, there are four thermal geysers on the actual property that feed the main Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Courtesy of Indian Springs

  • Location: Calistoga, California
  • Why we love it: Wellness meets wine country at this iconic Napa Valley resort fueled by thermal waters.
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A little less than two hours north of San Francisco, Calistoga is the perfect retreat for wine lovers looking for an added dose of relaxation, thanks to the region’s natural thermal baths. And nowhere are those baths more central to the property than at Indian Springs, which boasts four geysers that feed mineral water into both the Olympic-sized main pool (dating to 1913) and the smaller, quieter adults-only pool. The history here is long: The original spa, mud baths, and pool were first established in 1861. The property has changed hands several times since, but the current owners, the Merchant family, purchased it a little more than three decades ago and expanded the 17-acre resort in 2014 by adding 75 guest rooms and the first on-site restaurant, Sam’s Social Club. Today, Indian Springs offers guests five styles of accommodations, ranging from adult-only 250-square-foot lodge rooms to sprawling houses and two-bedroom bungalows that sleep up to six. Indulge in a uniquely Calistoga ritual by opting for a mud bath at the spa—a dip into volcanic-ash-rich mud followed by a mineral water soak.

5. Murrieta Hot Springs Resort

A woman steps into one of the 50 geothermal pools at Murrieta Hot Springs, surrounded by palm trees, stones and paths

A Southern California oasis is being reborn this year when Murrieta Hot Springs reopens after 30 years.

Courtesy of Murrieta Hot Springs

  • Location: Murrieta, California
  • Why we love it: This reborn Southern California oasis with dozens of geothermal pools is a feast for the senses and for spa seekers.
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After being closed to the public for the past 30 years, Murrieta Hot Springs Resort will reopen in February 2024 after a massive overhaul. The property was founded in 1902, and the renovation was focused on preserving and celebrating much of the original architecture across the 46 acres. Guests will have access to 50 mineral-rich alkaline geothermal pools (said to enhance circulation, reduce inflammation, and boost mood) as well as a historic bathhouse, a sauna, steam rooms, and spa facilities that offer massage services, facials, hydrothermal therapies, and hormone-balancing treatments. Overnight guests and day visitors can sign up for classes that include yoga, meditation, and sound baths. An on-site restaurant will feature contemporary California cuisine, and there will also be a wine bar, poolside café, coffee shop, and lounge bar. The resort will feature 174 rooms, ranging from two-story suites to double queen rooms, complete with ambient sound machines to promote better sleep.

6. Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs and Spa Resort

A woman sits at the edge of a mineral pool at Ojo Caliente with a rocky mountain in the background and lounge chairs

For pueblo-style hot springs that blend into the New Mexico surroundings, head to Ojo Caliente.

Courtesy of Ojo Caliente

  • Location: Ojo Caliente, New Mexico
  • Why we love it: After you hit the slopes at the eco-friendly Taos Ski Valley, you can spend some time rejuvenating at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs and Spa Resort one hour west.
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Whether you’re in New Mexico for skiing or for a dose of Southwestern architecture, cuisine, and culture, the pools fed by natural spring water at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs and Spa Resort offer a tonic retreat. Here, at 6,000 feet, the geothermal waters range in temperature from 97 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and there are eight pools to choose from. They include an iron pool, believed to aid the body’s immune system, a mud pool for purifying the skin, and cliffside pools for a dramatic setting. Guests can check into a Pueblo-style suite complete with a private soaking tub, one of the Ojo cottages or homes, a room in the Historic Hotel, or the newly renovated Inn at Ojo, or they can even stay in a vintage trailer. Wherever you choose to rest your head, you’ll have access to the pools, the spa with massage and sound-healing services, complimentary yoga sessions, and the restaurant, with farm-to-table cuisine from the on-site Ojo Farm. Ojo Caliente resort’s roots go back 155 years, when the bathhouse first opened.

7. The Omni Homestead Resort

A lounge area in the newly renovated historic Omni Homestead Resort in Virginia

Indulge in centuries of bathing history at the Omni Homestead Resort in Virginia.

Courtesy of Werner Segarra Photography/Omni Hotels & Resorts

  • Location: Hot Springs, Virginia
  • Why we love it: It doesn’t get more iconic than the site of the first spa and bathhouse in the United States, which opened in 1761 and recently completed a multimillion-dollar restoration.
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The historic Omni Homestead Resort has welcomed 23 presidents over the years, and it’s renowned for its nearby Warm Springs Pools, the oldest spring baths in the country. After a 14-month, $4.6 million rehabilitation, the centuries-old bathhouses reopened in December 2022, and a massive $150 million overhaul of the entire property was completed this past fall. The result is a beautifully restored hotel that now features 483 guest rooms and a luxurious on-site spa with an extensive selection of massages and facials, plus an adults-only Serenity Garden where grown-ups can peacefully savor a geothermal pool fed by two hot springs with magnesium, potassium, and calcium content that remain at a temperature of around 96 to 97 degrees. The entire property spans more than 2,300 acres in the Allegheny Mountains of southwestern Virginia, where it’s easy to get lost amid the tree-lined walking trails. (Guests also can sign up for a historic tour to explore the hotel’s halls full of history and learn more about its long and storied past.) The original Warm Springs Pools, which are owned and have been restored by the Omni Homestead Resort, are about five miles from the resort. They include two structures: The original Gentlemen’s Bathhouse, a stone basin that was built in 1761 and then converted into an indoor bathhouse in the mid-1820s; a second structure, the Ladies’ Bathhouse, was built in the mid-1870s. Reservations are required, and the facilities are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

8. Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort

People bathing in the steaming hot springs at Quinn's Hot Springs Resort with snow in the foreground, and on the property roof and mountains in the background

During winter, spa seekers at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort have the added benefit of thermal bathing with the scenic, snowy views of Paradise Valley, Montana.

Courtesy of Noah Couser Photography/Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort

  • Location: Paradise, Montana
  • Why we love it: Nestled in the Rocky Mountains and situated along a river, Quinn’s offers that idyllic Montana backdrop with the added bonus of geothermal soaking.
  • Book now

Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort was founded in 1885 by Irish immigrant Martin Quinn. After a series of ups and downs over the past 138 years, including the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens that covered the resort with ash, the property is finally enjoying a new era of providing serenity to guests. Quinn’s features five hot springs pools that range from 100 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, a 55-degree cold plunge pool, and two salt-treated pools kept between 90 and 100 degrees. The natural springs contain calcium and fluoride (said to be good for bone health), sodium (which can lower blood pressure), and sulfate (which, while smelly, can rid the body of toxins, help with respiratory issues, and prevent skin inflammation). Many hot springs resorts are geared more toward couples and adults, but Quinn’s is unique in that it’s definitely family-friendly: There are kid-friendly pools, children’s menus, and family-focused accommodations. Overnight guests can stay in one of the two lodges or book one of 25 cabins along the canyon, mountain, or river. The on-site Harwood House Restaurant offers a sit-down breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu, while Quinn’s Tavern is a more casual option. Quinn’s is located about an hour northwest of Missoula, Montana, along the Clark Fork River.

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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