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Warm Spring Canyon

Note: This article, which was formerly titled “Kaiser Hot Springs,” was revised on July 24, 2004 with corrections suggested by David Taylor. David’s comments appear at the end of the article.

My significant other, Mike, is crazy about swimming holes and hot springs. There’s nothing he likes more than to drive or hike to someplace in the middle of nowhere, and wade into a pool of water. Since moving to Arizona in 1996, poor Mike has been starved for such activities. After all, most of our streams and rivers are bone dry most of the year and when they are running, they’re usually running too fast to wade into.

A few years ago, we bought a book called Touring Arizona Hot Springs. The book is full of detailed information about hot springs all over the state. The problem is, not many of these places are near Wickenburg.

The closest hot spring in the book was called Kaiser Hot Springs, about 60 miles north of Wickenburg. On one Sunday in May, we decided to load up the Jeep with a picnic lunch to check it out. (On topo maps, this spring is simply labeled Warm Spring and resides in Warm Spring Canyon, which is the continuation of Kaiser Spring Canyon.)

Getting There

Touring Arizona Hot Springs provides detailed information about getting to the springs. The trouble is, the book was written before road work on Route 93 changed the lay of the land. I suspected that the directions would be different, and they were.

From Wickenburg, take Route 93 north toward Kingman. The road is straight and quite boring for the first 30 or so miles, although the Joshua Trees are thick alongside this part of the road, which is also known as the Joshua Forest Parkway. Sometime before the turnoff for Bagdad, the road starts to wind up and around the hills.

ADOT did an amazing job on the road work here. In many places, they widened the road from two lanes to a four-lane divided highway. But when the work was finished, they went a step further and replanted much of the desert vegetation they’d removed to make the road: saguaro cacti, barrel cacti, prickly pear cacti, ocotillo, and even some mesquite and palo verde trees. When we drove through we were amazed to see large water tanks, painted to match the desert rock, alongside the roads, with miles and miles of irrigation lines. Not only had they stuck these plants in the ground, but they were making sure they got enough water to survive the unusually dry spring.

Keep driving, past the turnoff called “Nothing,” on the right side of the road. A while later, you’ll pass the turnoff for Burro Creek Campground on the left. You’ll cross a huge bridge over Burro Creek. It’s time to start looking for mile markers.

Touring Arizona Hot Springs said the turnoff for Kaiser Hot Springs was a left right before mile marker 136. But right before you get there, you’ll cross one of the two brand new bridges ADOT built over Kaiser Springs Canyon. The turnoff to the hot springs was destroyed during the road work.

At first, we thought we could make a right turn immediately after the bridges and follow a dirt road under the bridges into the canyon. We tried, but it didn’t work. We got back on 93 northbound and continued. About a mile farther, we saw a left turn to a dirt road that seemed to double back along the highway. The only problem was, the road was a divided highway there and there was no place to cross.

We continued northbound until the divided highway ended suddenly where the roadwork had stopped. Once on the two-lane road, we pulled over to the right, waited until the coast was clear in both directions, and made a U-turn. Then we headed back to the road we’d spotted, which was now a right turn.

If you’re driving the family car, you might want to stop here and park. It’s a long walk down to the hot springs, but if you’re energetic and love hot springs as much as Mike does, you’ll think it worthwhile. Continue following these directions, but on foot.

If you’re driving a 4WD vehicle, continue along the dirt road. Bear left at the fork, to follow the road alongside 93, now moving southbound. The road will twist and turn in the desert, and you’ll drive down an impressively steep hill. You probably won’t need 4WD at this point (we didn’t engage it until we reached the sandy wash below), but we needed 4WD to get back up that hill on the way out. Keep going. It’s 1-2 miles from the 93 turnoff to the wash in Kaiser Spring Canyon.

If your 4WD vehicle doesn’t have high clearance, you might want to park near where the road meets up with the wash. Although you may be able to drive following the rest of these instructions, there are a few places where high clearance really is a must.

Once in the wash, turn right and follow the streambed. The terrain will go from deep, slippery sand to shallower sand to coarse rock. In a few places, the rocks are quite large and you’ll have to pick your way among them to keep from bottoming out. At one point, I let Mike take the wheel while I directed him from up front. We got past at least two tough spots that others hadn’t attempted; we saw signs of U-turns in the wash right before the tough spots.

