When I was offering massage in Tucson, Arizona in the early 2000’s, a client who knew of my love of hiking gifted me a copy of Scott Warren’s 100 Classic Hikes in Arizona. It is a lush, coffee-table-quality, hiking guide with pictures, maps and descriptions of great hikes in the Copper State. The gift was perfect and I dog-eared the book, checking off one Arizona hiking ramble after another.
Warren’s book introduced me to the Dr. Seussian landscape of the Superstition Mountains and inspired me to hike a trail through a canyon that ended at a two-string barbed wire fence that was the international border; my favorite hike gave directions to a trail to Arizona (Ringbolt) Hot Springs.
The access trail to Arizona Hot Springs is just south of the Hoover Dam, on AZ State Route 93. Back then, you’d park on the side of the two-lane road and walk down two and a half miles through an impressive, gravel-lined slot canyon to the Colorado River. From there, you’d head over to and up Hot Springs Canyon, and finally up an iron ladder to the springs. The springs were almost always deserted.
Then, 9/11 happened, and the thought of random traffic driving over the Hoover Dam -which holds back 30 million cubic feet of water – was deemed too risky. So, Arizona was granted a lot of money to build the Pat Tillman Bridge which bypasses the dam completely. When the bridge was finished, there was money left over so they built a whole parking lot, complete with informational panels about the springs.
The mood and vibe at the springs has changed drastically in the past two decades, from meditative to “Disneyland,” and Instagram piled onto the crowding. I’ve seen spring breakers in flip-flops with no drinking water and uniformed Scout Troops making the trek.
On my most recent visit to Arizona Hot Springs, I camped a couple of miles up Horse Thief Canyon (accessible with a high-clearance 4WD vehicle out the back of the parking lot) and set out from camp towards the springs at 3 am. I had the high-flow springs, which feature sandbag dams to fill the pools in the tight canyon with clear, clean-smelling hot water, to myself. There were a dozen kayakers camped at the canyon’s mouth along the Colorado River, and as I hiked back out, two overnight backpackers were heading down. It is truly a paradise.
If you’re planning a visit this season, it closes on May 15th and doesn’t reopen until September 15th, as casual day hikers often underestimate the amount of water needed to complete the 6-mile, 1,200-foot-elevation-change, hike in the heart of the Mojave Desert.