Imagine soaking in a steamy tub, perched on a mountaintop and surrounded by towering pine trees. Sound like a dream come true? Scenic Hot Springs, tucked in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, offers all of this, plus a good dose of outdoor adventure along the way.
But getting here is not without its quirks—given that you’ll need a coveted permit and hike up 1,100 feet of elevation to visit the springs, there’s a bit of planning you’ll need to do ahead of time. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Scenic Hot Springs.
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About Scenic Hot Springs
The good news is that Scenic Hot Springs, true to their name, are quite stunning, nestled high on the slopes of a pine-tree strewn mountain. The pools themselves are three black plastic tubs that geothermally heated water is piped into from a nearby natural hot spring.
Despite the utilitarian nature of plastic tubs, this is still one of the most picturesque Washington hot springs (especially with a bit of snow on the ground)- there used to be an enormous cedar pool here that has since collapsed, leaving behind a wooden deck and some very rustic-looking fallen walls. Add in a spectacular view of the Cascades and the surrounding lush forest and this is by far the most gorgeous plastic tubs I ever did see.
The not so good news?
Getting here can be a little tricky. The springs are on private property, so the owner has instituted a requirement that each visitor must have a permit for the date of your visit. You can request access for the date you want to go and get the permit here.
The permit costs $10 per person or, if you want to rent out the hot springs all to yourself for the day, it’ll cost $150. This latter option is perfect if you’re going with a bigger group or, alternatively, you’re, like, really committed to getting awesome Instagram shots.
Only 10 permits are given out per day, so the springs can book out several months in advance, especially if you want to visit on a weekend. In fact, I waited for THREE YEARS when I had my permit to visit (okay, okay, most of that time was because the springs were closed due to COVID, but still!).
How to Get to Scenic Hot Springs
While Scenic Hot Springs are, well, quite scenic, they actually get their name from the teeny town they’re located in. The trailhead is located less than ten minutes west of Stevens Pass, 45 minutes west of Leavenworth, or an hour and a half east of Seattle.
There’s two different places you can park for Scenic Hot Springs—either in the Surprise Creek Trailhead if there’s a lot of snow on the ground or, alternatively, if the ground is clear, about a third of a mile up the highway near a gate on the private property’s unmarked road.
In advance of your arrival, the owner will send you detailed instructions of how to get here and where to park, and you’ll send him your license plate number and a description of your car. If you park here without providing your license plate (say, like if you were to come here without a reservation), you very well may get towed.
It’s also important not to park along the highway—first of all, it’s illegal; secondly, the shoulder is narrow and your car may get hit; and finally, you’re basically asking for your car to get broken into (which is unfortunately quite common in this area of Washington).
I don’t want to totally beat a dead horse in this article but one last plea- if you do not have a permit to come here, please do not visit. The hot springs are on private property that the owner has been kind enough to let others enjoy, so please respect the perfectly reasonable and affordable process to access the springs. They’ve unfortunately been closed in the past due to overcrowding, so don’t ruin it for the rest of us (plus you might get towed whilst being in the middle of nowhere)!
Hike to Scenic Hot Springs
Here’s some quick stats about the Scenic Hot Springs Hike at a glance:
- Length: 4.4 miles roundtrip
- Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
Once you get to the property’s unmarked road, you’ll start hiking along the road, which cuts through a beautiful pine tree forest, situated on the property’s sprawling 40 acres. The entire hike has a moderately challenging incline, rising approximately 500 feet per mile.
While the incline isn’t too bad overall, it’s definitely pretty steep in some areas, so I’d highly recommend wearing actual hiking boots, like these men’s hiking boots that my husband, Justin, swears by or the women’s equivalent that I use.
And, if you’re visiting between late October and May, I’d expect there to be snow—lots of it.
If there isn’t fresh snow, it usually gets pretty hard-packed and you’ll likely be able to get away with just microspikes. When Justin and I visited in mid-March, there was probably at least three feet of snow on the ground but our microspikes were the MVPs of the day, helping us get down steep, icy hills with no problem. We brought along microspikes and they were SUPER helpful, especially while hiking down the steep slopes.
After about three switchbacks, you’ll pop into a clearing, with huge power lines towering overhead. Before too long, the path will head steeply uphill. Be sure to stop and look around as you climb up this ridge—beyond the powerlines, the surrounding mountain views are nothing short of epic.
The path will re-enter the dense forest and become noticeably steeper in some areas. After two switchbacks, you’ll reach a third one that will flatten out and eventually slope downward. Shortly thereafter, you’ll climb down some steep (and slippery!) stone steps to the wooden deck of the springs!
Protip: Black bears have been spotted along the trail, so I’d recommend bringing along a can of bear spray, which helps temporarily deter, but not injure any not-so-friendly bears you might come across.
What to Expect When Visiting Scenic Hot Springs
As mentioned above, the springs consist of three plastic tubs- the two outer ones have hot water pumped in from a nearby hot spring and the middle tub simply gets overflow water from the other tubs (and thus, is usually the coolest). If you like things steamy, the tub to the right is usually the hottest—it’s actually called the “crab cooker”!
