Top Northern California hot springs you can't miss

California is a state rich in geothermal activity, and so there’s not a lack of hot springs throughout this West Coast state. You don’t have to go looking far to find steamy natural hot pools with rich mineral water coming straight from hot springs as well as man-made pools that are fed by natural mineral waters in luxurious resorts and spas. As exciting as it may seem to take a dip in the steamiest of pools, you’ll always want to check the temperature first – some are too hot to get in. But worry not, there are plenty that are just the right temperature for relaxing. Are you ready to discover the best hot springs in Northern California or NorCal as it is often called? Keep on reading to discover natural hot springs in beautiful outdoor locations and natural spring water resorts, where you can combine mineral water pool experience with relaxing mud bath or massage treatments or explore the beautiful Californian surroundings.

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Mammoth Lakes | Photo: Don B

1. Travertine Hot Springs

Grab your camera, a towel, and good company – Travertine Hot Springs near the town of Bridgeport boast not only mineral water hot springs for you to soak in but also an epic view of the Sierra Nevada mountains. While these hot springs aren’t exactly off the beaten path (don’t expect to be the only ones there), they’re worth a visit by all means. There are several natural pools to choose from but make sure to dip your toe in first to check the temperatures, as some are too hot to get in. The soaking pool near the parking area is known to be quite hot, but the ones near the rock formations have the best temperatures. The travertine that makes up these hot pool terraces gives the springs their name. People constructed wood and concrete enclosures to hold the hot waters, rock pools, and channels to redirect the hot water and regulate the temperature of the water, making the springs themselves safe. To get the most tranquil experience, head out to Travertine Hot Springs on a weekday earlier in the morning. These hot springs are a great place to include in your itinerary if you’re visiting the Mammoth Lakes – a drive to Bridgeport takes less than an hour.

2. Wild Willy’s Hot Spring, Mammoth Lakes

If you’re visiting Mammoth Lakes, you cannot miss Wild Willy’s Hot Springs. These natural hot springs also go by the name of Crowley Hot Springs, and while it was people and not nature creating these warm pools, you’re still guaranteed to get the most epic outdoor feeling here. Once you park the car, you’ll have to walk approximately 300 metres on a wooden pathway to get to the mineral water pools. Before you dip your toes in the water, you can take in the most magnificent views of America’s great outdoors. As with the majority of free natural hot springs in Northern California, you can expect to see other people at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs. If possible, wake up with the chickens and head out as early as possible. At Wild Willy’s Hot Springs, there are two mineral pools – one that is larger and can fit up to 15 people, and the other one is smaller and shaped like a heart with majestic mountains in the background.

Mammoth Lakes | Photo: Robson Hatsukami Morgan

3. Sykes Hot Springs, Big Sur

If you’re in the mood for an outdoor hiking adventure that rewards you with beautiful views and stunning natural mineral water pools at the end, head to Sykes Hot Springs near Big Sur. Closed for five years due to storm damage in 2017, the trail that leads to the Sykes Hot Springs is finally open again! To visit these remote warm pools surrounded by a rocky forest landscape, you’ll have to hike for approximately 10 miles first (note that the round trip is 20 miles) on the Pine Ridge Trail. The path has its challenging parts, but with the right hiking boots and attitude, you’re in for a memorable experience. What’s better than taking a dip in a mineral water pool after a long hike that’ll recharge your body and soul?

4. Esalen Institute, Big Sur

For over half a century, the Esalen Institute near Big Sur has welcomed guests looking to experience harmony and healing in a nature-inspired tranquil environment. Founded by Stanford graduates, this idyllic location helps people tap into their undiscovered potential through workshops, meditations, etc. Honestly, the view alone is worth a million bucks. 120 acres of fruitful land nestled between mountain and ocean, with hot mineral springs bursting out of a seaside cliff. This place is renowned for its Esalen hot springs available to guests who’ve booked a stay and are participating in the workshops. Public access to Esalen hot springs night bathing in the spring water pools is only available between 1 AM and 3 AM and must be booked early in advance on the same day.

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The hot spring pools are continuously fed by water rushing down the rock wall, and the view from the natural pools is truly picture-perfect

5. Buckeye Hot Springs, Bridgeport

Located near the town of Bridgeport but not as popular as neighbouring Travertine Hot Springs, Buckeye Hot Springs is a place worth visiting if you find yourself in the area (e.g. visiting the Mammoth Lakes). A little tricky to get to – you’ll first need to trek a rocky path, so durable shoes are a must – but once you reach your destination, it’s a real outdoor treat. Buckeye Hot Springs are located next to Buckeye Creek – after you take a dip in one of the three mineral water pools, the cool water in the creek is the perfect way to cool off. The hot spring pools are continuously fed by water rushing down the rock wall, and the view from the natural pools is truly picture-perfect with emerald green trees in the Eastern Sierras landscape. If you’re in the mood to spend the night surrounded by nature off the beaten path, you’ll find that the nearby Buckeye Campground is perfect for that.

