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8 free natural hot springs with stunning views

Taken by Braden Taylor featuring Lyndsay Fillier at San Francisco hot springs, featured on instagram at @lifeat90kph San Francisco Hot Springs near Glenwood, New Mexico. | Photo by Braden Taylor

Spring signifies a time of rebirth and renewal. What better way to rejuvenate your body and mind this season than with a steamy soak in one of New Mexico’s geothermal hot springs? Balneology, the science of the therapeutic use of baths, has been practiced for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks touted the benefits of sulfurous springs, particularly for healing skin maladies and relieving joint pain.

While New Mexico has dozens of easy-to-access hot springs at resorts, some of the prettiest soaking pools are found in the wilderness. Here are 8 worthy of a drive, walk, or hike.

One warning: Some hot springs contain dangerous bacteria that inhabit soils and fresh warm water throughout the world. The bacteria enter the body through the nose, so to avoid infection, do not submerge your face in the water.

1. Black Rock Hot Springs

Arroyo Hondo

Black Rock Hot Springs, Arroyo Hondo

Photo by Jay Goebel/Alamy Stock Photo

Along the Rio Grande, north of Taos and west of Arroyo Hondo, Black Rock Hot Springs consists of 2 mud-bottomed pools ideal for soothing sore joints and muscles. The upper spring is a tad warmer than the lower one. On average, however, the pools are a balmy 99 degrees. Because the springs are located in a volcanic field, the boulders that form these steamy pools are a striking ebony color.

To reach Black Rock Hot Springs, drive over the Rio Grande on the John Dunn Bridge and park at the first switchback up the hill. The hike down to the hot springs is relatively rocky, and getting to these pools requires sure-footedness, so this trek is  not recommended for children.

Read more: A wild and woolly trek down the Rio Grande Gorge with llamas

2. Jordan Hot Springs

Gila Wilderness of the Gila National Forest

Jordan Hot Springs, Gila National Forest

Photo by Chris Hill/stock.adobe.com

An 8-mile trail from the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitors Center, via Middle Fork Trailhead #157, leads to the soupy, 94-degree Jordan Hot Spring. This crystalline 20-foot-diameter pool in the heart of the Gila Wilderness measures about 3 feet deep. Locals call it “sweet spring” because the water’s rich mineral content is said to have therapeutic benefits.

3. Lightfeather Hot Spring

Glenwood

Lightfeather Hot Springs, Glenwood

Photo by Ondrej Kavka

Lightfeather Hot Spring, also called Middle Fork Hot Springs, is located on the edge of the Gila River’s middle fork, a 3/4-mile walk from the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center. The source of the springs measures about 130 degrees, but the sand- and rock-bottom pools are cooler, depending on how much cold river water seeps in. Volunteers maintain the rock-walled pools and keep them clean.

4. Melanie Hot Springs

Silver City

Melanie Hot Springs, Silver City

Photo by Tari Gunstone/stock.adobe.com

Near Silver City, Melanie Hot Springs lies in the heart of the Gila National Forest, along the edge of the Gila River. Soak in one of many small rock pools, which range from 98 to 102 degrees. The 1.5-mile hike to the hot springs offers woodland views and involves nearly a dozen shallow river crossings that, if you’re wearing the right gear, add to the adventure, especially during the warmer months.

5. McCauley Hot Springs

North of Jemez Springs

McCauley Hot Springs

Photo by Laura Austin/stock.adobe.com

Soak up breathtaking views of cliff bands in the Jemez Mountains north of Jemez Springs and the top of Battleship Rock along the 2-mile trail to McCauley Hot Springs, also called McCauley Warm Springs. The pools consist of several 85- to 90-degree pebble-bottom oases surrounded by pines and lush woodlands. Locals say the shallow pools may contain guppies that will tickle your toes with their gentle nibbles. To reach the trailhead, park at the Battleship Rock day-use area.

6. San Antonio Hot Springs

Jemez Springs

San Antonio Hot Springs

Photo by BWAC Images/Alamy Stock Photo

Several pristine rock pools, situated on a canyon hillside in the Santa Fe National Forest, comprise San Antonio Hot Springs, which overlook rocky cliff faces and swaths of pines. In the summer, you can reach the pools by a 10-minute walk from the parking area off Forest Road 376. In colder months, the road is closed to vehicles, so you must walk 6 miles to reach the pools. While the spring’s source measures 125 degrees, the hottest pool is roughly 105 degrees; the lower pools are slightly cooler. The jacuzzi-like pools cascade into each other, and all have beautiful mountain views.

7. San Francisco Hot Springs

Near Glenwood

San Francisco Hot Spring

Photo by Braden Taylor

From the west side of US 180, south of Glenwood, follow the San Francisco Hot Springs Trail for 1.5 miles to the San Francisco River Canyon, where you’ll find 3 separate groups of sandy-bottomed pools spread along a quarter-mile portion of the river. The first group of hot springs you’ll come to is private, but the second and third groups are open to the public and range in temperature from 100 to 120 degrees. On your hike to the pools—with its numerous switchbacks and river crossings—you’ll likely encounter a rich array of flora and fauna. In addition to mesquite and juniper trees, tall grasses, and spring and summer wildflowers, you might spy squirrels, lizards, and various insects.

8. Spence Hot Spring

 Jemez Springs

Spence Hot Spring, Jemez Springs

Photo by Kit Leong/stock.adobe.com

Several sandy-bottomed pools form Spence Hot Spring, located on the east side of the Jemez River near a pine-packed canyon in the Santa Fe National Forest. These pools are particularly popular, largely because of their easy access. Park in the 7-car lot off New Mexico Highway 4 and follow the short trail down to San Antonio Creek and up the other side to the hot springs, which average a pleasant 95 degrees. Be on the lookout for a small waterfall near the lower pools.

Victoria Abbott Riccardi covers travel and luxury lifestyle topics including hotels and spas, food and wine, architecture and design, health and wellness, gardening, and conservation

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