DIAMOND FORK CANYON — Right next to the edge of a stream swollen with cold spring runoff and exposed to the rain, Gary Sanders relaxed comfortably in nothing but swim trunks and flip-flops.
His secret: Being submerged up to the neck in 100-degree water streaming from the hillside and into a neatly constructed pool lined with large rocks.
“It could be the middle of winter for all I care,” said Sanders, one of many to be found at Utah’s popular Fifth Water Hot Springs over Memorial Day weekend.
While some prefer the relative convenience and safety of public swimming pools and developed hot springs resorts, others prefer a more natural experience.
Compared to some other western states, Utah isn’t exactly thought of as a primitive hot springs mecca. But the state offers a handful of gems that draw visitors from around the state and country.
Hot springs have long been an important resource in Utah, from the natives who used them for their healing properties to pioneer settlers who found them a welcome rest for weary bones and a source of warmth.
Today, many of the state’s premier springs have been developed into resorts, but several options remain for those who prefer a more primitive experience.
Many hot springs enthusiasts prefer nude bathing, and although it’s technically illegal in Utah, there are some remote locations where it’s not likely to cause a problem. However, the following examples are not recommended for soaking “au naturel.”
Fifth Water Hot Springs
The most popular in the state, and for good reason, is Fifth Water Hot Springs, located up Diamond Fork Canyon southwest of Spanish Fork. The springs get hundreds of visitors on a typical good-weather weekend.
One reason Fifth Water, commonly known as Diamond Fork Hot Springs, is so popular is its proximity to Utah’s population centers. Located just a 21-mile drive from I-15 followed by a 2.5-mile hike, the springs offer a relatively easy day trip, even for those who live at the northern end of the Wasatch Front.
Perhaps the biggest reason, however, is the sheer quality of the Fifth Water experience. A well-maintained trail winds uphill through a forested canyon alongside a pristine stream, offering a moderate workout with classic Northern Utah mountain scenery.
Then, of course, are the springs themselves. As the trail emerges from the trees into a more open area, hikers come across the first soaking area, which sits streamside and offers two pools. The upper one is the hotter of the two, but the lower pool may be a more attractive option during the hotter months.
These first pools are often crowded; however, a trail that continues higher up on the hillside takes hikers past a waterfall and up to another set of two pools that tend to receive less attention. The upper pools are located on the opposite side of the stream, so kids are usually not found there, especially when the stream is high in spring and early summer. These pools are also more tucked into the trees and offer a more secluded soaking experience.
GETTING THERE: From I-15, take exit 258. Head southwest on Hwy. 6 for 11 miles, turn left at the “Diamond Fork C.G.” sign, and head 10 miles east to the Three Forks Trailhead.
Meadow Hot Springs
Meadow Hot Springs is located just west of the Central Utah town of Meadow in an open field near I-15. The spring is located on private property, but the landowner has continued to make it accessible to the public.
The property has been improved with fences and a graded walking path that connects three different pools.
The first pool is crystal clear with a temperature of about 100 degrees. This pool is also very deep with limited edges to sit and soak. An adult can stand about chest deep around most of the perimeter, and someone has strung a rope across the center which provides a cozy spot to sit. This pool remains crystal clear due to the fact that the water runs off at a fairly quick rate, and down a small stream.
From this pool, trails lead south and west to two other fenced-in pools. These aren’t as hot, but are larger and better suited for swimming.
Meadow Hot Springs is conveniently located just a few minutes’ drive from I-15, but far enough from the freeway that soakers really don’t even notice it.
“I like it because it’s a convenient stop for me,” said Ted Gee of Orem, who stops at Meadow occasionally on the way home from business trips to St. George.
As with any hot springs, visitors should pack out anything they bring in. Privately owned springs such as Meadow could be closed to the public if the owners find trash or other signs of degradation.
GETTING THERE: From I-15, take exit 158. Head south through Meadow about two miles, then turn right onto a well-graded dirt road. Head west back over I-15 and continue to a well-marked parking area.
Ogden Hot Spring
This spring is located right at the mouth of Ogden Canyon. Two stone pools are fed by a hose from a concrete collection system. The water is very hot, so visitors should bring a bucket so they can scoop cold water out of the river next to the pools.
Its location next to the road means this isn’t the most natural-feeling soak, but it’s the most convenient option for Ogden-area residents. Parking is available right off the road, but there’s only room for two or three vehicles. Park across from the waterfall on the north side of the road.
GETTING THERE: From I-15, take Ogden exit 344 (12th Street). Head east to the mouth of Ogden Canyon. Park at the end of the metal guardrail and hike back downstream to the pools.