Photo: Alexander Mcferon

Bridgeport | Photo: Maura Mcinerney Rowley

6. Indian Springs Calistoga

One of the most popular spa hotels in Napa Valley, Indian Springs in Calistoga offers a combination of laid-back luxury complete with soothing amenities like mud baths with volcanic ash, as well as an Olympic-sized geothermal swimming pool, where the water temperature ranges from +33 to +38 degrees Celsius. Enjoy beautiful views of the valley’s hills and steam rising from active geysers that also feed the naturally-heated pool. One of California’s original hot spring spas dating back to 1910 knows how to make guests feel right at home after a day of exploring the wine country. The resort has everything for a modern-day feeling while still managing to create an atmosphere where time stands still. You can easily get to Indian Springs from San Francisco – it takes approximately an hour and a half.

7. Harbin Hot Springs, Middletown

Well-known hot springs resort in California located about two hour drive from San Francisco, Harbin Hot Springs is a place reborn from the ashes. Destroyed in the 2015 Valley Fire, it has been restored to its former glory, again welcoming visitors who fancy a dip in one of the resort’s mineral water pools. Renowned for its nudity-friendly approach, the 1700-acre resort features a classic Californian landscape as well as quirky buildings and interior features that seem true to the centre’s wellness and spirituality ideology. It truly is a place where you can switch off and enjoy being in the here and now! Note that there are several pools at Harbin – some of the pools are filled with hot spring water, while others offer you a chance to cool down. When visiting Harbin, you can immerse yourself in the mysterious atmosphere of the resort and stay at one of the accommodation options – the domes feel particularly out-of-this-world – or go for a 6-Hour Day Visit pass that’s valid on weekdays.

Photo: Ian Liberry

8. Sierra Hot Springs, Sierraville

The thermal spring water, rich in minerals, of the Sierra Valley delivers a chance to unwind in the funky Sierra Hot Springs Resort, complete with well-maintained pools and various accommodation options. The hot springs resort is a sister property to the Harbin Hot Springs. Both resorts are run by a non-profit organization called the New Age Church of Being. Sierra Hot Springs can pride itself on a beautiful location near the edge of the Tahoe National Forest and overlooking the awe-inspiring Sierra Valley. This Californian resort is renowned for its hot spring water Temple Dome Pool – a truly meditative experience! To cool off, you can take a quick dip in one of the cool plunge pools after. Outside the dome, there is a warm pool maintained at slightly lower temperatures than the dome pool, and an adjacent sun deck for you to enjoy the epic natural surroundings.

9. Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, Carmel Valley

An unlikely sigh when compared to other hot spring resorts in Northern California, the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is all about zen vibes in a rugged landscape. The oldest Japanese Buddhist Sōtō Zen monastery in the United States opens its doors to day and overnight guests from Memorial Day to Labor Day (May 30 to the first Monday in September). This harmonious place is located in central California, in a secluded valley in the heart of the Ventana Wilderness area of the Los Padres National Forest inland from the Big Sur coast. When visiting you can enjoy the natural hot springs in Japanese-style baths in a truly tranquil setting. The bathhouses have separate areas for men and women, and there are spaces in each where clothing is optional. After sweating your worries away in the steam room, dip in the plunge pool before heading out to enjoy the sundeck. You can leave all your worries behind as there is no internet or cell reception here – a perfect opportunity to take a break from daily technology.

10. Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa

Located in Central California in Avila Beach, Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa is the perfect place to relax and enjoy natural mineral water tubs. The place itself dates back to the early 20th century when it was popular thanks to the naturally occurring hot springs first discovered in the late 19th century. This hot springs resort has 72 rooms and suites, each with private patios or balconies and mineral water hot tubs inviting you to enjoy the authentic mineral spring experience. The hot spring waters here are rich in sulphur, boron, magnesium, potassium, and sodium, each providing great therapeutic benefits to your skin and body. The resort is nestled in a lush green space with beautiful towering trees – can it even get more zen? Moreover, there are 23 outdoor spring water hot pools as well as a lagoon pool, in addition to the various spa treatments they offer. Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa is located in a place that has an abundance of hiking trails for you to enjoy the beautiful surroundings before diving into rejuvenating mineral water pools and pampering treatments.

Photo: Intricate explorer

Photo: Logan Fisher

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