About twenty miles outside of the living ghost town of Austin Nevada is a little known slice of hot springs heaven, Spencer Hot Springs. From Austin continue east for 11 miles on Highway 50 until you get to the 376 junction. There take a right and then almost immediately on your left you will see a Nevada Historical Marker sign next to a long straight dirt road.
The marker is for the Toquima Caves (and Campground) which is about 11 miles further past the springs. Head down that straight road until you see Hot Springs Road on your left. From there you come into a pretty typical Nevada desert hot springs scenario. Lots of dirt roads (video of the road to Spencer Hot Springs), paths, pull outs, impromptu campsites and plenty of parking.
The satellite overview shown below gives you a visual of the area with our campsite and the locations of the actual hot springs pools (what I refer to as the upper and lower pools). Note: I believe there is another pool a bit to the southeast of this location hidden up the hill aways but we didn’t hunt it down on this trip.
My wife and I arrived a bit late, around 7:30 pm to set up camp. With fall fast approaching the sun was setting quickly and we arrived just in time to have a bit of light to scout a site. By the time we picked our home for the next two days the sun was gone! Trusty headlights to the rescue, who needs to see anyways? We are a well-oiled machine (especially when we have no kids) and we had everything set up and a fire going within 20-30 minutes.
Kids free you say? Yes, thank all the gods! The kids are at the grandparents and the neighbors watching the dog. No responsibilities to anyone but ourselves. Wondrous. Not that we don’t love bringing them, and I even felt a little guilty but then, the hot springs… can you tell I am relaxed in the picture below?
Yes. There is a herd of wild burros at Spencer Hot Springs!
We had barbecued dinner, repeated late night soaks with the best company a guy could ask for and then went to bed. Well, for about 15 minutes. Then… HEE-HAW! HEE HEE HEE HAAAA! Apparently we were camped right on a donkey thoroughfare. We were actually delighted though. Where else can you be awakened by wild donkeys, literally feet from your tent. It was right around 35°F so we decided to stay in bed. We did sleep, albeit with a bit of interruption now and then.
Dawn was amazing! There is nothing like a freshly french pressed coffee in the hot springs at dawn. Did I mention that by this point we had seen a total of three people and I pretty much figured the apocalypse had started (or half hoped haha). But, again… hot springs. The lower pool at Spencer feels like a poor mans infinity hot spring pool. You can stretch out completely and float, and float, and float… ugh take me back there!!!
Side note: my three year old daughter is currently putting book after book in my lap and saying “Read it. Read it. Read it. Read it….” so I will be back shortly haha… Oh kid free weekends!
The above pictures are what I call the lower pool, which is camouflaged a bit by an embankment and some brush. It is surrounded by some carpeting, and includes bench and a wooden pole to hang your clothing. The hot springs are fed by the source, at 135°, which is enclosed by a cage. The 113° water (at this point) is piped down to a large water tub. You can adjust the temperature simply by moving the pipe into or out of the tub. The excess overflows and drains into several terraced natural pools.
The upper pools have a large deck and a similar setup as the lower pools that we frequented. It seemed that most people went to the upper pools. They either couldn’t find the lower pools or felt the upper pools were better. We personally preferred the lower pools as they felt more secluded and less frequented.
I could keep going on about the hot springs themselves… the water is surprisingly clean and clear. It seems to have very little sulphur content and very little smell whatsoever. This has got to be one of my favorite hot springs we have ever visited. On top of great hot springs its free, isolated, beautiful camping and also has quick access to services, and great breakfast in Austin.
But the campsites! Did I say free? Thats a huge plus. There are no services, no water or toilets… but thats all a part of its allure. The panoramic photo above shows our campsite in relation to the springs. We were completely hidden by the ridge and surrounding foliage but could walk 20 feet and look down on the springs and check if we had the springs to ourselves or not :)
Pack it in, pack it out! Please carry out all trash.
Seriously. Clean up after yourselves. Keep the wilderness wild and pack out all your trash. Dig a cat hole and bury those number twos :) There are even two trash cans conveniently located where the dirt road meets Hwy 376 (so really you have no excuses).
Our campsite all set up for the cold evenings and blazing sun of the day. I am really proud of my homemade fire pit and grill. Just remember to put it all the way out!
Breakfast in Austin
Like I said previously your only 15-20 minutes from Austin and since we had planned on exploring the area that day we decided to try breakfast in Austin, Nevada. After driving through the town and snapping some pictures we stopped at Toiyabe Cafe for breakfast. Man, there is nothing like a small town sit-down breakfast after camping in the wilderness and soaking in the hot springs. Great food, great service and cheap! A grand total of $25 for two complete breakfasts, including coffee, orange juice and tip!
