Soaking my bones in hot mineral water bubbling right out of the earth is the best way I know to download stress. Throw in an expansive view through pungent ponderosa pine and cedar forests across a sage-covered alpine meadow in the High Sierra and voila! I am back to center – back to appreciating life.
Sierra Hot Spring Resort is a 3-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area and 25 miles north of Truckee. Jordan and I turn onto a bumpy dirt road and follow the handpainted signs to the hot springs. After checking in, we walk to the baths through a yellow pine forest. A coyote howls and the faint aroma of sulfur tinges the air. Splashing water tumbling into the cold plunge is the symphony that fills the Temple Dome. The golden glow of candle flames dance across the dome’s ceiling. I step into the large rock-lined pool with curls of steam dancing on its surface. An imposing flower-wreathed statue of Buddha watches. The thermal mineral water bubbles up through the sandy bottom tickling my feet. It is luxuriously hot.
The cold plunge shell-shaped tubs sit invitingly beside the hot pool. Icy water streams over my body. I listen to the echoes. The water seems to be talking. As do the screech owls perched in the shadowy, moon-lit forest outside.
After royally shocking my body and mind with the juxtaposition of ice cold and scalding hot, I float in the outdoor swimming pool. The temperature is soothingly warm—not enervating. An immense star canopy reflects diamonds in the water. Coyotes continue to carouse in the distance. After several hours of soaking, we sleepily meander the forest trail back to the car and take the short drive to the Globe Hotel (owned by Sierra Hot Springs) where I lay my head down on the pillow and fall into watery dreams.
The next day we return to the main lodge which is a scenic 15-minute walk from the baths. The front desk folk are friendly and provide a map to the various spring sites around the 600-acre property. The lodge has a low-key atmosphere with a big stone fireplace to read in front of on the over-stuffed velvet couches crowding the living area. Dusty artifacts line the fireplace mantel silently speaking of this region’s long Native American and mining history.
We cook lunch in the tiny but well-equipped community kitchen and enjoy a leisurely repast on the verandah. A panorama of distant volcano crowns ring the valley which once was a prehistoric lake. These are the geological origins of the hot aquifer that runs under the property and are the tail end of the Cascades Range coming down from Oregon.
Fat black heifers frolic in the meadow across the road. Nearby, a row of lanky cottonwood trees sing a loose-leafed choir in the wind. A talkative resident of the lodge sitting nearby is chuckling over the calves’ antics. His table is littered with books, maps, and letters. I query him as to how he ended up living at Sierra Hot Springs. He explains, “I came in for a hot bath many years ago, dropped anchor and spend the ski seasons here.”
He continues, “Squaw and Northstar are thirty minutes away and Highway 89 is open year-round. There is an average 24 inches of snowfall from December to April in the Sierraville area and a plethora of cross-country ski trails are in nearby Tahoe National Forest.”
Our new friend is a wealth of information on the history of the region and the origins of the springs. The original lodge was built during the Civil War in 1863. Jack Campbell, the sheriff of Sierraville, bought it but was killed in a gunfight. It was then run as a spa. People from all over the world traveled by train to Truckee and then stagecoach to the resort to “take the waters.”
During the Gold Rush the valley was settled by Swiss Italian immigrants who provided fodder for pack animals and dairy products to the miners of Downieville. Many descendants of these immigrants still own ranches in the area.
A Mafioso owned the resort from the 1920s to the fifties and ran it as a speakeasy and bordello for the Reno crowd. It was quite funky and run down by the time Leonard Orr, father of the rebirthing movement, purchased it in the 1970s. Harbin Hot Springs now owns it and has done many aesthetic improvements to upgrade and develop the lodge, restaurant, and baths.
A large, smiling woman sitting nearby joins our conversation. She also works at the lodge and says she felt the place needed a “spiritual clearing”. She whispers, “There was some weird energy hanging about with the questionable activities over the years by the Mafia (rumored murders), the prohibition dance hall, and the rebirthers releasing emotional traumas all over the place.” She invited a Native American shaman to do a sort of “psychic housecleaning”. Today it is peaceful with a deep sense of respect for the land and the guests who visit.
If you are in the mood to explore—take a spin to Satler, stopping at the general store for a dose of history. Turn right at the store. Go several miles and turn right onto Marble Hot Springs Road which is a well-graded dirt road elevated above a marshland valley. During the winter, spring and early summer this is an amazing bird sanctuary. Thousands of redwing and yellow-wing black birds, sandhill cranes, geese, hawks, ducks, and other birds dance, swoop and sing on the swaying grass stalks and cattails of this marshy expanse. The road swings around to Loyalton and Highway 49 which leads you back to Sierra Hot Springs.
Sierra Hot Springs is located three hours from the Bay Area in the Sierras north of Lake Tahoe. Take Hwy. 80 to Truckee, From there it’s a 30-minute drive on Hwy. 89 to Sierraville.
The baths are clothing optional.
There are many developed springs on the secluded 600 acres. Some are just a claw-foot tub with crystal clear hot water pouring into and spilling over the sides. Others, such as the 101-degree Meditation Pool, is a natural stone pool set in the forest with flower gardens and copulas to rest in. About a half-mile from the lodge in the other direction are the enclosed Phoenix Baths, Temple Dome Hot Pool, and the large outdoor warm pool, with temperatures ranging from 98 to 108. The chemical properties of the water include lithium, sulfur, and silica.
Drugs, alcohol and pets are not allowed. (Pets may not be left in vehicles.)
The main lodge has 5 beds in the dorms and 5 private European-style rooms with shared bath. The Globe Hotel has 10 rooms also with shared bath and is located in nearby Sierraville. Both have wireless internet but cell service is sparse.
There are an unlimited amount of camping sites.
The Philosophy Café serves healthy, homemade dinners Friday- Monday. You can cook your own vegetarian meals in the small community kitchen. Cooking and eating utensils are provided along with condiments. The Globe Hotel also has a large and well-equipped community kitchen.
A wide variety of massage and classes for guests are offered.
Photos by Jordan Scott:
- Lisa in the Medicine Pool
- The campground.
- The cooks of the Philosophy Café: Amber, Shilo (boss), Lucas (grandson and son of owner) and Amber.
- Room at the Globe Hotel
Like hot springs? Here are some of my other favorites: Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs near Santa Fe, Wilbur Hot Springs: Healing Spa Near San Francisco .