Natural Hot Springs With Kids

Natural Hot Springs With Kids

What’s better than the reward of a warm, natural pool at the end of a hike, or a hot soak after a cross country ski or snowshoe outing in the winter? Adventuring to natural hot springs with kids is a fun (maybe not so relaxing) activity in often remote, beautiful wilderness settings.

Sure, visiting a natural hot spring with kids may not be a serene or peaceful experience – but let’s be honest, that’s just not a reality with kids!

This blogpost will cover types of hot springs (developed or undeveloped), safety considerations, hot springs etiquette, tips for bringing kids to hot springs in the winter, packing suggestions and our curated list of favorite natural hot springs for kids.

Children changing before getting into a river side natural hot spring.

Types of Natural Hot Springs

The term natural hot springs really just means that the hot water comes from a natural spring in the ground.

Many natural hot springs have been developed into hot spring “resorts” complete with fun, family features such as water slides and kiddie pools. Two that our family have personally visited are Lava Hot Springs in Idaho and Glenwood Hot Springs in Colorado.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are undeveloped, wild, or backcountry natural hot springs which are, as the name suggests, in more remote settings and not maintained.

All types of natural hot springs are great fun for families with kids, it just depends on what kind of experience your family is looking for.

Developed Natural Hot Springs

Developed natural hot springs collect water water from a natural spring in a man-made improvement. Sometimes (usually) a fee is collected. Water temperature is often regulated and disinfected.

Sometimes developed hot springs will have cooler or shallow kiddie pools and amenities like changing areas and showers.

Developed natural hot springs can be a great option with kids! There are fewer unknowns as far as water temperature and potential bacteria, and it will be more like spending a fun day at a swimming pool.

Undeveloped Natural Hot Springs

A boy and a man sitting on rocks in a undeveloped natural hot spring in the mountains.
TMM Team Member Amanda Schmidt’s family in a natural hot spring on the Eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau.

Undeveloped, sometimes called backcountry or wild hot springs, collect water from a natural spring in a natural feature. This could be a pool built up with rocks and boulders, or even an old tub or basin that was brought in. These features are not professionally maintained.

Undeveloped natural hot springs are usually in backcountry settings such as public land. However, some are on private land so make sure you check!  

Visiting undeveloped hot springs is a fun adventure with kids! There’s the adventure of getting there, which is often a hike in.

One of our favorite hot springs close to home has a freezing cold creek crossing. Sometimes there are new friends to meet at these hot springs, or if you’re lucky, you may even have the place to yourselves.

Safely Enjoying Natural Hot Springs with Kids

A kid making a silly face while soaking in a natural hot spring.
Silly faces are allowed; dunking under the water is not.

Most developed hot springs monitor water temperature and cleanliness of water. Undeveloped natural hot springs are not monitored for water temperature, cleanliness or safety.

Here are some things to take into consideration before visiting a natural hot spring with your kids.

It’s important to check with your child’s pediatrician about water temperature and pathogens if you have questions about any of this! We are just mamas – we are not doctors!

Temperature

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children can soak in water temperatures between 98 degrees F and 102 degrees F for up to 15 minutes. Although I don’t ever bring a thermometer with me on our natural hot springs adventures, I would guess that the temperatures are within this range.

My kids don’t usually stay in for more than 15 minutes at a time. They stay in, get out and walk around or splash in the cooler water, then get back in. This is definitely not the chill, relaxing natural hot springs experience of my pre-kid years!

One thing I always do before the kids get in the hot spring is check the temperature myself. If it feels too hot, an option is to remove rocks from the barrier to allow cool water to flow in. Often there are hot spots and cool spots in the same pool, so try moving to a different area to see if it’s cooler.

Pathogens

A natural hot springs with kids swimming.
TMM Member Mary Burton’s family enjoying a soak in Meadow Hot Springs, which has clear, clean, deep water.

The water in most natural hot springs is relatively safe, but precaution should be taken regarding disease-carrying organisms, bacteria, and other pathogens. Research the spring beforehand to see if there have been issues in the past. Never ever drink the water! I don’t even let my kids put their heads under.

Sharp Stuff

We always wear water shoes like Keen’s or Chaco’s when going in natural hot springs. I’ve seen plenty of broken bottles, pieces of cans, and lots of sharp rocks. Better safe than sorry. Plus, getting out can be very slippery so shoes help with traction. 

Looking for suggestions on great kids water shoes? We have a whole post on that! Click here to read Best Water Shoes for Kids.

Cleanliness of Water

Water at backcountry natural hot springs is most likely not clean. Human and animal feces, animal remains, and other goodies find their way into the water so never ever drink or swallow it.

Our family rules are to keep our heads above water and never ever swallow any water. I try to keep splashing in the face to a minimum as well. When we get home, we take showers and everyone gets a good scrubbing.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration happens fast when soaking in hot springs. It’s a good idea to bring lots of liquids. Gatorade or juice can be a special treat to keep kids hydrated when water just doesn’t sound tasty. When the kids and I visit natural hot springs in the winter time, we bring tea or hot cocoa to sip.

