Wilbur Hot Springs: Saunas, Massages and Tub Nirvana
San Francisco Examiner | Linda Berlin
WILLIAMS, Colusa County — Hauling our groceries into the communal kitchen of the historic Victorian, my husband and I realized we had broken a basic rule at Wilbur Hot Springs. All the other guests were in stocking feet, so I nudged Michael and silently pointed at our shoes. We slinked back to the veranda to take them off.
After sorting our food in the communal kitchen and cleaning our mess -
no one scolded us - I went to our room on the third floor, while Michael
reparked the car in a gravel lot a short walk from the lodge. Wilbur
Hot Springs is a rainy-day haven just two hours northwest of Sacramento, tucked into the foothills of
With the exception of our muddy footprints, the lodge was immaculate and
the guests were kind. We had arrived with Michael's brother and his wife
on a rainy day for a weekend of rest and relaxation. Sulphur Creek, which
winds along the property's spring-fed pools, was flowing just 5 feet below
the only bridge to the historic lodge.
The small bedroom was comfortable, with a sloped ceiling, wood paneling, double bed and an armoire with a mirror on it. The windows along one side of the room faced Bear Valley, a wilderness area known for its spectacular wildflowers, above a long shelf that provided a perfect writer's desk. Similar to a European lodge, the six bedrooms on the third floor shared two toilet stalls down the hall and two wash basins in a common area. None of the rooms have locks, so you never have to bother with keys.
Short walk, and a soak ... Short walk, and a soak. I had planned to meet
Michael at the Fluminarium, but curled up on the bed to read for a while.
A half-hour later, we donned terry-cloth bathrobes and walked to the bathing
complex across a gravel road from the lodge.
Japanese lanterns lined the carpeted walkway leading to the dry sauna
and onto a redwood deck that surrounded the outdoor pool. The smaller,
hotter pools were sheltered by an A-framed Fluminarium. Bathing suits are
optional, but most people soak naked, so I did the same. I hung my robe
on a wooden peg in the A-framed Fluminarium. There were only three other
bathers in the pools, their cheeks flushed, each reading a book. I dipped
my big toe into each of the three rectangular pools, testing the different
temperatures before settling into the coolest 98-degree bath. Stretching
out in the silky, pea-green water, I dropped my head back and exhaled a
month's worth of tension. One end of the Fluminarium was open to the outdoors,
exposing a dense evergreen forest that covered the hill above the springs.
After several minutes immersed in the most temperate pool, I slithered
into the middle one, about the temperature of a hot tub.
Instead of going in the third pool - a 112-degree boiler - I preferred
the oval-shaped, outdoor pool - a comfortable 80 degrees. It felt good
to cool off while listening to the rushing creek. After a swim, I reclined
on a bench in the sauna until soaked in perspiration, then walked into
the hallway, tugged on a rope, and a blast of cold water made my body steam.
Afterward, I stepped back into the sauna to roast for a few more minutes.
After several rounds of this, I retired to the bed room for a nap.
The springs date back to the 1860s, when Ezekial Wilbur and Edwin T. Howell
purchased 640 acres of wilderness to mine copper along Sulphur Creek. When
the project failed, Wilbur bought Mr. Howell's stake for $200, built a
wood-frame hotel and opened Wilbur Hot Sulphur Springs. The smell of sulfur
still emanates from the mineral-rich springs.
The Victorian-style hotel was built in 1915 and still retains some of
its old ways. There is no electricity. Instead, propane and solar panels
help generate enough energy to run several refrigerators, gas stoves, fireplaces,
and lights throughout the lodge. Remnants of a bygone era can be found
down the road from the lodge, where abandoned mining shafts are now home
to the endangered Townsend's-big-eared bat.
In the 1970s, a psychologist bought the 240-acre valley and restored it
to its original Victorian splendor. He added a covered yoga deck that provides
a great place to stretch in the shade - especially welcome on summer days,
which can be Suites, shared bedrooms Suites, shared bedrooms.
Accommodations at the three-story lodge are as varied as the staircases
that wind through it. There are 17 private guest rooms with bathrooms down
the hall; one suite with a private bath and kitchen plus three adjoining
bedrooms (for small groups); a more modest 11-bed bunk room (ear plugs
are recommended); and two campsites, available May through October.
That evening, we gathered with Michael's brother and his wife in the dining
room for homemade Thai curry and steamed rice. Guests make their meals
in the communal kitchen - equipped with gas stoves and all the tools you
need to make a good meal - and eat together in the large dining room, where
a lofty ceiling and white-glass chandeliers lend an elegant ambience.
There was no television set or radio. Instead, candles flickered in colored-glass
holders on the dining tables. Comfortable couches and reading chairs were
arranged near an upright piano. Entertainment takes the form of self-made
music or a friendly game of pool. Guests can use several guitars, bamboo
flutes and bongos provided by the management.
After dinner, my husband's brother assembled several of us to play some
jazz standards. I played piano, and Michael and his brother played guitar.
The audience - mostly couples, many from Sonoma County, dressed in sweat
pants or bathrobes - applauded after each song.
In the kitchen later, a woman from Sonoma praised the music, and we talked
for a while as she chopped vegetables on a long table that doubled as a
cutting board. A regular visitor to the hot springs, Barbara's cheeks were
still red from soaking, and she was making a healthy meal for a friend.
Icy, then hot
After a restful sleep, Michael made arrangements for a Swedish massage
while I returned to the Fluminarium for another attempt at soaking in the
hottest pool. First, I walked to the farthest deck perched over the creek
and plugged a sunken tub near a clump of bamboo, where ice-cold spring
water runs constantly. I stepped into the frigid bath, held my breath,
and dunked myself as goose pimples rippled across my skin. I stayed there
for a minute or two.
When my toes turned blue, I splashed out of the tub, making a beeline
for the Fluminarium. Without hesitating, I eased myself into the hottest
pool as tingles spread through my skin. It was a brief soak, but I had
the feeling that if I landed in Hades, I might be able to cope so long
as a cool stream ran through it.
For Reservations & Info
Phone: (530) 473-2306
- From 10AM to 8PM daily
Fax: (530) 473-2497
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