8 Weeks of Rental Van Life

How to Find Secret Hot Springs

Locals you meet at hot springs tend to complain about how many people know about the hot springs now.

“Yeah, since people started posting photos of this place on Instagram it’s been packed on the weekends.”

I haven’t posted any hot springs locations on Instagram. But, I didn’t even find out about that hot spring on Instagram. I’m not on Instagram searching “top secret eastern Sierras hot springs.”

Hi, I’m Rey, a nonbinary writer! Please subscribe for more stories and resources:

I actually found the hot springs through another super secret internet hack. I searched “hot springs” on Google Maps:

Screenshot of Google maps search for "hot springs"

Lots of results show up for hot springs on Google Maps in areas with geothermal activity! But not all of them are fantastic drive up free hot springs. My second research step is to read the comments. Sometimes a formerly public spring will be shut down on private property. Sometimes a spring will be cold or dry or too dirty to enjoy.

Some of my favorite hot springs are in cow pastures. You can sit in the tub and watch the cows graze nearby. Cows are friendly, social animals that tend to stick together in groups of friends or family. One time, two young cows even came over to the hot spring while we were sitting in the water to take a drink! It must be like a hot cup of tea for them.

About twenty cows walking together through the grass

Chatting with locals is another great way to get the vibe of a hot spring location. But honestly, the best part of checking out free public hot springs is you don’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to. I mean, it’s polite to say hi if someone else is hanging out in the spring, but there’s no front desk staff, no gatekeeper, no one in charge.

Going to a swimming pool or gym can be challenging and uncomfortable for trans and nonbinary people. The locker rooms are probably binary gender (yes, even if they have some “unisex” bathroom it may not have a shower or be available).

Swimming in a public pool can also be uncomfortable because swim suits are revealing and can cause dysphoria in a social setting. Hot springs have fewer people, at least at some times of the day, and you can even go after dark when people are not staring at each other. Some springs seem to be clothing optional especially after dark. People also arrive with a wider variety of undergarments. Not everyone has a bathing suit.

Photo of Rey floating in a hot spring tub with a big smile

I generally go swimming in a sports bra and swim trunks, which I am comfy wearing. I feel more comfortable when I’m out in nature wearing unconventional swimming apparel than if I’m at a public pool.

But the real reason I love hot springs is the hot water! It’s not chlorinated or chemical filled. The fresh warm mineral water relaxes sore muscles and is rejuvenating.

If you’re in a region that has natural hot springs from geothermal activity beneath the ground, please try looking up hot springs on Google Maps! It’s so interesting to find out what hot springs are out there and an adventure that may end in a wonderful soak. Good luck finding your own hot springs!

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