Kosk Hot Springs – Big Bend, California

If you have at least an overnight to spare along your journey, take a break from the bustling crowds and people and explore the Kosk Hot Springs just outside of the largest park in the lower 48. The road in is an adventure all its own, but what awaits you is a breathtaking little oasis all to yourself with two hot baths, two spacious sit-in pools, and even a kids’ pool all contained within nature’s own redwoods.

The Kosk hot springs are located along Hydesville-Gerber Road in Humboldt County just outside of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

The appeal of Kosk is simple: no one really knows about it–especially those visiting nearby North Coast Shasta territory. If you make the drive, you’ll likely have it to yourself or close to it. You may share the experience with one or two others if you’re fortunate, or perhaps even get to share with another adventurous soul on separate days. Though it is still closed to overnight camping, remember that even if they ask you kindly to leave by sunset, California State parks are not so strict as to prevent you from sleeping in your car offsite (where not prohibited).

The Pools Themselves

Kosk Hot Springs – Big Bend, California
Kosk Hot Springs – Big Bend, California

Each pool is connected to a separate hot spring venting underground. Rachel Pool (right) has water continuously flowing through it, but very slowly and at a more moderate temperature. The cave around the perimeter holds its own special little magical place where low and high spots allow you to choose the perfect place to enjoy at a comfortable height.

Suzanne Pool (left) has hotter water that pumps in from beneath, though how it pumps out or into the pool is your guess. The pool itself is beautifully constructed with optimal dimensions for making friends and having a good time, making it great for those just passing through or those waking up early on Sunday morning.

The pools are both positioned around large rocky boulders, one surrounded by trees. If you visit in early spring, you will hopefully be able to witness seasonal blossoms opening around you as the pools warm up. If you visit in fall, you will likely have some privacy while taking advantage of lower temperatures when people start leaving as days get shorter and cool off.

These pools are founded atop redwood stumps fallen long ago. They were then covered with a material called split granite slabs that likely came along with the quarry workers who cleared this area many many years ago before roads even existed here privately or within park boundaries Bright-colored mosaics cover today’s areas where gravel once was found covering the stump base, now topped with concrete and covered again with natural redwood leap up from beneath your feet to remind you how lucky you are to be there.

In addition to the two large sit-in pools, each is flanked by a shallow circular pool made for relaxing after a dip or during those cool morning hours before the hot springs really start heating.

Taking a Soak, Both Inside and Outside

Take a dip and get wet anywhere you please. You can sit in the pool for as long or as short as you like, wash yourself off with the splash of a few drops at a time or submerge your face if you’re so bold. The natural sandstone allows for quick evaporation and there’s always some new water to take its place. With over 270 feet of crystalline waters to enjoy, you may wish to take your time and take several dips throughout the afternoon, just don’t fall asleep!

Make your way down a few steps past several cozy contoured stone seats that cradle your body and leave room for friends to join in. The pool is 40 by 20 feet with seven inches of sand at the bottom. Optimal temperature is approximately 100 degrees (you’ll wish you vacationed more often when you turn up on a cold day) and is best enjoyed in the warmer seasons (though locals brave the colder temperatures year round).

Once you ease into the blissful surroundings, take note that your inspiration will run wild. Visuals of vibrant redwoods encompassing their mighty hold on the ground abound all around you. Forest critters romp freely creating their own stories far better than many dreamed up by humans. And if human presence bothers you, well then it’s likely you will feel like you’re stealing this magical experience all for yourself.

Note on the Kid’s Pool

The children’s pool is no more than waist-deep, as it has to be accessed by means of a sturdy ladder set into natural stone. The sides of the pool are heavily lined with smooth rocks and gravel, with more lining the bottom, permitting safe swimming. The main pool is ideal for those who like to swim, though those wishing for a relaxing soak will love the larger hot bath, a stone enclosure about five to seven feet in diameter that sits in a cove next to the spring itself.

This level is shallow, perhaps only two to three feet deep at its maximum depth, making it low-key especially for smaller kids or anyone who doesn’t swim well. You’ll also notice decorative lighting at various points throughout this lovely space. A second hot bath is nestled within an open tent or pavilion constructed entirely of lush redwoods on a dirt patch just adjacent to the largest pool.

Camping

You will find Kosk off of Hydesville-Gerber Road just south of Main Road (along Hoopa territory) near Pepperwood Grove County Park.

As stated above, Kosk is not currently open to overnight camping. However, they do allow you to sleep in your car if you wish and have offered offsite locations where overnight camping was once regularly permitted along their loop drive including an area just off of Illinois Creek Road across from the Hot Springs Campground on the way in by Substation 3 and another area just south of Three Rivers along Peru-Kennett Road (see map) where you can park without disturbing others slept in at the campground there).

As noted above, don’t take it for granted that they are still allowing this outside of the park’s campsites as some will ask you to leave by sunset or leave peacefully if graciously asked by rangers on site. Hosts at each location requested patrons not drink alcohol or bring dogs—remember this when camping outside of the specified campsites.

