Hot Springs are definitely one of the most fascinating natural gems I’ve experienced out west (so far). There’s something quite magical about hanging out in a hot tub that comes directly from the earth. As a bonus, apparently soaking in the mineral-rich water is considered highly beneficial for a variety of ailments and pains (think of it as a mineral bath soak, just outside of your bathtub). Arizona Hot Springs has slowly become a favorite destination of mine – for many reasons- one of them being the landscape surrounding the area. Is there anything cooler than hot springs hiding inside of a slot canyon? (pun slightly intended..)
The first time hiking here, my sister and I took a wrong turn (or few) and ended up climbing some highly questionable cliffs. Questionable meaning: climbing on hands and knees as you try not to slide off the edge of the cliffside, throwing your backpack over the edge in an effort to not get snagged on overhanging rocks and toppled to your death, while trying not to cry as your anxiety screams that this is a terrible life decision. Clearly, we survived the trek, and I’ve gotten much more familiar with the terrain in this area. Whether day hiking or backpacking in to camp for a night, hopefully this post helps steer you in the right direction!
- About 6 miles roundtrip (much of which is in open desert)
- Bring lots of water- like, more than you think is needed. The combination of the desert sun, heat in the canyons, and the hot springs tend to have an extra dehydrating effect
- Do not get hot springs water up your nose! (more info below)
- This trail is closed in the summer months (May 15- September 30 according to http://www.nps.gov) due to extreme heat
- Although not totally necessary, downloading an app that allows you to view trails and your GPS location in relation to them can be really helpful (I’ve been using one called Hiking Project- yay for not getting lost!)
- A pdf map is available here
From Vegas, head towards the Hoover Dam. After passing the Dam, while on U.S. Route 93 you cross into Arizona. At the mile 4 marker, there will be a left hand turn that allows you to cut across the highway, continuing up to a parking lot. This is the trailhead- there are a few informational signs posted, including a map of the trail.
The full hike is roughly a 6 mile loop, taking you down White Rock Canyon, alongside the Colorado River, and up Hot Spring Canyon to the hot springs. You can also head directly down Hot Spring Canyon to the springs and back, which will shave off some distance. I personally prefer to hike the loop- it makes for more diverse scenery and terrain, plus you get to check out the river (living in the desert has made me extra appreciative of larger bodies of water.. well, any water really).
Regardless of your chosen route, you’ll be hiking through a wash, out in the desert. There are some faint trails that crisscross around out here, but overall it’s pretty simple to just continue following the wash in your chosen direction until it narrows into a canyon. White Rock Canyon is fairly easy terrain in my opinion- soft footing, minimal climbing/scrambling, gradually heading downhill. The canyon ends at the Colorado River, and the trail heads left. At some points you will find yourself climbing up rocks and over the cliffs that line the river banks. You may find an opportunity that looks too fun to pass up- I can never resist jumping in the river, no matter how cold! (Please ensure you check the depth and surroundings thoroughly if doing so. It would be a long hike back with a head injury or broken bone… just saying.)
Following the trail with the aid of a few post markers, you’ll find yourself climbing down a steep hill into Hot Springs Canyon. If you turn left, this will lead you to the springs. Turning right will take you through a camping area, and then to the river (there is also a primitive bathroom out this way). Heading to the left, you’ll be following the canyon up, where a trickling stream of water on the canyon floor slowly starts to get warmer. After several minutes and a few scrambles over rocks and small waterfalls, a 20′ ladder is the final obstacle before reaching the springs. Careful- spray from the neighboring waterfall makes this ladder extremely slick!
There are several pools to choose from, typically increasing in temperature as you work your way up. Some of the pools are deeper than others, so be careful if walking through with your dry clothes/ gear (I think the deepest pool is about waist deep at most). Pick your preference and get comfortable!
WARNING- you need to keep your face out of the water (or at the very least, plug your nose if submerging). There’s a rare but lethal amoeba (Naegleria fowleri) that can lurk in hot springs- don’t worry too much, as it can only enter your body through your nose, but certainly be aware.
Hiking up Hot Springs Canyon is a bit more strenuous than the hike in- there’s a particularly long hill that seems like it never ends. However, as soon as you drag yourself to the top of that final hill you’ll be comforted with the sight of the road and bridge beside the trailhead in the distance.
Hot Springs Canyon has a long stretch of open ground for camping – I’ve seen tons of people camping in this area, I believe there are a lot of kayak/ canoe trips that stop here for the night. Although more crowded, the benefits of camping here are: easier access to the springs, and the added bonus of a nearby bathroom. If hiking the loop, when you get to the end of White Rock Canyon there is a large rocky area that provides a more secluded camping experience, and as you walk by the river you find other spots scattered around. Be aware that the water levels can increase or decrease, so I wouldn’t recommend camping too close to the water’s edge. There’s definitely not a surplus of firewood, so if you’re intending on having a fire, plan on bringing your own. According to the helpful folks at the Lake Mead Visitor’s Center, campfires are allowed as long as you are 100′ away from vegetation, .5 miles away from a road, and don’t leave the fire unattended (please, just consider this last one a golden rule). If you camp out, try to wake up early and hit the springs- they’re much less populated in the initial morning hours! Enjoy your trip, and if you have any questions I am happy to answer to the best of my ability.