Those who follow my blog regularly know how obsessed I am with natural hot springs. They never cease to amaze me. The fact that toasty warm water seeps up from beneath the ground and provides us with a natural jacuzzi just blows my mind over and over.
In this special series where I’m highlighting my favorite spots in my favorite state, Utah, I’m going to introduce you to some favorite hot springs of mine…some of them are popular and heavily visited, and others are more obscure and remote.
We’re starting in the north of the state, just outside the town of Ogden, Utah, less than an hour north of Salt Lake City. Here you’ll find a hot spring tucked into spectacular Ogden Canyon, where a series of beautiful stone pools sit just above a rushing stream and provide an INCREDIBLY hot soak that’s very popular with folks from the nearby town.
Depending on their state of repair and the level of the creek, there are anywhere from two to eight soaking pools here in Ogden Canyon. The temperatures in the pools are all on the very high end, above 104F. This makes the pools a fabulous place to soak in the fall and winter. But if you happen to visit in the peak of summer, when I did, the icy stream may end up being more comfortable! Ryan and I ended up having to shield ourselves from the blistering sun with the sun shade from my car!
You know you’re a dedicated hot spring soaker when you’re soaking in 104 degree water on a 100 degree day! *chuckle* Most people would think we’re crazy, but I had wanted to soak at Ogden for years, so the summer heat wasn’t going to stop me. It’s important to bring a bucket with you to this hot spring, so you can ladle cold water from the creek into the pools to cool them off. Some of the pools are so hot in summer that you can’t even get into them without bailing in water from the creek.
Luckily, the sun went down below the canyon wall, and at sunset the air cooled off considerably. Of course, this brought the crowds from town, so we no longer had the place to ourselves. Two of the upstream pools were broken at the time of my visit, so everyone was crowding into the hottest pools downstream. But it was still a fabulous soak, and when you get overheated, you can plunge into the icy stream to cool off.
The next spring I’m taking you to is less than an hour’s drive southeast of Salt Lake City. Even though it’s a pretty stiff 2.5 mile hike each way to this spring, it is WILDLY popular with both locals, as well as hiking buffs from nearby Salt Lake. This is Diamond Fork, or Fifth Water hot springs:
Many hot spring enthusiasts consider Diamond Fork to be the best hot spring in the country, if not the planet, and I was VERY eager to visit. My trip was on a rainy autumn day, and even though I broke my personal rule of NEVER visiting a hot spring on a weekend, it was the only time I could go. I was hoping the rain would keep the crowds at bay, but as you can see from the photo, I wasn’t lucky.
The soaking pools at Diamond Fork are strung along a cool stream both below and above a fairly big waterfall. In the summer, the stream is warm enough to swim in, but in fall you gotta stick to the pools. There are many pools of various sizes and temperatures. The ones in the photo to the left are the most coveted and deepest, but there are some shallower ones below the base of the waterfall. If you have trouble finding seclusion, the Kokopelli Pools are a slick and mildly dangerous scramble up above the waterfall:
Unfortunately, with all the rain, the icy creek was overflowing into these pools, making them too cold to soak, so we had to stick to the crowded pools below the main falls, which were lovely with the autumn colors:
There is a cave behind the waterfall that you can carefully climb to…in warm weather, of course! And the creek below the soaking pools is so heavy with dissolved minerals from the hot springs that it runs a pale, milky blue and remains tepid for almost a mile before it joins a larger creek.
Most wilderness hot springs like this are relatively uncrowded and it’s common for most users to soak au-naturel…sans clothing…er…naked. Which is definitely the way I prefer to enjoy nature’s bounty of geothermal water. But Diamond Fork is plagued by several factors that make it unwise to soak nude there…the conservative Mormon influence on law enforcement has caused the local police to drive from the nearest town to the remote parking lot, hike an hour up the canyon into the wilderness, and arrest groups of hikers soaking nude, charge them with public indecency, and force them to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. Which is completely and utterly ridiculous. Luckily, a high court overturned the local court’s decision, and to my knowledge, no one ever arrested at Diamond Fork is still on the sex offender’s list. At any other hot spring in the country that requires an hour-long wilderness hike, you’ll find virtually everyone soaking naturally…but not here. So don’t forget your swimsuit at this one!
I have to admit that after well over a decade of anticipation, Diamond Fork did NOT impress me to the extent that I had hoped. Perhaps when I can hike there midweek in the off season, camp in the canyon above the pools, and have them all to myself in the early morning hours…I’ll change my tune. But there are so many other wonderful wilderness springs that DON’T look like a public swimming pool on a July weekend…so for now, I’ll stick to those!
And one of them is Gandy Warm Springs, in remote western Utah just a stone’s throw from the Nevada border!
Here in the middle of a very parched, arid desert, a river of 82 degree water explodes from the side of rugged mountain riddled with caves. Gandy is a long way from anywhere, and aside from occasional swimmers from the handful of ranches in the area, you’re likely to have it all to yourself. You’re not likely to find yourself anywhere near Gandy unless you’re visiting America’s least-visited mainland national park, Great Basin, which is less than an hour away, and home to the oldest trees in the world, the bristlecone pines. From Great Basin, it’s a half-hour drive on a good dirt road to the turnoff for Gandy, and then half a mile of VERY bad dirt road to the springs.
