HOT SPRINGING ETIQUETTE: 18 Rules to Know Before You Soak
If you haven’t ever scoured the state for a natural hot spring—and by scour we mean using every lunch break browsing Google Maps, perfecting every last item in your gear bag, and spending every weekend on a dirt road in search of hot water—then BRACE YOURSELF. This exciting pursuit has a tendency of taking over your life. If you’re new to hot springing, you may soon find yourself soaking your cares away in stunning places you thought could only exist on Instagram (as well as, hopefully, plenty that still don’t).
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Even better, the culture you’re about to find yourself immersed in is unlike any other, filled with some cool people who share a love for hot water. It’s an entire subculture that begs to be explored, but before you call yourself a soaker, there’s a buy-in: educating yourself on a widely accepted, largely unwritten code of ethics. Lucky for you, we’re going to share a handful of the big ones right here.
1. Get On Board With The Thrill Of The Hunt
To the untrained eye, it might seem like an endless sea of sagebrush and rolling basin and ranges. NEWSFLASH: there are tons of hot springs out there—in fact, Nevada has the most hot springs in the United States—begging to be basked in during Golden Hour and beyond. And finding natural hot springs takes work. A LOT of work. But doesn’t that make that payoff even more satisfying? It’s like this magical little gift, once you’ve made it. Plus, we’ll be frank: working for it a bit harder means it’s probably going to weed out a bunch of people who are too lazy to really get after it. Spend the time researching hot spots, carefully select your crew, bring the right gear and get hunting.
2. Plot Out The Gear You Need To Get This Thing Done, And Come To Grips With The Fact That Sometimes It Just Doesn’t Work Out
We’ve gotta get this info in front of you before you get in too deep: not every mission will be a “successful” one—something all kinds of outdoor adventurers can feel us on. You may be bagging one of Nevada’s tallest peaks and the rain pushes you into a compromising situation in the canyon, or you might be after a Lahontan Cutthroat and Pyramid gets too stormy and you’ve gotta back out. The same goes with chasing hot springs, and should be perceived as any other outdoor adventure gig.
The good news? It’s easy. All you’ve gotta do is travel prepared with all the right gear and think smart! Most of these hot springs are way deep in Nevada backroads, in places that are the exact opposite of well-maintained. Bring a spare tire (sometimes two, depending on where you’re headed), extra water, a headlamp, towels, attire you can get seriously dirty in, gear to stay warm and of course an unwavering sense of adventure. Some days you’ll hit the freaking jackpot, and others you’ll spend the entire day chasing what turns out to be a cold or unsoakable spring… or blow a few tires. There are definitely more good days than bad for the hot spring-crazed, but just keep that perception in check and it will ultimately prevent a few grown-up temper tantrums.
3. Google Maps Ain’t Gonna Cut It
In rural Nevada, Google Maps is just about as handy as a full-on scuba setup on the playa—totally bogus. Unless you want to spend a frustrating afternoon screenshotting as you weave in and out of service, this just isn’t going to work. Spring for a map, or even better, a super detailed state atlas and get down to some good old fashioned map navigating. Trust us, powering down your phone will have a way of freeing you unlike ever before. Those off-grid days are what I live for. Throw a hot spring (or ten) in the mix and you’re really knocking it over the fence.
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4. Sport The Right Shoes And Pack An Extra Suit Or Two
If searching for a hot pool in the middle of a desert is appealing to you, we’re thinkin’ it’s probably safe to say that you’re ready to get messy. Well, good! You’re more than likely going to. Most Nevada hot springs are surrounded by a muddy alkali sort of surface that you won’t be able to drive on. When hunting down a spring, parking a few hundred feet away is more than likely, due to weather conditions. (Plus, etiquette-wise, it’s simply not cool to park right on top of the spring anyway.) It’s a good idea to bring some shoes that you can get messy in, and we mean really messy. Think sinking up to your ankles in mud that’s the consistency of peanut butter quicksand, then grab the right shoes. Most typically, some kind of high, waterproof boot does the trick just fine. Along with the right shoes, it’s a foolproof trick to bring multiple swimsuits… because who wants to spring hop with a wet suit? That, or who wants to change out of a swimsuit, only to put a cold, wet one back on in the dead of winter? No thanks. Trust us on this one, the right garb can help steer your springing excursion from just good to one you can’t forget.
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5. Live by the Hot Springing Buddy System… ‘Cause Adventures Are Always More Fun When You’ve Got a Crew
This one is pretty plain and simple, guys. Nevada is a gargantuan state, and most of the places you’re going to be getting into are indescribably remote. Like, think of a tow truck having to come 6 hours to get you… if you can even call out to one. It’s a smart idea to let a friend know what section of the state you’re heading to for the weekend, and it’s always a good idea to bring friends along with you. Sure, call it a safety measure, but it’s just downright more fun to rip down a dirt road with the windows down and music up with your best buds, in hot pursuit of a spring.
