The snow is falling; the mountains are calling, and there's no better way to thaw out those frozen fingers and toes than with a steamy hot spring soak, am I right? There's just something about stripping down to your swimsuit (or birthday suit), wading into some naturally heated mineral water, cracking open a cold one, and admiring the canopy above, smack in the middle of the wilderness.
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At A Glance:
Location: Mt. Baker Wilderness, WA
Entrance Fees/Permits: Free
Native Lands: Coast Salish
Activities: Hiking, soaking
Hot Springs' Benefits
Did you know hot springs are actually great for your mind, body, and soul? They're SO FREAKING COOL! It's like going to the spa but in nature and without the painful prices.
Hot springs often contain silica, which can help soften dry skin (great for a little full body rejuvenation in the dryer months!), and sulfur, which is that lovely rotten egg smell, can help persistent skin conditions like psoriasis, acne, and eczema. It's so legit, we even have a word for hot sulfur water treatments: balneotherapy.
Hot springs' minerals also increase circulation, which helps your heart and increases your metabolism. How cool is that? Springs are also known to be natural pain relievers, which is why a good soak after a long hike can be so incredible!
Before we dive in, let's review a few very important details about hot spring etiquette!
Hot Springs Etiquette
No shirt, no pants, no problem. Many hot springs are "clothing optional," but it varies on the springs, so make sure to do your research ahead of time. If you encounter someone in their birthday suit, be respectful, never judge, never stare, be welcoming and open, and hey, maybe give it a go! You might find it freeing!
Keep it down. We visit hot springs to relax, do we not? While you might be feeling some Rainbow Kitten Surprise, your neighbor might prefer the sounds of nature. Read the room.
Shower beforehand, if possible. Hot springs are very delicate, and it's super easy to accidentally introduce foreign bacteria that can disrupt its delicate chemical balance. Showering before entering can help their long-term health.
Never use soap. Again, hot springs are very delicate, and any foreign substance can hugely alter its natural balance. This includes biodegradable soaps and shampoos!
Stay hydrated! Hot springs are, well, hot and can cause serious dehydration if your'e not careful. It's important to drink lots of water to ward off those "fainting spells" hot springs are known to cast. When it's time to leave, get up slowly.
Leave the glass behind. Breaking glass is (hopefully) never intentional, but accidents happen, and when they do, it can be dangerous, and broken glass can be nearly impossible to see.
Avoid peak times. Overcrowded springs aren't fun for anyone–it increases the negative impact on the springs, increases the chance of COVID exposure, and could cause you to not get a spot. Try to visit on weekdays if possible, and mornings are always best. Don't forget to check capacity limits as well.
Are the hot springs on private land? If so, remember that this is a privilege. You're there as a guest.
Check for fees/permits/reservations. Every spring has its own rules and many do require fees, permits, or reservations to keep human impact to a minimum. Know before you go.
Check road conditions. Wilderness springs, while amazing, can be pretty grueling to get to. Do your research ahead of time to make sure you're appropriately prepared. Are there potholes? How deep is the snow? Will you need 4WD?
Pack out what you pack in. Hot springs see a lot of visitors, and we all have our little luxuries we like during a hot soak, but all of those cans, snack wrappers, and underwear (this is more common than you think) need to accompany you back home as well. Many of these hot springs, especially the backcountry ones, aren't regulated and aren't taken care of by park rangers. Therefore, what you bring in will stay there until someone else packs it out for you. Don't put that burden on them. Do your part, respect the land, treat it as if it were your own property, and keep it clean and pristine for future use.
Don't pee in the springs! Just like pools and hot tubs, peeing (or pooping) in public springs is so not okay. Pools at least have chlorine and a cleaning system in place. Hot springs are as natural as can be, and any foreign substance can throw it off balance. We all know hot water loves to test our bladders, so consider peeing before getting in, whether that's an outhouse or popping a squat at least 200 feet from the spring (make sure to pack out your toilet paper too!).
Leave your fur puppies at home.
If camping, make sure you set up at least 100 yards from the springs.
Leave it better than you found it!
What to Pack (Day Trip)
Your Mask! We're still in the middle of a pandemic. Please do your part.
Water: Bring a refillable water bottle or two to stay hydrated while soaking.
Snacks: My favorite hot spring snacks are beef jerky and a hazy IPA.
Slip-on shoes: These come in handy if you need to exit the springs to pee, or don't want to put your socks back on for the short walk back to the car. Flip-flops, Birks, or Tevas all work great!
Microfiber towel: You'll want something to dry off with before putting your clothes back on. These are fast-drying, lightweight, and super absorbant.
Z-mat: This is a game changer! I like to set my camera and snacks on my Z-mat and keep it next to me in the pool for easy access. I also like to use it as a seat when I put my boots back on. Highly recommend!
Underwear: I usually wear my swimsuit to the pools under my clothes, but when it's time to head back, the last thing I want to do is layer my dry clothes on top of my wet, sulfur-infused suit.
Trash bag: I always bring a trash bag to pick up any extra trash that's lying around the springs.
Beanie: If you decide to dunk your head, this will keep you warm for the chilly walk back!
Microspikes: If it's snowing, throw a pair of these in your pack just in case. They'll keep you from slipping on the trail.
Baker Hot Springs is a little gem in the Mt. Baker Wilderness. To get there, you'll take WA 20 East for about 17 miles. Once you hit Birdsview, take a left onto Baker Lake Road and continue for about 18 miles before veering left onto NF-1130. At 3.9 miles, take a right at the fork onto NF-1144. The road will dead end at the trailhead found on the west side of the parking lot.
The 22 miles of forest road is littered with what felt like thousands of potholes. I'd recommend taking a 4WD vehicle. Get ready for a bumpy ride!
Don't Forget to Check the Weather!
I've heard the snow can dump in this part of the forest, so your short 0.6-mile round-trip hike can turn into a 4+ mile hike pretty dang fast. Do your research ahead of time and be prepared for the worst! That means snow shoes, chains, an emergency kit, extra food and water, and layers.
Pro tip: There's little-to-no service, so I recommend loading the location into Google Maps ahead of time, and following your location offline via satellite.
It's a short 0.3 miles to the springs through beautiful moss-covered forest–I wore my hiking boots but I easily could've done it in my Birks (because there was no snow at that time). However, snowshoes and microspikes will be your friends as we get into the snowy season.
Baker Hot Springs
Distance: 0.6 miles round trip.
There are two primitive, rock- and dirt-bottomed pools. The main pool is relatively large and can fit six or so people if each is at a good social distance. There were about 10 people there when I visited in four different groups and I felt as though I had plenty of room.
Pro tip: Avoid peak times (like weekends) to make sure we all stay COVID-safe and we keep our human environmental impact to a minimum! We took these photos midday on a Friday.
A stream trickles down from the top pool to fill the bottom pool, which is super shallow, muddy, and not very warm. I'd say it's more for the vibe than for actual soaking.
Temperature is a recorded 100 degrees, but it varies depending on where you are in the pool. If you find a warm vent, you're golden. The vents can occasionally get clogged, so you may have to rough up the ground a little to get the warm water flowing.
The sulfur smell is STRONG. I'd recommend wearing a swimsuit that can get dirty and after-soaking clothes that can smell like sulfur after multiple washes.
Read more: Where to Glamp in a Greenhouse in Oregon
This hidden spot in Mt. Baker's wilderness is definitely worth a visit! Check those road conditions and get after it!