Harbin Hot Springs – Middletown, California

Nestled in the mountains of Northern California, Harbin Hot Springs offers visitors a unique experience that can’t be found anywhere else. The resort has been around for over a century, and it’s one of the last remaining places in the United States where you can legally go skinny dipping in a hot spring.

Harbin Hot Springs is a clothing-optional resort open to the public 365 days a year. It’s located an hour and half north of Reno and an hour south of Chico in Middletown, California. The property is split into two parts: there’s the clothing-optional area, which offers more than 30 private soaking tubs (ranging from one to six person capacity) plus pools and water slides; and there’s also a clothing-required area that includes a pool, saunas, and steam rooms.

The springs are open daily from 8:00am to 10:00pm with extended hours on weekends. Admission is $25 per day per person or $65 per day for a season pass. Children under 18 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult.

History and Location

Harbin Hot Springs
Harbin Hot Springs

Harbin Hot Springs has been around for more than 100 years. It was originally founded by a Chinese immigrant named Jimmy Lee in the early 1900s, but he sold the property to John Harbin in 1914. It remained in the Harbin family for four generations with the most recent owner being John’s grandson, Frank Harbin III, until it was sold in 2009 to a group of investors led by a Las Vegas businessman named John Moyer.

The property is located on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Middletown, California. It’s about 94 miles northeast of Reno, Nevada and 92 miles southeast of Chico, California. It’s approximately 1,300 feet above sea level.

While Harbin Hot Springs is an extremely popular destination for locals and Nevada residents, it’s not well-known outside of the area. That’s surprising considering how unique the property is compared to other hot springs and resorts across America. In fact, there are only two other places where you can legally go skinny dipping in a hot spring (according to Harbin management); one is at Joyful Spring Caverns in Texas, and the other is at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

Hot Spring Pools

Heart Pool at Harbin Hot Springs
Heart Pool at Harbin Hot Springs

The eight pools on site, arguably Harbin Hot Springs’ major feature, offer different temperatures suitable for a variety of activities. Because there are so many springs on the Harbin property, fresh spring water of diverse temperatures is blended in the various pools to produce an all-encompassing range of pools.

Here are a few of the most popular swimming holes:

  • Hot Pool: This covered pool has a geothermally heated spring pool that is so hot that inexperienced soakers should only stay submerged for less than a minute.
  • Cold Plunge: As the name implies, this pool is filled with ice cold, untreated spring water.
  • Warm Pool: This distinctive pool is ideal for longer soaks because it is filled with water from the springs on the site.

Harbin Hot Springs Heart Pool

In addition to the three main pools, the property has five more pools, all of which are ADA-accessible. The classic swimming pool is one of these, where guests can swim laps and relax in a more casual, relaxed setting.

There are gender neutral changing areas, showers, and restrooms near the pool deck. Finally, this area of the resort has a large cedar Sauna made from local wood.

Accommodations

The lodgings at Harbin are simple yet pleasant, in keeping with the laid-back, peaceful ambience of the pool area.

Caravans on the Creek

Harbin Hot Springs’ Creekside Caravans, which are only available for a limited period, comprise fifteen individual campsites divided into two lots. These rooms, which are only ten minutes on foot from the main pool area, maintain simplicity while while giving modern conveniences.

Each caravan has a kitchenette with a refrigerator and microwave, a private bathroom, and air conditioning and heating that can be set separately. The bulk of the caravans are for two people, although there are a handful that are suitable for families with children.

The Grove Cottages

The Grove Cottages may be more enticing to people seeking greater space. These cottages, like the Creekside Caravans, are only a ten-minute walk from the pool area. The Grove Cottages, unlike the caravans, do not have a kitchenette. Instead, each cottage has a little deck with a view of the Harbin meadow.

Reservations are not required, although they are strongly advised.

What to Expect at Harbin Hot Springs

Harbin Hot Springs is one of the few places in the United States where it’s legal to go skinny dipping in a hot spring. The resort also offers more than 30 private soaking tubs and pools ranging in size from one to six people capacity. All of the pools are filled with water that is pumped directly from the natural hot springs and filtered before entering the tubs.

The clothing-optional area is open 24/7 and features a large outdoor pool, three water slides, a small outdoor pool, plus indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis with waterfalls. The clothing-required area includes an indoor swimming pool, spa tubs, saunas, and steam rooms.

Other amenities at Harbin include RV camping sites, tent camping sites (tents are not allowed in the clothing-optional area), cabins for rent, RV hookups for campers, a full-service restaurant, a snack bar/café, gift shop, RV dump station, tent dump station, public WiFi, and RV charging stations. The resort also has RV hookups for campers and cabins for rent. Guests can enjoy hiking trails that lead to private soaking pools owned by locals who live near Harbin.

The Facilities

Harbin Hot Springs offers a variety of facilities that are open to the public. The clothing-optional side has 34 soaking tubs in various sizes and styles, three pools, a wave pool, two water slides, and a restaurant. The clothing-required side has three saunas, three steam rooms, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a children’s pool with a frog slide, and a playground.

The springs themselves are located in the center of the property. From there, you can walk to several soaking tubs that are nestled against the hillside. Most of these private tubs have been added over the past decade, replacing older wooden structures. There’s even one private tub that’s shaped like a castle tower complete with turrets.

The resort’s main buildings—the restaurant and gift shop—are located near the clothing-required side of the property. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner all year long. It’s open from 7:00am to 9:00pm on weekdays and from 7:00am to 10:00pm on weekends and holidays. During the winter months (October through April), breakfast is served only on weekends and holidays.

