Nothing like a soothing soak in a hot spring after a long day on the trail. For the High Sierra visitor who wants to take a hike and “take the cure” in the same day, Grover Hot Springs State Park, located a bit south of Lake Tahoe, is the perfect destination.

Enjoy a leisurely, family-friendly walk in the state park to a waterfall on Hot Springs Creek (3 miles round trip) or a longer hike (10 miles round trip with 2,100-foot elevation gain) through the pines in Toiyabe National Forest to Burnside Lake.

Take a hike then take a soak at Grover Hot Springs State Park.
Take a hike then take a soak at Grover Hot Springs State Park.

Tucked in Hot Springs Valley, surrounded on three sides by Sierra Nevada peaks, Grover Hot Springs offers a soak in a setting as soothing as its waters. The granite peaks, including 10,023-foot Hawkins Peak to the northwest and 9,419-foot Markleeville Peak to the southwest, form an inspiring backdrop to an area that’s been attracting visitors since the 1850s.

Don’t expect a deluxe resort; Grover Hot Springs offers your basic soak, nothing more, nothing less. Bathers can sit in one hot pool (102 to 105 degrees F) fed by six mineral springs, and one cool pool. The two pools and the changing rooms are the extent of the state park facilities. To use hot springs: $5 for adults, $3 for kids.

No, it’s not the concrete pools, surrounded by a wooden fence (the effect is rather like a slightly seedy backyard swimming pool installed in the 1950s) but the setting that’s inspiring at Grover Hot Springs.

At the park, true hot springs aficionados can read up on the exact mineral content of Grover Hot Springs and find out just how many grams per gallon of magnesium carbonate and sodium sulfate the waters hold. Most bathers, even those without any interest in chemistry, will be happy to know that Grover, unlike most other hot springs, contains almost none of that nose-wrinkling sulphur.

On the trail in Grover Hot Springs State Park.
On the trail in Grover Hot Springs State Park.

Most visitors come to this out-of-the way park for the waters, not the walking. Too bad, because the state park and surrounding national forest boast some inspiring footpaths.

Directions: From Highway 89 in Markleeville (a half-hour drive from South Lake Tahoe), turn west on Hot Springs Road and travel 3.5 miles to Grover Hot Springs State Park. Park in the lot just above the fence-enclosed hot springs.

If you want to make the trip to Burnside Lake a one-way trip, you can drive to the lake. From the signed turnoff on Highway 88, drive 5.5 miles down bumpy, dirt Burnside Road to road’s end at the lake. Trailhead GPS: N 38.41.784, W 119.50.673

The hike: Join the signed Hot Springs Cutoff Trail through the park’s large meadow. A bridge leads over Hot Springs Creek, a year-around watercourse. Some of the catchable trout planted in the creek are caught by campers for their suppers, though more serious anglers head for the nearby Carson River.

The quaking aspen fringing the meadow are particularly showy in autumn, when the fluttering leaves turn orange and gold. After 0.3 mile from the trailhead, you’ll junction signed Burnside Lake Trail.

Head left (west) about a half mile, leaving the meadow behind and entering a thick forest. At a signed junction, the trail to the waterfall branches left, leading along Hot Springs Creek. Some minor rock climbing leads to an overlook above the small, but vigorous falls. After admiring the falls, backtrack to the main trail.

Burnside Lake Trail enters thicker forest and ascends, much more vigorously now, a mile to another junction. Charity Valley Trail heads south along Charity Valley Creek, but you stay with Burnside Lake Trail. The trail soon crosses Burnside Creek and climbs northwest, switchbacking up steep Jeffrey pine- and white fir-cloaked slopes. Near the top, you’ll get a grand, over-the-shoulder view of Hot Springs Valley.

The last mile of this hike resembles the first mile–a walk through meadowland. The meadow below Burnside Lake is much wetter than the one in the state park, however, so take care to stay on the trail; you won’t get your boots so wet and you’ll help protect the fragile meadow ecology.

Boulders perched above the lakeshore suggest fine picnic spots, and inspiring places from which to contemplate pretty Burnside Lake.