20 Nevada Hot Springs
(Actually… 23 Nevada Hot Springs)
We got out of the car, excited to see a small pool of water in the place that we had hoped to see one. The last dozen or so miles of the drive was down a rutted dirt road, and after hitting more than a couple jarring holes without enough time to bring the car’s speed down, we did the long drive slowly, checking the trip odometer judiciously as the setting sun left its glow across a wide plain of sagebrush with few discernible landmarks to use as reference points.
Nevada’s natural hot springs are remarkable because the state has more of them than anywhere else in the country – over 300 – with some exceeding 200˚F in temperature. And while a very small number of them lie in populated areas (there are really only a couple areas in the state that could be referred to as such) and have been turned into varying degrees of “resorts”, most of them lie amongst the state’s mountains, the majority of which are nowhere near a highway, quite often not even near a paved road.
The desolation and slow drives over rutted roads, or hikes into sun-kissed Great Basin valleys required to access these springs makes visiting them an adventure in and of itself. Combine that with the ghost town remains, the bighorn-populated canyons, the waterfalls passed – and occasionally even traversed – and the howls of coyotes and oceans of stars gracing a nighttime visit, each of which factor into some of these hot springs, and you have an experience that touches on each of the senses in a unique and distant way.
Being near dark as we drove up, the headlights illumined a wispy cover of steam floating into an otherwise level landscape. The night was freezing, and after undressing in the car, we ran quickly across the silty mud banks and lowered ourselves into the natural pool – 103 degree water was hot to the touch, but a better alternative than the bitingly frigid wind out here.
Just as often, I’ve driven hours only to find a cold tub, where internet notes had not mentioned that Nevada’s geothermal impulsiveness had changed and the water no longer flowed hot from the ground. I had found springs only to see that an angry landowner had literally taken dynamite to the bathing pools or a shotgun to the trough that someone had hauled miles up a sketchy double track to put there. There were times I had driven and not found anything at all – unsure if it was bad directions, bad navigation or just bad luck – before settling on the realization that there wouldn’t be any soaking going on this time.
There were no lights aside from the moon reflecting through nighttime clouds, just enough light to make the nearby visible and the far-away disappear. Aside from our voices and our movements through the water, it was silent.
But other times, you arrive and you find it. Hot enough, secluded enough, tiny enough amidst a desert of sage and clear night skies that you decide maybe you will just stay awake all night, drinking in the sounds and sensations of a naturally hot stream of spring water.
What follows are a few of hot springs throughout the state. Many of these were initially found using info in out-of-print books, though a little searching online has made the hunt significantly easier over the years. Status and accessibility often change. There are a lot more not listed here, where a visit and a soak may require a little more creativity, not to mention clearance on your car. Nevada is often thought of as barren, desolate, and empty, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a place that requires some effort before it makes visible its adventures. The hot springs listed here make a good start…
12 Mile Hot Spring – A long pool beside Bishop Creek, once the water source of the ghost town of Metropolis until a lawsuit revealed that the town’s founders had never legally secured water rights, which soon contributed to the abandonment of the town. Today a short hike up a canyon leads to the manmade pool which varies in temperature from warm to hot and provides a scenic soak.
Ruby Valley Hot Springs – A collection of pools spread across the edge of the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge varying is size and temperature, but all within view of the scenic Ruby Mountains. The largest pool is about 30 feet in diameter and offers near perfect swimming temperatures in emerald water. The challenge here is accessing the springs, which are down rough and often saturated dirt roads and an unpopulated part of the state. Though well worth the effort to reach them.
Walker Warm Spring – A beautiful stone pool that stays about 100 degrees located in a secluded valley along the Walker River. The catch here is accessing the area in the first place, which requires driving about 30 miles down progressively rougher dirt roads and then hiking down over 1000 feet in elevation loss into the river valley. Although the hard part isn’t the hike down, it’s leaving a relaxing soaking tub and then having to begin the hike back up!
Hyder Hot Springs – A pool collected from a very hot flow (with several stubby tufa mounds amongst the sources) in a very isolated location in Nevada’s rural valleys. With mountains, errant grazing cows, and dust devils visible in the distance, this spring captures rural Nevada’s soaking spots perfectly.
Potts Ranch Hot Spring – Located near a small ghost town, Potts Ranch makes for a great excursion off of the already lonely roads, and out to a trough that sits in the center of scenic Monitor Valley. Fairly well known, it’s always a gamble as to whether you’ll run into others out here or not, but then again, Nevada is a gambling state…
Alkali Hot Springs – Maybe one of the only springs here lying in any vicinity of a well-travelled road, though as if to make up for the recent paving of the road past the springs, a collection of brand new Private Property signs along with grading that may discourage passenger vehicles from attempting to drive to the springs are now in place to balance out that accessibility. We don’t make any claims that visiting these springs are without effort or risk. Good luck…
Goldstrike Hot Springs – The only hot spring here within any proximity to the state’s most populated city, Las Vegas, Goldstrike makes up for that accessibility with a couple serious caveats – the first being the severe safety risks involved with taking on the 6 mile roundtrip hike down to the Colorado River’s edge in the hotter months where temperatures can edge up toward 120. The second being the ridiculous crowds present here. My personal advice would be to plan on beginning the hike here at the crack of dawn to avoid the heat and reach the pools before the more well-slept crowds begin to show up and flood the canyon with hikers.
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5/15/20 Smith Creek tubs were all dismantled, filled with trash, and surrounded by super stinky green algae. Dead frogs everywhere and all the water holes were 170+ degrees. There were a few campers around, but there was broken glass all over the place as well as shotgun shells. Not worth the drive out to the middle of nowhere. Dont waste your time, there are better options down the highway.