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Plan a 10-Day Wyoming Road Trip with Hot Springs, Cowboys, & More

A herd of buffalo graze in the red earth plains near Thermopolis.
Buffalo graze along the plains near Thermopolis, Wyoming. Photo © Krzysztof Wiktor/123rf.

Travel map of the state of Wyoming.
Wyoming
Though it is not as large as Montana, Wyoming feels remarkably spacious. This 10-day road trip includes two tried-and-true cowboy towns, a geological wonder, an outdoors mecca, four days at a working ranch, and all the beautiful and historical sights in between. With this itinerary, the goal is to minimize driving time while maximizing the destinations.

Day 1: Sheridan

Ease into your cowboy experience with a visit to the Trail End State Historic Site. Check out the Western duds at the legendary King’s Saddlery, and don’t leave without a King Ropes baseball cap, which is de rigueur in the West. Wander around town, nosing into some of the shops and galleries along Main Street. On Friday or Saturday, enjoy dinner at the Sheridan Palace. Otherwise, head over to Wyoming’s Rib & Chop House. Wind things down at the classic Mint Bar and find a comfy bed at the Mill Inn.

Day 2: Sheridan to Thermopolis (160-205 miles)

Travel map of Sheridan, Devils Tower, and Northeast Wyoming
Sheridan, Devils Tower, and Northeast Wyoming
To get from Sheridan to Thermopolis, there are a couple of starkly beautiful drives, both offering access to interesting sights and countless trails in the Bighorn National Forest.

The Big Horn Scenic Byway (about 205 miles) climbs up and over the mountains past such sights as the Connor Battlefield near Ranchester, the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark, and the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, where mustangs can be spotted. This route follows Highway 14 to Lovell and then south toward Thermopolis.

The shorter route (about 160 miles) is higher but no less scenic. It heads south to Buffalo past the impressive Fort Phil Kearny, then over the Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway through Ten Sleep to Worland and eventually south to Thermopolis.

As you pull into Thermopolis, head to the colorful and otherworldly Hot Springs State Park. Stroll along the Spirit Trail or stop into the historic State Bath House for a swim before checking into the Best Western Plaza Hotel. For dinner, try the schnitzel at Stones Throw Restaurant.

Day 3: Thermopolis to Casper (about 134 miles)

Travel map of Southern Wyoming
Southern Wyoming
Spend the day in Thermopolis, exploring the park and soaking in the medicinal waters. Arrange for a tour of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center and Dig Sites. You can even participate in their archaeological digs. Fill your belly at the Thermopolis Café before heading south through some of the oldest rock formations on the planet.

Consider planning a white-water excursion with the Wind River Canyon Whitewater and Fly Fishing Outfitter, the only outfit licensed to operate on the Wind River Reservation. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep. At Shoshoni, head east toward Casper. After a gourmet burger at the Wyoming Burger Company, settle in for two nights at the Sunburst Lodge on Casper Mountain.

Day 4: Casper

Wake up to wilderness on Casper Mountain. There are endless options for ways to enjoy it: Hike or bike the trails, or fish on the well-recovered North Platte River. For a more cultural experience, head to the Nicolaysen Art Museum and Discovery Center and the wonderful National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. Lunch at The Cottage Café and plan for dinner at Bosco’s. Baseball fans can get tickets to watch the collegiate league Casper Cutthroats. Back on the mountain, if the Crimson Dawn Museum is open, stop in to drink in the lore of the mountain.

Day 5: Casper to Buffalo (about 115 miles)

Travel map of Casper, Wyoming
Casper
Head north on I-87, which runs parallel to the old Bozeman Trail. This is stark open country, with the Thunder Basin National Grassland sweeping out east of the highway. In Buffalo, belly up to the bar in the historic Occidental Hotel for a meal and a cozy room for the night. For a little exercise, hit the 13-mile Clear Creek Trail System. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch the weekly Cowgirl Rodeo (Tuesday) or the Lion’s Club Rodeo (Friday).

