Hot Springs Etiquette
The Southwest is home to an amazing number of hot springs due to the geology in our area. Springers enjoy these geothermal waters throughout the year but when the weather gets cooler, the hunt for warm water intensifies.
Being outside with gorgeous views and a hot spring soak is an amazing experience. But for some, the experience could not be ideal if hot spring etiquette isn’t practiced. Yes, you read that right… there is hot springs etiquette.
A few simple “rules” to be aware of can help avoid an awkward situation and keep the area clean.
Some areas are developed and the rules may be different than those in undeveloped areas. Undeveloped areas may be on private land or the access is on private land so please be aware of the route and the final destination
Below are the unwritten, yet accepted, rules for enjoying a hot spring. Did we miss an unwritten rule? If so, let us know so we can share it with others.
Click here to learn more about Nevada Hot Springs.
NOTE – we ask that you please read this article in its entirety (we know readers love to scan – we do too!) as there is important information relevant to your safety while exploring rural areas for hot springs.
Check the Weather
This one may seem obvious but always check the current local weather conditions AND look at the past too as if there was a good rain, your roads may be impassable.
Who to Take
Yea, seriously… pick your exploring buddies wisely!
Exploring rural areas is a lot of fun but it can be dangerous so when you are making plans, be sure to think about who is going to balance your potential offroad experience in finding hot springs. When I go extreme backcountry, I always have my Garmin and self-rescue bag in the Jeep but I also invite friends who have high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicles as a backup plan. (I have been in areas where we were stuck but had no way to wench out due to the terrain and we were on a remote road with ONE truck that passed us the entire time we were out there.)
Add an extra layer of safety by letting someone know where you will be in case something does happen and you can’t hike out of the area or able to call help.
There are places I have been where a tow truck won’t be able to access the area and if they come it takes HOURS for them to get there. So make sure you have preparations to handle inclement weather, food, and drinks to wait out if needed.
Clothing and Footwear
Some of these springs are not close to where you park so you may have to hike a bit through mud and muddy alkali to find your spring so durable comfortable shoes are a must. Accept the fact that someone in your group will get stuck in the mud while walking and pick a shoe or boot that will not easily slip off when you try to get out of the mud. (I lost a high-top boot in Coyote Gulch and had to dig out of the mud!)
Also, while stomping around the rural areas it’s possible that you will get grubby so take an extra set of clothes to wear home after your exploring.
- Comfortable hiking clothes
- Sturdy hiking boots or shoes to get to the hot springs if you are hiking to it
- Swimsuit (unless you are going au naturale in the spring)
- Comfortable water shoes (ideally closed) to protect your feet from potentially sharp rocks and glass shards
- Warm clothes. Most people visit hot springs when air temperatures are not just cooler but COLD! Grab a fuzzy warm robe to slip into after your soak to keep you warm until you are ready to change into your dry clothes.)
- Extra clothes (in case you are hiking in/out of the hot springs area and it’s muddy)
Miscellaneous Items to Pack
Exploring remote areas and searching for hot springs means you may end up needing more clothes than you would for a normal day of exploring. The road and area surrounding the hot springs may be muddy so you will need a pair of comfortable
- Plastic bags for wet and/or muddy clothes and shoes
- Satellite communication (we like our Garmin)
- Glove and trash bags to not only keep your own trash but to pick up what others have left behind (leave it better than you found it!)
- Towel or mat to keep your personal items off the potentially wet or muddy ground.
- Water and/or electrolytes since those warm and hot waters will dehydrate you.
Cash in the middle of nowhere? Maybe not but it doesn’t hurt to have some as while most hot springs are on public lands and are free to access, some are on private land and may have a small fee to access or takes donations for the upkeep.
Be sure to research if there is a fee so you don’t get there only to find out you needed a special permit to access the area or without cash.
It is always recommended that you do not take glass containers to a hot spring as they break and most people go barefoot in the areas. Keep the area safe for yourself and others by leaving the glass behind. If you prefer a good beverage from a glass container, take an insulated cup to keep the glass away from the area and your drink cold.
Hot springs have been closed due to broken glass so do your part to help the area stay clean and safe.
Some of the minerals can ruin your jewelry AND the heat may make your hands swell so those rings that fit nicely may become uncomfortably – and painfully – snug.
I love my pets and want them with me as much as I can have them around but if possible, keep the furbabies at home to keep them safe.
If you must take your dog, be aware that hot springs are potentially dangerous to your pets so make sure they are on a leash and stay out of the hot springs since they cannot regulate their body temperatures like their human companions (and that they don’t drink the water that can make them sick or worse… I hate when I see a pooch died because of drinking contaminated water).
