Cold winter? Hot spring!

Great hot springs resorts are, depending on the weather, only a couple of hours away

For more information about Sierra Hot Springs, call (530) 994-3773 or visit
For enthusiasts who want to learn more about local hot springs, George Williams III’s the books Eastern Sierra Hot Springs and Nevada Hot Springs are available at

On Dec.6, at about 11 a.m., my fiancée, Sara, and I, without checking the weather first, left our house for a Sunday drive to Sierra Hot Springs. We decided to take the “back way,” up 395 to Hallelujah Junction and then over Beckwourth Pass to Sierra Valley. The math here is a little like one times one: Sierra Hot Springs is in Sierraville in Sierra Valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Sierra County, Calif. It’s an easy name to remember.

It was a brisk but clear day in downtown Reno, but as we drove through Golden Valley, Lemmon Valley and Stead, rising in elevation and latitude, we encountered increasing flurries of snow.

“Great!” I said excitedly, ever the foolhardy, happy-go-lucky adventurer. “We’ll be able to sit in the outdoor pool while it’s snowing! I love that!”

Sara, who was actually driving, came back with, “I don’t think today’s really the best day to be doing this. We don’t have four-wheel drive or chains or snow tires.”

She’s one of those voice-of-reason, party-pooper types.

“Do you want me to drive?” I asked, like this would fix all our problems. “Don’t worry so much.”

“You should be worried, too, mister.”

By the time we reached Hallelujah Junction, it was near whiteout condition. We stopped to get gas. I asked the attendant, “Do you know if they’re requiring chains or snow tires over the pass?”

He gave me a look that said if I had to ask I probably shouldn’t be driving without them. “I don’t know if they’re required yet,” he said. He looked out the window. “But it’s coming down pretty hard.”

I heard some snickers from the fancy-pants, offroad-vehicle drivers behind me in line.

I went back to the car. Sara insisted that I drive. Then, before we even got out of the parking lot, the car started fishtailing, and we almost took out a stop sign.

We decided that any possible relaxation to be gained from a visit to the hot springs would be negated by the nerve-wracking terror of driving there.

Luckily for you, dear readers, I’ve been there before. It’s a quaint place, a resort with a palatable, but, depending on your tolerance for such things, not obnoxious, hippie vibe. There’s a lodge where they serve vegetarian meals, and you can stay overnight ($38.50-$110). It’s a non-profit organization, offering massages and yoga classes and saunas and all that kind of health resort stuff, and clothing is optional.

But the real attraction is the water. Sierra Hot Springs has a large, warm outdoor pool and, next to it, enclosed in a geodesic dome, a hot pool where, with a little bone-soaking, all the troubles in the world quickly vanish.

Hot attractions

The eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada is a literal hotbed of geothermal activity, with naturally occurring springs of hot groundwater spouting up all along the Nevada-California border. These springs range from dirty, sulphuric holes full of dead animals to the elaborate, carefully maintained, tranquil pools at resorts like Sierra Hot Springs (pictured). There’s also Walley’s Hot Springs in Genoa and Carson Hot Springs in Carson City, among others. George Williams III has a series of books about local springs that’s invaluable to folks interested in discovering off-the-beaten-path hot springs.

Though pizza and beer might be the most popular indulgences after a day spent enjoying a favorite winter sport, a trip to the hot springs might actually be more restorative. But learn from my mistake and be sure to research the traveling conditions before heading out.