Day 6: Buffalo to T-A Guest Ranch (about 23 miles)

Rise early and hightail it to the T-A Guest Ranch, south of Buffalo off Highway 196, where you’ll spend the next four days. This is where cowboy culture comes to life.

Days 7-9: T-A Guest Ranch

Spend the next three nights enjoying an authentic ranch experience. Activities range from riding to fly-fishing, hiking, biking, and golf. You’ll visit tipi rings and Bozeman Trail sites on the property, plus important battlefields nearby. Expect to work and play hard.

Day 10: T-A Guest Ranch to Sheridan (about 59 miles)

Trade your saddle for a bucket seat and head north to Sheridan. Consider a stop at Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site and the tiny town of Big Horn to see the Bradford Brinton Memorial and Museum. Enjoy a last meal—Wyoming gourmet—at Frackleton’s on Main Street in Sheridan.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Montana & Wyoming.

Karlovy Vary’s Healing Springs and its Dos and Don’ts

Water spills from a spigot into a shallow fountain in Karlovy Vary.
A hot mineral spring in Karlovy Vary. Photo © Pavel Jakubec/123rf.
Karlovy Vary’s famous healing springs attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually from around the world looking to cure various metabolic, digestive, arthritic, and gynecological ailments.

The springs share many similarities in their basic compositions, with the main differences being in their temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide they possess, thereby producing varying reported healing effects. Colder springs tend to have a slight detoxifying effect, while warmer waters slow down the formation of bile and gastric stomach juices. The springs range 102-163°F and are all clearly marked with a plaque detailing their mineral content and temperature.

The springs themselves are: Thermal Spring (Thermal Spring Colonnade, daily 6am-6:30pm), Charles IV Spring (Market Colonnade, daily 24 hours), Lower Castle Spring (Castle Colonnade, daily 24 hours), Upper Castle Spring (Castle Colonnade, daily 24 hours), Market Spring (Market Colonnade, daily 24 hours), Mill Spring (Mill Colonnade, daily 24 hours), Nymph Spring (Mill Colonnade, daily 24 hours), Prince Vaclav Spring (Mill Colonnade, daily 24 hours), Libuše Spring (Mill Colonnade, daily 24 hours), Rock Spring (near Mill Colonnade, daily 24 hours), Freedom Spring (near Spa III, daily 24 hours), Park Spring (Military Spa Sanatorium, daily 24 hours), Snake’s Spring (Park Colonnade, daily 24 hours), and Štěpánka Spring (Spa IV, daily 24 hours). The springs are free to the public.


The 10 Commandments of Karlovy Vary’s Drinking Cure

  1. The thermal mineral waters of Karlovy Vary should only be imbibed after having consulted a qualified spa physician.
  2. Water should be consumed at the springs in order for the drinker to feel its full medicinal effects.
  3. Use only the widely available, traditionally shaped porcelain or glass cups.
  4. Do not smoke or drink alcohol. Secondhand smoke is considered to be just as harmful.
  5. Combine the drinking cure with light physical exercise such as walking.
  6. Try to remain in a relaxed, peaceful state of mind as much as possible.
  7. Repeat the drinking cure as recommended by your physician.
  8. Do not disturb other patients, regardless of how kind and friendly your motives might be.
  9. Do not use the mineral water to water nearby plants, and take special care not to spill it on the floor in the colonnades.
  10. Do not touch the spring stand or pipes while taking water from the fountain.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Prague & Budapest.

Treat Yourself in Budapest

The indoor pool at Gellért Baths in Budapest.
The remarkable Gellért Baths has a lavish indoor pool as well as luxurious steam rooms and saunas. Photo courtesy of Gellért Baths.

Travel map of Budapest, Hungary
Budapest
Those who like to treat themselves to something extra special while on holiday will find no shortage of opportunities to do so in Budapest. Whether it’s upscale shops, fine dining, or world-class baths, this city has it all. Here are a few tips on how you can make your stay here an extra cozy one.

Unique Shopping Experiences

Begin where everyone else does—on Váci Street. Ignore the plethora of souvenir shops with their knockoff T-shirts and cheap mugs. Head instead for the boutiques and name-brand outlets, where you’ll find everything from a new pair of shoes to that expensive but amazing item of clothing you wouldn’t dare buy at home.

