It’s no surprise that the Black Rock Desert—an area known for stunning landscapes, and untamed remoteness—is home to an impressive series of some of Nevada’s best natural hot springs. Here, visitors can soak in a handful of dammed up pools that are part of a hot creek stretching through the valley, and embrace Old West history delights that together, equates to the stuff Nevada backroads Super Soaker dreams are made of.
HISTORIC SOLDIER MEADOWS
The Northern Paiute were the first people to have lived in, and occupied the Great Basin. Calling this region home for more than 10,000 years, this group of people were the first to use these natural hot springs, utilizing the plants, animals, and rocks that you can still see near the springs today, as food, fiber and tools. By the mid 1800s, the California Gold Rush was in full swing, with thousands of pioneers making their way west in hopes of grabbing onto their piece of the American Dream.
The California Trail—which stretched across the western half of the United States, bringing thousands West—continued through Nevada, with an offshoot to northern California and Oregon. Named the Applegate Trail, this brought people from central Nevada through northwestern Nevada, through the Black Rock Desert. Traversing such an inhospitable environment with sweltering temps, no shade, water or vegetation was a gruelling task—it wasn’t until reaching Soldier Meadows that settlers could rest and restock crucial supplies. When visiting this rugged corner of Nevada, keep an eye out for intact portions of the original trail that can still be seen, as the area has remained mostly untouched for more than 150 years.
The U.S. Army built a cavalry post named Camp McGarry near Summit Lake Indian Reservation to protect emigrants as they traveled along the Applegate Trail. Officer’s quarters, mess barracks, and a 100-horse stone barn were constructed in the area—which can still be seen today. After the post was abandoned in 1868, small ranches have absorbed and maintained this historic site.
VISITING SOLDIER MEADOWS HOT SPRINGS TODAY
With four to six bathing spots on this BLM-managed hot spring, most bathing pools are made up of dammed pockets along a natural hot springs river. This shallow, hot creek runs along a large part of the valley, with separate pools ideal for soaking. An additional two pools can be found in the area, that are more traditional 6 foot pools surrounded by marshy vegetation. Though many other natural hot springs in Nevada are irrigated with natural hot spring water dumping into a cattle trough, what’s happening at Soldier Meadows is au naturale—seeping straight out of the ground. Water temperature at Soldier Meadows Hot Springs ranges from mid 90s to low 100s, but because many environmental factors are ever changing, please be sure to practice good hot springing etiquette and always check water temps before entering a spring.
Best yet, Soldier Meadows Hot Springs is equipped with about a dozen-or-so free BLM campsites. And trust us, with a hot spring this remote, camping in the area is a must. Look for the designated campsite markers, and please remember to restrict campfires to existing fire rings. If you’re in luck, take advantage of the free, BLM-managed cabin at Soldier Meadows. Available on a first-come, first-served basis, this small cabin is equipped with a wood burning stove, pit toilet, and plenty of room to stretch out for the night.
A UNIQUE AND SENSITIVE ENVIRONMENT
Though Soldier Meadows is public land and accessible for all to enjoy, please be sure to leave little to no impact when visiting this unique environment. Tucked in a very remote section of the Black Rock Desert, this environment is essentially protected by proximity, but home to a variety of rare wildlife, plants and cultural resources. The Desert Dace—a threatened fish species found only at Soldier Meadows—lives within the hot spring pools, as do the Soldier Meadows Springsnails—a specialized, ancient aquatic mollusk known only to exist in Nevada’s Great Basin. Please remember your impact when visiting this fragile landscape.
When exploring Nevada’s beautiful backcountry, always remember to travel prepared. Remember to bring a spare tire (a tire patch kit wouldn’t hurt either,) extra fuel, and plenty of food and water. This is a spectacular section of Nevada, but is also one of the state’s most rugged and remote. It proves to be a great way to hit reset, but remember this: you will be in fact be disconnected from cell service and away from all modern conveniences like restaurants and gas stations. Do not attempt to travel in this area unless you’ve come equipped with a high clearance, 4 wheel drive vehicle.
Travel smart and plan ahead. Before embarking on Black Rock Desert adventures swing through the Friends of Black Rock office in Gerlach for the most up to date Playa and surrounding area conditions. To plan ahead, dial Friends of Black Rock directly at (775) 557-2900.