Spence Hot Spring

Parking area for Spence Hot Spring

The parking area for the trail to Spence Hot Spring is just beside NM 4. Here we are looking back up at the parking area from the trail leading down to the Jemez River.

My visit to Spence Hot Spring, on a day of hiking in the Jemez, New Mexico area, was entirely by accident.  Just to the north of Soda Dam on NM 4, on the east side of the road, is a trail head parking area.  I stopped to take in the view and decided to hike the trail.  The sign at the trail head is very generic, and gave no indication that the trail led to Spence Hot Spring.  However, down the trail there is a wooden marker indicating Spence Hot Spring is ahead.

The trail descends from the parking area through a series of switchbacks to the Jemez River.  A bridge takes you across the river and then the trail climbs up a slope to the spring.  The trail runs beside a small stream created by the overflow from the pools fed by the spring.

Overflow from Spence Hot Spring

Overflow from Spence Hot Spring forms a baby waterfall on its way to the Jemez River.


The Jemez River flows between the parking area on NM 4 and Spence Hot Spring. The Forest Service provides a sturdy metal bridge on which to cross the river.

The spring forms a couple pools that  people use for recreation.  This being an unplanned visit, I did not have my swimsuit, and besides the pools were full.  (Yes, the word is that clothing is optional … but everyone had exercised the option to wear clothing this day.  Officially, nudity is against the law and you can be cited by a Ranger.)

Overflow from Spence Hot Spring

A view down onto the upper pool at Spence Hot Springs shows hikers enjoying the waters. Nudity is officially forbidden, but traditionally clothing is optional. A family with two small children and expecting another has taken over the lower pool.

Pine woods above Spence Hot Spring

Majestic Ponderosa Pines grow on the side of the mountain above Spence Hot Spring. The trail continues past the spring, though I did not take it due to threatening thunderstorms.

The trail goes on up the mountain beyond the hot spring.  My intention was to continue along the trail to a Geocache, but the clouds were rumbling and drops of rain were beginning to fall.  I did not want to be caught on the mountain in a thunderstorm,  and have to hike back wet and cold, so I turned back.  My geocaching fanny pack is going to include a disposable poncho in the future.

For this hike, I had my Garmin GPS 76C turned on and recording the track.  Somehow, it had gotten locked onto the road.  Some button-pushing got the device to track actual position.  Just goes to show that software bugs show up in unexpected places.

Due to the “lock onto road” issue, the initial track for this hike is inaccurate.  Also, there is an inaccurate elevation.  The vertical component of GPS is much less accurate than the horizontal components, which is why high end GPS receivers include a barometric altimeter.

This track of the hike to Spence Hot Spring was captured by my Garmin GPS 76C. The GPS receiver initially locked onto NM 4, before I switched it from automobile to hiking mode. You can see the hike from the parking area to the spring, and the return.

The elevation profile shows that Spence Hot Spring is actually higher than the trail head. However, one must first hike down to, and cross, the Jemez River, then ascend to the spring. Note that the GPS recorded an inaccurate elevation. My software won't allow me to edit a recorded track, so the bogus elevation remains in the profile.

About the Photos

These photos were taken with my iPhone, because my regular camera was with my daughter on her Senior class trip. There is not much that can be controlled on the iPhone camera — the focus is fixed, the aperture is fixed, and the camera picks its own exposure. A little cropping in iPhoto and that’s it.

There are more pictures available in my Picasa web album. Click on the slide show below to see all the pictures from my day trip to the Jemez Mountains.

Related Links

Hot Springs, Jemez Springs, NM

Village web site gives descriptions and directions to hot springs in the Jemez Springs area.

Spence Hot Springs, Santa Fe National Forest – USDA Forest Service

Forest Service site describing Spence Hot Springs and related recreational activities.

New Mexico Hot Springs and Mineral Baths, Discover New Mexico

A list of natural and developed geothermal assets in NM.