Lesser-Known Hot Springs of the West

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Many an Old West highway passed by hot springs. Dusty travelers relished bathing and relaxing in the warm mineral waters—which were believed to have curative powers. The allure of a good soak still holds. In addition to the well-known hot springs, such as those in Calistoga, Calif., and Yellowstone National Park, you might be surprised to find some off the beaten path:

Sierra Hot Springs, Sierraville, Calif., (530) 994-3773, www.sierrahotsprings.org. Tucked into the pines above a high alpine valley, a large copper geodesic dome seems a little out of place until you walk inside. Here, candles, stained glass, skylights, and three pools create an atmosphere of airy relaxation in the Temple Dome. This is just one of several inviting areas at the clothing-optional Sierra Hot Springs, 25 miles north of Truckee near Highway 49.

An outdoor "medicine bath" is designed for quiet contemplation. The Temple Dome includes an interior hot pool and two cooling pools. Outside the dome, there's a swimming pool and sundeck. Private baths are also available. The lodge, built in the 1860s, has five private rooms and a dormitory. The entire property sits on 700 acres bordering the Tahoe National Forest. Camping is permitted on the grounds, and the Globe Hotel, in the town of Sierraville, is owned by the hot springs. Visitors to the hot springs must purchase a membership at $5 for 30 days or $20 for a year.

Steamboat Hot Springs, Reno, Nev., (775) 853-6600.

The Paiute war chief Winnemucca reportedly encouraged miners en route to the California gold hills to enjoy these soothing waters. But when news of the silver strike at Comstock reverberated across the nation, the springs became a focal point of the area. Mark Twain even penned "Cure a Cold," a story about the springs, while living in nearby Virginia City.

In the current spa, superheated steam and cool mineral spring water are mixed in an artesian well. The comfortable water (102-104ÞF) is then pumped into seven private indoor tubs and one outdoor flow-through tub. Massages, body wraps, and healing stones are available. Reservations are recommended and admission is $14 per person.

Kah-Nee-Ta High Desert Resort, Warm Springs, Ore., (800) 554-4786. Riding down a 140-foot waterslide into a warm Olympic-size pool doesn't really fit the back-to-nature hot springs concept, but it's sure to make you smile.

The resort is on the Warm Springs Reservation, about 45 miles southeast of Mount Hood. It also offers kayaking, horseback riding, and salmon bakes. The resort's Spa Wanapine provides amenities such as massage, exfoliation, and aromatherapy.

Ouray Hot Springs Pool, Ouray, Colo., (970) 325-4638. Nestled in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado and known as the "Switzerland of America," Ouray is home to five hot springs. The most prominent, Ouray Hot Springs Pool, resides in the heart of the postage-stamp town.

Opened in 1926, the million-gallon pool has three sections: a hot soaking area, a body-temperature shallow zone, and a deep end with lap lanes. If the pool isn't relaxing enough, the adjoining fitness center maintains massage facilities. The town, a National Historic District, offers many outdoor activities—from hiking and biking during the summer months to skiing at nearby Telluride in the winter.

Burgdorf Hot Springs, Burgdorf, Idaho, (208) 636-3036. Frequented by gold miners in the 1860s and '70s, rustic Burgdorf is deep in the Payette National Forest, about 45 miles north of McCall. Its 14 cabins are perfect for those who want to rough it. Each cabin has a wood-burning stove but no electricity.

Burgdorf has two pools. Water enters the sandy-bottomed springs at 112oF and flows into the main pool (5 feet deep) at 104oF. A shallow pool, ideal for children, is nearby. Although Burgdorf appears on many maps, it has more ghosts than town to it. An unimproved road, open from mid-May to November, provides access to the springs. During winter months, the springs can be reached on cross-country skis or by snowmobile.

Illustration by Michael Klein

This article was first published in July 2001. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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