Hidden Hot Springs in California, Colorado, and New Mexico

Nestled along the coast, just north of San Francisco, sits an oceanside hot spring. It only appears at low tide and you need to dig your own pit to fully immerse yourself in its healing waters.

One foggy morning, my friend and I decided to go experience the hot spring for ourselves. The winding drive up the coast led us to a closed off road just south of Stinson Beach. We parked in an empty gravel lot and wandered past “Road Closed” signs.

Ocean winds whipped through our hair as we tried to find the hot spring using the questionable GPS directions on our phones. Wandering down the road, we saw a woman sitting alone on a turnout with her car parked idly nearby.

“Are you looking for the hot springs?” she asked.

We nodded and walked over to where she was sitting. Munching on crackers and peanut butter, she nodded towards the shoreline, "It should be down there." We could smell the sulfur, but nothing along the coastline hinted at a nearby spring.

“I think we missed it.” 

We were disappointed but ended up chatting with the woman for a bit. She was from Montreal and had spent the last month road tripping on her way to Vancouver. She’d turned her adventure into a tour of the United States' hot springs. The best springs, she explained, were in New Mexico and Colorado. 

It wasn’t until months later when my friend and I were booking tickets to New Mexico that I remembered this encounter. I brought it up to my friend and we agreed to turn our camping trip into a hot spring tour.

New Mexico

Our first stop was a little town in Northern New Mexico called Taos. With its sweeping landscapes and surrounding mountains, it's easy to see why so many artists call this place their home. A handful of springs dot the walls of the Rio Grande Gorge that runs through Taos County, but the one we were looking for is known as Manby.

Manby hot spring has a long, complicated history but it eventually got its name from Arthur Manby, a British man who settled in Taos in the 1890s. Manby had a grand vision of turning the natural springs into a luxury tourist resort. Luckily, those plans never materialized and the little springs remain intact to plunge into for free.

After driving a few miles down a dirt path outside of Taos, my friend and I found a trailhead that took us to the bottom of the Rio Grande Gorge. We wandered down the trail, eager to dip into the first springs we saw. At the bottom, 4 pools framed the river's edge–each varying temperatures and completely empty. Just as I settled into one of the pools, I noticed a flicker of movement on the trailhead above us. A herd of Barbary sheep was strutting through the gorge in search of a meal. We watched in awe as they elegantly moved over the rocky terrain without disrupting a single pebble. 

Colorado

Our hot spring journey in Colorado brought us to a little local spot in the town of Rico. A bubbly waitress in a neighboring town had tipped us off to this local gem when we told her about our trip. 

This peaceful hot spring overlooks the Dolores River and sits just off the town's main road. The springs were first discovered in the 1970s when local miners were drilling for core samples in the area. Now, the main spring has been developed by the town's neighbors and filled in with a fiberglass tub. 

I'm forever indebted to the woman I met during my friend and I's first hot spring search. That serendipitous moment led us to some of the most enchanting places–and I have a feeling we'll be adventuring to more hot springs soon. If you find yourself on a road trip through New Mexico or Colorado anytime soon, don't miss the chance to stop by these springs for a quick dip.