Driving is slow, but it’s only about a half mile or so. The canyon walls rise high above you as you make your way in the streambed. Eventually, you’ll get to a horizontal mine shaft along a rise in the road on the right. The road was too treacherous for us past this point, so we parked alongside the road there.

After checking out the mine with a flashlight (it’s closed off with a gate, so you can’t go in, but you can look inside), we scouted the streambed ahead. We didn’t have far to go. The ground got wet about 25 yards ahead. The hot spring was on the left side of the tiny creek that had sprung up, about 50 yard downstream from the Jeep.

At the Spring

The hot spring’s output is caught in a rock pool that some thoughtful soul had built with the local stone (there’s no shortage of it) and mortar. It’s about four feet square and, when you sit in its deepest part, the water comes up to your chest. Touring Arizona Hot Springs says the water source is 99° and the pool is 95°. We didn’t have a thermometer to check, but it felt about right.

Mike in the tub
Mike in the hot spring “tub.”

Water comes into the tub through a hole that appears to have been drilled into the rock. As the pool fills, the overflow goes over the side closest to the stream, where it makes another very small pool before flowing away downstream. The sound of running water and birds was very pleasant.

View from the tub
The view from the hot spring “tub.” (Not too shabby, huh?)

Algae grows in the pool, but there wasn’t enough to stop Mike from stripping down and climbing in. While he was soaking and I was snapping pictures, I came across two clean toilet brushes, tucked away out of first sight. Mike later used one of these brushes to scrub the algae away from half the tub. The algae floated around the water for a while, making the water look less inviting. But after a while, it washed away with the water flow.

Day camp at the hot spring
Our little “day camp” at the hot spring.

We arrived at the pool around 10:00 AM, and the canyon was in almost full sun. Fortunately, we’d brought along a three-sided shade tent, where we could seek shelter from the sun’s rays. After Mike’s soak, we decided to explore downstream, where my GPS promised two more springs less than a quarter mile away.

Swimming Hole
One of the swimming holes we found along Burro Creek.

We hiked downstream and were astonished by the quantity of water we found. Around the bend in the streambed, Burro Creek merges with Kaiser Springs Canyon. Burro Creek had numerous pools of water, some of which looked quite deep. We hiked a bit up that canyon and found a great spot for swimming. Although we couldn’t see the bottom, we estimated that the water had to be at least five or six feet deep. Downstream from the confluence, there was more flowing water and more pools. It appeared that the creek was one swimming hole after another. Mike had hit the jackpot!

Swimming Hole
Another great spot for swimming, downstream from the hot spring.

During our walk, we ran into two young people and stopped for a chat. They told us they’d been down there many times before. They said they’d walked down from the parking area near the main road, but I’m not sure whether they meant the parking area near 93. It was a long walk for such a hot day.

Although we did find some seepage up Burro Creek that may have been a spring, there was no pool and it was certainly not inviting. The other two springs on my GPS were dry.

We went back to our shade tent and had sandwiches, an orange, and plenty of water and Gatorade for lunch. It was hot in the sun but only mildly cooler in our shade. The two young people we’d met along Burro Creek passed on their way back to their car. We offered them water, but they assured us that they had enough. After lunch, Mike and I took a soak together in the tub. Then we wet down our shirts, put them on, and packed up our gear for the trip back.

Kaiser Spring Canyon

We didn’t go right back to 93. Instead, we followed the dry streambed back past the turnoff for the road. It twisted and turned in sand, but there weren’t many rock obstacles. We made it all the way to the bridges, which were high above us, over the narrow canyon. I parked in the shade of one of the spans and we continued on foot up the canyon.

Kaiser Springs Canyon is a deep slot canyon that you can see from the northbound lanes of Route 93 if you look down while crossing the bridge. I’d seen this slot many times on trips to Kingman and points beyond and had always wanted to explore it. Today I was getting my chance.

Kaiser Spring Canyon
Kaiser Springs Canyon, upstream from the new bridges.

Although it was about 2:00 PM, the canyon was still very sunny, with shade only in the narrowest parts. The bottom of the canyon was sand. A few trees and flowers grew there. The canyon walls were some kind of composite rock—similar to what you can find in Box Canyon near Wickenburg—lots of small rocks held together by a cement-like rock. I could image the whole area being on the floor the sea once; now it was in the middle of a desert. Above us, the rock was darker and volcanic, like much of the rock in this area.

