Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall - any time is a good time to take a dip in a hot spring. These thermal waters have a way of refreshing a person right down to their very soul. Interestingly enough, hot springs aren't just limited to already balmy places. Sometimes the best hot springs sit in the coldest places on Earth, patiently waiting for visitors like a hot tub in winter, except not as expensive to heat. Whether visitors want to dive right in or just want to look at the steaming, ethereal waters, the world is filled with magical hot springs that feast both the body and the eyes.
Blood Pond Hot Springs, Japan
Blood Pond is one of the nine "hells" (jigoku) that serve as the main attraction for Beppu, Japan. As the ominous names like "the nine hells" and "Blood Pond" may suggest, these hot springs are more for viewing than for soaking, with Blood Pond being the most photogenic of the nine. The Blood Pond Hot Spring is notable for its hot, red water that are the product of an over abundance of iron in the water. This means that if visitors were to have a soak in Blood Pond, they would come out smelling like an old penny. However, the biggest deterrent is the temperature. At 172°F (77°C), the temperature is far too hot for humans to stand for long. So hot that in the past it was used as a form of torture by local lords. Those looking for a soak in Beppu may be cut off from the nine hells, but they need not worry. As a hot spring town, Beppu, Japan has more than a few people-friendly hot springs to enjoy.
Grand Prismatic Hot Springs, USA
Grand Prismatic Hot Springs is the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world. Located in Yellowstone National Park, this pool released 560 gallons (2000 liters) of 160°F (71°C) water/minute. As such an unpleasantly warm spring, this is another "look but don't touch" affair. However, what a view it gives. The vibrant colors that sit on the edges of the spring range from green to a brilliant hue of red and orange as a result from algae and other pigmented bacteria that thrive in the mineral-rich water. However, the striking blue at the center of the pool comes from the extreme heat that has rendered the water too sterile to support life. Although the pool is too hot to have a soak in and a number of visitors have actually gotten hurt trying to test the waters, visitors can walk out over the waters on a wooden footbridge to get up-close-and-personal pictures of the water's unique coloring.
Blue Lagoon Hot Springs, Iceland
The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the biggest attractions in Iceland and easily one of the most famous hot springs in the world. Contrary to popular belief, the Blue Lagoon is not actually a naturally occurring hot springs. The waters are heated by passing close to a lava flow in the area, but the superheated waters are first used to fuel a nearby geothermal plant located on the lava field in Grindavík before being pumped down into the Blue Lagoon pool for visitors to bathe in. The temperature of the massive pool area averages on a soothing 104°F (40°C) and is rich with minerals including silica and sulfur. The combination of minerals and heat are lauded for their therapeutic effect, reputed to help people with arthritis as well as skin conditions like psoriasis.
Champagne Pool, New Zealand
The Champagne Pool is the highlight of New Zealand's famous Wai-O-Tapu geothermal area. However, while visitors will find a number of natural thermal springs in the area that are great for a soak, this is not one of them. At an average temperature of 165°F (74°C), the waters are too hot, and get even hotter underneath the spring, to around 500°F. The pool is named for the dramatic release of carbon dioxide from beneath the earth that cause the water to bubble like champagne. That, combined with the orange ring created around the edge by metalloid compounds makes this effervescent beauty quite the looker.
Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs, USA
Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs is just one of the many hot springs one can find in Colorado, but it is easily the state's most magical. Located about seven miles from nearby Steamboat Springs, the natural springs at Strawberry Park have been molded to be the centerpiece of the resort area. The owners have built beautiful stone walls to enclose the natural pools which give the area a bit of fairy tale appeal. Waters heated to a soothing 104°F (40°C) flow from the earth before cascading down a series of pools and returning to the snow melt stream that leads from the area. Even in the winter when the pool area is surrounded by the famous champagne snow, the pools remain open and blessedly warm for visitors that want to revel in the winter wonderland without much of a chill.
