Natural Hot Springs With Epic Surroundings
The planet is sprinkled with an abundance of naturally heated soaking spots. Aside from their serene settings, natural hot springs offer numerous health benefits, from soothing aching muscles to boosting circulation. While some are located on private property or only for the guests of exclusive resorts, many hot springs are accessible for the price of a hike. No matter which you choose, there’s nothing like slipping into steaming waters and letting the minerals work their magic. Here are 15 of Mother Nature’s most beautiful bathtubs.
Conundrum Hot Springs (Colorado)
Surrounded by 14,000-foot-tall mountains in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, Conundrum is the most remote — and most beloved — of Colorado’s natural hot springs. In spite of the strenuous hike (8.5 miles with a 2,500-foot elevation gain), the hot springs have become so popular that the Forest Service now requires permits to limit the number of visitors. When your well-exercised legs reach the hot springs, however, you’ll find a majestic site showcasing two pools heated to 98 degrees Fahrenheit — with breathtaking mountain views during the day and spectacular Milky Way-studded skies at night.
Takaragawa Onsen (Japan)
In Japan, hot springs are called onsen. The name of the Takaragawa translates to “treasure river," and this rotenburo (open-air onsen) in the remote mountains of Gunma is a true gem. The pristine river is bordered by four onsen (one only for women, the other three coed), and the setting is particularly magical during winter, when icicles adorn the wooden suspension bridges. Come for the day or stay at the historic and elegant ryokan (inn), where guests enjoy 24-hour access to the waters and traditional Japanese cuisine. Looking for the famous Japanese macaques? You’ll find them luxuriating in the apes-only hot springs at Joshinetsu Kogen National Park in Japan's Nagano prefecture.
Local legend has it that these mineral-rich pools in this cotton-growing region of southwestern Turkey were formed from hardened cotton, leftover by giants. Thus the name Pamukkale, which translates to “cotton castle.” Seventeen terraces of snow-white travertine — a type of limestone that is formed by mineral deposits from natural springs — capture the waters, which reflect the dazzling cerulean skies. Located north of the city of Denizli, Pamukkale (then called Hierapolis) was sacred to the ancient Phyrgians and became a popular resort town under the Roman emperor Tiberius. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t miss the antique pool near the Temple of Apollo, said to be a gift from Marc Antony to his beloved Cleopatra.
Pendulum Cove (Antarctica)
Basking in hot springs in... Antarctica? Soak up the snowy scenery on Antarctica’s Deception Island, where an active subterranean volcano has formed a caldera that keeps things cozy. Along the shore at Pendulum Cove, thermal springs heated up to 158 degrees Fahrenheit mix with frigid seawater, creating spots where you can relax in (relative) comfort. Keep an eye out for the continent’s famous gentoo penguins, who also like to come for a splash. Though you won’t find many crowds here given the remote location, several operators offer tours of the area for those who do wish to make the trek.
Banjar Hot Springs (Indonesia)
Visitors flock to Bali for the beaches, but just 15 minutes by car from the famed Lovinia coast is another watery gem. Surrounded by lush tropical gardens, Banjar is an oasis of glossy green water with a high (26%) sulfur content and a comfortable temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Elegant carved dragons spout plumes of water from one of the compound’s three pools, and an adjacent spa is the perfect place for a relaxing Balinese massage.
Termas Geométricas (Chile)
Chilean architect Germán del Sol looked to Japan when designing this delightful haven in the fertile forests of Villarrica National Park, in Chile’s southern Los Ríos region. Red walkways lead through a collection of 17 slate-lined, spring-fed pools, with temperatures ranging from 95 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit. An assortment of refreshing waterfalls provides cool relief after your soak. The nearby village of Pucón offers a picturesque, Alpine-like experience with numerous lodging options.
Blue Lagoon (Iceland)
One of Iceland’s most famous attractions, the Blue Lagoon is a must for anyone visiting the country. Only 30 miles from the capital of Reykjavik, the lagoon was created when water from a nearby geothermal plant was released into a lava field. The milky blue and algae- and mineral-rich waters are reputed to be miraculous for sufferers of psoriasis. Visit at night if possible, to enjoy the “midnight sun” in summer or to catch a glimpse of the ethereal northern lights in colder months.
