While we camped in the Cleveland National Forest in southern California, on the edge of a massive, dry canyon an older gentleman approached on his Harley. Typical of many friendly, outgoing American's we met on our trip he immediately struck up a conversation with us. Asking about our trip, what we were doing there, all the usual small talk. We told him about our year long trip doing a counter clockwise loop of North America and how we arrived at this current location. He told us about his adventures atop his Iron Horse, of a special place we should visit and a little trick to get a free soak and a few cheap drinks.
A short drive from where we were camped was the small town of Jacumba, California. It was just north of the Mexican border. From the main road we could see the massive steel border fence and the many Border Patrol agents scurrying around town in their white pickup trucks. As we photographed our van next to the steel wall an agent sat in his car, atop a nearby hill and watched. When we finally drove off he sped down from his perch and blasted us with a load of dirt road dust. Just in case we didn't already notice him.
We didn't come to Jacumba to photograph the wall though, we came for a free soak so we drove over to the Jacumba Hot Springs Hotel, parked in the back of the lot and went to the bar for a drink. To our happy surprise bottles of beer were on special for $1 a piece. We proceeded to drink several while we tried to act cool, like we were staying at the hotel, as this was a crucial part of our friends plan. Two locals sat opposite the small bar, also drinking cheap beer and chatted. The door to the hot spring tub was only about ten feet to our left. After we had racked up our bill to a whopping $16 Lyndsay decided to buy our friendly bar tender a shot to grease the wheels a little further.
We began to nurse our drinks after paying our bill while we waited for the right time to strike. We felt like we were honorary hotel guests at this point but we wanted to wait for the perfect opportunity. Finally the bartender walked out of the room to get another bottle for the bar. We casually finished our drinks, picked up our backpacks and walked to our left. We opened the wooden door with a massive window in the middle and were immediately hit with a wall of steam. We were in!
The air was a bit funky smelling but we quickly got into the water and our anxiety about our little caper was quickly melted away by the hot water. The single small tub was in a small room off the hotel bar and had a shower in the corner for the requisite pre and post soak rinse off. Some white plastic chairs were casually strewn around the room for relaxing when the water gets too hot.
After a short soak by our standards, about half an hour, we began to get nervous that they were closing the hotel for the evening and would spot us intruders enjoying their tubs for free. So we had a quick shower and skulked out to our van in the parking lot to sleep for the night.
We had a great experience at Jacumba hot springs. It was definitely not our typical experience of soaking for hours in steamy hot water while looking at an epic natural scene before us but it was memorable none the less. The facilities themselves are definitely not top notch but the water is hot, the price for us was free, the drinks were super cheap and we had a great free sleep in their parking lot. What more could we ask for?
Cleanliness - 4
Amenities - 4
Exclusivity - 1
Scenery - 1
Community - 1
Camping - 2