Detailed review of Wilbur Hot Springs Resort in Northern California, with photo tour and tips for what to bring and what to know before you go.
Hot springs are pretty much a lifestyle here in northern California. The sulfuric waters draw people from far and wide to unwind, heal and disconnect. From small hot pots that require a day of hiking to access, to luxurious resorts, there are many ways to enjoy them.
Pat and I spent the weekend at Wilbur Hot Springs, about 2½ hours north of San Francisco. This relaxing oasis literally forces you to disconnect thanks to no cell phone reception and no electrical outlets available to guests.
The entire resort is “off the grid” and run on solar power. They also use non-toxic cleaning supplies, plant native or non-invasive species and compost/recycle. We are thinking more and more about how we can minimize our environmental impact and love supporting businesses who are doing the same. The hot springs facilities are beautiful and the atmosphere is serene and respectful. The other guests were very friendly and everyone spoke in low voices as if they were under the spell of the resort.
Wilbur Hot Springs is expensive. I would argue it’s actually overpriced. $325 per night doesn’t even get you basic amenities. No towels or robes are provided and there are 3 lukewarm showers for the entire resort.
The “cabins” themselves are just little tin sheds that are barely big enough to turn around in. In addition, the heating systems in the cabins were so loud we could hear our neighbors’ heat cycle at night. We ended up having to turn ours off and sleep in the cold because it was so loud. It literally shook the cabin walls when it cycled. Given these cabins have been built in the last couple years, this is just the management cutting costs at the expense of their guests and can’t be blamed on something that’s out of date. The cabins are advertised as having a half bath, but there’s absolutely no mention anywhere on the website that they don’t have hot water. When we went in March, the sink water must have been 45 degrees. It felt like ice.
Trust me, I’m not afraid of roughing it. I grew up camping and Pat and I have done plenty of National Forest camping trips with no bathrooms. I just like to know what I’m getting into.
Wilbur Hot Springs Lodging & Cabin Room Tour
As I mentioned above, information about accommodations on Wilbur Hot Springs website leaves a lot to be desired. The ‘cabins’ are comfortable and clean, and probably better described as prefab trailers than actual cabins.
Each cabin is divided into two units and features a bedroom and a half bathroom – toilet and sink. The beds were comfortable but the pillows were almost as flat as pancakes. Note, there is only COLD water in the bathrooms. On a chilly March night that meant about 45°F. It was cold and rainy the weekend we visited, so we were worried about being cold. This was not an issue at all. The cabin and the lodge were both toasty warm the entire weekend.
Wilbur Hot Springs
The hot springs at Wilbur are beautifully designed. There are four different hot springs “flumes”, three of which are silent (no talking) and one conversational. The silent flumes are approximately 95, 105 and 109 degrees.
There’s also a plunge tub with unheated mineral water, which is an important part of the sauna/hot springs ritual for some people. I wasn’t brave enough to take a dip in the 45-50°F water.
The water in the pool is 75 degrees. It’s perfect for cooling down if you don’t actually want to take the plunge. The bright green water isn’t dirty. It’s naturally colored by algae that grow in the water. It feels strangely silky when you swim. The shade varies throughout the year. The Wilbur Hot Springs water is rich in lithium, which some believe has healing properties.
This is the dry sauna (no water on the heated rocks to cause steam).
Clothing Optional Hot Springs in California
By my unscientific estimate about 85% of guests were naked. It felt like a totally safe space free of judgement. There were all bodies types there, young and old and being naked was so freeing! I barely felt self-conscious.
The kitchen is amazing and was one of my favorite things about the weekend. You are in the middle of nowhere and responsible for making your own meals during your stay. We absolutely loved this part. We planned out gourmet meals for our trip and many of the other guests did too. The kitchen was a hub of activity but never too crowded thanks to the ample counter space, bevy of pans and cooking supplies and these massive professional ovens:
One side of the kitchen has shelves with large plastic bins for guests to store food during their stay.
The other side is lined with refrigerators. Each room gets their own shelf.