6. Public Land Is Public Land, But Don’t Be A Spring Hog. Let Everyone Get In On The Action
With over 70,000 acres of land to do just about whatever you want on, Nevada is the lucky recipient of the most public lands in the entire continental U.S, and a handful of natural hot springs are found on them. Here’s the deal. They’re PUBLIC, meaning they belong to everyone. No one can stake them out as their own, no matter the situation. Luckily, many of these have a handful of sources and soaking pools, affording plenty of room to spread out for everyone. But if there isn’t, remember to let everyone get their moment of paradise in, too. You’ve gotta remember that other peeps, like you, probably drove several hours to get in a good soak, so be sure to let ‘em. Of course, it’s easy to be friendly; if they made that same wild haul for the same reason, they’re probably pretty cool, anyway.
7. When It Comes To Gates (and Private Property in General), Leave It How You Found It
Nevada’s public lands are made for the embrace, but we’ve gotta remind you that a small chunk of Nevada’s bevy of hot springs are, indeed, on private land. This means that you’re technically “trespassing,” so if you’re going to do it, PLEASE be respectful. Most Nevada ranchers out there who know they’ve got a zen zone on their property are down to let people enjoy it, so long as they don’t trash it. ‘Tis true, several source tubs have been shot up so the tubs won’t hold water, or have been dozed by the ranchers in retaliation to those who don’t respect it—a consequence that affects our whole community. Obviously, this is true about garbage (see #15).
But the biggie here is the situation with the gates. Sure, a rancher is not going to be very happy with a bunch of garbage strewn about, but if one of his cows gets loose—or worse—falls into a source and drowns, it’s just not cool. General rule of thumb? Leave it how you found it. If the gate is open, leave it open. If you found it closed, make sure you close it behind you, even just through the duration of your soak. The fact that they’re letting you on to their land is pretty cool, so be sure to treat it as your own.
8. Boast The Badge Of A Hot Springs Steward
That whole thing about leaving it better than you found it? Most people in the hot springing community live and die by that school of thought. Of course, there are exceptions to every case. Don’t be surprised if, once in a blue moon, you roll up on a spring that’s completely thrashed. Whether that happened as a result of a few too many libations and poor decision making, or Mother Nature got her hooks on it, you’re bound to come across it at some point. And when you do, spring into action like the badass hot springs stewards we know you are. Remember that hot springs gear kit we mentioned earlier? This is yet another reason to have it totally dialed in—the right shoes, light source and tools can help you get a spring back on track to a soakable state once more.
The shot pictured above was a result of a nearby creek flooding, which taco-ed the tub in half and tossed it about 10 feet away on a bank. Despite the fact that there was so little water in it (a situation that seems like you could just tip it up to drain it), it was incomprehensibly heavy—three grown men couldn’t lift the thing. In order to get it back in the right spot under the source tube, we grabbed our headlamps and knee-high waterproof boots, rolled up our sleeves and used our only available resource (dog bowls!) to scoop enough water out to move the tub back into position. And perfectly on cue, a bunch of other hot springers showed up and did the exact same thing, making this rescue mission a collaborative effort. About two hours later the tub was a slice of paradise again, because everyone there left it better than they found it, doing small measures to make it enjoyable, not just for our own use, but also for future soakers. Most springs on private land are looked after by the community, and if you’re getting in the spring, you’re lumped into that community. Do your best to contribute—something we promise to be crazy-rewarding to say the very least.
9. Remember: It’s Aliiiive!
Aside from treading lightly and flexing that stewardship muscle, remember—like most untamed landscapes—there is sometimes some not-so-good stuff in there to be mindful of, too. The Red Spider Mite, which in all actuality, is exactly as gross as it sounds. Ever heard of chiggers? The nasty devils that will bite you, only to attempt to burrow under your skin to LAY THEIR EGGS? The Red Spider Mite is a member of that delightful family tree, and happens to live in a handful of northern Nevada natural-bottomed springs. Just as their name eludes to, these things are tiny red insects, and barely visible to the naked eye. In fact, we’ve dabbled in a slew of springs and almost forgotten to check; that’s how un-obvious this situation is. Most Red Spider Mites thrive on the vegetation surrounding the water, or can be more easily spotted on rocks, or the surface of the water. The bad news: you do NOT want to be ravaged by these guys… they can bite you up to hundreds of times without you really even noticing until it’s too late, and the recovery period will include ungodly amounts of cortisone. The good news: checking for these guys is super easy. Before taking the plunge in a natural-bottom hot spring, all you gotta do is dunk your index finger in. If there are mites, they’ll surely crawl onto your finger (which you can wipe away quickly and move on to the next soak option). If you don’t see any signs of any teensy tiny red bug clinging to that digit, you’re in the clear. Mite-free.
