A Hot Springs How-To: Soak and Protect
Photo by @abbyschwamm
By KEEN Fan & Adventure Guide Sofia Jaramillo
Want to know what real cold feels like? Try running to your car in negative 12-degree weather after soaking in a hot spring in one of the coldest areas in the lower 48. We were just outside of Stanley, Idaho, on a backcountry hut trip. We knew our hair might turn to icicles if we got it wet, but we needed to soothe our muscles from three long days of skiing.
It was almost dusk and, without the sun, temperatures were dropping quickly. Transitioning in and out was cold, but no matter how it feels outside, hot springs are always worth it for me.
If I have sore muscles from an epic day of skiing, soaking in a hot spring resets my body so I’m ready for the next adventure.
We all have our special places in nature we go to reset. The spaces that help us relax and find ourselves. These go-to outdoor spots help us find peace. A recent article in National Geographic states, “When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves, too.”
When we spend time in outdoor spaces, there is something going on beyond our control; a connection with nature that triggers our minds and bodies to unwind. Hot springs have the added potential of boosting blood circulation, healing skin problems, reducing stress, and relieving muscle pain. If I have sore muscles from an epic day of skiing, soaking in a hot spring resets my body so I’m ready for the next adventure.
Having grown up in Idaho, I have a deep appreciation for these natural pools. Idaho has the most usable hot springs in the nation with about 130 soakable pools. My childhood is filled with magical memories exploring them on road trips.
This spring, I moved to Wyoming. After living in Washington state for about eight years, I was ready for a change and decided it was time to go back to the West. I’m so happy to be back and ready to explore all that Wyoming has to offer. On a recent trip to a hot spring here, I learned not everyone knows or follows proper hot springs etiquette. Clothing and trash were left behind. I even found a broken glass bottle wedged between some rocks. Disappointed by the scene, it got me thinking about the best ways to preserve these areas.
The basic rules at hot springs have always been simple: Leave no trace. Pack out what you pack in and leave the springs better than you found them. However, these guidelines have evolved with the times and they’re worth talking about.
Bring only what you need
Information is easily accessible in our digital age. More people are finding out about hot springs and more people are going to them. Increased traffic means more chances of trash, gear or clothes being left behind. One way to avoid littering is to be prepared and bring what you need.
Here are my top recommendations on what to bring for people who are new to hot springs:
• Appropriate shoes
• Puffy jacket
• Headlamp (if you are going at night)
• Waterproof bag
• WATER BOTTLE! (to stay hydrated)
Waterproof shoes for walking to a hot spring and getting in are crucial. KEEN closed-toe sandals are awesome for soaking in a pool as they protect your feet from sharp rocks and hot spots on the bottom. My KEEN Elsa II boots are also a great hot spring shoe. Their weatherproof leather outside keep my feet dry on the way in and their soft insulation help my feet stay warm on the way out.
Sofia is wearing women's Newport H2 sandals.
My normal routine for exiting a hot spring is throwing on a puffy jacket, wrapping a towel around my waist, slipping on my Elsa boots and running to the car. Then once in the warmth of my car, I change fully there. For me, this is the most efficient way to stay warm. Try it out, but you may find a better technique.
When it’s dark, and you are freezing, it’s easy to drop a piece of clothing or forget something you brought along. If you think you might go to a hot spring at night, pack a headlamp and bag to keep your belongings organized and dry.
Last but not least, a water bottle is always nice to have. After a few minutes of soaking in a hot spring you might become parched. Bring a water bottle with cold water to help you stay hydrated and cool down if you get too hot!
Leave it how you found it (or better)
Over the years, people have spent hours moving rock or placing tubs near thermal springs so everyone can enjoy them. Don’t destroy what others have created. Avoid moving rock around as the disruption can cause silt and dirt to be released downstream.
If you see trash, pick it up! It only takes a few seconds, and the more trash that accumulates the more the spaces will be ruined.
It's always good to remember that just because you arrived first doesn’t mean you own the hot spring. Be conscious of the time you are spending there. Hot pools are for everyone. If there is room, share the space with others. If you bring music, make sure it is okay with others to play it. There is nothing like unwanted techno music to destroy a mellow hot springs experience.
Think before tagging
Social media has changed our lives, the way we interact and the way we act in the outdoors. Tagging locations on social media may seem fun because you can share your experience with friends. Ultimately it can ruin outdoor spaces. By sharing locations, you are unintentionally inviting others to go where you have gone. Some of these spaces simply cannot handle many people. If too many people go, trails get ruined, more trash gets left behind, and the feel and beauty of these natural spots changes.
If a hot spring isn’t well-known, why not leave it up to the viewer’s imagination and force people to do their own research to find it? That’s part of the fun of hot springs! If you trust them enough and know they will act with care, bring them along next time you go!
Sitting in a hot pool at night, looking up at the stars and hearing nothing but the wild is one thing I will always love.
There are few freebies in life. We usually have to work pretty hard for what we earn, but hot springs are a rarity. They are easily accessible and, although you have to pay sometimes, most are free.
Sitting in a hot pool at night, looking up at the stars and hearing nothing but the wild is one thing I will always love. Hot springs are nature’s spa, a gift and something we shouldn’t take for granted. They are special places that are worth preserving, and I hope future generations will enjoy them.
Sofia Jaramillo is an editorial and commercial photographer, a lover of Latin culture and an outdoor adventurer. Her work focuses on outdoor recreation and storytelling. When she’s not working on photos, you’ll find her exploring in the Tetons. Follow her adventures at @sofia_jaramillo5.