Another unique shopping experience can be found at the one and only WestEnd City Center, Central Europe’s largest shopping center. With over 400 shops at your disposal, you’ll not only find whatever it is you’re looking for, but probably one or two things you weren’t. Grand Andrássy Avenue will definitely keep you busy for at least a couple of hours thanks to large bountiful shops selling everything from high fashion to creative gift items. Make a list and check it twice; you’re off to Central Market Hall. Browse the countless stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables, every kind of conceivable deli meat, tons of domestic wine, traditional folk costumes, and a whole lot more.

Famed Foods and Decadent Drinks

Stop at least once for a delicious lunch at famed Café Gerbeaud and make sure to leave room for a scrumptious and decadent dessert. When you’re done with the day’s sightseeing, opt for dinner and drinks on trendy Ráday Street, where you can take your pick from an amazing variety of top-notch restaurants and bars. Feel like feasting? Try Kárpátia, one of the city’s better-known Hungarian restaurants, whose rich interiors, excellent service, and traditional dishes like pike perch and the lip-smackingly good strudel will make you feel like the king or queen you’ve always known you are.

All that vacation food and drink is bound to catch up with you, so why not burn a few calories the fun way by walking over to Buda and taking in the glorious surroundings? From Buda Palace to Matthias Church, Rózsadomb to the Víziváros, you’ll have no shortage of sights to gawk at and more than enough to do until you’ve built that appetite back up again. Since you’re already on the Buda side, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy an upscale dinner at Arany Kaviár, where, if you really feel like spoiling yourself, the Gourmet Menu is the only appropriate choice.

Enjoy lunch on bustling Franz Liszt Square and unwind as you watch the world go by. Take a long, leisurely stroll down Andrássy Avenue toward mighty Heroes Square, taking time to stop and appreciate the dilapidated extravagance of Kodály körönd. Upon reaching Heroes Square, check out Hungary’s largest collection of contemporary art at the Palace of Art or the treasure trove of art history at the Museum of Fine Arts. If you happen to have seen enough high culture for one day, don’t fret— simply take your pick from less intellectually imposing activities such as the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden, the Hungarian State Circus, or venerable Vidám Park. When the day’s fun is over, have dinner at the always impressive Gundel, one of the country’s best known and most respected restaurants.

Take your time strolling down Budapest’s historic Danube Embankment, making sure to absorb the beautiful view of Buda Castle on the opposite side of the river, then choose from any number of restaurants offering excellent traditional fare.

Spas and Salons

Shopping and eating can take a lot out of a person, so make your way to the remarkable Gellért Baths and splash around in the lavish indoor pool or bask in the steam rooms and saunas. Feel like a makeover? Cruise up and down Andrássy Avenue and choose from any number of salons offering all kinds of aesthetic boosts. When it comes to pampering and relaxation, the Széchenyi Spa Baths are always a sure bet. Chill out with the natives in the gigantic outdoor swimming pool or head straight for the impressive set of steam rooms, saunas, and Turkish baths.

Enjoy life the old-fashioned way by having a picnic on Margaret Island. Afterward, spend the day strolling past colorful flower gardens, romantic ruins, and a lovely mini zoo, or take in the entire 225 acres via bicycle or electric car, both of which are available to rent. When you’re ready to spoil yourself a little, make a beeline for open-air complex Palatinus Strand. With three thermal pools, a water slide, table tennis, and trampolines, you may never want to leave.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Prague & Budapest.

Esalen: An Advanced California Experience

Silhouette of a statue of shiva with the ocean visible outside the window.
In addition to its many workshops, Esalen holds an annual yoga festival. Photo © Brad Coy, licensed Creative Commons Attribution

map of Big Sur
Big Sur
The Esalen Institute is known throughout California as the home of Esalen massage technique, a forerunner and cutting-edge player in ecological living, and a space to retreat from the world and build a new and better sense of self. Visitors journey from all over the state and beyond to sink into the haven that’s sometimes called “The New Age Harvard.”