And then there’s “THE AMOEBA.” Extremely unusual? Yes. But still a thing? Definitely. Learn this one, and learn it good: it’s probably not the smartest idea to dunk your head under water at a natural bottom hot spring, it just isn’t. The real name for this thing is Naegleri fowleri, otherwise known as a brain-eating amoeba (yeah, this is not a drill, I really did just say brain-eating) likes to live in warm water, like ponds, rock pits, mud puddles, warm rivers and ponds, untreated swimming pools, aquariums and… yep, hot springs. If you wade into N. Fowleri territory and accidentally snort water up your dang nose, things could get ugly… like, really ugly. Once the amoeba takes its most natural path into the body (your nose), it gets into your frontal lobe, gets hungry, and… well, brain matter is food for them. So even if you think it’s safe, no dunking your head under water at any hot springs, ya dig?
10. Use That Noggin Of Yours Before Taking The Plunge
You see a totally perfect crystal-clear body of hot spring heaven and it’s calling you in all the most seductive ways. JUMP IN, they whisper. I know I’ve totally been there, more times than we can count, but when it comes to hot springs, it’s a bit of a game changer. Many Nevada hot springs have the foolproof cattle trough, or bathtub with water irrigated into it…a ringing indicator many soakers have enjoyed the spring. But, sources are known to change sporadically just as often as any other environmental factor would. You might come up on a spring that’s lukewarm, and 6 months later it will be way too hot to get into, or vice versa. This is particularly true with natural bottom hot springs (think Soldier Meadows) and it’s always, ALWAYS crucial to check the temp before taking a dip. There’s clearly tons of geothermal activity bubbling about and, as we know, heat rises, so the temperature on the surface can be misleading. That, and be sure to keep close tabs on your pups, as we all know how much dogs love jumping into bodies of water!
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11. What Dress Code??
When it comes to unwinding at a hot spring in middle of nowhere Nevada, be willing to let that freak flag fly. No, but seriously. When it comes to dress code at a hot spring, the proper etiquette here is no etiquette. It’s totally the norm to come up on a spring and find everyone in the nude, so just be prepared to roll with it. Come to think of it, we’d say that’s more common than not. People who are there before you earn the right to set precedent and overall vibe, and the same goes if you’re the first in. That being said, if you show up and people are nude and you don’t want to be, no one will ever force you to strip down, but definitely don’t expect everyone else to put clothes on. And, if you show up and other people are in suits but you have your heart set on rocking that birthday suit, ask if everyone is ok with it. A good rule of thumb is to bring a suit, just in case. I will say that getting nakie in a hot spring is basically a Nevada rite of passage. Deep down, you know you want to do it, so just go for it. Could circumstances be any more glorious?
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12. Feel Out The Vibe
Just as you’ll hone in on the clothing-optional scene, take note of the overall mood at the spring, too. This one, however, is a total grab bag. You might come up on a total and complete and total party with dozens of people, but you could just as easily find a family or a few people trying to relax and enjoy the quiet. Obey the vibe! Either way, you get a solid soak out of the deal, and the other people probably wont be there forever, so you can do what you want after they hit the trail. But, as long as there are other people on site, remember yo’ manners.
13. Towels Are For Amateurs
The only reason you might need a towel? For keeping the floorboards of your adventure-mobile clean when you drag your muddy feet in there. The serious hot enthusiast ups their game with yet another crucial gear bag item: A ROBE. You might think I’m nuts when we lay this out, but the minute you depart a tasty spring at 2 AM in 16 degree weather, you’ll be saying a prayer to us. Snagging a standard, no-frills robe at Target is totally the way to go. If you can find a hooded robe, then you’re really in biz. Any way you cut it, the only place for a towel is the bathroom or at the pool.
14. …And So Are Glass Bottles
Hear us when we say this: a highly anticipated soak will be instantly wrecked if you roll up to a source to find shards of glass at the bottom, totally preventing you from getting in. Picture driving for hours on end and finding this circumstance… not cool. So don’t do it! Dump your libations into a Nalgene, opt for cans (you can find amazing beverage choices in cans these days), or get serious with this “sport” and add a double-insulated cup to your gear kit. Sure, a foolproof Red Solo works, but having something that’s part of your pack will be so much more satisfying in all the best ways, and you don’t have to deal with picking up a bunch of trash after your springing experience comes to an end. You’ve successfully stalked down a spring, know how to read a real map, are sporting a robe AND and you’ve got a fancy schmancy cup? Get out. Now you’ve totally gone pro.