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Pamukkale Hot Springs, Turkey
This is one spring that every traveller needs to add to their bucket list right now. Pamukkale translates roughly to "cotton castle" in Turkish and this is an attraction that lives up to its name. Over the years, the carbonate minerals in the spring waters have affixed themselves to the rock and formed a series of white terraces that look soft and white just like a ball of cotton. Together with the ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis, Pamukkale is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Unfortunately, like many beautiful things, Pamukkale was nearly drained to ruin. In the 1960s, a number of hotels sprang up in the area and took to siphoning away the mineral-rich waters to fill their own swimming pools. This hurt the delicate balance in the terraces and has since been stopped. Today, there is no access allowed to the bigger pools of the terraces, but some small pools on the outskirts can still be used.
La Gruta Hot Springs, Mexico
The tradition of enjoying natural hot springs, or balnearios, in Mexico dates back to the 16th-century Aztecs, and natural mineral springs can still be found throughout the country today. The La Gruta Hot Springs outside of San Miguel de Allende is among the very best in Mexico. The natural springs have been shaped into a resort whose spring-fed pools range from tepid to blazing hot in temperature to fit the desire of their many guests. One of the most prized attractions is the water-filled stone tunnel that leads to an enclosed grotto-like pool in a cave where the waters provide a cool escape from the sun.
Myvatn Nature Baths, Iceland
The Blue Lagoon isn't the only natural spring in Iceland; the country is practically littered with them. However, not all are as beautiful as the lagoon, but the Myvatn Nature Baths comes as a close second. Although smaller, Myvatn features the same surreal sky blue colored water with only a fraction of the crowds. Although the pools are slightly cooler at 98°F (37°C), visitors can grab a beer from the wait staff and soak in the surrounding lava fields, gazing at the gently rolling hills in the distance. The area also has a steam room fueled by the waters out in the middle of the lake.
Mammoth Hot Springs, USA
Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park is one of those attractions that one can visit a hundred times and see a different picture each time. This terraced hot spring was formed by the constant wear on the limestone surroundings and water that changes color with the seasons. Depending on what season people visit, and even what time of day, the color of the water and the limestone rock varies on a spectrum of bright purples and oranges to black, white, and every color in between. It is also worth noting that because of the water's marked carbon acidity, the limestone dissolves more rapidly than with traditional erosion. So a year, five years, ten years from that first visit, Mammoth will look like a completely different place. Unfortunately, these pools are not open for a little extracurricular soaking. In this case, it is not because the water is too hot, but it is because the rock and other structures in the area are too fragile to allow much human contact.
Deception Island, Antarctica
Deception Island is perhaps the most depressing place to visit for a soak. It's a monument to human cruelty - a desolate island with an old whaling station rusting away at the end of the world. The beach is littered with age-old whale bones and the land is barren from years of blood and slaughter, or maybe it is just because it sits atop an active volcano. Apparently, after suffering the whaling station and a number of research bases, Deception Island had enough and threw everyone off by having its volcano erupt a few times. However, people still come to this island to take the polar plunge and to warm back up in the warm water dwelling beneath the cold crust.
Due in no small part to the active volcano right under the sand, Deception Island has a number of microclimes. If visitors can endure the biting Antarctic winds long enough to dig a hole in the sand and hit the geothermal heated water table, they could enjoy Antarctica in a swim suit. Although with the whale bones and rusting oil vats, Deception Island lacks the scenery of other Antarctic landing spots.
Terme di Saturnia, Italy
whale bones and rusting oil vats, Deception Island lacks the scenery of other Antarctic landing spots. Terme di Saturnia, Italy
Tuscany isn't just for good food, great wine, and breath-taking landscapes, but it is made all the better with hot springs. The small town of Saturnia can be counted among this idyllic escape's countless treasures. Saturnia has been famous for its thermal baths since time immemorial, being used by both Etruscans and Romans who hailed its warm, sulphurous waters a miracle cure. Legend has it that the springs were created at the very spot where Jupiter's lightning bolt fell during his battle with Saturn, causing water heated to a pleasing 99°F (37.5°C) to gush out from the earth. What makes this hidden gem all the more prized is that the pools are open to the public all year long and free of charge to enjoy. So even if visitors are enjoying a less than amazing winter in Tuscany, this is one way to heat it up.
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