Southern California Hot Springs

12.8.11


Hot Spots

Don't get left out in the cold this winter. Warm your bones with a soothing soak in any of these three Southern California hot springs. Full steam ahead!


Deep Creek Hot Springs

Deep Soak

Tucked at 3,000 feet in the San Bernardino National Forest, a trip to Deep Creek Hot Springs runs hot and cold—or, more literally, cold then hot. There are two ways to reach this year-round mineral water retreat: the long way and the short way. The latter is a 2-mile steep descent into Apple Valley that starts from Bowen Ranch on a dirt service road before turning into forested singletrack. Gnarled yuccas dot the sprawling brushlands, and the occasional peregrine falcon soars overhead. Deep Creek gurgles as the trail winds, and snowcapped Big Bear Mountain comes into view. With a quarter-mile to go, a fork in the path lets hikers venture left for a steep descent or right for a gradual slope downward. At the bottom, veer left toward the shallow creek; mind your step as this is where the endangered Southwestern Arroyo Toad burrows—and would rather not croak. Now comes a chilly prospect: forging the icy mountain stream to reach the steamy stuff—hot natural mineral water that flows through rock fissures into three main pools built in succession with rocks and sandbags by enterprising volunteers. Temperatures range from 96 to 102 degrees (the first pool feels hot enough to cook a potato). Decide how deep you want your soak to go: this hidden haven is clothing-optional, so remember to bring your bathing (or birthday) suit. Some like it hot!

BONUS: The alternative (long) route to the springs is a 6-mile (one-way) hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Head east from Arrowhead Lake Road. For more information about the PCT, visit pcta.org.

Take I-15 N toward Deep Creek Hot Springs. Exit at Bear Valley Rd., turn right, and continue for 8 miles. Turn right at the traffic light on Central Rd. Drive 3 miles and turn left onto paved Ocotillo Way. Continue for about 2 miles (turns into dirt road after 1 mile). Turn right on Bowen Ranch Rd. and continue for about 6 miles until you reach the Bowen Ranch estate. These dirt roads are very rocky and uneven at points. Day parking at Bowen Ranch is $5; $10 for overnight camping. Pick up a free trail map. Continue down the road .5-mile to the parking lot. Start at the south end of the Bowen Ranch parking lot where the trailhead is marked. Follow the service trail about .25-mile before clearly veering to the right down a footpath. At the bottom of the hill, go left down the path following the trail marker "3W02 Trail" (make sure to follow the arrow on the marker on the way back as this is where most visitors get lost). At the .5-mile-marker, the trail continues to the right through a fence opening for the National Forest Service. From here, continue 1.5 miles on the clear singletrack trail traveling with the Deep Creek riverbed in sight. About .2-mile before the trail ends, a fork splits the singletrack leading to the springs (right is a more gentle slope). Forge the icy river to the steaming hot springs on the other side. Return the same way. 

Remington Hot Springs

A River Runs Through It

Kern River Canyon might be famous for having some of the state's most gnarly whitewater, but it's also home to a primitive and pristine way to soak away your holiday stress. Remington Hot Springs is a series of natural mineral soaking tubs set riverside in the southern Sierra. And they can be reached via a .25-mile stone-slab path through the largest remaining cottonwood riparian forest in the state. Volunteers built multiple cement pools ranging from a two-person tub running at 105 degrees, to a lukewarm tub large enough to fit Santa and his eight reindeer. The pools are right on the edge of the 165-mile southern-flowing Kern River and adjacent to the Audubon Kern River Preserve, a bastion for diverse bird populations. This is a rare chance to see the endemic Kern red-winged blackbird or western yellow-billed cuckoo. The clothing-free crowd frequents the thermal hot springs, though they're probably outnumbered by the river's California golden trout. Tempting as it might be, trying to navigate any of the strong currents of the Kern is best reserved for rafters. Relaxing in a tub, admire the towering mountain ridges enclosing the river valley as steam rises around you. Let it all sink in.

TIP: Feeling too much like a wet noodle to drive home afterward? Kernville Inn is a welcoming and rustic stay in the center of Kernville.

Take I-5 N toward Bakersfield and continue onto CA Highway 99 N for 26 miles. Take SR 178 E, keeping right at the signed fork. Continue for about 30 miles. Turn right on Old Kern Canyon Rd. (County Road 214) for about 10 miles. At mile-marker 30, there is a dirt pull-off to the left marked by a large tree in the center of the turnaround. Head straight back into the lot to find stone slab steps (marked by a large boulder to the left of the path) leading down to the hot springs. Follow the manicured dirt trail for 1/4-mile passing a single hot spring on the way down (this pool is cooler and generally used as a backup when the main three are full). Follow the fork to your left at the bottom of the hill. Take care to stay in the shallow end when cooling off in the river as the currents are very strong. Return the way you came. The oasis is open all year, except during the river's high-water times. Dog-friendly! 

Sycamore Springs

Sycamore SLO-down

There's a happy place to relax during winter's big chill. Soak yourself silly in the mineralized waters of Sycamore Springs, just 10 minutes from downtown San Luis Obispo (SLO)—recently named The Happiest Place in America. Voted one of the top mineral springs resorts in the world, Sycamore is a wellness center that takes its Zen studies seriously. But if you just want to find your own bliss among the oaks and sycamores, that's cool too. Seventeen private outdoor tubs are scattered on a forested hillside and have names like Shangrila, Twilight, and Tubby. If you can, snag a soak in Paradise; it's the highest on the hill and the most secluded. The main mineral in Sycamore's thermal mineral spring water is sulfur (a.k.a., "nature's beauty mineral"), which helps keep skin looking mighty fine. Plus, thermal water therapy in hot tub spas is widely known for its primary healing ingredients: heat, buoyancy, and massage—all helpful in de-stressing the mind and body. Go to your happy place and say "spahhh."

Sycamore Mineral Springs, 1215 Avila Beach Dr., San Luis Obispo; 805-595-7302. Tubs are $17.50 per person, per hour, Friday–Sunday. Reservations strongly recommended. Wait it out: The mineral spring hot tubs are unavailable until Tuesday, December 13, for maintenance.

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