15. Camping Directly On Top Of The Spring? Poor Form
The thing about hot springs on public land is the fact that they’re public. You show up to a spring you’ve searched all day to find, the sunset is popping, no one is there, the tub is gloriously overflowing in all the most inviting ways and the entire sexy scenario has seduced you in all the right ways. But it’s PUBLIC! Whomp, whomp. Considering you’ve got to work a bit to reach all Nevada hot springs, overcrowding isn’t your main concern here. But, who’s to say someone might not show up in the middle of the night, only to find you rudely staked out right on top of the spring.
This one, friends, is a no go. If you’re the only person there, you might be the only person there for that chunk of hours, and you’ve gotta share the place. We know you’re excited to stake your claim, but back off just a smidge. Good form is staking your setup at least 50-75 feet away from the source… 100 if you want to ace this thing, AND follow BLM rules of the road. As for private property? Camping altogether is probably frowned upon unless there’s a sign indicating that you can. As for campfires? Heed Smokey’s guidance and make sure that thing is out or nonexistent altogether, based on statewide fire restrictions. And when we say out, we mean OUT – no smoldering fires before you hit the road.
16. Leave That Source Trickle 50/50
Picture this: you ramble through the desert for hours on end in search of the perfect, heavenly spring and find it… but bummer! It’s boiling hot because some ding dong left the main source barreling into the thing—and since it’s a metal tub and kinda warmish outside, it’s now going to take SEVEN HOURS to cool down enough not to boil those buns. OR you’re making your way through subzero Nevada thinking “Hey yeah, a super-piping-hot spring sounds perfect in 10-degree weather; I think I want that right now.” But nope! Someone left the source completely out of the tub—and since it’s barely a trickle, it’s going to take until this time tomorrow to be truly relaxing. Well, friends? There’s an easy fix for that one.
If you’re basking in the tasty treats of a hot springs with a tub (versus a natural pool with the source just coming straight into the thing, like Soldier Meadows) it’s probably going to have some kind of irrigation going on… an actual tube or pipe delivering water directly into the tub. The easiest way to make Nevada hot springs enjoyable no matter when you find them, or what season it is—when you finish your soak—to leave that source flowing 50% into the tub and 50% out of it. Sure, if it’s too hot while you’re actually there, definitely get that source flow outta there… or if it’s too cold, blast that sucker into the tub. But, before hitting the trail, leave that thing 50/50 so the next person has a real chance at controlling the temp during their special spring time.
17. Pack It In, Pack It Out… And Yes, That Sometimes Includes Other People’s Crap
Another nugget to keep in that handy-dandy gear pack I’ve been raving about is a box of trash bags. As much as we know you don’t want to pick up other people’s leaky, disgusting garbage, you’re at the spring and the fact of the matter is this: now you’re involved. Lead by example, always, but get down with that hot spring ambassador-ish, kick-ass steward-ness I know exists in your heart of hearts and make sure to leave the place in tip-top shape. The Leave No Trace (or Leave As Little of a Trace As Possible), is such an important thread, no matter what sort of activity you’re after, but particularly hot springs.
This is what separates Nevada from other hot spring locations. Our hot springs are mostly well-maintained, lesser-known and uncrowded, and clean. We get it, you’re there to relax and the last thing you want to do in your free time is pick up a bunch of garbage, especially at a hot spring paradise, but we’ve got to stress: be sure to pick up after yourself and others. Often times you’ll find yourself in a serious party scene at a spring, where everyone takes turns filling a garbage bag, making sure to stay on top of it. But even if you’re the only one there, you, sadly, might find trash strewn about. Pack it in/pack it out, people. When you show up to a pristine spring on some random occasion 10 years from now, you’ll be thanking us and all the other peeps like you who did their part to keep it nice.
18. Post The Shot And Instigate Some Insta FOMO. But Please! No Geotagging
You’ve earned your stripes in Nevada backroads exploration, rocked some pro-status gear and made the feat look like childsplay, and done your part in maintaining these euphoric getaways. We know you snapped a pic… or a hundred. This my friends, constitutes a kickass Nevada adventure and is something you should be proud of. By all means, POST THE SHOT! You’ve earned it. But, don’t make the ultimate faux pas by calling out where the thing is. Around here, we take sacred spaces seriously and, for all you know, this is that spot for someone. Working all day to find a place that’s lesser known is like a gift. Be sure to respect the culture and keep the momentum rolling and treat it like one.The notion that Nevada hot springs are pristine and relatively secretive is out of the ordinary to say the very least… so let’s keep ‘em that way. Now get out there and have some FUN! Cheers to happy springing #NVHotSprings
… already know the etiquette drill? Here are 10 ways to kick it up a notch.