Utah Hot Springs That Belong on Your Winter Bucket List

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Lava Hot Springs
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Ski season brings some of our favorite times here in the Wasatch—but it also leaves you perma-chilled, wrapped in sweaters and slippers for the rest of the weekend. So unless you have a hot tub, hot springs sure sound lovely this time of year.

Fortunately, we’re within striking distance of some particularly nice hot springs—both the hike-in kind and the drive-to kind. They range from close to road-trip worthy: The Homestead Crater in Midway is an easy jaunt from Salt Lake, while Lava Hot Springs in southern Idaho warrants an overnight adventure. Whichever steamy locale you choose to visit, it's sure to deliver the soothing warmth your muscles need this time of year—as well its own ambiance and quirks.

Best for Feeling Like a Rockstar: Homestead Crater

Water temps in the Homestead Crater hover between 90 and 96 degrees.
Water temps in the Homestead Crater hover between 90 and 96 degrees. Homestead Resort

Homestead Crater is rather the opposite of Diamond Fork in many ways: It’s a cushy, plush hot spring on the property of a swanky golf resort in Midway, Utah, about 45 minutes from Salt Lake. You can drive right there, of course, and can even combine the outing with a schmancy dinner or overnight at the property. But the crater, which was formed some 10,000 years ago and lies deep within a 55-foot, beehive-shaped limestone rock, and its warm mineral water are the real stars of the show here.

The crater is deep enough that people can take scuba lessons in it; stand-up paddleboard yoga classes are also offered. Snorkeling gear is available to rent, but you can also simply soak up the mineral-rich waters. And because the cave isn’t fully enclosed—it’s open to the sky in a big hole overhead—so the air stays fresh and clear, while the water temperature hovers in the 90s.

In other words, a visit to this crater is a unique and memorable way to top off a Park City-area ski day.

Best For a Weekend Getaway: Lava Hot Springs

Lava Hot Springs looks serene on a chilly day.
Lava Hot Springs looks serene on a chilly day. FishermansDaughter

It may not technically be in Utah, but at just a two-hour drive north of Salt Lake in Idaho, Lava Hot Springs still qualifies as a local gem in our book. Lava is a teeny, chintz-y little town built around its namesake hot springs. The Western-style main street is filled with gift shops, saloons, inns, chuckwagons (and, surprisingly, even has a solid Thai restaurant).

But the hot pools are, of course, what you come for. They have kid-friendly play pools and hotter adult-friendly pools that are nicely landscaped and plenty relaxing. It’s easy to spend a few hours here, getting in and out of the water as you cycle between overheating and cooling off.

The Lava springs are fun enough to warrant a roadtrip mission of their own. But you can tack them on to a ski touring day in northern Utah or southern Idaho easily, or pay a visit to the tiny (but steep!) local ski resort, Pebble Creek. It also makes a fabulous stop-off on the way home from the Tetons or Sawtooths.

Best Hike-In Springs: Diamond Fork

Diamond Fork hot springs are nestled up Spanish Fork Canyon, with its trailhead about a 90-minute drive south of Salt Lake. And prepare yourself: This isn’t a short walk in the winter. In summer, you can drive right up to the trailhead, but this time of year, a gate closes a few miles short of the trail. This adds a few miles each way, so a relatively short summer hike turns into a serious trek. But the length of the winter walk keeps the crowds away, which makes it well worth the effort.

The trail turnoff lies 11 miles up Spanish Fork Canyon, turning north off Highway 6. In the summer, you can drive 10 miles to the trailhead, but if winter makes you stop short, park your car and get hoofin’. You’ll want to dress for winter cardio, with a towel and water in your pack. Wear good snow boots, bring a puffy to combat any chill, and stow a headlamp in case you end up walking during stargazing hours.

This all sounds like a ton of effort, but once you set foot in the gorgeous pools of hot river water, punctuated by cascading waterfalls, you’ll be terribly glad you did it.

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