Hot Springs: The Indigenous Hot Tub
3.1.12

Along with all-night karaoke sessions and bento box picnics beneath cherry blossom trees, the calming practice of taking a dip in geothermal hot springs is a decadent hobby I picked up while living in Japan years ago. Weaseling its way into my portfolio of ‘simple pleasures’, outdoor bathing in spring-fed mineral pools (what the Japanese call onsen) or in local bathhouses is part of a normal routine for many Japanese.

Back in the States, geography may limit my access and the ritual of communal bathing may be eyed with a bit of suspicion, but I am always at the ready to dive in when the opportunity presents itself. So on a recent ski vacation to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, when I heard the words “hot” and “springs” used in the same breath, my ears perked. Very quickly, the thought of a restorative, natural bath overshadowed any previous desire to hit the slopes!

Without much prompting, my party and I made our way up the windy mountain roads, past the reindeer lounging among snow-covered aspen and evergreens to Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a spot long revered by local Native Americans as sacred ground for its physical and spiritual healing properties.

Though the vibe at Strawberry Park Hot Springs is simple and rustic, the whole experience felt quite naturally indulgent! And at a mere $10 admission price, the hot springs are a serious bargain.

In this stifling age of the “power shower”, it’s difficult to deny the life-giving aspects of a laid-back afternoon, neck deep in 100 degree water with snowy, wooded mountains as backdrop. The mountain altitude, physical and mental distance from daily life and the connection with nature brought me clarity that even a city mouse like me instantly recognized as good for the soul. Like clockwork, my muscles were soothed, my skin softened and calm restored.

Hot spring water – thanks to its mineral content – is believed by some to have curative powers. In Japan, many people visit hot springs to treat illness, aches and pains. Hot springs are also claimed to help aid digestion, stimulate the immune system and promote general wellness. Plus, stopping to take a good long soak in your most likely busy schedule is just plain enjoyable!

Create your own hot spring experience! Find a nearby spring or make your tub into an in-home spa. Not vacationing in the Rockies? No worries! Check out the Hot Springs Finder’s website or iPhone app for local hot springs listings.

If you don’t live or holiday near seismic activity, you can still recreate the experience at home by making your own salt bath! Add 10-15 drops of essential oil (I like a spearmint and rosemary combo) to bath salts (go nuts with Dead Sea Salt, Himalayan Sea Salt or Epsom Salt) and pop them in your tub. If you want to go the pre-made route, check out these Japanese-inspired Hinoki and Ginger Bath Salts. This fantastic site, iherb.com, is also a great place to source all your salts and essential oils.


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  1. Such a fun reminder of enjoyable ways to care for our bodies. Even if hot springs aren’t accessible to you where you live, Asian spas promote the hot spring experience indoors with the communal bathing and wonderful mineral treatments. Great article! And the photos could be the next Fleet Foxes album cover.

  2. I don’t know much about hot springs, but this is so well written and ‘inviting’. Good stuff Alisha. I am on the go now…:-)

    Abi | 03.01.2012 | Reply

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