Natural Hot Springs Etiquette

Natural hot spring with kid lounging on rocks.
A rare, relaxing moment at a natural hot spring with kids.

Research the Rules

Most natural hot springs don’t have written rules but some might have rules posted at the trailhead or near the pools. The most common rules that I see posted concern dogs (allowed or not) and clothing (optional or required). Set a good example for the kids and follow the rules!

Be Respectful

Don’t bring soap, bubbles, pool toys, big floaties, boom boxes or other obnoxious things. Kicking up a bunch of sediment on the bottom of the hot springs is a no-no too (as much as you can help it).

Many people go to natural hot springs to relax. If you and your kids are the only ones there by all means go crazy but if not, keep them in line.

Leave No Trace

Here at TMM we encourage you to practice Leave No Trace Principles when visiting natural hot springs with kids – or any backcountry setting. You can learn more at this link.

The principles ask you to: Plan ahead and prepare, travel on durable surfaces, properly dispose of waste, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of others.

Clothing Optional

You may run into naked people when visiting natural hot springs with kids, especially remote backcountry springs. Most natural hot springs don’t have rules about nudity. Although we usually wear bathing suits, one hot spring we enjoy going to sometimes has naked people in it.

I just have a conversation with my kids on the hike in to give them a heads up and remind them not to stare or giggle, especially when folks are getting in and out. 

Visiting Natural Hot Springs in the Winter

Natural hot springs with kids in the winter running on a snowy trail.

The thought of stripping down to your bathing suit in single-digit temperatures, soaking in an outdoor hot spring, and then getting out and changing might sound absurd to some folks. And asking your kids to do the same? Forget about it!

But honestly with the right gear, a positive attitude and some treats it’s not only possible – but really fun! Here are some tips that help my family enjoy visiting natural hot springs in the winter.

Fleece or Wool Baselayers

Having base layers that keep kids (and adults) warm even when they’re damp is important. Fleece or wool sets are a great option; when cotton gets wet, it stays cold. Check out our best Kids and Adult base layer recommendations!

Sleeping Bag

Just hear me out on this one! I bring a lightweight, packable sleeping bag for the kids to warm up in after they’ve changed into baselayers. They can snuggle and warm up while I get myself changed and pack up all our towels, snacks, and other things.

Lollipop or Other Treat

Kids at a natural hot spring eating lolipops.
Lolipops are a life saver for us when getting out of the hot springs in cold weather.

The instant you get out of a 100 degree Fahrenheit hot spring into single-digit temperatures is shockingly cold. I’ve found that if my kids have a small treat like a lolipop, it takes some of the focus off being freezing so we can quickly get changed and get into that sleeping bag without much fuss.

Hot Springs for Kids Packing Suggestions

All-weather general packing list

  • Lightweight camp towels (we like the REI Multi Towel Lite)
  • Bathing suits
  • Water shoes (we like Keen’s and Chaco’s)
  • Snacks
  • Water or other hydrating beverages
  • Sunscreen and hats
  • Wetbag or plastic bag

Cold-weather specific packing list

  • Lightweight camp towels (we like the REI Multi Towel Lite)
  • Bathing suits
  • Water shoes if you have room in your pack
  • Snacks
  • Water or other hydrating beverages
  • Warm beverages like tea or hot cocoa
  • Fleece or wool baselayers to wear after soaking
  • Lightweight sleeping bag
  • Small treat like a lollipop
  • Wet bag or plastic bag

Top Picks for Kid-Friendly Natural Hot Springs

Astoria Hot Springs: Jackson, Wyoming

Natural hot spring with kids and woman in winter.
The author and her kids at Astoria Hot Springs in the winter time.

Astoria Hot Springs near Jackson, Wyoming has a beautiful developed facility that you pay a fee to use, as well as a free, undeveloped hot pool on the side of the Snake River.

Astoria Hot Springs Park features 5 man-made pools that are filled with natural thermal waters. Each pool has a slightly different temperature and there is a shallow, cooler kiddie pool. Astoria has showers, outdoor tables, snacks and beverages for sale and playground equipment. You must make a reservation to soak.

The undeveloped, natural Astoria hot springs also offer several different soaking pools with varying water temperatures. The trail to the pools is well marked and it takes less than 5 minutes from trailhead to the pools.

Due to the close proximity to the trailhead these pools get busy, especially mid-day. Go early to avoid crowds.

Boat Box Hot Springs: Stanley, Idaho

Natural hot springs with kids and mother in the winter time.
TMM Member Mary Burton with her children at Boat Box natural hot springs.

This tiny metal tub on the bank of the Salmon River outside Stanley, Idaho is one of the most unique natural hot springs we have been to. Boat Box is right off the side of the highway – less than a 3 minute walk.

It’s very small – 2 adults can fit comfortably, or an adult and a couple of small kids as pictured. The best time to visit Boat Box is a early in the morning, during the week.