One of the biggest draws of the Institute sits down a rocky path right on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the ocean. The bathhouse includes a motley collection of mineral-fed hot tubs looking out over the ocean — you can choose the Quiet Side or the indoors Silent Side to sink into the water and contemplate the Pacific Ocean’s limitless expanse, meditate on a perfect sunset or arrangement of stars, or (on the Quiet Side) get to know your fellow bathers.

Who will be naked. Regardless of gender, marital status, or the presence of others.

Esalen’s bathhouse area is “clothing optional”; its philosophy puts the essence of nature above the sovereignty of humanity, and it encourages openness and sharing among its guests — to the point of chatting nude with total strangers in a smallish hot tub. You’ll also find a distinct lack of attendants to help you find your way around. Once you’ve parked and been given directions, it’s up to you to find your way down to the cliffs. You’ll have to find your own towel, ferret out a cubby for your clothes in the changing rooms, grab a shower, then wander out to find your favorite of the hot tubs. Be sure you go all the way outside past the individual clawfoot tubs to the glorious shallow cement tubs that sit right out on the edge of the cliff with the surf crashing just below.

A round stone tub and pillar holding towels looking right over a misty oceanscape.
The round tub at Esalen Hot Springs perched right above the ocean. Photo © Lewisha Jones, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.
In addition to the nudity and new-age culture of Esalen, you’ll learn that this isn’t a day spa. You’ll need to make an appointment for a massage (at $165 a pop), which grants you access to the hot tubs for an hour before and an hour after your 75-minute treatment session. If you just want to sit in the mineral water, you’ll need to stay up late. Very late. Inexpensive ($20) open access to the Esalen tubs begins on a first-come, first-served basis at 1am and ends at 3am. Many locals consider the sleep deprivation well worth it to get the chance to enjoy the healing mineral waters and the stunning astronomical shows.

If you’re not comfortable with your own nudity or that of others, you don’t approve of the all-inclusive spiritual philosophy, or you find it impossible to lower your voice or stop talking for more than 10 minutes, Esalen is not for you. If you’ve never done anything like this before, think hard about how you’ll really feel once you’re in the changing area with its naked hippies wandering about.

But if this description of a California experience sounds just fabulous to you, make your reservations now! The Esalen Institute (55000 Hwy. 1, 831/667-3000) accepts reservations by phone if necessary. Go to the website for more information.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Coastal California .

Costa Rica Hot Springs in Zona Norte

An elegant pool surrounded by lush vegetation with a swim-up bar featuring a thatched roof.
The swim-up bar at Tabacón Hot Springs. Photo © Graeme Churchard, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Costa Rica is a land of seismic shenanigans, and the Arenal region, a few hours north of San José, is an excellent place to get in on the action. Hot springs burble up from cracks in the earth’s crust, and very active Arenal Volcano is one of the most dramatic sights in the country. Of the many lovely hot springs, Tabacón is the best known (and the most expensive), with Ecotermales Fortuna and Baldi Hot Springs just down the road. A little farther afield and less touristy, Termales de Bosque is near Ciudad Quesada.

In this hot-spring rich territory, Tabacón Hot Springs (13 kilometers/8 miles west of La Fortuna, tel. 506/2256-1500, daily 10am- 10pm, best to make reservations, US$60 per person) is the most stunning of the bunch. A naturally warm river winds its way through beautifully landscaped grounds and is guided into a series of pools and over a small falls, which will drum the tension right out of your shoulders and neck. Their Grand Spa has won awards and offers everything from massage to volcanic mud wraps to coffee bean exfoliations. All of this and a volcano view.

There’s also a largish swimming pool (not hot) with a swim-up bar. Things can get pretty raucous at night and/or when the tour buses arrive. Up the hill from the hot pools and full-service spa in the Tabacón Resort Hotel; you can walk from one to the other. A stay at the (moderately expensive) hotel allows you free admission to the hot springs.

