Hot Spring Etiquette – 10 Rules to Know Before You Soak

Backcountry hot springs are so fun to explore – there’s nothing better than reaching your destination and finding a pool to soak in as you enjoy the views! And while I think everyone deserves to enjoy these beautiful places, a lot of damage is done to the environment when people aren’t aware of their impact. So, in this guide, I’m sharing 10 hot spring etiquette rules to keep in mind before your next adventure, to ensure that you, and everyone else at the hot spring, has an amazing experience!

Head’s up: some of these links are affiliate links, so I get a commission if you make a purchase (at no cost to you). But that’s great, because I was going to share anyway, and this helps me keep making free guides for you!

Before We Get into Hot Springs Etiquette…

Before I talk about the rules of hot spring etiquette, there’s something I feel is important to touch on.

There’s often a lot of elitism amongst people who consider themselves outdoorsy – and if you have a lot of experience in the outdoors, it’s easy to assume that everyone knows the same things you do, or that certain things are “obvious.” But the truth is, most people have good intentions when they’re visiting these places, but they might not be aware of their impact on the environment.

So, as you read this post, remember a few things:

  1. If there’s something you’ve been doing that you didn’t realize is harmful to the environment or to other people, that’s okay! You can do better now. It’s happened to me, and it’s probably happened to just about everyone. You don’t know until you know, and learning is never a bad thing.
  2. If you’re outdoors and see other people behaving in ways that disrespect nature, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. They might just not be aware of their impact – if you feel comfortable, say something (gently and kindly, no one responds well to being yelled at). Everyone deserves to enjoy the outdoors, and doing so is how we learn more about the world around us.

10 Rules for Hot Spring Etiquette

Here’s what you should keep in mind for your next hot spring adventure!

1. Leave No Trace

Anytime you’re outdoors, whether you’re a beginner hiker or an experienced adventurer, it’s essential that you practice Leave No Trace (LNT). LNT is a set of seven principles that help us understand our impact on the outdoors – because while we usually have good intentions, the environment is more fragile than we think, and one snap-second decision can cause damage to the environment that will take the earth years, even decades to repair.

While I firmly believe everyone deserves to enjoy these amazing spots, do your part to make sure it stays clean and beautiful!

Leave No Trace means enjoying the outdoors without disrupting nature, as much as it’s possible to do so. Here are the 7 principles of LNT, and how they apply when you visit natural hot springs!

  • Plan ahead and prepare – make sure you know what to expect, bring hiking gear if needed, and be prepared!
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces – when you’re hiking, stay on trail, and avoid stepping on plant life as much as possible. If camping is allowed, set up your tent somewhere that’s been camped on before.
  • Dispose of waste properly – don’t leave trash, or anything else, behind. Pack it out!
  • Leave what you find – I know it can be tempting to take a cool rock or shell, but leave these things where they belong! Animals often use these, and if everyone takes one, the area won’t be as pretty.
  • Minimize campfire impacts – before you make a fire, make sure it’s allowed. Be safe, and put it out when you’re done.
  • Respect wildlife – never approach wildlife, and never feed the animals! It’s bad for their stomachs, causes aggression, and messes with their natural patterns.
  • Be considerate of other visitors – you might end up sharing hot springs with a other people. Keep noise to a minimum, share the pools, and be respectful!

2. Nudity at Hot Springs?

Depending on where you go, many hot springs are clothing optional. But, some aren’t, so always check the rules (some Utah hot springs forbid nudity, for example) before you decide to rock your birthday suit.

If nudity makes you uncomfortable, there are some hot springs that you might want to skip, or you might choose to go at sunrise on a weekday to avoid seeing other people. And if you want to soak naked, more power to ya! Just remember that while there’s nothing wrong with the naked human body, there are definitely some wrong ways to go about being naked in public, so of course, don’t be a creep about it.

Also, keep in mind that this can depend on where you are. For example, Iceland is similar to the US in that most wild hot springs are clothing optional, but always be aware of the culture and rules when you travel.