Another reason to be wary of bringing your pooch is that there will probably be wildlife in the area and part of the hot spring experience is enjoying that wildlife. A dog in the area will deter wildlife from coming close for visitors to watch.
The bottom line, leave the dogs at home where they are safe.
Know Where You Are Going and How to Get There.
Be sure to research the area, the roads, and road conditions and know your vehicle capabilities. Why? Getting stuck on a rural road is not only frustrating for you but to others who may be blocked if there is no way to get by you. Most visitors will stop and help you but with research, you may not get stuck.
Some of the most amazing hot springs are very remote which means there will probably not be cell phone reception to access your maps. Be sure to download the information you need and make sure you can access it offline. If not, grab yourself some good paper maps and do some old-school navigation. There are several atlas books you can buy at Sam’s Club, Costco, or online and one of the best for outdoor exploration is by Benchmark.
Click here to learn more about what to pack for road safety for your adventure.
Understanding Organisms and Microorganisms
Okay, Debbie Downer time but with knowing what is out there, will help you have a great experience. My first experience years ago at a spring was one that had a sign warning against a brain-eating amoeba that lives in the spring — “WARNING Do not allow water to enter your nose as naegleria fowleri an ameba common to thermal pools may enter cause a rare infection and death.”
One that has killed a few dogs in the Zion and Lake Mead area is blue-green algae aka Cyanobacteria blooms.
Another fun one is water mites. Before heading into the water, place your hand in the water and see if anything crawls on your hand. If you are all clear, enjoy your soak! If you see something, you should move to a different area.
Some areas may not have warning signs (especially rural ones) so be sure to research the area prior to entering the water.
Some of these hot springs are remote and/or on private property so you may encounter a gate or two.
If you come to a closed gate be sure to properly secure it once you have passed through the gate. Private property owners who are allowing visitors to enjoy a hot spring on their land may have livestock and the last they want is their livestock moving off their property where they can get hurt, killed, or damage other property. By not respecting their land, they could shut off accessibility for others in the future.
Most people go to a hot spring to soak, meditate, relax, connect with nature, take in the views, and much more as there are many reasons to visit a hot spring.
When approaching the hot spring keep the noise levels down as current springers may be enjoying not only the view but possibly wildlife in the area.
Also, be aware of your noise level by limiting loud conversations and music so others can enjoy the serene experience.
The hot springs are for relaxing, not for bathing. Keep shampoo, soaps, and other cleaners at home or back at camp. Some of these springs do not have a flow so what you put in there possibly stays in there. (Should we mention urine? It’s staying there!)
Also, did you pack something in? If so, pack it out (and anything that others may have left behind — leave it better than how you found it.)
Test the Water
Seriously! Spend some money on a water thermometer to test the water before you head in as some of these hot springs are just that… HOT… too hot for enjoyment and may be downright dangerous!
Sharing the Spring
Being the first person in the spring doesn’t mean you get to the area all to yourself.
Make room for others and if there isn’t room, take turns enjoying the soak.
If you are a new springer, be aware you may see nudity while at a spring.
I know many enjoy soaking in the nude but be sure you know the rules of clothing options and keep your suit or towel handy in case you get visitors.
Personally, I struggle with this one if you want to go nude… go nude! But then there are those who take their children and don’t want them to see nude people and get upset if they find nudity at the spring. Someone once said, “if you don’t like it keep your kids at home!” [it was actually harsher than that]
Others have told me that it’s illegal to be nude on public lands but I cannot find much on it and what I have found contradicts with no way to tell which has the authority. Be aware that local laws could be in place (Utah is more strict than other states in the Southwest).
Don’t Build New Pools
Let nature do its thing and do not build new pools. By doing so you are potentially screwing with the ecological balance of the area.
Some hot springs flow into a controlled area and the pool temperature is “controlled” by the water flow into the pool. This is another reason to always check the water temperature as you don’t know what condition the person before you has left the pool.
Be aware of this and if you change the trickle, change it back for others to enjoy so they don’t find a super hot body of water that will take hours to cool down or a pool that is so cold they won’t be able to enjoy it.
The “rule of camping” is that you camp at least 200 yards from a water source.
Also, don’t block wildlife’s natural path to their water source.
Know if you are on public or private property so you can follow the rules of the land.
Leaving the Area Better Than You Found It
Yes, I have said this a few times already but please do this.
I always have spare bags and gloves in my Jeep to pack out what others have left behind. (And they are handy when you have incredibly muddy boots!)