At Baldi Hot Springs (5 kilometers/2.5 miles west of La Fortuna, on the road to Lake Arenal, on the left side across from Ecotermales Fortuna Hot Springs, 15 minutes west is Tabacón, tel. 506/2479-9917, 10am-10pm, about US$35 per person), more than a dozen hot pools are set amid landscaped grounds at the foot of Arenal Volcano. Heated by volcanic activity, the water in the pools varies in temperature, from slightly warm to piping hot. There are decks and platforms near most of the pools, some partially covered to protect from the rain.

Massage and other spa treatments (like volcanic mud wraps) are available. There’s also a 32-room hotel and a restaurant, although the food (especially the buffet) doesn’t get high marks from most visitors.

Kids will love the three water slides (the longest is 325 feet). But watch out — you can get going really fast! Near the entryway and bar, the pounding techno music doesn’t feel too relaxing, but farther up the hill the environment is much more peaceful.

Ecotermales Fortuna (5 kilometers/3 miles west of La Fortuna, on the road to Lake Arenal, on the right side, across from Baldi Hot Springs, tel. 506/2479-8484, 10am-9pm, book ahead, US$37 per person) is the smallest and quietest of the three major hot springs near La Fortuna, in part because the spa limits the number of people they allow in. Visitors book ahead of time for one of three daily time slots: 10am-1pm, 1pm-5pm, or 5pm-9pm. A traditional Costa Rican-style lunch or dinner is included in the admission price.

Four different pools of water range 31-39°C (91-105°F); one of the pools has a cascading waterfall you can sit under for a natural back massage. There are also separate changing rooms for men and women, individual lockers, toilets, and showers. Next to the restaurant is a shaded area with hammocks.

Note that unlike Baldi and Tabacón Hot Springs, Ecotermales doesn’t have a view of Arenal Volcano.

A small place southeast of La Fortuna, pleasant and reasonably priced Termales del Bosque Hotel and Spa (7 kilometers/4.3 miles east of Ciudad Quesada, tel. 506/2460-4740, about US$12 adults and US$6 children) is a favorite of residents who want to skip the more touristy springs closer to Arenal Volcano. They also offer packages that including lodging, meals along with hot springs use.

Happy soaking!


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Costa Rica.

Visiting Coamo and the Coamo Hot Springs

View of the southern mountains along the road at Coamo. Photo © Elizabeth Aguilar, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.
View of the southern mountains along the road at Coamo. Photo © Elizabeth Aguilar, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

The town of Coamo is a modest little village in the hilly terrain just south of the island’s majestic Cordillera Central mountain range. The compelling reason to venture here is not for the town but for its nearby claim to fame, the Coamo Baños, a natural hot springs reputed to have restorative powers.

Coamo is 103 kilometers or 64 miles south of San Juan. Take Highway 52 south to Carretera 153 north to Carretera 14 north.

Map of Puerto Rico's South Coast
South Coast

Sights

Baños de Coamo (end of Carr. 546, daily 8 a.m.-6 p.m., free) may well be Puerto Rico’s very first tourist attraction. The hot springs, which retain a constant 110°F temperature and which are rich in minerals, were first discovered by the Taíno Indians, who shared their find with the Spanish colonists. By the mid-16th century, visitors were making their way here in a steady stream, and in the 17th century a resort was built that operated until the 1950s. Wealthy visitors from all over the world visited Coamo, including the most illustrious U.S. proponent of hot springs himself, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Coamo hot springs look very different today than they did then. The water has actually been contained in two places. One, which looks like a small standard swimming pool, is on the private property of the Hotel Baños de Coamo and is reserved for its guests. The public bath is an easy half-mile hike down a dirt road behind the hotel. Unfortunately, despite the size of the hotel parking lot, visitors to the public bath are forbidden to use it, so it’s necessary to park alongside the dead-end road, where local farmers sometimes sell produce from the backs of their trucks.

Until recently the bath was contained in a stone pool, but that structure has since been replaced by a square ceramic-tile enclosure that looks a lot like a giant bathtub set down in the great outdoors. Families with small children and many elderly folks gather here to relax for hours, bringing with them picnics (no alcohol allowed) and folding tables on which to play dominoes and cards. Whether the springs are truly healing can be debated, but that doesn’t stop the clearly infirm who are drawn to the waters.

