Mommy Vegas Idea #32
…My kind of day at the spa! To my delight, I – like so many other mom’s – celebrated last “Mother’s Day” with a trip to the perfect spa! It was a quaint little place, a bit off the beaten path, in Northern Arizona. The treatments included steam, hot rocks, mineral baths, two foot exfoliating treatments and some mild exercise! The best part was I didn’t have to visit alone and spend the day exiled from my family! So what did this amazing experience run our family of 4? It didn’t cost a dime, but the gas it took to get to the, um, lobby. Arizona Hot Springs is one of the many springs around the Colorado River Basin. The parking lot for this gorgeous little oasis is just 4 miles South of Hoover Dam, then you venture down to the river/lake, via one of several routes. I was only aware of 2 land approaches, but another hiker showed me a completely different topo-map with 4 land routes, making at least 5 points of access if you include the River. There are really countless river routes if you’re armed with a small boat like a kayak, coming either up the river from Cottonwood Cove, Nelson, Willow Beach, etc., or South from Hoover Dam. When all is said and done it’s a 4.5 to 5 mile hike round-trip. We took the “strenuous route,” at which most experienced hikers wouldn’t bat an eye.This great little hot spot not only offers several ever changing, man-made, soaking pools with water reaching 111 to as high as 120°F, which are largely shielded from the elements, it also boasts access to the shore of Lake Mojave (the Colorado River)and some great hiking with spectacular views.
This is the first hike I’ve ever come away from feeling sick. Not because the hike was rough, or I caught something, but because I’ve known about this exceptional place for well over a decade and had NEVER TRIED IT! “Why?” you may ask, well, first I’d heard all sorts of horror stories about how difficult a hike it is (um, not the case), and then there’s the people that claim the ONLY way to visit is by boat (hmm, I don’t agree with this one much either), and the talk about the rickety ladder (the thing is actually rather substantial), and the deadly amoeba (you can read more about this later…), plus I’d heard it wasn’t as good as Goldstrike Hot Springs, which up to this point has been our absolute favorite hike. Goldstrike Canyon was actually one of the first real hikes I dragged my poor husband along on, in our early dating days, and went on to be the location he asked for my hand. How many desert wedding proposals take place… in a cave… amid the spray of a waterfall? So as one would expect, we spent an awful lot of time in Goldstrike as it’s become one of our favorite places. Unfortunately, the slippery rocks and steep scrabbles make me nervous with the kids, so our hot springs adventures have been limited in the past few years… until recently! While I’m not sure I prefer Arizona Hot Springs over Goldstrike (but obviously I’m TERRIBLY biased), this is an excellent substitute for anyone with little ones or issues with heights.
See it on the Mommy Vegas Map!
Take US 95(/93) South through Vegas (it becomes US-93 at Railroad Pass, with US-95 heading South toward Searchlight/Laughlin/Needles). Continue on the US-93 through Boulder City, either taking the business bypass to the Dam/Lake, or the Scenic Route through town. Continue to the Dam Bypass (the main highway once you pass the Hacienda), and travel over the colossal new bridge to Arizona. Drive about 4 more miles and there will be a large paved parking lot on the LEFT (you have to cross traffic) just past mile marker 4.
Park, slather on the sunscreen, and head down the wash under the overpass/bridge.
Continue down just a stone’s throw to the trailhead and signage (I apologize for all the sunscreen smudged photos, I didn’t realize we’d smudged up the camera until we returned home 😦 ).