The Dancing Bear Cafe is the only restaurant on the premises. The café offers a healthy selection of dishes such as muffins, salads, soups, and homemade desserts on its menu of homemade food.

The resort allows guests to bring their own food. Food can be obtained at Middletown’s Hardester’s store. In addition, Middletown has a number of eateries.

The Experience

Harbin Hot Springs is a unique experience unlike any other. If you’re looking for a place to relax and unwind, Harbin has it all. There are more than 30 private soaking tubs, ranging from one to six person capacity, scattered throughout the property. Each tub is made from beautiful stone and mortar and offers a unique ambiance.

The clothing-optional area is spread out over more than 50 acres of beautiful landscape. There are hiking trails, waterfalls, and an on-site coffee shop that offers snacks, sandwiches, beer and wine while supplies last.

There’s also an on-site restaurant called The Poolside Café that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The menu features healthy and organic dishes along with burgers and sandwiches. The restaurant also serves alcohol in the evenings if you want to enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail with your meal.

After you’ve finished soaking in your private tub for the day, head to one of Harbin’s unique water slides—the only place in the country where you can legally go skinny dipping while riding a waterslide. The slides are open from 11:00am to 5:00pm daily (11:00am to 4:00pm on Sundays).

Things to Do at Harbin Hot Springs

Temple at Harbin Hot Springs
Temple at Harbin Hot Springs

There are so many activities to choose from at Harbin that it can be hard to know where to start. You can spend a whole day here relaxing and soaking in one of the private tubs then spend another day splashing around in the water slides and pools.

First, let’s talk about the private tubs. There are more than 30 soaking tubs spread out over two separate buildings: the Main Pavilion and the Alpine Pavilion. The Main Pavilion has a variety of tubs that range in size from one-person to six-person capacity. These are all mixed-gender tubs, though there is a small section for women only. The Alpine Pavilion is all female with 12 private soaking tubs that range from one to four person capacity.

While there are always plenty of soaking tubs available, it’s best to plan ahead as reservations fill up quickly. Reservations can be made online or over the phone during business hours and for free with a credit card. If you’d rather walk up and soak, you can pay cash at the front desk for a spot in a mixed-gender or female-only tub, but spots fill up quickly.

Another popular activity at Harbin is spending time in the water slides or swimming in one of the pools. The resort has three pools: two Olympic-sized pools (one indoors and one outdoors) as well as an indoor lap pool. One of the Olympic pools features two large water slides that dump out into a splash area that’s perfect for kids. There are lifeguards on duty who watch over these areas so you can relax while your kids play and splash around.

Harbin Hot Springs offers a variety of on-site activities, including a thorough massage program and free yoga lessons.

Watsu, a unique aquatic massage developed on-site, is one of the massage disciplines available at Harbin Hot Springs. This technique involves moderate stretching while floating in a warm water, resulting in a wonderfully relaxing massage.

Aside from Watsu, Harbin Hot Springs also provides more traditional massages such as deep tissue massages and hot stone massages. Harbin also gives acupuncture services.

The 1700-acre Harbin Hot Springs property features a variety of hiking and moderate walking trails. Because of a big fire that burned through the land in 2015, hiking at Harbin provides a close look at the effects of fire on a recovering ecosystem, allowing hikers to observe nature’s natural cycles.

Hot Springs in Northern California and Beyond

Harbin Hot Springs is the largest hot springs in the United States, but there are several other places for you to enjoy a dip in the soothing mineral waters.

Nevada is home to a few clothing-optional resorts that appeal specifically to gay men. The Terrible’s Club Sierra is located in Carson City and includes luxury camping sites and RV spaces, a large pool area with slides, and a sauna. Terrible’s Bare Elegance is located in Fernley and offers RV sites and tent camping, plus an outdoor pool with waterfalls, a Jacuzzi, and a sauna. Both resorts allow guests to swim au naturel.

In Northern California, you’ll find several smaller hot springs at campgrounds or resorts. The resort of Caliente Hot Springs is located about 15 miles north of Harbin Hot Springs near the town of Volcano. It offers five pools ranging from 98°F to 104°F as well as a campground with RV sites and tent camping. And there’s also Harbinger Hot Springs near Truckee that offers four pools ranging from 98°F to 105°F as well as RV sites (with hookups) and tent camping space. Harbinger allows guests to swim au naturel (without any restrictions) or use bathrobes if they prefer.

How to get there

The best way to get to Harbin Hot Springs is to take Highway 70 from Reno, Nevada, or Highway 99 from Chico, California, and then follow the signs. There’s ample parking available at the resort, and an information booth at the entrance where you can purchase tickets.

The resort is located in Middletown, California (near Nevada and California) in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s a short drive from Lake Tahoe, Reno, or Chico.

For those looking for a more adventurous route, you can also hike to Harbin Hot Springs from nearby trails. The resort offers a map with suggested routes that lead to the springs. Be prepared for a serious hike—these aren’t short trails!—and make sure you pack enough water and food before you set out.

Bottom line

In conclusion, the Harbin Hot Springs – Middletown, California is a unique and serene getaway. It is a place of natural beauty, spiritual healing, and relaxation. Whether you are looking to enjoy a hot spring dip, take part in yoga classes or meditative walks, explore the nearby trails, or simply take in the views of the surrounding area, Harbin has something for everyone. With its picturesque scenery and natural thermal springs, it is the perfect spot to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and reconnect with nature.

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Local information

Address: 18424 Harbin Springs Rd, Middletown, California 95461
Phone: 707-987-2477
Season: Year-round
Website: harbin.org

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