Photo Courtesy of the Lodge at Hot Lakes Springs by Bill Purcell
The healing waters of geothermal springs have attracted the tired and weary for millennia. The brew of hot mineral water bubbling from the depths of the Earth has held a universally-irresistible cocktail that attracts people from all walks of life. To treat everything from minor aches and pains to skin conditions and detoxification of the entire body, modern vacationers head to the natural prescription of hot springs in the tradition of pioneers and American Indians who came before them. While springs of the Old West have been used as a medical treatment, today these welcoming oases of respite still hold the portal to a powerful escape and pause from urban hustle and bustle. For a restful, relaxing and rejuvenating journey, take a trip to one of these historic and healing hot spot springs of the West.
Photos Courtesy of the Lodge at Hot Lakes Springs by Bill Purcell
LA GRANDE, OREGON
Like the neon retro sign greeting patrons upon arrival, healing vibes radiate from the walls and pools of The Lodge at Hot Lakes Springs in La Grande, Oregon. Maybe it’s the history, or maybe it’s something in the mineral water, because this place is full of mystique and allure. At the turn of the last century, patients were sent to the hot springs by the prescription of famous doctors of the time, such as the Mayo Brothers of the renowned Mayo Clinic that carries their name. This was the scene of the resort at its zenith. Not only did the springs cure the sick, they were a major tourist attraction and saw fresh-faced visitors from around the world who arrived daily.
HISTORY OF HOT LAKES SPRINGS
Originally named Ea-Kesh-Pa by the Nez Perce, the first western record of what was next called Hot Lake is from 1812 in the writings of the author Washington Irving on the Astor Expedition. He wrote about hot water rising from the base of the Blue Mountains in Eastern Oregon, then noted that elk frequented the pool and numerous antlers and sheds could be found strewn in every direction around the pond. Sounds enchanting, right? In 1864, the first resort at Hot Lake was erected and experienced its heyday through 1931. It was one of the first commercial properties powered by geothermal energy. Referred to as the “Mayo Clinic of the West” and touted as nature’s cure for rheumatism, the location was coined a Sanatorium in 1906, a now-antiquated term for a medical establishment focused on treating people convalescing or with chronic illness.
Moving through ownership and silent partners, including the Union Pacific Railroad, the property experienced decades of trials and tribulations such as devastating fires, vandals and the harshness of the Eastern Oregon elements, resulting in claims that the springs and its surroundings were haunted. The site has been a nursing home, a museum, a flight school and nurse’s training grounds during World War II, and it even had a brief interlude as a nightclub. In 1979, “Hot Lake Resort” entered the National Registry of Historic Places and after threats from dilapidation, has been undergoing restoration under the care of Mike and Tamarah Rysavy, who acquired the property in 2020. Today, beyond the allure of the springs, The Lodge at Hot Lake Springs offers contemporary visitors all the trappings and benefits of a modern road trip destination. A movie theater, dining at the appropriately themed Thermal Pub and Eatery, comfortable lodging and, of course, luxurious soaks in the hot springs offer travelers a relaxing respite in the heart of Eastern Oregon. See hotlakelodge.com.
Photo Courtesy Glenwood Hot Springs Resort
Lava Hot Springs
Lava Hot Springs, Idaho
While hot springs can be quiet, tucked away, regional amenities, in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, geothermal activity fuels in-town activities. Historically, hot water has been bubbling up through basalt, travertine and quartzite since time immemorial, when pools were used by local Bannock and Shoshone tribes. Just two hours north of Salt Lake City, Utah, and three hours south of Yellowstone Park, today, Lava Hot Springs Resort curates five commercially maintained gravel bottom pools ranging from 102-112 degrees Fahrenheit. Though the hot water is laden with healing minerals, it’s devoid of the sulfur odor. More than 2.5 million gallons per day filter through the pools, keeping the springs pristine. During a visit, discover the in-room hot spring baths at Home Hotel, centrally located downtown for more than a century. For a five-star experience, the Riverside Hot Springs Inn & Spa delivers hot mineral spring soaking options in a spa environment along with onsite fine dining. See lavahotsprings.com.
Carson Hot Springs
Just an hour’s drive from Portland, Oregon in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, Carson Hot Springs has been healing visitors since the 1870s when the springs were found bubbling up through river stones in a creek bottom. Starting with homesteaders erecting a simple space for patrons to “take the waters,” and heal a variety of ailments including neuralgia, today, a 1930s authentic charm is evoked through clawfoot tubs and vintage stylings in a traditional bathhouse setting. Visitors can follow up their healing bath with a linen wrap and a luxurious massage. The resort offers dining at Elk Ridge restaurant, a variety of comfortable accommodations and an 18-hole golf course. Whether as a treehouse stay or in a first-class suite, enjoy the modern amenities of Skamania Lodge, a short and scenic drive from the hot springs. Located in the Gorge National Scenic area, both Skamania Lodge and Carson Hot Springs are proximal to unlimited recreation choices. Waterfall sightseeing, historic hiking and cycling trails, boat cruises and whitewater rafting are a few of the activities available to fill the day. See carsonhotspringswashington.com.
Glenwood Hot Springs Resort
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Since 1888, the iconic Glenwood Hot Springs Resort has held the title of being the largest hot spring in the world. Yampah, meaning “big medicine” in the Ute American Indian language, is the traditional name given to the therapeutic hot waters. The Ute people were the first to harness the health benefits of these mineral- rich springs that bubbled up from the earth’s core and surfaced beside the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon. The resort includes a modern overnight lodge, a poolside grill, an athletic club and a boutique, and is located a short walk from historic downtown Glenwood Springs. Soak, settle in and stay awhile.
Like the flowing path of each spring through the Earth, the power of Western hot springs is circuitously part medicine, part placebo, with much history and many layers of mystery. See hotspringspool.com.
Photos top left by Ann Yearsley, courtesy of Southeast Idaho High Country Tourism | top middle: getty.com/franckreporter | top right: Sam Fischer