Hot springs are nature’s spa. And since you find them in settings like vast deserts and moss-shrouded forests, they can often be combined with an outdoor activity, be it hiking, running, or even surfing. While some springs require reservations and planning — to avoid the crowds that make them seem more like water parks than quiet getaways — several lesser-known hot springs, from Death Valley to Vancouver Island, do offer welcome solitude. Here’s where to go.

A word on natural hot springs

These natural hot springs are private and often free, but what they don’t offer are on-site facilities. So accept the clothing-optional vibes where applicable and pack in (and out) everything you might need. Be sure to also carry plenty of water and stay hydrated.

1. Saline Valley Hot Springs, California

 

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There’s one reason why the Saline Valley Hot Springs, tucked into an out-of-the-way corner of Death Valley, remain pristine and, for the most part, uncrowded: They’re really, really remote. Directions are scarce since rangers are hesitant to give out information on the whereabouts of the hot springs, but if you find them, expect several hours of driving on a washboard road. Once you arrive, sweaty, dusty, and potentially with newfound experience in changing flat tires, expect an oasis. Palm trees cluster in thick stands around hot springs while creosote dots the valley floor and provide a sweet, smoky scent to the sunbaked earth.

Due to the isolated location, be prepared for high heat, cold desert nights, and a gang of resident wild donkeys to be a nuisance (or a delight, depending on your take). Clothing is optional. (Note: In mid-2018, national park officials took public comment on the hot springs. They’re considering removing the non-native palms and recent art, as well as setting up a permit system for some campsites — but will keep the hot springs open to the public.)

2. Hot Springs Cove, British Columbia

 

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Hot Springs Cove, located on the storm-ravaged western coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, is accessible only by boat or by seaplane. Take a guided trip from Tofino, Canada’s surf capital, where you’ll step out onto a cedar boardwalk engulfed by bright green old growth forest. After a 30-minute walk, take a soak in one of several hot springs and enjoy waterfalls and a view of the ocean. While the hot springs can be packed in the summer, the off-season is a better time to go to avoid the crowds. Hot Springs Cove is family friendly; most don bathing suits.

3. Meadow Hot Springs, Utah

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Stop in Meadow, Utah, scan the horizon, and you’re not likely to see anything. Drive down a country ride, follow the correct meadow-laced trail, and you’ll see it: hot springs so turquoise they rival the color of the Caribbean. The property owner allows visitors, so be sure to respect the signs and leave no trace. Choose between three pools, the warmest of which feels like a hot tub. For a fun surprise, hike over to the last pool where freshwater fish will nibble on your feet. Meadow Hot Springs is family friendly with bathing suits preferred.

4. Deep Creek Hot Springs, California

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California has numerous hot springs, and for the most part they’ve not been privatized. This is good news for the intrepid traveler who’s willing to drive far and hike farther. Deep Creek Hot Springs offers plenty of privacy due to the 45-minute hike from your parking spot at Bowen Ranch to the river where hot springs await. Take your time going down and, later, back up the steep trail — horny toads are frequently spotted, and Jerusalem crickets appear at dusk.

Due to the popularity of the trail, a $10 fee per person is required. The hot springs can be accessed from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM, which provides plenty of time to relax in the warm waters before finding camp at least one-mile from Deep Creek, a recent requirement. Bring plenty of water; this trail is almost entirely exposed and temperatures can reach over 100°F in the summer months. Deep Creek Hot Springs is generally clothing optional.

5. Verde River Hot Springs, Arizona

 

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It’s a long, rough road to these secluded hot springs, but it’s well worth the drive. The Verde River Hot Springs have the same bohemian atmosphere as Sedona just a few hours to the north — the walls of one of the main pools has been painted in kaleidoscopic colors by visitors and locals alike. Admire the art while basking in 98°F water.

The current site sits on the grounds of a once-popular resort that sadly burned down in 1962. The hot springs remain an attraction as nearby camping makes for a great weekend trip. From the decommissioned Child Powers plant, follow the river for one mile before crossing over. Prepare to get wet, but avoid putting yourself or a loved one in a dangerous situation if the river is overly high or flowing strong. While nudity is prohibited, rules are not strictly enforced.

6. Sykes Hot Springs, California

 

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Located deep in Big Sur’s Ventana Wilderness, Sykes is perhaps the most rewarding hot spring on this list. That’s because the hike out there — more than just a long drive from San Francisco or a quick stop along scenic 101 — is a 20-mile round-trip trek. Backpack in, enjoy a clothing-optional soak at any one of the numerous baths, and then set up camp on the bank of the river. There, you can watch golden-crowned kinglets flit from tree to tree and let the warm waters rejuvenate your muscles. The trail to the baths have been closed since late 2017 but are set to re-open in mid-2019. Check the trail information for updates.