Visiting natural hot springs is awesome. Being able to relax in a natural hot tub after a long day of hiking is a perfect way to soothe sore muscles and remove the stress of regular life. Plus all the minerals in the water are amazing for your skin!
While once hidden gems and known to insiders only, travel sites and social media have made natural hot springs easier to find than ever. With that comes some pros and cons. So to help you get the most out of your visit and leave the hot spring feeling relaxed instead of annoyed, I have put together this guide including what to expect, safety tips, and some packing suggestions. So read on to learn anything you could possibly want to know about visiting natural hot springs!
WHAT TO EXPECT:
- A strong possibility of nudity, especially in the hot springs not run by any establishments (such as Sykes hot springs in Big Sur). So think twice before bringing youngins if you don’t want them to see boobies running wild and free. And exercise that same caution if you are also offended by nudity. If that is your case, then stick with commercialized hot springs (such as Tabacon hot springs in Costa Rica).
- Big crowds. If you have dreams of a personal natural hot tub out in the wilderness, keep on dreaming. Cause that’s not gonna happen. Try adding a handful of strangers into the pool, plus some more standing around waiting their turn to use it. Time to get social!
- Stay hydrated. The heat of the water causes you to sweat more, resulting in a higher than usual loss of the water in your body. Drinking lots of water will help combat the rapid water depletion and will also help keep you cool while in the hot water. Becoming dehydrated can lead to dizziness or make you feel lightheaded, which is no good on slippery surfaces.
- Don’t stay in the water too long. Body heat is released through your skin, which is how your body temperature stays regulated. When submerged in water, the heat remains trapped in your body, causing you to overheat (yes, heat exhaustion can happen in the water too, which you can read about here). In addition, the hot water allows your skin to dilate (which is why it’s so awesome for cleansing your skin of toxins and impurities) resulting in heat escaping from your body too rapidly after exiting the hot spring. Which isn’t a problem in fair temperatures, but is something to keep in mind when using those hot springs in cold weather. The extreme temperature difference can lead to hypothermia.
- Avoid consuming too much alcohol or drugs. The effects they have on your blood pressure and heart activity are multiplied by the hot water temperature. They can cause dizziness and balance problems, which can be dangerous on already slippery surfaces. Drugs and alcohol also mess with your ability to react, so if the water is getting too hot for your body, or you pass out from heat or intoxication, you’ll be less capable of fixing the situation. It can even lead to accidental drowning.
Don’t put your head under water!!! While not terribly common, every year a few Americans die suddenly after being infected by a brain-eating amoeba. These microscopic amoebas can be found in any body of fresh water that is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter (they can’t survive in salt water), such as lakes, slow moving rivers, untreated swimming pools, and hot springs. While most common in Florida and Texas, they can live in any warm climates around the globe. The only way this brain-eating amoeba can enter your body is through the nose, which is why keeping your head above water will keep you safe.
It usually takes 2-15 days for symptoms to begin after being infected by the amoeba. Death occurs within a week from symptom onset. Symptoms feel similar to having a regular cold or flu, such as headaches, fever, a stiff neck, and vomiting, eventually growing more serious such as seizures or comas. There is no cure. The amoeba just eats away your brain until you die.
The odds of contracting the amoeba are fairly low, but I say it isn’t worth the gamble. For more info on the amoeba, look up Naegleria fowleri.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:
- Natural hot springs are just that: natural. Meaning no filters. For your own peace of mind, don’t think about, stir up, or grab the sediment that has settled on the bottom. It’s like a germaphobe’s worst nightmare.
- To avoid big crowds, go during the week, on the off season, or at weird times of the day (ex. at sunrise, before most campers are awake and before the day trippers arrive).
- If there is a big crowd and a wait to use the hot spring, limit your use to only 20 minutes so others can have a turn.
- Don’t bring glass bottles. No one wants to step or sit on broken glass.
- Underwater sandals with tread. As previously mentioned, wearing some sort of footwear in the hot springs will protect your feet from whatever nastiness has settled on the bottom. Having tread on the shoes comes in handy while traversing rocky or slippery surfaces. I like these pairs by Teva:
- Reusable water bottle. These stainless steel water bottles with attached carabiners by Healthy Human will keep your water cold for up to 24hrs. Gotta stay hydrated!
- Swim shorts. You never know what the surface will be like inside the hot spring, so I like to put a little more distance between my *ahem* business and the gunk lurking beneath the surface. As a CA beach bum, my go-to solution for board shorts is anything by Hurley:
- Reusable plastic bag. Having a plastic bag to stash your wet stuff in is awesome for when you’re finished at the hot spring. It’ll keep your wet and dirty stuff away from your dry stuff. Plastic grocery bags also work great, but they are banned here in CA. Here is a more environmentally friendly option by Bingone:
- Packable towel. It’s nice being able to dry off when you’re done soaking. These microfiber towels by EcoDept are super absorbent and dry quickly. Plus they are lightweight and pack down really small so they don’t take up a ton of room in your bag.
- Small backpack. You’ve gotta use something to carry all that water, dry stuff, and your necessities. Osprey is my forever favorite brand for backpacks, and these three packs are perfect for short adventures!
- Waterproof camera or case for your phone. Taking photos and capturing memories is one of my favorite parts of adventuring. And it’s easier to do with the right gear for the occasion! You don’t want to have to worry about your equipment getting wet…so bring a camera meant for water! Or a waterproof case for your phone.
And there you have it! Everything you could possibly want to know before heading to a natural hot spring. Probably even more than you wanted to know.
Do you have any favorite natural hot springs to visit? Share it in the comments! I always need more ideas of cool places to check out.