Champagne Pool (New Zealand)
In the language of the Māori Indigenous peoples of New Zealand, Waiotapu means “sacred waters,” and the Champagne Pool located on New Zealand’s North Island is nothing if not heavenly. The presence of carbon dioxide in the water gives it a fizzy, bubbling quality. The temperature in the 213-foot-wide spring can reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit — too hot for swimming but perfect for admiring the orange-rimmed, technicolor waters, the result of silicate and minerals. Seeking a soak? Check out the offerings in nearby Waikite Valley.
Terme di Saturnia (Italy)
Tuscany is famed for fabulous food and incredible wine, and in the countryside of Maremma, they have hot springs, too. The Etruscans and Romans initially thought these sulfurous waters were a portal to hell, but they soon came to appreciate the springs’ soothing benefits. Options for experiencing the 99.5-degree-Fahrenheit waters range from a luxury resort to the Cascate del Mulino, which has soaking pools and a waterfall, and is free and open to the public. The region is filled with fascinating archeological ruins, as well.
In the eastern foothills of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in China’s northwest Sichuan Province, a primeval valley sits between deeply forested mountains. Capped with snow and scoured by glaciers, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the endangered giant pandas as well as numerous waterfalls and hot springs. More than 3,300 brightly colored pools cascade over travertine terraces in the Valley of the Yellow Dragon. More than 600 of these brightly colored pools begin near an ancient Buddhist temple, and stretch over two miles. Take the cable car (or a strenuous hike) for unforgettable vistas, and don’t miss exploring the region’s spectacular caves, too.
Chena Hot Springs (Alaska)
In the pristine Alaskan wilderness 60 miles north of Fairbanks, you’ll find a glorious lake surrounded by boulders. Indigenous peoples have long soaked in the mineral-rich waters, which rise from 3,000 feet below the earth’s surface. Weary gold miners came upon it in the early 1900s, and built a rustic resort. Visit for the day or stay in one of the cabins and spend several days enjoying the lake, the indoor pool, or hot tubs. In winter, watch the aurora borealis light up the sky while soaking in the 106-degree-Fahrenheit waters. While you’re there, be sure to check out the Aurora Ice Museum — created from over 1,000 tons of ice and snow, it’s the self-proclaimed largest year-round ice environment in the world.
Ma'in Hot Springs (Jordan)
Sixty-three thermal springs flow from the mountains in this corner of the Dead Sea, and they range in temperature from 113 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. King Herod is said to have bathed in the healing waters of this lush oasis lying more than 800 feet below sea level, and today Ma’in is home to a hotel and spa. The surrounding area also offers many other opportunities for enjoying the mineral-laden springs and waterfalls. When you’re fully rejuvenated, don’t miss the archeological treasures at the “mosaic city” of Mādabā, a 30-minute drive from Ma’in.
Riverbend Hot Springs (New Mexico)
Right on the banks of the Rio Grande River and with great views of Turtleback Mountain, Riverbend Hot Springs is located in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. (Formerly known as Hot Springs, the quirky town changed its name in 1950 to win a radio contest.) The area’s natural springs have long been sacred to the tribes who occupied this corner of the Southwest. Today, several public and private pools are available with day passes, and guests of the Riverbend Hot Springs hotel enjoy unlimited access to the healing waters, which range from 95 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit.
Travertine Hot Springs (California)
After hiking and exploring in California’s Eastern Sierra Nevadas, turn down a dirt road of Highway 395 to find a sociable soak at Travertine Hot Springs. Scalding geothermal water flows down algae-laden travertine to form several shallow pools that are a comfortable 103 degrees Fahrenheit. For amazing views of the Milky Way and less company, pitch a tent on nearby public land and enjoy the pools early in the morning.
Grand Prismatic Spring (Wyoming)
Sorry, Old Faithful: The most-photographed thermal feature in Yellowstone National Park is Grand Prismatic Spring. The largest hot spring in the United States and the third-largest in the world, it measures 370 feet across and stretches 160 feet deep. The spring’s unique rainbow-ringed colors are the result of pigmented bacteria. They vary both with fluctuating temperatures and the ratio of chlorophyll in the waters. If you don’t want to stay on the boardwalk surrounding it, feel free to wander right into the middle of the spring — on this virtual tour.