Grab a map from the “Trail Info” box:
Now you have a choice to make – as long as you keep heading toward the river, you will eventually get there, so getting lost is not likely… when in doubt, follow the way water would run – but there are several major routes of entry. The primary route is straight down the wash you are already in (White Rock Canyon), this will drop you at the Colorado River (Norther portion of Lake Mojave) and you will then follow the shore downstream to the next wash/canyon and hike up to the hot springs through the canyon. The other 2 options require cutting across to Hot Springs Canyon, which are shorter, more rigorous routes. There are some crazy rants online about how difficult this hike is, but if you consider you and yours “hikers” it won’t phase you. The best part about the more strenuous route is it drops you right into the springs and you don’t even have to fiddle with the ladder, which was preferred for us with the kids. All three direct hike options are shown on this Park Service provided PDF map
Either way your shoes/boots/sandals (it really doesn’t matter what you wear, just short of knee high wellies or the awesome little sock shoes in which Little Bug likes to hike),
will become inundated with pea gravel, so be prepared for periodic shoe dumping or prolonged foot exfoliation. Once you make your choice, you’ll get to exercise it in a bit less than a mile and you’ll have an option to veer off to the left (South), or staying in White Rock Canyon, which again is basically just a gradual decline on pea gravel, until you hit the river. The Hot Springs Canyon route is GORGEOUS, you literally hike a ridgeline, and there is a fairly substantial change in altitude, we saw bighorn sheep
and various other critters, but not a single human. Keep a little spring in your step, it can be very slippery (think ball barrings on a board in a few spots) and a bit steep. Otherwise, it’s very straight forward, with very little scrambling. My husband and I did the majority of the hike with 20 to 50 lbs. of weight, between small packs and kids, but we decided on multiple occasions it was not a hike we’d be dragging our parents along on. Just keep following the trail up and over until you reach the bottom of the neighboring canyon, it’s rather obvious once you’ve made it. Then follow the wash down until you get to some rather large, but easily navigable boulders. Welcome to Arizona Hot Springs, watch your step at first, the seeps are HOT. Nothing that will damage you, but enough to startle you a bit and feel “burny” as my Little Bear put it. We carried them over the hottest pools at the start, but let them put fingers and toes in so they would understand the seriousness of our warnings to be careful around hot springs. After about the second pool the temperatures are more tolerable. The kids really enjoyed the puddles near the ladder.
Speaking of the ladder, if you chose to remain in White Rock Canyon until you reached the river, and then hiked along the shore to the next canyon downstream (Hot Springs Canyon), you will have to follow the trickle of water up the canyon to this ladder before you reach any pools to speak of. If you used the more “rigorous” route, you won’t need to mess with the ladder at all unless you want to venture down to the river.
Be careful when navigating this ~20′ ladder. While it may seem pretty stable, you never know what condition it will be in. It is also quite slippery, so remember to test it and use your own good judgement. This hike, like all outings is a “hike-at-your-own-risk” adventure. Which brings me to the next necessary word of warning…
As with all hot springs, there is always a risk of pathogens lurking… things that like us, tend to like temperatures similar to ours right? So it follows that these hot springs run the risk of harboring a few pathogenic protists, one that tends to do an awful lot of damage, though it’s quite rare, is Naegleria fowleri, otherwise known as “The Brain-Eating Amoeba” (isn’t that a fun little moniker?!). This little amoeba packs a serious punch, so while the CDC has only recorded 28 cases contracted in association with recreational waters (in general… not specifically hot springs, or this hot spring for that matter), they have also recorded a >99% death rate, as only one individual since 1962 (when data was first recorded) has survived after showing symptoms and being diagnosed… I’d say that sucks, but that’s on the list of words my mom requests I not say… soooo… that’s a real bummer!
There’s good news though, apart from there only being 167 known cases in the US (between 1962 and 2012), it apparently only enters through the nose, so keep you head out of the water and all should be well. But because we find these obnoxious (but understandably necessary) signs at all the hot springs locations we’ve ventured, I feel it necessary to reiterate the danger of this tiny critter… but also remind you that the CDC has also determined (though not in association with Naegleria fowleri
data) you are over 1,000 times more likely to drown than become infected with Naegleria fowleri
So don’t worry, he won’t jump up at grab you off the trail over 2 miles from any body of water…
Not sufficiently terrified yet, wait there are more!
They really mean business with these signs…Just to reiterate, keep your head above water and if a little one should dunk, scoop them up. Supposedly the microbe can only enter through the nose, drinking the water has never been associated with infection, nor has splashing or just getting the nose and face wet. Just getting a few drops, or getting splashed doesn’t seem to do the trick. So be cautious, but have fun!
Happy hot springing!