3. Share the Hot Springs

Enjoying hot springs that are on public land means sharing them with other people. Be friendly and respectful, and remember that you don’t own the place. If the pools are small, be mindful of the capacity and of other people who might be waiting their turn. Leave your speaker at home, and keep noise to a minimum. In general, just be respectful and share the space!

4. It’s Not a Bathtub!

One really common misconception that a lot of people have (I used to think this too!) is that it’s okay to use biodegradable soap in natural rivers and pools. This actually isn’t the case – any soaps and detergents can disrupt the ecosystem, even biodegradable ones. Biodegradable items need soil to actually biodegrade, so they need to stay at least 200 feet away from water.

As a van lifer I know the magic of rinsing off in a natural hot spring – but skip the soap!

This one is a bathtub :). But backcountry hot springs source water from a natural source, and drain back into it.

5. Don’t Dunk Your Head in Hot Springs

This one isn’t so much about hot spring etiquette as it is about your safety. Naegleria fowleri is a brain eating amoeba that lives in warm water – and if that sounds scary, it’s because it kind of is! The chances are getting it are very small, but if you do, the chances of surviving it are very small too.

But, you don’t have to be afraid to go in hot springs at all. The amoeba gets in through your nose, so as long as you keep your head above water, you’ll be okay!

6. No Dogs Allowed in Hot Springs

Another important rule for hot spring etiquette is to not allow your dog to go swimming. In most cases, it’s best to just leave your pup at home to avoid them barking or being stressed while you’re in the water.

There are a few reasons not to let your dog go into any hot springs – first is the brain eating amoeba I just mentioned in the previous section. Dogs don’t know not to dip their heads in the water, so it can be rally dangerous for them to go swimming!

Second, dogs don’t regulate their temperature as well as we humans do, so it’s really easy for them to overheat when swimming in warm water, and that’s dangerous for them too. Keep your pups safe and leave them at home!

One of the rules of hot spring etiquette is to keep dogs out of the water!

7. No Glass at Hot Springs!

It’s totally fine to bring a drink to the hot springs (and recommended – the hot water dehydrates you!), but avoid glass containers. If glass breaks, it can be impossible to clean it all up, and that can make the pools dangerous. Instead, bring a can or a reusable cup!

8. Check for Fees or Reservations

There are a lot of free hot springs all over the United States, but there are also a few that require a fee or a reservation. For example, Scenic Hot Springs in Washington is on private property. Make sure to get all the proper permits, make the reservations, and pay the fees when it’s required. This money helps keep these wild areas protected and open to the public!

9. Camp Away From Water

If you’re camping near a hot spring, first, make sure you’re allowed to camp there at all. If you’re good to go, set up camp at least 200 feet away from the water. This applies to any body of water, and any form of camping, whether it’s a tent, RV, or van. Doing so keeps pollutants out of the water, and it also is more respectful to people who want to soak in the hot spring without feeling like you’re right up in their business.

10. Be Mindful Taking Photos of Hot Springs

The last rule of hot spring etiquette is to be mindful when you take photos. As a photographer, I like taking photos whenever I visit a natural hot spring! But, taking photos of strangers (without permission) is always a no-no, in my opinion. And this is especially true in places where people might be naked, like in a hot spring! It’s definitely uncomfortable to find a stranger’s camera pointed at you.

One of my favorite ways to avoid this problem at all is to visit hot springs during times when there are likely to be fewer people there – like weekdays, especially during sunrise or sunset. This gives you more privacy, and you can snap away!

If there are only a few people in the hot spring, I’ve asked their permission to take a photo and told them I would Photoshop them out of it before posting – if they’re cool with that, it allows you to take the photo you want without asking people to move. It’s also okay to ask people to move out of the way, but use common sense with this one – if it’s one or two people, and you’re not asking them to get out of the water, go for it! As long as you’re nice about it, people usually don’t mind.

You can also walk around and find areas of the hot springs where no one is soaking, or wait until people leave.

Planning a Hot Spring Trip?

It’s important to take care of the land and make sure that these natural places stay open! So take these hot spring etiquette tips on your next adventure, and enjoy!

If you have tips of your own, or questions, leave them in a comment below!

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