If you’re not so thrilled about making your own food, Wilbur hosts guest chefs every few weeks and all your meals are included in your stay (for an additional fee).
The main lodge also has a cozy library with overstuffed couches that are perfect for relaxing.
What to Bring to Wilbur Hot Springs
- Robe and/or towel
- Conditioner. Shampoo and body wash are provided in the communal showers
- Earplugs in case you have a noisy heater like we did
- Yoga mat
- Bathing suit (optional)
- Indoor shoes for the hot springs area and the lodge
- Hiking or running shoes
- Food to prepare for meals
- Book or reading materials
What Not to Bring
- Cell phones or other electronics. There’s no reception so this is a great time to unplug! The outlets have a strange configuration so you couldn’t charge anything even if you wanted to.
Yoga & Meditation
Every weekend, four yoga classes or guided meditations are offered free to guests. The building you see on the hillside is the room where classes are offered. We went on a weekend with meditation, but I would have loved to do yoga four times throughout the weekend! If we go back, I would definitely schedule our trip around this. It would be cool if they offered two of each, but I’m guessing, like most things, it comes down to money.
Wilbur Hot Springs Lodge Fire in 2014
A fire caused by a heater failure in one of the guest rooms burned down the top two floors of Wilbur’s 1860’s-era lodge but did not affect the hot springs area. At that time, the resort was not insured, so fund to rebuild came in large part from donations from loyal visitors. They remodeled and built out the kitchen and changed it into a single story building. The cabins we stayed in were built after the fire. Thankfully no one was hurt.
Wilbur Hot Springs for Sale
Wilbur Hot Springs is for sale by Sotheby’s for a cool $10 million. With California wildfires being as severe as their were last year and with all signs pointing to things only getting worse thanks to climate change, I wonder who or even if anyone will want to invest in a place that could be affected by fire. It will be interesting to see the changes that happen with the resort under new ownership. The Sotheby’s website touts its utility for commercial geothermal energy production and development, but hopefully the new owners have the same respect for the land as the current ones.
Hiking and Nature Preserve
Wilbur Hot Springs is located on a 1,500-acre nature preserve. This is something that sets it apart from other resorts. We got a map at check in, but trails are unmarked so it was a little choose your own adventure. The preserve was absolutely breathtaking, even in the rain. The lush greens, bubbling rivers and misty fog made me think of our trip to Iceland.
The Wilbur Hot Springs labyrinth:
The wind chime garden where you can make your own or hang a store-bought wind chime to honor a loved one:
The Wilbur Hot Springs Geyser (Fountain of Life):
Not sure how often it erupts, but we did manage to catch it which was pretty cool. This is about as high as the water stream goes.
Right by the geyser there is a hot springs tub overlooking the river. It was cold and rainy, but we definitely want to take advantage of it if we return.
They have wild ponies on the preserve, which were weren’t sure we’d see because of the rain. Just as we finished our hike we spotted them on the path up ahead. This really sealed the deal in terms of Iceland vibes. The ponies came right up to us. I’m sure, despite being ‘wild’, they are used to visitors bringing them treats.
Be careful though, the ponies started to nip at us and one actually bit Pat on the arm. One came at me but luckily I was prepared and able to put my hand up to push it away. This wasn’t mentioned to us by the staff when they told us about them and we probably would have been more cautious if we knew!
Is it Worth It?
This really should have been a stress free and magical weekend, but instead I left feeling like we had overpaid for the accommodations and (lack of) amenities. It’s also one of the most expensive hot springs resorts in Northern California (other than Esalen), with day passes being almost double the cost of Orr Hot Springs and accommodations about $100 more per night. In addition, the staff could be more transparent about cold water only in cabins, the aggressive horses and lack of electric outlets (a potential safety issue for people with medical devices).
That being said, the hot springs experience was superb, and access to the kitchen to prepare our own food was one of our favorite parts of the weekend.
Have you been to Wilbur Hot Springs? I’d love to hear your experience and your thoughts on the value. Let me know in the comments below!
Wilbur Hot Springs Resort
3375 Wilbur Springs Road
Williams, CA 95987