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Walnut Creek Magazine

Fountains of Youth

Jan 17, 2017 07:37PM ● By Deborah Burstyn

Fountains of Youth

One of the earth’s gifts: mineral water from its core.

By Deborah Burstyn

Hot springs resorts in the West tend to be rustic and earthy. No fluffy robes and slippers. Most offer overnight accommodations, but several are close enough to make it a day trip. After a day of soaking in the mineral rich springs, you’ll be relaxed and rejuvenated.

 Wilbur Hot Springs

A two-hour drive north to the Clear Lake area is all it takes to get to Wilbur Hot Springs. Tucked away off a gravel mountain road, there’s no cell service or Wi-Fi here, so print or jot down direction. This remote property is idyllically eco-rustic and a refuge from the noise of everyday life. Cabins and hotel rooms offer airy overnight accommodations. After check in, head down to the hot springs with caution—some guests dip naked. 
This refuge of contemplation, is not a place for kids. At its heart is big barn-like building with three long and deep troughs of mineral water in varying degrees—staff adjusts the 148° F temperature emerging from the earth by managing the flow into 98° F, 105° F, and 109° F tubs. Start in the most temperate and work up to the hottest, then finish the experience with a plunge into the icy cold waters of the resort’s swimming pool. DETAILS: Open 10am-5pm daily. Day use includes hot springs, pool, sauna and nature preserve, $59/per person. Rooms run $125 to $250 per night. Reservations required. 3375 Wilbur Springs Rd, Williams,

 Vichy Springs

 Enroute to Mendocino and an hour north of Sonoma sits Vichy Springs—a family-friendly resort with sprawling lawns, barbecue pits and woodsy hillside cottages. Vichy Spring’s water is technically not all that hot, in fact it’s rather tepid at 90° F.  What makes this resort an international destination are its bubbles, believed to be the only naturally warm and carbonated baths in North America. Its mineralized waters flow from a natural source six miles below the earth’s surface, reminiscent in composition to the fabled champagne waters of France and Madagascar. Within moments of immersion—in the massive cast iron tubs from the 1860s used by Ulysses S. Grant, William Harrison, Teddy Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Jack London, and Robert Louis Stevenson—millions of tiny bubbles cover the skin creating a peaceful state of tranquility.
Lined in a row, the hillside tubs are sunk deep into the ground situated both outside, and inside private cabanas. Big metal stoppers control the water flow, 100 gallons per minute, and fit into drain holes when the tub is full. Pull out the plunger when done and the tub will drain. If soaking in 104° F is more your speed, cold deep mineral waters are heated in Jacuzzi-style hot pool. Then plunge into the Olympic-size pool for a few cool laps and lounge poolside or take a 30-minute hike to the waterfalls. DETAILS: Open 9am to dusk for day use, $60 per person, bathing suits required. Overnight rates run $225-$375 and include a daily breakfast buffet. 2605 Vichy Springs Road, Ukiah, 707.462.9515,

Indian Springs Resort

Without traffic or wine-tasting stops, the scenic drive up Highway 29 to Calistoga takes only 90-minutes from Walnut Creek. Although many plush resorts dot the gorgeous landscape, Indian Springs Resort stands out for its location within minutes of beautiful Napa Valley wineries, boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries. Indian Springs is known for its rare, substantial natural resources, which have inspired a long tradition of healing and renewal. 
 Built in 1910, the centerpiece is an Olympic-sized, mineral swimming pool fed from four onsite geysers, and kept at 102 degrees in the winter.  It also features mud baths fed by onsite mineral waters and pure volcanic ash deposits from the eruption of Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Konocti thousands of years ago. A recent multi-million dollar makeover added plush new guest rooms and bungalows plus the property’s first restaurant, Sam’s Social Club, featuring rustic American cuisine. Definitely a place to indulge in an overnight stay. DETAILS: Reservations required. Public pool hours 10am-7pm. Pool day use available only with purchase of a spa treatment such as a mud bath for $95. Overnight room rates start at $309 per night. 1712 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga, 707.942.4913,

 Calistoga Hot Springs

One of our favorite destinations, Calistoga Hot Springs, opens its arms to families with a relaxed vibe and affordable pricing. It’s a great place to bring kids, with contemporary kitchenette-equipped rooms and a 90° F baby pool with a gentle waterfall. Although the resort is closed until March for a massive spa renovation, when they reopen plan to spend time in the famed Calistoga mineral waters in one of the four geothermal pools and indulge in a massage or mud bath. 
Pool temperatures range from 104° F to 80° F and sips from Calistoga sparkling mineral waters cool guests. DETAILS: Closed January-March for spa renovations. Otherwise, open 10am-9pm daily. Complimentary day use of pools with purchase of a spa treatment; $25 day use fee for a guest not getting a spa treatment; mud bath $65. Rooms start at $265 per night. 1006 Washington Street, Calistoga, 866.822.5772,  

Words of Warning 

Warning #1: A dip in a real hot spring may spoil you for life.  Once you’ve immersed yourself into the silky steamy water from the earth’s core, you may never want to set foot in a chlorinated Jacuzzi again. Even if it’s your own.

Warning #2:  If you want to experience hot springs, go to a legit resort with temperatures approved for human use. Do not jump into some random hole in the desert. You could end up the bouquet garni in a simmering soup of geothermal minerals and not live to talk about it.  Pay the day use fee and be safe. 
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