The dry, wind-scoured inhospitable nature of central Utah's landscape may not immediately inspire visions of waterfalls, lush hanging gardens, or colorful fish swimming in warm, sapphire-blue waters.
But oasis is redefined here in the scrub land and deserts of the eastern Great Basin and adjacent mountains. Tucked away in some of Utah's least-visited pockets is a surprising array of hot and warm springs to soothe your weary bones.
Here are five of the most interesting, with nearby attractions to round out your trip. Many of these sites are primitive and may not be cleaned or monitored; soak at your own risk.
Gandy Warm Spring
Location • Millard County, west of Gandy
Temperature • 81 degrees
Nearby attraction • Crystal Ball Cave
This small warm spring near the Nevada border is a sweet side trip if you've booked a tour at the nearby Crystal Ball Cave, just 2 miles away. A small waterfall pours over calcite formations into a pool with a low rock alcove that drips with hanging plants. A simple dam keeps the water moving through to Gandy, where it warms an exotic fish farm and provides irrigation. The water isn't warm enough for swimming in the dead of winter — but the site is nestled next to Spring Mountain, so it's protected from the West Desert winds and comfortable even on cool days.
Getting there • From U.S. Highway 6, about a half-mile east of the Nevada border, turn north on the signed gravel road to Gandy. Take this road about 27.5 miles to the Gandy town sign; just past the sign, turn onto the road jutting northwest. Take this road just over a mile to an intersection marked by a utility pole. Turn west and stay on this road, the main one approaching Spring Mountain, as it bends north at 1.6 mile and ends in a circle at the spring 0.3 mile after that.
During the warm months, locals say, it's best to honk as you approach if you prefer not to observe bathers in their natural state.
Baker Hot Spring
Location • Juab County, north of Delta and west of Lynndyl
Temperature • Controlled by bather, up to 180 degrees
Nearby attraction • Topaz Mountain rockhounding area
Baker Hot Spring appears to be the product of a long-ago dream to set up a spa in the shadow of Fumarole Butte. Three paved tubs were built into the ground to access water from both the scalding hot spring and an adjacent cold spring. Hot water channels in through gaps in the lip of the tubs, while cold water runs through PVC pipes built into the walls. Rags at the tubs can be stuffed in the pipes and gaps to limit flows and change the temperature.
The water was murky after a windstorm during my visit, but volunteers reportedly clean the tubs from time to time. A camper in the area told me that teenagers flock to the springs on weekend nights, but midweek the place was empty. The area around the spring is quite pretty, with steam rising from orange and yellow stream beds that weave between shrubs and grasses. The untempered spring water is extremely hot; visitors with pets or small children should be cautious.
Getting there • On U.S. Highway 6, 5.2 miles south of Lynndyl, Brush Wellman Road (State Road 174) is marked with a sign pointing to Topaz Mountain. Take this road west, passing south of the power plant at 8.1 miles. Continue another 11 miles west of the power plant to Baker Spring Road, which runs north from a T-junction. Turn north and continue north 7 miles along the black Fumarole Butte. The spring and tubs are on a short spur that ends in a parking circle to the east.
Mystic Hot Springs
Location • Sevier County, in Monroe
Temperature • 98 to 110 degrees
Nearby attraction • Concerts at the springs
Guests can swim in two pools and seven bathtubs of various temperatures in a funky resort with a hippie vibe. The water runs over vibrant orange mineral formations and into the tubs and pools, which are drained and cleaned frequently. The shallow pool, a fun choice for children, is particularly scenic, with a waterfall pouring down from overhead. The resort offers lodging in its collection of pioneer cabins and renovated buses, as well as a campground and RV park. Owner "Mystic Mike" Ginsburg installed a stage in the main building, and the resort hosts jam bands for intimate concerts, as well as a music festival during Pioneer Day most summers. Soaking cost: $15 for adults, $7.50 for children 10 and younger. Information at mystichotsprings.com.
Getting there • From Main Street in Monroe, take 100 North about a half-mile east. The road turns to gravel and ends at the resort.
Red Hill Hot Spring
Location • Sevier County, northeast of Monroe
Temperature • 171 degrees, according to federal data, but much lower in the pools
Nearby attraction • Monrovian Park and trails, southeast of Monroe
Less than a mile northeast of Mystic Hot Springs is Red Hill, its smaller, less-established cousin. The setting is gorgeous, with the orange of the spring so bright that it is visible from far away. The water pours into a small metal pool and smaller tubs. A makeshift park with benches, a barbecue and a fire pit is next to the spring. Although the water is scalding at the source, the soaking area was not much warmer than a heated swimming pool, and I did not get in on a snowy day in March.
Getting there • Save this trip for a dry day and take a car with decent clearance; the dirt roads above Monroe are no joke. The clearest route I found started at the east end of 300 North, where the road turns to dirt. Take the dirt road north a half-mile and turn east. From that junction, go uphill a half-mile east and southeast. Parking is next to the spring. Google Maps shows a more direct route from Washburnville Road, but the dirt road was blocked with piles of brush.
Meadow Hot Spring
Location • Millard County, southwest of Meadow
Temperature • Three springs, up to 106 degrees
Nearby attraction • Meadow Lava Tubes, near Tabernacle Hill
These are the deepest and bluest of the ones I visited. The three springs appear to be on private land, but the landowner has opened the gate, posted signs that urge visitors to "Enjoy!" and installed donation boxes. The site has been improved, with fences and road access available. There also are colorful fish in two of the pools, and the rocky depths of up to about 30 feet are fun to explore with a mask and fins.
Locals report heavy weekend use as word of the springs has spread, but midweek traffic was light. Please carry out any garbage you see so the site may remain open and usable.
Getting there • From Interstate 15, take exit 158 to Meadow and turn south on State Road 133. About 1.4 miles from the end of the interstate off-ramp, a well-graded road runs west. Turn onto it and drive over the interstate, 1.15 mile away. Continue west on this road to the springs; the parking area is south of the road, 3.7 miles from the interstate overpass.
(Temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)