Getting There: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Though the drive from Carmel (or any Central Coast starting point) is nearly six hours and all over winding, mountainous roads, getting to Kosk is an adventure in itself. You may wish to either sleep in your vehicle after leaving Carmel (or wherever you start), or simply try your luck. It’s all good news, indeed!

Sure, the drive might be long and off the beaten path, but there is so much to take in and enjoy while making the drive that it’s a truly spectacular way to spend a day or two. These are just a few recommendations along the way:

1) Cannery Row in Monterey – This historic district is worth exploring for a day or two, but plan accordingly for pot use for those looking for something other than natural attractions. Lock your car with valuables in the trunk if appropriate before wandering off to look at fish and cannabis!

2) Moss Landing – A quaint little harbor town with boat tours

3) Pfeiffer State Park – The North Coast area is well-known for surf, sun, and soaking in hot springs. This particular park contains one of only three hot springs within the national forest lands (the others at Shaver Lake on Hwy 39 and Hume Lake within the Lassen National Forest lands). You won’t miss out on anything by passing this park by (they are open year-round but generally closed after dark), but this may be reason enough for some to make the drive.

My Kosk Visit, From Arrival to Departure

On this occasion, I had a partner-in-crime with me and decided to pack light. However, even if you are here alone, it’s nice to have a light blanket to layer yourself with along with towels and swimsuits. I used my sleeping bag as a base layer and then huddled under a blanket as we explored. If you can manage it, pack a cooler with a small meal and some cold snacks. We walked the trails barefoot so it was nice to have some grub to ease the pain in our hot, tender feet.

Approaching Hydesville, your curiosity will likely kick in before you reach the sign, upon noticing the density of old redwoods along the road and perhaps other cars pulled over at a curve. You’ll start to wonder if there is a roadside attraction of sort, and as you round that bend you’ll wonder not anymore. You’ve spotted your Oasis of Solitude. The road turns from smooth to gravel, and from there it gets even bumpier but it’s all part of the fun.

Although a true four-wheel may not need the chains I was forced to use, chains are highly recommended if you plan to make it in. The more snow up north the more apt you need riding chains for sure.

From arrival to your departure allow yourself a minimum of four hours, possibly more if you wish to reenergize overnight onsite. If you are camping overnight, eight hours or so would be ideal time to allow since Kosk is a 40-minute drive from Hwy 101 if traffic is light and quirky dirt road conditions direct; or else figure 60 minutes if traveling with chains or caution because of slick snowy runoff conditions the first half mile or so before hitting plowed gravel road.

If visiting only day-trip style, allow at least three hours including travel time and exploring surroundings. But one hour minimum would be long enough for most though not ideal to fully enjoy it. The soaking pools are large and inviting, so plan more time for how quickly you wish to unwind in one.

A final note: you do need a California Adventure Pass —plus $10 if parking at Kosk– mind you the California Adventure Pass is good throughout the state should you decide to travel elsewhere. The pass isn’t cheap coming in at $50 for a year… but if you’re heading to any State Park along the Redwoods Coast , it’s necessary to have.

Rules, Cleanliness, and the “Don’t Be a Jerk” Clause

But here’s the thing: there aren’t many rules. Sure, respect nature, one another and the place you’re exploring, but also keep in mind that it’s not every public pool where you can skinny dip. You can here. You can even skinny dip with clothing on if you are so inclined. So make sure to read the posted rules along with common sense and decency, while these are open to all comers, keep in mind that there is a small children’s pool AND a clothing-friendly area that people of all orientations choose to patronize.

So what should you do? Carry out your own paper towels and toilet paper; bring soap, shampoo and your own towels; and make sure to BYOB (bring your own bullshit). And if you did read the last bullet point and still have something to complain about, remember that before driving home send a quick text message to your mom (or whomever) about the jack ass who is ruining everyone’s fun.

Bottom line

Generallyspeaking, Kosk Hot Springs are a fairly quick getaway if you‘re seeking respite from the hustle and bustle of highway travel along the I5 corridor in California. In fact, you can simply roll up off I5, snap some photos in the natural forest hot springs and pools, then hit the road again in maybe two hours.

However, if you treat this adventure like any other camping trip, you can employ its alcove status as a means to touch base with nature and yourself. Gather firewood and cook dinner around a roaring fire pit while drinking in the starry sky. Quietly listen to the sounds of nature around your private hideaway. Shasta is an ideal place to take respite from the noise of city life, whether it‘s to beat traffic on your daily commute or for a nottoodistant destination for an outoftown retreat or evening getaway with friends.

Consider adding Kosk to your bucket list for a mere two hours outside I5 or about four hours north via HWY 97.

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Local information

Address: Based two miles north of Big Bend, California 96011
GPS: 41.116023,-121.862119
Season: Year-round

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