Not hot enough for ya?
Northern Nevada’s hot springs make for a great summer excursion, but you might want to wait til the sun sets
My father, grandfather and I often spent Saturday evenings sitting in a hot spring in the northern reaches of the state. We hunted chukar, and my father planned our hunts around the hot springs as much as around the birds.
Early Saturday morning, we’d drop his rickety tent trailer at a spring—usually Dyke or Bog or the now-deceased Hot Pot near Valmy—be walking by 10, and back at the trailer by five for happy hour. To me, easing sore and tired into one of those too-good-to-be-true pools, sipping a beer and listening to the vast desert silence while the last light fades over the western horizon and the fire burns down to cooking coals is … well, it’s just one of the quintessential Northern Nevada experiences.
The best known of Nevada’s undeveloped springs are those scattered around the Black Rock—Trego, Double Hot, Fly Geyser, Soldier Meadows and more. But there are dozens more where you can catch a comfortable soak—no matter how hot the summer sun is—and hundreds more if you count every spot hot water comes out of the ground. These are five of my favorites:
Kyle Hot Springs
Soaking in one of the big plastic stock tanks at Kyle Hot on a breezy summer evening, watching the sun drop toward the crest of the Humboldts, it’s easy to forget that I-80 is just 20 miles away on the other side of that ridge. Go ahead—that’s the point.
On the east side of Buena Vista Valley, at the foot of the East Range, Kyle is around three hours from Reno and drivable in any car during summer. The old, below-ground cement tub is still usable, but the new stock tanks are awfully nice.
The drawbacks? The water smells strongly of sulfur, and so will you after you soak in it. Don’t wear silver jewelry in; it won’t be silver when you get out. Sometimes there are cows around—and cow pies. All minor concerns, though, in light of the view.
Getting there: To get here, take exit 149 off I-80 north of Lovelock, follow Route 400 south until the pavement ends, and then turn left onto a good gravel road. The hot springs are about eight miles east.
Bog Hot Springs
Way out in the northwest corner past Denio Junction at the edge of the Sheldon, Bog Hot pumps out an incredible volume of hot water—on the order of 1,000 gallons a minute—that flows a mile or so through the brush like a slow river.
Near the lower end, there’s a big, deep pool, but try getting in upstream a ways where the water is hotter and the knee-deep bottom is covered with prehistoric slime. Float on your belly and pull yourself up- or downstream with your finger tips until you find just the right temperature.
Getting there: To get to Bog, take U.S. 95 north from Winnemucca, turn west on Nevada 140 to Denio Junction, turn left, skirt the western shore of Continental Lake, and watch for a right turn just past the end of the mountain range on your right. There’s plenty of unimproved camping.
Dyke Hot Springs
Right at the base of the eastern front of the Pine Forest Range, Dyke Hot Springs is a favorite campsite for chukar and deer hunters in the fall and winter. In the summer, you’ll probably find it deserted.
A hot stream runs down a little draw into a small natural pool and then into a warm pond ringed with thick reeds. There’s an old tub in the draw that you can divert water into, but if you’re OK with the muddy bottom, the natural pool is nicer.
The pond is only warm, and besides, it’s loaded with huge bullfrogs that could probably kill you in some unspeakable way if they decided to act in concert. Do not—repeat, do not!—gig them and sauté their legs for dinner. Even though it’s legal year-round, and you don’t need a license, doing so would be just barbaric, wouldn’t it?
Getting there: There are several different ways to get to Dyke. Leonard Creek Road, Dufurrena Road and Big Creek Road all turn west off Nevada 140 between U.S. 95 and Denio Junction, and all eventually meet the big north-south running along the base of the Pine Forests. Dyke Hot is literally steps from that road. You could conceivably get here in a passenger car, but it’s a lot more pleasant in a four-wheel-drive. There’s room to camp right at the springs.
Spencer Hot Springs
At the foot of the Toquima Range near the northern end of Big Smoky Valley, Spencer Hot Springs is only about eight miles off U.S. 50. And what better way to break up that seemingly endless mid-state stretch than a quick dip?
Chances are, you won’t see anybody here, but just in case you do, Spencer actually has separate soaking spots—two of them metal stock tanks and the third a pair of small pools on top of a low hill. Beside the bigger of the two pools is a nice wooden deck and bench for changing.
This is the very heart of the big basin-and-range country, and to the west, the snowcapped peaks of the Toiyabes loom a solid 5,000 feet above the floor of Big Smoky Valley, which continues out of sight to the south. You could spend a whole day out here, just watching the light change and listening to the wind.
Getting there: Past Austin, turn south onto Nevada 376, and then take a quick left onto Forest Road 100 to Toquima Cave. About five miles later, start watching for a left turn to the hot springs. Passenger cars will make it most of the time. Again, there’s plenty of room to camp.
Ruby Valley Hot Springs
The hot springs complex near the northern end of the Ruby Marshes, unnamed on most maps, is sometimes called Smith Ranch Hot Springs and sometimes called Ruby Valley Hot Springs.
It’s odd that it would be unnamed since the springs themselves are some of the most spectacular in the state—a dozen or more seemingly bottomless gin-clear potholes from five feet to 50 feet across, their surfaces mirror-smooth on calm days, each with a cavernous opening at the bottom leading who knows where.
The pools are scattered across a wet meadow, and it’s not hard to get stuck in the mud. Four-wheel-drive and high clearance are pretty much mandatory. There’s plenty of camping around the springs.
Getting there: From Elko, take Nevada 227 toward Lamoille, and turn south on Nevada 228 toward Jiggs. Past Jiggs, fork left on Forest Road 113, which crosses Harrison Pass before meeting Ruby Valley Road on the other side of the mountains. Turn north on Ruby Valley Road and then east on Ruby Wash Road. A few miles later, turn south on a rough road that leads to the springs.