Dips are limited to 15 minutes at a time, and there is a small rustic changing room on-site.

Sports and Recreation

Coamo Springs Golf Club and Tennis Club (Carr. 546, km 1, 787/825-1370, daily 7 a.m.-7 p.m.) is an 18-hole course designed by Ferdinand Garbin in a residential community that will challenge your ability to golf in the wind.

Maratón de San Blas de Illesca (787/825-1370) is an internationally renowned half marathon held in early February.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.

The Pioneer Mountains in Southwestern Montana

Rafters on the Big Hole River.
Rafters on the Big Hole River. Photo © Tom Hart, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Map of Butte, Helena, and Southwestern Montana
Butte, Helena, and Southwestern Montana
Surrounded on three sides by the meanderings of the Big Hole River, the Pioneer Mountains are in fact two different ranges divided down a north-south axis, linked yet separated, sort of like the underside of a coffee bean. These out-of-the-way mountains come to life in the winter; a hot springs resort and a small downhill ski area combine to bring in the locals. In the summer the hills are covered with violet-blue lupine. The Wise River drainage is popular with anglers; there are several large Forest Service campgrounds with fishing access along the river.

Highway 484 bisects the Pioneer Mountains, from Wise River in the north through Polaris to Highway 278 in the south. The Forest Service has designated this route running down the furrow of the coffee bean as the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway.

Maverick Mountain Ski Area

The legendary heavy snows of southwestern Montana are put to good use at the homey, family-oriented Maverick Ski Area (406/834-3454, Thurs.–Sun.), where the vertical drop is 2,020 feet. Maverick Lodge offers lessons, rentals, day care, and food; cross-country skiers are welcome. A lift ticket is only $30 per day, $20 for children, but there are only 24 runs and one real lift.

Many skiers come up for the day from Dillon, but the closest lodging to Maverick is the Grasshopper Inn (406/834-3456, $60), with motel rooms and a restaurant at the base of the slopes beside the near–ghost town of Polaris.

Elkhorn Hot Springs

This venerable resort (13 miles north of Hwy. 278 on Hwy. 484, 406/834-3434 or 800/722-8978) is the other popular lodging for skiers. Cross-country skiers converge here; with 25 miles of cross-country trails managed by the resort, an entire mountain range of informal trails to explore, and a good hot soak to come home to, this is near-heaven (at an elevation of 7,385 feet, literally so). In summer the hot springs are popular for hikers. There are two outdoor mineral pools plus a sauna, and it costs $6 ($4 for kids) for a swim.

Rooms are either in the lodge ($45 and up, bathroom down the hall) or in rustic cabins scattered among the trees. The restaurant in the lodge is open for three meals a day. Cabins, with electricity and wood-burning stoves but no plumbing (an outhouse is shared with neighboring cabins), start at $70 for a double (swimming included). Don’t come to Elkhorn expecting a trendy New Age getaway; it’s funky and remote, and with that in mind, charming and relaxing.

If you want to stop at Elkhorn for a swim and a soak but would prefer to camp out, the very pretty Forest Service Grasshopper Creek Campground (June–mid-Sept., $10) is less than one mile down the road. Pick up the Blue Creek trail just south of the campground and head into the West Pioneers. North of Elkhorn Hot Springs are several more campgrounds and trailheads.

Crystal Park

At this Forest Service–maintained site four miles north of Elkhorn Hot Springs (406/683-3900, $5 per vehicle), rock hounds can dig for quartz crystals. It’s a very popular spot, attracting dedicated amateur crystal miners who come with shovels and screens to sift through the dirt for quartz and amethyst. But even ill-equipped novices can scrape through the topsoil for a few minutes and come up with a small crystal or two.


Excerpted from the Eighth Edition of Moon Montana.

