Summary: Hot Spring Etiquette complete guide, what to expect, what to research before you go, and things you should bring.
When it comes to best practice principles in the outdoors, I kind of hate it when people say “well that’s just common knowledge.” The more I think about that phrase, the more I realize it’s assuming other people have had the same experiences as you to understand what is cool and what isn’t cool – especially when it comes to the outdoors etiquette. That phrase is steeped in privilege and all the other things that have made the outdoors inaccessible to other people.
ANYWAY… Thanks for listening to my intro rant. I’m going to break down everything I’ve learned over the years about hot springs etiquette!
- 1 Leave No Trace
- 2 Respect the Land and the Indigenous People it Belongs to
- 3 No Glass!
- 4 Be Polite, Folks. Hot Spring Etiquette Edition:
- 5 Skip the Bath Products (and body fluids please)
- 6 Wear Shoes
- 7 Nudity: Hot Springs Etiquette
- 8 Is it Cool to Take Photos?
- 9 Be Aware of Fees!
- 10 Don't Forget Your Towel!
- 11 Be Prepared to Share
1 Leave No Trace
Also known as pack it in, pack it out. If you bring food, beverages, clothing, ANYTHING – make sure you leave with all of it including any food scraps! Think about how you would want to arrive to a hot spring and leave it that way. This is one of the most important hot spring etiquette rules.
TIP: Bring a trash bag and gloves every time you go to a hot spring (or any trail for that matter!) I used to only bring a trash bag, but then was able to talk myself out of picking up certain things that were deemed “too gross” in my mind. Having gloves leaves me with no excuse. ALSO: gloves are helpful if the people before you have left glass shards or any other sharp objects.
2 Respect the Land and the Indigenous People it Belongs to
Did you know that Indigenous People have a long history (evidence of over 10,000 years) with the use of hot springs? Geothermal places are considered sacred and healing to many Indigenous people. Doing your research on what Indigenous lands you are visiting and what their history was with the land will leave you with respect and appreciation for the area.
TIP: Use the App or Website Native Lands to identify the Indigenous people who are stewards of this land! The app and website often link to more information about each Nation.
Pictured above: Umpqua Hot Springs Guide HERE
3 No Glass!
I LOVE enjoying a cold beer in a hot spring or heck even a canned cocktail, but whatever your beverage of choice is, make sure it is not glass or anything else that can break. Many hot springs have had to close in the past due to dangerous glass shards at the bottoms of pools. You can imagine how stepping on a chunk of glass could ruin someone’s time and endanger a person while they are there.
TIP: If the beverage you really enjoy only comes in glass, open it at your car and pour it into a water bottle before you go!
4 Be Polite, Folks. Hot Spring Etiquette Edition:
Yes, it is nice to unwind and have a drink at the pools, but hot springs are not the place to get rowdy and are not a place to host a party. People come to hot springs to relax, reduce stress, and if they are Indigenous – to perform healing rituals. If you are there alone and you want to yell, go for it, but to have a hot spring to yourself is becoming more and more rare!
5 Skip the Bath Products (and body fluids please)
Hot springs do not have a way to drain! So, what you put in there, stays in there (shudders). Even if your product is deemed biodegradable, it could still disrupt the balance of minerals that exist in hot springs. So, if you’ve been on the road for a while, I’m sorry, but this is not your shower opportunity.
And since what goes in stays in, please please don’t pee in the hot springs! It’s best to just go right before so you have a comfortable time in the pools.
Note: I’ve even been schooled on watching what detergent you use on your swimsuit before you go! As science has now shown us, everything we use to clean our homes, clothes and self, enters the water. If you are able, use eco friendly wash on your clothes and body before going (be aware of deodorant and perfumes you may have on)
Pictured Above: Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
6 Wear Shoes
I get so excited when I arrive at a hot spring that I just want to hop in my suit and run down barefoot. I’m quickly reminded from trash and smashed bottles that this is SUCH a bad idea. Keep your feet safe until you can safely enter the pool.
TIP: I definitely recommend slip on sandals or slip on boots (I use my Blundstone boots or Birkenstock sandals depending the trail and the weather).
7 Nudity: Hot Springs Etiquette
This is one of the more loaded topics. Planning on bringing your children to a hot spring? Expect nudity. Planning to go to a hot spring nude? Expect children.
Ultimately it’s your choice whether to soak with or without a swimsuit (unless it’s illegal at the hot spring – check Utah’s before you go). Be mindful of the situation! If you arrive and there are people soaking nude, give them as much privacy as you can, don’t stare. Same goes to those soaking nude! Don’t be the guy standing nude in front of a family trying to have a conversation.
8 Is it Cool to Take Photos?
Obviously, you see plenty of hot spring photos, but something to be mindful of is other people enjoying the space. If someone is soaking nude adjacent to you and you whip out your camera, they may feel very violated and uncomfortable.
Be aware of where you are pointing your camera whether it’s on or off. Drones are generally uncool if there are others there. Otherwise, fire away! I love taking photos of hot spring memories!
Pictured above: Travertine Hot Springs
9 Be Aware of Fees!
A lot of hot springs are free, which is incredible! But some of them have fees that go towards maintaining and regulating a place. Make sure to do your research beforehand on what fees may be required, as some only take cash or require a parking pass that you can only get from a ranger station an hour away! Trust me, you don’t want to wing it and get out there only to be turned away.
10 Don’t Forget Your Towel!
Someone in our group forgot their towel (during winter months) and it was quite miserable for them using one of our damp towels. I also like to bring a blanket to lay down near the hot spring to put my camera and phone on, and to stand on when drying off.
11 Be Prepared to Share
Just because you arrived at a hot spring first, does not mean you OWN that pool. Be considerate of other people waiting or invite them in (if it’s not a pandemic of course). If it looks like there is plenty of room in a pool occupied by someone, just ask politely if you can join their pool before you hop in.
Share Information and Hot Spring Etiquette!
Also be prepared to share information!! I am not sure how long the outdoor community has been “gate-keeping,” but this mentality does not actually help us take care of the land. People will find out about places that are accessible one way or another, and if you care about the land, you’ll care to share info like this hot spring etiquette list. The more people know, the more people will be respectful of the land and people that inhabit the area.
It truly feels gross when people get angry at those who share locations, because they “don’t want more people visiting.” When you actually check your privilege and think about it – all of these places are stolen land from the Indigenous people that lived here first. It is not for white people (majority of people that hold power in outdoor spaces) to say who can and cannot visit a location. I think that energy would be better spent on ensuring access and education for ALL that wish to have an enjoyable, safe and responsible experience outdoors. RANT OVER.
This concludes my hot spring etiquette guide! I would love to hear which ones were new to you and any that you think should be added in the comments!
Save for later or share with those you know planning to go to a hot spring!