Before it was known for wine, before it was known for waves, and before it was known for getting off the grid, Mendocino County was known for its hot springs. Since the mid-19th century it has been a haven for cityfolk looking to wander a bit further afield to relax with a therapeutic soak in nature’s own baths. Today it retains its natural heated pools, and two world-class hot springs have grown up around them. Unlike some of the more developed hot springs found to the south, Mendocino’s hot springs still have a rustic charm (albeit with a suite of modern amenities).
Vichy Hot Springs
These naturally alkaline and carbonated hot springs have been used by local Native Americans for thousands of years, but they were first seen by western eyes in 1848, when Frank Marble came upon them. In 1852 pioneer William Day settled the area and put up three cottages to service what he dubbed ‘Day’s Soda Springs’. These original three cottages are still a part of the modern day Vichy Springs!
In the 1860s a Civil War Colonel, William Doolan, took ownership of the land, and established Doolan’s Ukiah Vichy Springs – naming them after the world-famous Vichy Baths in central France. Like the original Vichy, Ukiah’s Vichy Springs are naturally carbonated and warm, and are believed by many to have healing properties. Doolan expanded the property greatly, building a cold-water plunge pool, concrete baths for guests to take the waters, a bar and restaurant, bowling alley, and up to 65 more cottages. His springs became well-known, and were soon the largest tourist attraction in Mendocino County – drawing up to 200 guests at any given time.
Vichy Springs became a favorite getaway for the cultural elite spending time in San Francisco and Sacramento. It is best known as a frequent haunt of author Jack London, but other notable guests of the era include President Ulysses S. Grant, President William Harrison, President Teddy Roosevelt, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mark Twain. They remain a draw to those in the know, and have hosted modern luminaries such as actor Dustin Hoffman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Governor Jerry Brown.
More than 700 acres comprise the main resort property, and in addition to the baths, visitors can stay overnight, hike to beautiful Chemisal Falls, picnic beneath towering oaks, and simply relax in the absolute solitude and tranquility of this one-of-a-kind property.
Orr Hot Springs
Like Vichy, Orr Hot Springs were widely used by local Native American tribes for centuries before their discovery by westerners. They were discovered when the Ukiah to Mendocino stagecoach line was being built in the late 1800s, and quickly developed into a popular destination resort. Although a bit further afield than Vichy Springs, at the time the difference was relatively small. Today the difference is somewhat more noticeable, but most visitors appreciate the secluded nature of the resort (and the proximity to Montgomery Woods makes it a perfect day trip).
Also like Vichy, ‘Orr Hot Sulphur Springs’, as they were known in the era, were heralded as a cure-all treatment. In the late-1800s and early 20th century hydrotherapy was one of the most popular cures for a range of ailments, and naturally-occurring sulphur springs like Orr were especially well regarded. Visitors went in the hopes of alleviating their rheumatism, their arthritis, their high blood pressure, and even kidney and liver troubles. Today the benefits of a hot soak – and a subsequent plunge in an icy-cold pool – are still widely appreciated, and Orr is a perfect place to unwind.
The main lodge and most of the cabins here were constructed in the 1930s, but they have been well kept over the subsequent century, and are comfortable and clean. Some newer buildings also exist on property. You can also use Orr Hot Springs for day trips – it costs $30 a day for adults – although it’s worth making a reservation even for day use, as they do limit access to keep it from getting too crowded. You’ll find communal tubs, private tubs, a plunge pool, a steam room, and a dry sauna.
Do note that Orr remains true to its more Bohemian roots, and it is a clothing-optional facility.
Orr is located roughly 40 minutes from Ukiah and an hour from Mendocino along a windy mountain road. It’s also located very close to one of the most beautiful redwood groves in the state, Montgomery Woods, so we suggest leaving a bit of extra time to explore the redwoods while you’re out there.