Papallacta Hot Springs and the Lake District

A shallow pool of steaming water ringed by cabins with thatched roofs.
Steam rises off the water at the Hotel Termas de Papallacta. Photo © ximena, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Shortly after the road to Baeza crests the Eastern Cordillera, about 60 kilometers from Quito, it approaches the Papallacta lake district on the northern (left) side. This gorgeous stretch of country, filling the southern tip of the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve, offers plenty of hiking possibilities among moody glacial lakes and crumbling hills that evoke the craggy countryside of Scotland. It’s only a few hours from Quito, and any bus heading toward Tena or Lago Agrio can drop you along the way. Be ready for wet, boggy conditions, particularly June–August. The best time to hike here is October–February. Note that it’s easy to get lost, so take a compass and a map. The IGM Papallacta, Laguna de Mica, and Sincholagua 1:50,000 maps cover the area.

[pullquote align=”right”]At the crest of Papallacta Pass, the statue of the Virgin on the south side of the road marks the start of a great day hike among the lakes.[/pullquote]At the crest of Papallacta Pass, the statue of the Virgin on the south side of the road marks the start of a great day hike among the lakes. Head up the dirt road opposite the Virgin toward the antenna-topped hill to the north, stop at the new guard-post house. Pay the $2 entry fee and head up to the “360 hill,” which has a panoramic view of the surrounding páramo. Horses ($6 per hour) can also be rented. From here, hike downhill to the northeast toward the southern end of Laguna Parcacha, then southeast from there toward the park guard station south of Laguna Loreto. A dirt road heads south to the Papallacta hot springs.

The rest of the Lake District spreads north from Papallacta, with multiday hikes connecting bordering towns like Pifo and Oyacachi. Laguna Papallacta, the largest lake in the area, lies to the south of hot springs on the Río Papallacta.

Longer hikes in the area, including into the Reserva Ecológica Cayambe-Coca, can be arranged with Fundación Ecológica Rumicocha, which has an office in Papallacta (General Quisquis, tel. 6/232-0637). Guides cost from $15 per day.

Papallacta Hot Springs

Whether you’re on the way to the rainforest, on a hiking trip, or simply want a day trip out of Quito, don’t miss the chance to soak your limbs in the best set of thermal baths in the country. Nestled in a steep Andean valley at a bracing 3,225 meters elevation, the springs attract crowds of Quiteños on weekends but it is relatively quiet during the week. A sign on the left-hand side of the road to Baeza, a few kilometers past the Laguna Papallacta, points up a dirt track. It’s a 20-minute walk from the highway, so if you’re laden with luggage, take a taxi ($2).

At the top of the road, you’ll reach the Termas de Papallacta (Quito tel. 2/256-8989 or Papallacta tel. 6/232-0040). The public section (6 a.m.–9 p.m. daily, $7 pp) is pleasantly landscaped and surrounded by facilities, including changing rooms, bag storage, towel and locker rental, and a pricey café-restaurant. The baths range from paddling-pool to swimming-pool size, and from ice-cold to scalding hot. There are horseback trips available on weekends. The private spa next door (8 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, $18 pp) offers spa pools with water jets and bubble jets. The center also offers massages, a sauna, and other spa treatments.

The Fundación Terra operates an information center on the hill to the right of the baths called the Exploratorio ($2), which introduces visitors to the ecology of the section of the Papallacta River canyon between the baths and the border of the Cayambe-Coca Reserve. Three short walking trails have been developed: You can hike the one-kilometer trail on your own, but the two- and four-kilometer trails require a guide.

Accommodations

Papallacta has a few lodging offerings, ranging from budget to luxury. Most hotels have restaurants attached. In town there are a couple of options at the cheap end of the scale. La Choza de Don Wilson (Quisquis, tel. 6/232- 0627, $15 s, $30 d) is the best of these, with an enclosed hot pool, good views over the valley, and a popular restaurant serving a set menu ($4). Hotel Coturpa (Quisquis, tel. 6/232-0640, $17 s, $30 d, breakfast included) is adequate, but the thermal pools are only filled for tour groups.

