tldr; not too hot to handle.
After leaving Yosemite, we headed off towards South Lake Tahoe to meet up with some friends, Frankie, Dan, and Courtney! Rather than driving the 5 hours straight, we stopped off at Travertine Hot Springs, an all natural hot spring we’d heard about on Roadtrippers, to spend the night. The road to the spring was bumpy and gravelly but thankfully short. We pulled up into the gravel parking lot and parked just feet from a bubbling hot spring feeding a small pool.
We hopped out of the van and explored a bit before making our dinner back at the van with a neighboring van’s scruffy little pup, Osho, keeping us company (and keeping an eye on our food).
After our ramen dinner, we pulled on our swimsuits and followed a narrow path down to the three main pools. We found an empty one and settled in to the hot water to watch the sunset. The hot springs are all natural, with sulfury mud as the bottom of the pool, and the sides seeming to be formed by hand years ago.
After a few minutes of admiring the sunset, a man wandered by to tell us that he’s been coming to the pools for 30 years and that they “aren’t magic”. Rather, they take a lot of hard work to maintain. He explained how some tourists sometimes mess with the spring’s flow so he periodically has to pull a crowbar through the thick muddy ground to “fix the plumbing”, redirecting the flow of the springs to make ensure they enter the pools in the “appropriate” order. He showed us how the hot water should cascade down into the first pool like a waterfall and then flow down into each subsequent pool, each one growing cooler the further it gets from the steaming hot source.
We sat out in the pools for a while until the stars started to twinkle into the sky. Before going to sleep, I poked my head out of our van’s back doors to look up. With no light pollution around for miles, I saw so many stars.
The next morning, we headed outside to a picnic table for breakfast and were joined by a couple we’d noticed the day before. They live in a bright yellow van parked just behind us. We all talked about our travel experiences and they told us that they travel with their 3 year old daughter and a small dog, both of whom were over at grandma’s to give the grownups a break from having a toddler and a dog in their van that’s just a bit bigger than ours.
I asked what it’s like traveling full-time with a toddler and they told us how much they love it, saying that she has the biggest playground getting to play in the outdoors. They talked about how they’re building a log cabin on land in Reno and how they’ve travelled all over to different hot springs around the west. It’s always so fun to hear from other full-time travelers and learn about their unique experiences.
After breakfast, we went back out to the hot springs. The night before, we’d been mostly alone, save for the “plumber” and a couple in a neighboring pool. This morning, it was a different story. The three main pools we’d gone to were occupied so we went off to explore. We ended up finding several more pools and settled in one with an incredible view for a while, until we noticed mosquito larva and beetles swimming around in on our legs. We only lasted a few more minutes after that and hiked back to the three main pools to try our luck at finding a spot.
Luckily, some people had left so we snagged what we felt was the “goldilocks tub”, not too big, not too small, not too hot, not too cold, and no bugs.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that Travertine Hot Springs is “swimsuits optional”. This means that quite a few of the people we’d seen soaking in the tubs the night before and in the morning were completely naked. That was the case of the three women who were leaving the pool next to the one we’d settled in. They were completely comfortable and confident wandering around naked, snapping photos of the view and packing up their bags.
The kids of a young family who arrived shortly after we did weren’t quite as comfortable with the nudity and I watched their eyes widen and faces redden as they desperately tried to look anywhere else. It reminded me of how I’d sometimes felt as a 12-year old at swimsuit optional public baths or topless beaches while traveling the world with my family.
After a while, we gave up our goldilocks tub and headed back to the van. On the short walk out, we met a local man and his two older labs, who greeted us with wagging tails. The man told us about how he moved out here from the city years ago and how lucky he is that the mountains are his front yard and the valley with the hot springs are his backyard. We thanked him for sharing his backyard with us and waved goodbye.
The drive from Travertine to South Lake Tahoe was beautiful. We drove through the countryside, up over mountains, through forests and alongside rivers and huge lakes. We hope to come back here some day to spend more time exploring.
Travertine Hot Springs, we love your relaxing pools, your friendly visitors, and your mountain views. Along We Go!