The water at Boat Box natural hot springs can get really hot (sometimes up to 110 degrees F) but there’s usually a 5-gallon bucket that you can use river water to cool it down with.

Goldbug Hot Springs: Salmon, Idaho

A family sitting at a natural hot springs in the mountains.
Don’t be intimidated by the hike into Goldbug – if the Burton family can do it, you can, too!

Goldbug Hot Springs in the Salmon-Challis National Forest outside Salmon, Idaho, is one of those bucket list natural hot springs.

This one is more of an adventure to get to as it’s a 3.5 mile round trip hike with some elevation gain on the way in. Trust me – it is worth every single mile. Goldbug is stunning.

When you arrive at Goldbug natural hotsprings you will find 6 different pools and surrounding waterfalls.

Due to the more remote nature of Goldbug you may see some naked people here. As with most natural hot springs, the best time to visit is early in the day, and during the week to avoid crowds.

Granite Hot Springs: Jackson, Wyoming

A girl getting into a natural hot springs pool.
Granite Hot Springs pool

Granite Hot Springs is approximately 1 hour outside of Jackson, Wyoming and offers visitors both a developed natural hot spring and an undeveloped option.

The Granite Hot Springs pool area a small, no-frills, inexpensive and family friendly place. The pool is the perfect temperature for young children. If you have non-swimmers it’s a good idea to bring a floatie because there is really no shallow end.

The undeveloped Granite Hot Springs are a short hike down to granite creek, just beneath Granite Falls. You must wade across Granite Creek to access the hot springs. The water is swift moving and very cold, but shallow. We carry our kids (age 6 and 8) because of the swift moving water.

Natural hot springs with kids sitting side by side.
Siblings enjoying the undeveloped Granite natural hot springs.

There are several hot springs to choose from. All of them are small and the temperatures can be hot but it’s easy to remove boulders to let in cold water from the creek. I rarely see naked people here in the busy summer season, but it’s more common in the fall.

If you’re visiting Jackson Hole with kids, Granite Hot Springs is a must-do activity.

Meadow Hot Springs: Fillmore, Utah

A family soaking at a natural hot springs.
Meadow natural hot springs is a great stop near Salt Lake City.

Meadow Hot Springs is located just off Interstate 15 near Fillmore, Utah. This is a great stop if you’re headed to or from Salt Lake City. These natural hot springs reside on private property so it’s important to obey any posted signage and pack out everything you pack in.

The hike in to Meadow Hot Springs is less than a half mile on a dirt road (which can get muddy after a rain storm).

There are three different deep pools to soak in and the water is typically clear, hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pagosa Hot Springs: Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Pagosa Hot Springs natural hot springs pool.
TMM Team Member Jamie visited Pagosa Hot Springs with her family and loved it!

Pagosa Hot Springs is a natural hot springs resort in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. It offers 25 different soaking pools near the banks of the San Juan River.

Pagosa Hot Springs is the most developed natural hot springs on our list, but it is a really great one for kids! Their Blue Lagoon mineral pool has a depth of just 3 feet, and splashing, pool toys and loud play are allowed in this area.

In addition to the hot springs resort, there are several small undeveloped “hot pots” accessible from the public sidewalk that you can take a dip into, or you could wade across the river and soak in the overflow from the spa. These are free and open to the public.

Radium Hot Springs: Kremmling, Colorado

Photo of a natural hot springs near the river.
Radium natural hot springs is right on the Colorado River and has a great jump rock right next to it.

Radium Hot Springs is located directly on the Upper Colorado River near Kremmling, Colorado. This small, undeveloped hot springs is accessed by walking across a plateau and then down a fairly steep, rocky embankment down to the river. It is approximately 1.5 miles round trip.

The trail is rated “moderately difficult” on AllTrails.com but my 6 year old hiked down to the hot springs with no assistance. There is a popular cliff jumping rock right near the hot springs for anyone feeling more adventurous, too (we didn’t jump but we did see another party do it).

Radium is a beautiful and small natural hot spring. The pool itself is only about 15 feet wide, and the water temperature doesn’t usually get above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a great spot for young kids to soak.

The best time of year to go is then the Colorado River is low; at higher flows, the river water fills the hot spring making it too cold to comfortably soak.

Conclusion

Visiting a natural hot spring with kids can be a great adventure, whether it’s the end end goal or merely a stop along the way.

While doing research for this blogpost I found that there are so many natural hot springs near me, ones that I didn’t even know existed. I’m willing to bet that there are some close to where you plan to adventure next, as well.

Finding Natural Hot Springs Near Me

Mother and children relaxing at a natural hot spring.

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Natural Hot Springs With Kids

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  • Sarah Toal is a Colorado native who now calls Jackson, Wyoming, home. Sarah, her husband Evan, and two kids August, age 7, and Harper, age 5, spend their (long!) winters snowboarding, and (short!) summers riding bikes, floating on the Snake River, and hiking. Follow our adventures and general family chaos on Instagram: @sartoal

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