Picture a steamy green pool on a California hillside, beckoning your sore muscles for a soothing dip. You put your toes in first, slowly submerging your body in the hot water. A cool breeze carries the scent of the surrounding woods.
For those who need to chill out, getting into hot water is the way to go, experts say. There are accessible and affordable natural hot springs all over the state, if one knows where to look.
Humans have been taking advantage of hot springs for centuries. There are experts all over the globe studying balneology – the benefits of therapeutic bathing and medicinal springs.
The main draw for natural springs is the effect that hot water has on the body, said Jina Ethelbah, a naturopathic physician who practices hydrotherapy in Sacramento. Hot water causes blood vessels to dilate, allowing new blood to flow into the heated area and offering a feeling of rejuvenation, she said. It also eases muscle tension, making it an easy way for people with high stress levels or chronic pain to unwind.
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Many hot springs also contain minerals such as sulfur and magnesium. Those minerals can be absorbed through the skin and have a long list of benefits to joints, muscles, hair, skin, heart health and more.
Beyond that, there’s a health benefit to simply getting outside and enjoying natural springs rather than just showering or sitting in a bathtub, Ethelbah said.
“A lot of people now have muscle tension because of their jobs and lifestyles,” she said. “And being in nature, when you can combine the benefits of the hot spring and the cool creek right next to it, that impacts our overall well-being, brings us to a state of tranquility and increases our awareness of our surroundings and ourselves.”
Here is a sampling of Northern California springs:
Wilbur Hot Springs
Just off Interstate 5 east of Clear Lake, Wilbur invites guests into its Japanese-style “flumarium,” where water flows continuously through three different channels with average temperatures of 98, 105 and 109 degrees Fahrenheit. The expansive bathing deck outside the rustic hotel is described as a sanctuary and a digital detox. There are both contemplative flumes for those who want to relax in silence and conversational flumes for those looking to chitchat.
Price: $57 for day use. Overnight rates vary.
Perks: Yoga classes, massage therapists and a nature preserve
Swimsuits: Optional in bathing area, mandatory elsewhere
Address: 3375 Wilbur Springs Road, Wilbur Springs
Call 530-473-2306 for more information.
Grover Hot Springs State Park
For an affordable dip with a vibe that’s more summer camp than spa, head to Grover Hot Springs State Park in the eastern Sierra Nevada. The park has a recreational complex that includes a hot pool for relaxing and a cold pool for swimming. It’s most popular June through September and is a favorite spot for families.
Price: $7 per adult and $5 per child, per day
Perks: Campground, picnic area and hiking trails
Swimsuits: Required at all times.
Address: 3415 Hot Springs Road, Markleeville
Call 530-694-2248 for more information.
Mercey Hot Springs
Focused on “off-grid sustainable practices,” this Merced-area resort offers a cozy escape complete with communal and private tubs. Visitors describe it as silent and secluded. Its remote location makes stargazing a popular activity.
Price: $20 per person, per hour. Overnight rates vary.
Perks: Birding, Frisbee golf, hiking
Swimsuits: Optional only in designated areas.
Address: 62964 Little Panoche Road, Firebaugh
Call 209-826-3388 for more information.