Soaking in the Scenery
Discoveries await those who venture into Nevada’s outback.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MICHELLE ROBERTS-GARCIA
What do majestic natural hot springs, vast desert regions, and endless skies unencumbered by buildings have in common? They can all be found in the breathtaking state of Nevada, for one. This magical territory offers countless experiences unlike anywhere else in the world and can lead adventurers to places they never expected.
I have lived in Las Vegas for nearly seven years, and in that time I am ashamed to say I have rarely ventured beyond the city limits. While I knew Nevada was home to a variety of great parks, cities, and locations, I never embraced the allure that came with road tripping across the state. As a travel writer, it should have been a no-brainer, but until recently I stuck to my origins as a “city slicker.” An opportunity arose for me to tour around and get a feel for what makes this awe-inspiring place tick, and the results were intoxicating.
My best friend and business partner Rachel Pasche joined me on a roadtrip adventure to some of the state’s most magical hot springs. While there were a variety of options to choose from, I created a map that encompassed a diverse selection of springs and also took us through a number of cool tourist spots to break up the drive. What resulted was an epic two-day journey from Las Vegas into the wilds of the state.
Before setting out we loaded my car with food, water, warm clothes, and bathing suits. As we hit the freeway, I couldn’t help but feel a wave of excitement at getting to see places I had never set foot in.
Our first stop was the town of Tonopah, which is about a three-hour drive from Las Vegas. We decided to stop there for lunch and take a much-anticipated look at the infamous Clown Motel. Once in Tonopah, we stopped at the Tonopah Brewing Co., which serves up delicious sandwiches, appetizers, salads, brews, and barbecue.
After we ate, we headed over to the Clown Motel. This piece of Nevada history is a popular destination for road-trippers and curios alike. Filled with more than 2,000 clowns, it is a nod to all things cheerful and chilling at the same time. We had the pleasure of meeting the owner and even received a guided tour of the haunted “It” room.
Back on the road, we continued to enjoy the vast desert and moody mountains as they passed by our windows. We booked a night at the Cozy Mountain Motel in Austin, so we could enjoy our first hot spring at sunrise the following morning. Just a two-hour drive north out of Tonopah, this quaint and aptly named “cozy” inn was the perfect place to rest our weary heads.
The next morning we headed out to Spencer Hot Springs, located about 30 minutes east of Austin. The springs are located just off U.S. Route 50, via a short drive on State Route 376, before turning off and driving a mile down a dirt road.
Surrounded by snow-capped mountains in the winter months, these hot springs are nestled in the middle of nowhere and give soakers the feeling of being immersed in nature. During our visit, the water had a tempting gust of steam rising out into the brisk morning air, and it felt like soaking in a warm, relaxing bath. The main soaking pool is bordered by a few scattered shallow springs and unfiltered views.
The springs can get busy throughout the year, and while it can be tempting to camp right up by the pools, the proper form is to set up at least 100 feet away. It is vital that visitors practice hot springs etiquette (see travelnevada.com), as these natural resources need to be respected. Always treat them carefully and practice leave-no-trace principles.
Continuing on our journey, U.S. 50 takes us toward Eureka and Ely. The two-hour ride to Ely from Spencer Hot Springs felt like we had driven straight into Wyoming or Montana as the desert gave way to thicker trees and sprawling countryside. We stopped off in Ely for some food at Nardi’s Home Style Restaurant, which served up omelets so big and fluffy you would think they were made for television.
Our second soaking spot was Hot Creek Spring, which is located in the Wayne E. Kirch Wildlife Management Area. Filled with campsites, great fishing opportunities, and hot springs, this area is one of Nevada’s most intriguing hidden gems. The springs can be reached by following State Route 318 from U.S. Route 6 South to a dirt road that leads to Dave Deacon Campground. From there, follow signs to the hot springs.
The pools are breathtaking, and the turquoise waters look like something straight out of the tropics. Down a short path at the trailhead, soakers find a tranquil sand-bottom pool that is wide on one side and narrows into a stream on the other. The water is lukewarm, but it still feels nice to dip in and soak under the bright blue skies.
We had a three-hour drive back to Las Vegas where we rested up for a night before setting off for the last hot spring of the trip. Gold Strike Hot Springs is both rewarding and tricky because it requires a fair amount of hiking and climbing. The trailhead is located just outside of Boulder City, off U.S. Route 93 near Hoover Dam. The 7-mile hike features a walk through towering canyons and eight rope climbs that get soakers down to the hot springs themselves.
Soakers will pass by several smaller pools on the way down to the main soaking spot, and each is as inviting as the next. The tiered layout gives the area an amphitheater vibe where we watched as other hikers came and went. We hiked straight down to the river and waded into a shallow spring that was warm enough to relax our tired feet before dipping into the hotter pool above.
Those who visit the springs also have to use the ropes to climb back out, so be sure to save some strength for the return journey. While it is a more challenging hike, the work to get there makes the ending so much more special. It’s also possible to walk down to the Colorado River from the springs and enjoy unbridled views.
After exploring each of these breathtaking spots, I realized there is a sense of magic in this state. The long, lonely stretches of highway broken up by small towns and our hot springs stops tethered me to the present, easing my busy mind, and breathing life back into my soul. Take a trip around Nevada, and I can assure you that the same magic will reawaken yours, too.