The tubs are pretty small, comfortably holding about 3-4 people per tub. Luckily, though, since guests are limited to 10 people per day and you’re free to come and go at any time throughout the day, it’s unlikely the springs will be too crowded to enjoy. That being said, I wouldn’t expect to have them to myself (unless you book out the whole thing), especially on a weekend- Justin and I got to the springs super early to snag them to ourselves so that we could get some good photos, but someone had still beaten us there!
Things You Should Know Before Visiting Scenic Hot Springs
- Pets aren’t allowed. You’ll need to leave your furry best friend at home for this.
We were chatting with a regular while we soaked in the springs and he said that the owner gets REALLY upset if he happens to stop in and see that someone has brought their dogs.
- Don’t bring booze in glass bottles. Assuming you’re over 21, alcohol is permitted (in moderation; you are still hiking down a mountain ridge, guys), but you can’t bring it into the springs in glass bottles. Beer tastes better out of a can anyway!
- Expect to see some genitalia. Like some other Washington hot springs, nudity is permitted at the springs. When I visited, all of the other bathers wore swimsuits, but definitely don’t be surprised if you see someone else’s junk!
- There’s a primitive bathroom. To the left of the springs, you can allegedly follow a trail down to a small sheltered area with a toilet (no toilet paper, though, so bring your own!). There aren’t walls, but the area still provides some privacy if you need to change.
Full disclosure- when we visited, I didn’t see or notice this trail heading off to the left, so I can’t personally validate this toilet’s existence. When we visited, there was quite a bit of snow, though, so perhaps the trail was just obscured. Let me know if you go and confirm whether it’s there or not!
- It’s as clean as we all make it. Listen, I’ve been to a lot of hot springs with murky water and a bit of a funky smell. Not so with Scenic Hot Springs—the water is usually pretty clear (although spring runoff will likely make it murkier) and there wasn’t any kind of sulfur smell.
That being said, I’ve read lots of reports that the springs are super dirty—mostly due to others leaving their empty beer cans and trash lying around. So friendly reminder to pack in, pack out, and to always follow the leave no trace policy.
Frequently Asked Questions about Scenic Hot Springs
When should I visit Scenic Hot Springs?
The springs are open year round.
During the summertime, the trail to the springs will be snow- and ice-free and the weather will usually be pleasant.
But I’d actually recommend coming in the cooler months (late October to May). Why?
First of all, who doesn’t LOVE soaking in warm, steamy water while it’s chilly outside? Beyond that, though, the springs and the surrounding pine tree forests look their most picturesque with a blanket of snow. And in fact, there’s quite a bit of piping and building material scattered around the springs from the last several decades that isn’t exactly the most scenic—which the snow blessedly hides, come winter.
If you can swing it, I’d recommend trying to visit in late November or December so you can pair visiting the fairytale town of Leavenworth, with a stop at the Scenic Hot Springs.
Leavenworth is a Bavarian-themed town, nestled in the Cascades less than an hour east of Scenic Hot Springs, that looks like something straight out of the Sound of Music and that goes all out for the winter holidays. I can’t imagine anything more festive than enjoying Christmas in Leavenworth and Scenic Hot Springs in one fell swoop.
Can I camp here?
No, camping is not allowed. If you’re looking for camping nearby, check out the Beckler River Campground in Skykomish, about 15 minutes west of Scenic Hot Springs. A standard campsite costs $28 a night.
Can I bring my kids?
Kids over six are welcome! As noted above, there may be nudity at the hot spring, so if you don’t want your kiddos to accidentally see some guy’s junk, this may not be the best activity for them.
How much time should I plan for visiting Scenic Hot Springs?
Depending on your fitness level and the trail conditions, it will take an hour or so to both hike to and from the hot springs (with lots of stops for photos, it took Justin and I about an hour and 15 minutes to reach the springs and 45 minutes on the way back).
Budgeting for at least a couple of hours to soak in the springs, you should plan for your Scenic Hot Springs trip to take between 4-5 hours.
What should I bring to the Scenic Hot Springs?
- Trash bag to store your wet swimsuit and towel for the hike back down and any waste you create while enjoying the springs
- Water. You should always stay hydrated when you’re soaking in hot water and if you’re hiking here in the summertime, you’ll need it for the climb up as well! Justin and I swear by these comically large Nalgene bottles.
- Bear spray
- Microspikes or snowshoes (for men and women) if you’re visiting in winter
- Warm layers if you’re visiting in the winter. The springs are toasty and warm, but once you leave their warm cocoon and have to get redressed for your chilly hike back down to the mountain, you’re going to want lots of cozy layers to bundle up in.
I hope you love the Scenic Hot Springs as much as I do—they’re one of the most gorgeous Washington hot springs! Do you have any questions about visiting these springs? Let me know in the comments below!