On the way to the baths, Hostería Pampa de Papallacta (tel. 6/232-0624, $35 s, $55 d, breakfast included) has been recently refurbished and offers more comfortable guest rooms and its own hot pools. Hostal Antisana (tel. 6/232-0626, $17 s, $34 d) is closer to the baths, but more basic with rather cold guest rooms.

For the best accommodations in town, reserve one of the 36 smart guest rooms or 12 thatched adobe cabins at the Hotel Termas de Papallacta (Quito office: Foch E7-38 at Reina Victoria, tel. 2/256-8989, Papallacta tel. 6/232-0040, $135 s or d, 6-person cabins $192). Prices include access to the hotel’s private baths, and there is a choice of three restaurants (entrées $6–12). The hotel also operates a 250-hectare ranch on the Papallacta River for birding and hiking excursions into the cloud forest.

Getting There and Around

Papallacta has several buses every hour from Quito’s Quitumbe station (2 hours, $2.50). Take any bus heading to Tena, Lago Agrio, or Coca and ask the driver to let you off either at the junction to the baths or in town. To continue into the Oriente, simply wait on the main highway in town and flag down a bus. To get to the baths from town, take a taxi ($2) if you don’t want to do the 20-minute walk.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Ecuador.

Soak It Up: Hot Springs of Montana

Beer bottles cluster on a heavy, rough-hewn wooden bar top.
Inside the Symes Hotel cantina. Photo by Chelsea Nesvig licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Hot water gurgles up all over the state, and it’s exploited to one degree or another by a wide variety of resorts, from the rustic to the chic. Be sure to bring a swimsuit — these aren’t clothing-optional spots! A breakneck tour of the state’s hot springs can be done in a few days, but chances are you’d rather relax and make this into a weeklong trip.


Northwestern Montana

The town of Hot Springs is a good place to kick off your tour. It’s pretty down-home, so it’ll get you used to a slower pace right off the bat. Here you can stay at the Symes Hotel, swim in the outdoor pool, and bathe in an old-fashioned tub filled with sulfurous water. Don’t rush out of town before stopping at Wild Horse Hot Springs, where the private plunges and steam rooms take rusticity to a new — and surprisingly heavenly — level.

Head southeast to Paradise for a swim at Quinn’s Hot Springs, and then farther on to the Bitterroot Valley, where you’ll find Lolo Hot Springs. This is a good place to spend the night; you can think of Lewis and Clark and their crew cleaning up here after months on the road.

The next day, continue south to Sula to the Lost Trail Hot Springs with its nice outdoor pool, indoor hot tub and saunas, lodge, cabins, and campground.


Southwestern Montana

Moving on from the Bitterroot Valley to the Big Hole, Jackson Hot Springs is the main thing going in Jackson, and it is another good place to spend a night.

But don’t miss Elkhorn Hot Springs in Polaris, another rustic place with cabins and a lodge.

Traveling northeast you’ll find Fairmont Hot Springs near Anaconda, which has large pools and full resort facilities. Stay here if you like the more luxurious style, or travel about 35 miles north on I-15 to visit Boulder Hot Springs (406/225-4339), a huge and partially renovated old hotel with a nice outdoor pool and indoor plunges.


South-Central Montana

From White Sulphur Springs, it’s another Montana-sized jaunt of 100 miles down Highway 89 to Pray and the state’s crown jewel of hot springs, Chico Hot Springs, home of a huge outdoor pool, a cool old lodge, and tons of atmosphere. Plan to stay here for at least one night and then head back north.

You can also visit the pools and day spa at Bozeman Hot Springs in Bozeman. From the “Four Corners” intersection right near Bozeman Hot Springs, head about 25 miles west on Highway 84 to Norris Hot Springs, a charming pool filled with the “water of the gods.”

One last stop, for those travelers who have ample budgets, is Potosi Hot Springs (1 South Willow Creek Road, 888/685-1695, 406/685-3330), up the road from Norris, past the tiny town of Pony. If your wallet’s too thin to take in Potosi, drag your wrinkled body out of that pool at Norris and get moving toward home!


Excerpted from the Eighth Edition of Moon Montana.

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