Spence Hot Springs (not to be confused with Jemez Hot Springs – a resort in the nearby village) is a free-to-enter popular warm spring, ideal year-round as you pass through Highway 4.
Spence Hot Springs boasts two natural warm pools looking down on a pine-blanketed canyon in the Santa Fe National Forest, and it is one of the best spots for a New Mexico sunrise. Wear the right shoes, go early or late, and be sure to explore the hot springs’ “bear cave” for a natural sauna experience!
|Address||Jemez Springs, NM 87025|
|Location||Off Hwy 4, 7 miles north of Jemez Springs, New Mexico|
|Road Access||Easy. All vehicles. Short hike required|
What To Expect
We are drawn to Spence Hot Springs less for the temperature (which is apparently cooling by the year) than the view of the mountains and Jemez Canyon from your chosen soaking spot.
Spence Hot Springs is a 0.6-mile, 20-minute easy walk from the small paved parking area, along a network of dirt trails (they all lead to the hot springs), down to the San Antonio Creek, across the bridge, and up the other side. In wet weather, the steep uphill part of the trail which leads to the hot springs can be muddy and slippery, so be sure to wear the right shoes!
At the top, surrounded by pines and boulders, you’ll find two knee-deep sandy-bottomed, crystal-clear hot springs pools that can each seat around a dozen people. If you’re looking for a bit of solitary time, aim to get there in the early morning for the added bonus of one of the best views of a New Mexico sunrise. Weekends and holidays usually see people lining up for a soak, so plan ahead to try and get the experience you’re looking for.
Another treat here is the “bear cave” (or “grotto”), entered through a cleft in the rocks at the back of the upper pool- 2 feet deep, tall enough for two to sit in, and boasting the hottest water there (in the high 90s). The heat and humidity almost make it like a sauna!
A Few Important Warnings
First – as per the signs at the trailhead and warnings on the official website, you should aim not to get water in your nose and definitely shouldn’t dunk your head in the water. This is to avoid contact with Naegleria Fowleri, a lethal parasitic amoeba common in warm springs.
Also, be aware that the springs may have some plant life (algae) – this is nothing to worry about, and just makes the geothermal experience all the more natural.
Nudity is a violation of New Mexico State Law and violators may well be cited, though knowing that doesn’t necessarily discourage some guests from letting it all hangout. Go open-minded.
And two last very important points – There is no bathroom on site, and you should watch out for Poison Ivy along the trail!
Long before the eager white soakers started coming for month-long stays by stagecoach from Albuquerque, the ancient Anasazi and later Towa people (the modern-day Jemez) used the hot springs as a place of healing and ritual.
In the village of Jemez Springs, down near the river, you’ll see an old weather-worn wooden building with the sign “Hot Sulphur Spring Water Baths” written across the top of it – this was the original bathhouse of the area and was built in the mid-1800s.
Previous owners have passed down numerous stories about that bathhouse, usually connected with the miraculous healing power of the water:
“There was a man who came with such bad arthritis that he couldn’t walk on his own and had to be carried to the water on a stretcher. He was lowered in for a 30-minute soak every day. After a month, he ran from the bathhouse to say he’d been healed!”
“A man, with painful corns on his feet, came to help the owners clean out their hot water well. This involved having to stand in the water for most of the day. When he got out of the water, all of his corns were completely gone!”
The bathhouse had two sides – one for the men and one for the ladies, each with a communal tub. The men would sit in theirs and soak while they smoked cigars and chatted about life. Doubtless, the women did the same, just minus the cigars.
A “steam bath” was also available on the women’s side. You can still see part of the steamer – a cement enclosure with wooden flaps with a hole cut in them to fit over the person’s head. The pipe at the bottom is where the hot water ran through and created the hot box of steam.
Where the bathhouse waiting room was, you might be able to make out the words “Sulphur Baths.” This is interesting because today the water in the area contains no sulfur.
How To Get There
The Spence Hot Springs is a quarter mile off New Mexico State Highway 4, one hour 19 minutes north of Albuquerque on the US-550 N. To get to the spring, use Highway 4 and head about 7 miles north of the village of Jemez Springs, and turn right.
From Santa Fe (1 hour 18 minutes, 64.8 miles), take US-84 W and NM-502. Join the NM-501 and then NM State Highway 4. running through the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
Parking space at the hot springs trailhead is limited. There is an overflow parking lot at the Dark Canyon Fishing Access (a quarter mile north of the Spence Hot Springs parking area). You cannot park on the verge of the Highway.
Follow the short trail down to the river and up the other side to the springs.
Can I Stay There?
No, and at the time of writing, the Valles Caldera Preserve doesn’t have any established campgrounds or backcountry camping permits available. But the Santa Fe National Forest has some beautiful camping areas that range in elevation, type (desert to forest), and style (primitive to developed).