This is rattlesnake country, so if you decide to pick your way up from the waterfall to the beautiful soaking pool and caves above, be extremely cautious in the tall brush. I saw 2 rattlers on my visit!
The upper soaking pool at Gandy is a real gem, even though it’s a bit chilly for the cool seasons. Locals have cleverly crafted a fire pit next to the pool, for a bonfire on warm summer evenings. Just above the upper pool is a small cave that the stream funnels into:
There are caves all over the place here…up on Gandy Mountain behind the springs are several large caves that are gated. The local ranch can provide tours with enough advance notice. But there’s a cave behind the lower waterfall that can be explored by anyone with a bit of an adventurous spirit.
It doesn’t look like an extensive cave upon first glance, but in the back of this overhang is a narrow passage that requires you to duck underwater for a couple of feet to emerge in the larger passage beyond. (Be EXTREMELY cautious if you decide to explore the cave!) The passage goes back about 50 feet and the water is chest deep with a fairly stiff current, and in places you have to hold onto the walls of the cave to prevent it from sweeping you back toward the entrance! The walls of the cave are beautifully decorated with stalactites due to the constant dripping water. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos in the cave because the steam from the warm water fogged up my camera. You will need a waterproof flashlight to explore the farthest corners of the cave, and make sure you have a friend stationed at the entrance in case you need help.
Here’s a short video of the springs:
Back in civilization, there’s a pretty stellar hot spring less than a mile from I-15 near the village of Meadow. Meadow hot springs is on private land, but the owner has generously made it available to the public, provided you follow his rules: no alcohol or drugs, and no nudity. Scout troops normally conduct cleanups of the area, which is regularly trashed by local partiers. Meadow is one of the more unusual hot springs out there.
A collection of 3 large pools sit in a meadow at the foot of the Wasatch mountains, but unlike most springs, these pools have no outflow. They are just holes in the ground filled with hot water. The level of the water varies significantly throughout the year, as does the temperature, but the pools don’t release any water into a stream. Which is just bizarre.
The main soaking pool is so deep (over 30 feet)…also unusual for hot springs…so there’s a rope stretched across the pool for you to hold onto while you peer into the crystalline depths of the pool:
You can camp on the flat ground near the parking lot, and I often do. I’ve visited Meadow hot springs half a dozen times, and it’s always a fabulous soak. Here’s some video to give you a closer look:
Utah has many commercially-developed hot springs, and I normally avoid these places because they come with crowds and clothing-required policies. However, I make an exception for one of the most unique geothermal areas anywhere…Midway.
In this gorgeous, historic town settled by Swiss immigrants, most of the groundwater is hot, and the fields and farms are irrigated by geothermal water. On cold winter mornings, it looks like the fields are steaming, and this is one place where, even when the ground is buried under snow, tomatoes and melons can grow in geothermally-heated greenhouses. Here you’ll find the historic Homestead Resort, which has been a wayside stopover for weary travelers for more than a century. On the grounds of the resort is “The Crater,” one of the world’s most striking hot springs, hidden inside a massive limestone dome made of minerals deposited by the spring over millenia:
The water in The Crater is clear blue and over 65 feet deep…so deep that local outfitters offer SCUBA lessons there. In fact, this is one of the only places in the world where you can spend the morning on world-class ski slopes (in just-over-the-hill Deer Valley and the Park City resorts), and the afternoon SCUBA diving in warm water! The water in The Crater varies from 90F to 96F, which, in chilly alpine Utah, would normal restrict soaking to the warmest summer nights…but since you’re inside a cave, it makes year-round soaking possible! It’s really an extraordinary thing.
Early soakers had to descend a rope through The Crater’s opening to access the water, but in the early 1900s, the resort blasted a hole through the side of the mineral dome, which lowered the level of the water to the current level (which does fluctuate throughout the year), so now you access it by a tunnel.
The Crater is the largest of a whole series of hot spring craters dotted across the area where hot water rises to the surface along a fault line. The puzzling thing is that the level of water in each crater varies…two craters right next to each other may have water levels that vary up to 20 feet between them, and water in a crater uphill may be lower than the water level in a crater downhill from it. The whole place is really bizarre. Some of the craters are right next to the road:
The only other soakable crater in the area is on the grounds of the stunning Zermatt Resort, located right across the street from The Homestead and owned by the same folks:
This is a world-class resort and spa (which often wins Best Resort in the state), just 20 minutes from Park City, but even in peak season, their prices are a fraction of what you’d pay over the hill in Park City’s stuffy, posh resorts. And they run shuttles to Deer Valley all day long in the ski season. So it makes a perfect base for you ski fanatics, because you can ski the country’s best powder during the day, and soak in 100F geothermal water at night in Zermatt’s beautiful hot spring crater:
Many other craters lie on the grounds of the resort, one of which has a waterfall going into it.
Next week I’ll be highlighting Midway as a destination, because it’s such a cool place. There’s incredible food, family farms producing artisan products, world-class small inns at unthinkable prices…all just a stone’s throw from Salt Lake.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of Utah’s natural hot springs. There are states with more thermal water than Utah…but none have the wide span of unique features that you find here in my favorite state.
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