The living ghost town of Austin is really quite pretty and has a certain feel that is hard to explain. A part of you instantly longs to live there. Take the time to check out the local shops and walk down the short main street. Help out the local economy and buy a few trinkets.
The quiet, peaceful solitude of Austin infects you.
We love strange roadside attractions so we had to check out Stokes Castle. Stokes Castle is a three-story stone tower located just outside Austin, Nevada. It was built by Anson Phelps Stokes, a mine developer, railroad magnate, and banker. Intending the building as a summer home, Stokes began building the castle in 1896, completing it in 1897. For more on the history of Austin Nevada and Stokes Castle take a look at the resources tab at the bottom of the blog.
After spending a little time in Austin we decided to grab some ice and more firewood (remember the 35° lows), swing it by the campsite and continue on from there to Toquima Cave. If you keep going past Hot Springs Road and continue on the original dirt road you took to get to the hot springs you will drive straight to Toquima Cave Campground where the Toquima Cave trailhead is located.
Vibrant Native American pictographs at Toquima Cave
The elevation as you approach Toquima Caves increases rapidly resulting in more trees, rocks and varied vegetation. The trail is a very easy and fairly level half mile hike. They even put in some rudimentary rock steps.
Toquima Cave is more of a rock fall declivity caused by the Lahontan Sea in ancient times and used by the local Shoshone tribe as hunting camp and perhaps a spiritual location. Watch a short video of the final approach to Toquima Cave.
The pictographs look like they were painted on yesterday!
Toquima Cave (and Campground) was deserted when we went on a Saturday afternoon in September. If you head to Spencer Hot Springs you really should make the trip out to this amazing site and a beautiful afternoon hike.
We intended to continue on past Toquima Cave and explore another nearby attraction, Diana’s Punch Bowl or Devil’s Cauldron. However, after the days exploration, and the fact we had no phone service or clearly defined route to Diana’s Punch Bowl we decided to head back to the campsite for a gourmet camp dinner and more hot springs soaking. Just so you don’t run into the same dilemma directions to Diana’s Punch Bowl are listed below.
Directions to Diana’s Punch Bowl: From the intersection of US 50 and NV 376 go .25 miles south on 376. Bear left on a gravel road – FS Road 001. Consider this your point zero. At 5.5 miles you will pass under some power lines and there will be a road that goes off to the left. (Spencer Hot Springs – take this road 1.1 miles to the springs which are on the west face of the knoll) At 14.4 miles pass the road to your left and at 17.8 miles pass Toquima Campground. At 24.2 miles bear right at a major fork in the road. You’ll pass through a ranch. Go straight through and bear left out the other side. At 28 miles you will come to a fork (Pott’s Hot Springs – Bear left and stay straight onto Rte. 25 at the cattle guard. at 30.4 miles pass an old ranch house on the left. At 30.8 miles bear right and the spring is at 31.3 miles). For Diana’s Punch Bowl take a right at the fork. At 32.7 miles turn left on a small dirt road tpowards a large conical butte a couple miles away. The butte is Diana’s Punch Bowl.
While researching the area for this post I discovered the Linka Mine ruins just over the mountain from Spencer Hot Springs. Apparently this is one of only three locations in the world to find very rare pottsite, as well as clinobisvanite, bismutite, junoite, molybdenite, grossular, vesuvianite, and epidote. This area would be great for the rock hounds out there, or the abandoned ruins photographer in the family. We will definitely be making a trip out here again soon for a blog post on hot springs and rock hounding in Nevada.
We loved Spencer Hot Springs and would recommend it to anyone looking to escape for a couple days, or as a stop if your traveling through the area. This is one of the most secluded and beautiful hot springs we have ever had the pleasure to visit.
*Notes on Kids and Pets: The lower pool runs around 103-104° while the hot springs source pipe flows into the pools at around 135°. If its too hot for your kiddos you can adjust the temperature by moving the pipe that continually refreshes the pool… and then wait. I heard it takes an hour or two for the lower pool to cool down substantially. Ultimately it all depends on your kids, your level of patience and your acceptance of occasional nudity. The same holds true for your pets. The source hot springs are caged to prevent unintended access by people and animals. So if your dogs/kids are well behaved and comfortable being in nature you should be good.
Stop making excuses, get off the couch and get out here!
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