The simple Jemez Falls Campground (May-November) surrounded by ponderosa pine and forest meadows, has 52 campsites with picnic tables and fire rings. Paved access allows trailers and RVs up to 40 feet to access the site. There are no RV hookups. Drinking water is provided from spigots throughout the campground and there are pit toilets. A campground host is on duty. $10/vehicle/night.
Check out the popular San Antonio Campground. Situated in a beautiful ponderosa pine forest at 7600 feet, it offers 20 standard tent/RV campsites, six of which have hookups. The campground also has drinking water and pit toilets.
The Redondo Campground (May-October) is also nestled in the midst of ponderosa pines and grass and wildflower meadows. It has 62 campsites, each with a picnic table and fire ring, for tents, RVs, and trailers up to 30 feet. Drinking water is not available at this campground. There are pit toilets but no hookups or dump stations. $10/vehicle/night.
Reserve up to six months in advance through Recreation.gov or by calling toll-free 1-877-444-6777.
For hotter springs and greater comfort, head for the resort of Jemez Hot Springs, boasting three beautifully decorated cabins of 500 square feet upwards (from $195/night) and offering four therapeutic mineral water pools of 98-105°F with built-in seating and colorful, enlivening landscaping. 1 Hour Property Pass/Soak: $25/person, 2 Hour Property Pass/Soak: $50/person*
*Walk-ins only. They do not take reservations for the pools. Open 10 am – 5 pm. If you stay there, a 2-hour soak is included in your stay (10 am – 5 pm).
Also worth checking out for an overnight rest are the Jemez Hot Springs’ sister properties, Canon del Rio, an adobe-style inn and day spa on three magnificent acres, and the Laughing Lizard Inn, which offers front porch views of the surrounding mountains. The rooms were recently renovated and are located just across the street from Jemez Hot Springs, which you can access with a $10 discount when you stay there.
You can also check out some international standard hotels in Albuquerque, among them a Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham, Holiday Inn Express, and Hilton Garden Inn.
What Else Can I Do In The Area?
The Valles Caldera Preserve is known for its vast mountain meadows full of wildflowers, its diversity of wildlife, and its creeks and geothermal beauty. You may spot elk, badgers, black bears, eastern mountain bluebirds, and golden eagles as you travel through. The area also has a rich history of native peoples and ranchers – check out the Cabin District, four miles from the visitors center, for evidence of this. Fill up your tank, take drinking water and food, and head on out into the backcountry for hiking, biking, skiing, or snow-shoeing. Horse riders will need to pick up a permit.
For more top things to do and see in the Valles Caldera Preserve, check out this Top 10 list.
If you’re a dedicated hot springer, it is definitely worth checking out some other New Mexico options. Top of our list is the nearby San Antonio Hot Springs. Also check out Jordan Hot Springs, a shallow, pebble-bottomed, and natural rock-walled pool that is wide enough to accommodate 5-6 people. The water is 94°-100°F. Next comes Black Rock Hot Springs, set right on the edge of the river. This 97°F to 101°F springs has its temperature controlled by the water coming in from that river- so for some, if the river is low, it might be too hot to handle! We’ll definitely be adding more New Mexico hot springs soon, so just type “New Mexico” in the search bar and see what else there is to explore!
A popular warm springs to visit as you pass through on Highway 4, Spence Hot Springs boasts beautiful scenery and is one of the best spots for a New Mexico sunrise. Wear the right shoes, go early or late, and be sure to explore that “bear cave” for the hottest waters!
The Dos and Don’ts Of Visiting A Hot Springs
Every hot springs has its own quirks. Visitors to Spence Hot Springs, for example, should wear sturdy shoes for the steep climb to the source, and choose their timing to suit the experience they want – early morning quiet or mid-afternoon crowds and noise. For more general and very important “hot springs etiquette,” we highly recommend you take a moment to check out our carefully compiled easy-to-read list of “dos and don’ts” here. And always, always respect our nature – pack out what you pack in and LEAVE NO TRACE.
Frequently Asked Questions
The hot spring is located on New Mexico State Highway 4, one hour 19 minutes north of Albuquerque on the US-550 N and 1 hour 18 minutes, 64.8 miles northwest of Santa Fe via the US-84 W and NM-502. The spring is 7 miles north of the village of Jemez Springs. Park and follow the marked trail.
Two – an upper and a lower, each seating around 12 people. There is also a warm “sauna-like” cave with space for two adults.
It depends on when you go. On weekends and holidays, you’ll get a maximum of 30 minutes in the pool before you need to let the next guest in. Early mornings or late evenings are quieter.
You might spot elk, badgers, black bears, Eastern mountain bluebirds, and golden eagles as you travel through. Stay back and don’t leave food or trash – pack it out and protect our nature!
Yes. Dogs must remain on a leash and should not enter the hot springs water.
While we at Traxplorio do our very best to give you the latest information about these hot springs sites, life happens, weather happens, and property owners happen. We always recommend you go to the official hot springs’ web page and/or the relevant state authority page to check conditions, times, and prices (where relevant) before you head out. Thanks for understanding, and enjoy your soak!