There’s nothing more relaxing than a soak in a hot spring on a cold winter day or cool summer night, especially if it has a view. While they’re not always articulated, there are a set of well-known rules and safety tips that will make the experience better for everyone and leave things nice for those yet to come.
While some of these are obvious, some may be familiar without a reason behind them, and still, others might be completely new. Whether you’re a long-time spring-dweller or are about to check out your first hot pool, it’s worth reminding yourself of how you can be safe and respect the people–and nature–around you.
Here’s the standard hot springs etiquette, in no particular order:
Clean up after yourself.
This is pretty straightforward. Don’t leave trash behind, even if it’s biodegradable. If everyone who visited a spring dropped their banana peels near the water, it would be a mess. Degrading takes time. Throw your trash in the nearest bin, or if you’re in a rustic springs area, bring a bag to take it home with you. Throw your food scraps in your compost.
Take this one step further and grab any trash you see that others have left behind. You get bonus points for being a good citizen, and everyone who comes after you will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Try to leave the place cleaner than when you arrived. It’s the same camping etiquette you should when dispersed camping, leave no trace and whatever you pack in, pack out.
Don’t use springs as a shower.
First–and the most obvious–no one wants to get in your dirty bathwater. Without natural drains, it could be a while before your dirty water is filtered out. Second, many shampoos and other soaps are harmful to plant and animal life.
Sulfates, for example, are in tons of shampoos and are used as pesticides. Releasing it into the spring can kill off parts of the natural ecosystem. With the climate in crisis, messing with anything in nature is generally frowned upon.
Know the fees.
Some rustic springs have cash boxes and a posted fee that is expected to be paid in good faith by bathers. Have some cash on hand, or look up the protocol before you go, so you don’t end up disappointed, or worse, sneaking in without paying. Fees go to the upkeep of the amazing spots you love. Don’t skip them.
This is pretty straightforward but can be applied in many different ways. If there’s a group of people, don’t blast your music. Some of those people may be using this as a chance to relax away from the city and see some wildlife. Don’t ruin it for them.
The same could be said for speaking loudly or yelling across pools at someone else in your group. Keep your stuff together and leave space for others to enjoy the area. Use common sense.
Follow the dress code.
Some springs are clothing optional. Others are not. Know in advance what is ok, and don’t try to get away with something that isn’t allowed.
If you’d like to take a photo of someone in your group in the pool, be sure to avoid getting anyone else in the frame. If there are only a couple of people there, ask before you pull out your camera, letting them know exactly what you want to take a picture of.
For reasons that should be clear, not many people are going to be okay with a nude still of themselves in the background of a stranger’s trip slideshow. Don’t make people uncomfortable.
Leave Fido at home…or at least away from the water.
People come to hot springs to relax in the wilderness. Listening to your dog bark isn’t pleasant for anyone. Plus, not everyone is comfortable around them, and some may even be allergic. If you simply can’t handle the time apart, just be sure to keep him or her away from the pool and on a leash.
Letting dogs jump in hot water can actually be dangerous because they don’t regulate their body temperature like humans. Also, if allowed to roam free, you run the risk of your furry friend getting a little too curious about a boiling or toxic pool and getting hurt. It’s best to be on the safe side.
Put food and drinks in something other than glass.
If you’ve ever lived in an apartment complex with a pool, you’ve heard at least one building manager get after people for having a beverage in a glass container. The reason for this is that when it breaks, glass shatters.
You can’t just pick up the pieces and move on. You have to drain the pool and clean everything because tiny pieces of glass can be everywhere and are dangerous for swimmers. It’s the same for a hot spring, but there’s no draining on command.
Furthermore, limit your consumption of alcohol when soaking in hot springs. It will further dehydrate you and leave you worse off. If you do imbibe, do it responsibly and only have one or two drinks, out of the can or plastic cups. Note that some hot spring resorts do not allow any alcohol on the premise, especially within the pools.
Call a friend.
Always let someone at home know where you’re going and when you’ll be back when you venture out to a rural spring. Some of the most beautiful places are the most remote.
Even if you’re going on a nice, warm day anything could happen, and it’s best to have a backup plan, aka someone to know if you’re missing. It’s even more important in the winter when getting lost or having car trouble and having to spend an unplanned night in the mountains or forest could be dangerous.
On the same note, children should always be under adult supervision. And many places have age limits on how young a child can be to soak.
Not all springs are safe to soak in.
You may have heard of the “brain-eating amoeba”, naegleria fowleri. This is a microorganism that thrives in warm and hot bodies of freshwater like lakes, rivers, and unfortunately, hot springs. In areas with known populations, it’s best to avoid getting in or, at the very least, putting your head underwater; this amoeba enters the body by traveling up your nose.
Other hot springs might be unsafe due to high temperatures. Depending on the source–i.e. If it’s in contact with magma–and how deep it circulates underground, the water might be boiling when it reaches the surface. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to check the temperature before taking the plunge.
Still, other springs can be toxic. In high levels, hydrogen sulfide, aka sulphur, can cause cell anoxia and cell damage. It can also cause allergic reactions in those with sensitivity.
Pregnant women and/or those with heart conditions or cardiovascular disease should consult a doctor being soaking. Anybody with high blood sugar, high blood lipids, and/or high blood pressure should also limit their exposure, and consider consulting a physician.
Bring the right gear.
Some pools are cliffside and require walking over some slippery rocks. Don’t forget water shoes. If you’re heading out for a snowy dip (or in rainy climates), remember to bring a dry bag to prevent your clothes from getting wet. And consider a blanket or thermos of hot tea to help you stay warm upon getting out, as well as a flashlight if you’ll be there after dark.
Primitive springs can be complicated to get to. Grab a compass and a map, if needed. This tip applies to your vehicle, too. Many mountain passes require chains or snow tires when it’s particularly snowy.
Follow these basic rules and tips to make the most of your hot springs experience. It’s well worth any trip you can take to relax in thermal waters under a starry sky or amidst the wildlife of a natural forest.