We walked about a quarter of a mile up the canyon, then returned to the Jeep. We retraced our route back down the canyon to the road that would take us up to 93.

Returning Home

After some debate on whether we should take a side trip to find the ghost town of Signal, we decided to head home instead. It was 2:30 PM and it would take an hour to get back to Wickenburg. We followed 93 all the way home.

It had been a great day trip, one I’m anxious to repeat with some of our more adventurous friends, especially folks from out-of-town, who are always impressed with our off-roading exploits. But one thing’s for sure: I won’t be back during the summer months.

Trip Details

Distance: About 130 miles round trip.
Time: About 4-5 Hours, including time for a dip in the springs and a short hike
Features: Hot spring with bathing “tub,” swimming holes, beautiful desert scenery, slot canyon
Driving Conditions: Most of the trip is on paved roads. The last 2-3 miles is on dirt roads which require 4WD. Last 1/2 mile requires high clearance vehicle.
Equipment: Bring lots of water, shoes you don’t mind getting wet, a bathing suit, and your camera. If hiking in from the paved road, bring good hiking shoes and more water. It’s also a great place for a picnic lunch!
Time of Year: This trip is best if taken during the fall, winter, or spring. It would be too hot for the summertime.

Important Safety Note: Do not attempt the trip to the hot springs when heavy rain is a possibility. Kaiser Springs Canyon is extremely narrow at points, with sheer rock walls. In the event of a flash flood, you and your vehicle could easily be washed away.

Reader Comments

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Everyone on the Internet calls the spring you’re referring to Kaiser Spring, but we bought twenty acres up Box Canyon, north of the turnoff you took, east of 93, so I got a wonderful program called TOPO!, that gives you, among other things, the 7.5 maps of the entire state of Arizona. It’s a wealth of information. 7.5 maps are produced by the USGS, a department of the Federal government, and are accurate to a fault. They list wells and sometimes corrals, if they’ve been around long enough. Having backpacked a little, and being armed with a GPS, I have great appreciation for this level of map.

Kaiser Spring is three quarters of a mile away from our new property, in Kaiser Spring Canyon. I looked it up on the ‘Net, read your fine article, but since we were going to be so close to the spring, I didn’t pay attention to your directions and just read your description. When we walked to the spring, we found a perfectly bucolic, classic Arizona slot canyon, with Saguaros and barrel cactus hanging off the cliffs above us, but no tub and no hot springs, just a very active spring, lots of water. When I checked the map more thoroughly, and read your directions, I realized you went west at 93, down to what is on the topography map as listed as Warm Spring, in Warm Springs Canyon. East of 93 is Kaiser Spring Canyon, with Kaiser Spring in it. Another article mentioned a gold mine called “Touch Hole Miine”. No such mine appears on the map, but a Burro Mine does.

Popular names for locations, come and go, but the 7.5 topography maps are set in stone. (Figuratively speaking, of course, stone maps would be hell on a backpacker.)

I’ll probably be posting our RV trip that includes our stay at our Arizona property at my Authorsden website:
http://www.authorsden.com/visit/author.asp?id=3199

– David Taylor, July 24, 2004

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3 comments to Warm Spring Canyon

  • Aaron

    We made the trip to Kaiser Hot Spring yesterday. The soaking tub appears to have been destroyed by heavy rains/flooding. (There was a lot of rain up this way in 2006) Instead of the much larger tub that used to be there, there was a smaller tub built of rock and sand, just big enough for two people. The depth if the water is about two feet, and if you recline against the rock that the spring comes out of, you can have your entire body under the water.

  • ajo

    Kaiser Warm Springs
    The only things I’ll take issue with in this article is that you can leave the Jeep and the bathing suit (along with the rest of your clothing) at the paved road and walk in. There is an exit and a U-Turn immediately at the north end of the bridge. Exit east, double back along the east side of 93 and go down under the bridge to park. From there it is a nice walk down the canyon to the spring. When I was there a fortnight back there was no rock pool, only a beer can stuffed into the hole from which the warm water flows. Nice soak! Nice walk!

    –SkinWalker

  • Garrett

    What a great place to nude hike. The weather is beautiful and the scenery is spectacular.

    Well worth the hour it takes me to drive down that way. I think I will be making it a habit for awhile. Would love to find a few like minded individuals to visit with.

    The soaking pool isn’t all that big but 2 can sit comfortablt. It wasn’t hot by any means, maybe 90 degrees.