This All-inclusive Luxury Resort in Arizona Is One of the Best Hotels in the World — With Natural Hot Springs and a Slot-canyon Hike

Castle Hot Springs is just an hour north of Phoenix, but it feels like another world. And it's where one travel writer found the best massage of her life.

The journey to Castle Hot Springs in Arizona has never been easy. It was first braved by Indigenous Americans who came to soak in the healing water, and later, by travelers who came by stagecoach, train, and bus to experience the hot-spring-turned-wellness-resort. 

Aerial view of a woman in the springs at Castle Hot Springs

Courtesy of Castle Hot Springs

Centuries have passed — and Phoenix may be a mere hour to the south — but the last seven-miles of the journey to Castle Hot Springs remains unpaved and riddled with potholes. The journey is arguably akin to an initiation; the road is rough, but the reward is sweet. The reward is so sweet, in fact, that T+L readers voted Castle Hot Springs one of the 500 best hotels in the world in the newly released T+L 500.

View of the resort at Castle Hot Springs during sunset

Mark Boisclair/Courtesy of Castle Hot Springs

On the day of my arrival to Castle Hot Springs, rain fell steadily and newly formed creeks crossed the typically dry dirt road. My friend and I charged through several water crossings, which were getting deeper by the minute, in her SUV. But the journey was forgotten once we entered the property, which is an oasis in the truest sense of the word. 

The resort is set in the Sonoran Desert, but the spring water that flows from the surrounding Bradshaw Mountains provides neon-green lawns, thriving citrus trees, and a garden that helps feed hotel guests. The water is filtered and piped in for showers and drinking water, and it can be enjoyed in the three, tiered soaking pools set in the canyon above the resort (the hottest of which is 104 degrees Fahrenheit).

And while the hot spring pools are easily the resort’s biggest draw, the accommodations are nothing short of spectacular. Each guest is given the gift of space and privacy. My friend and I stayed in the Spring Bungalows, a series of modern, freestanding homes with private spring-fed tubs and indoor-outdoor fireplaces. Nearby, the Sky View Cabins are situated for stargazing and outfitted with telescopes and outdoor tubs. Large groups can stay in the historic hillside cottage, which has housed Roosevelts, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts.  

The Sky View Units at Castle Hot Springs during sunset

Mark Boisclair/Courtesy of Castle Hot Springs

View of the outdoor chef's table at Castle Hot Springs

Mark Boisclair/Courtesy of Castle Hot Springs

 Everyone meets in the main house for meals, which are included in the nightly rate, and always feature ingredients plucked from the garden, like the fresh basil on the wood-fired pizza. Dinner is a standout, with a set soup, salad, and palate cleanser followed by a selection of entrees and the night’s dessert. The wine flows and the cocktails have garden-fresh garnishes, like orange and mint.

When you’re not eating or soaking, Castle Hot Springs has a robust activity list that includes everything from archery and paddleboard yoga to wine tastings and farm tours. The more adventurous can brave the two on-site via ferratas or hike up the slot canyon on the new Crater Canyon tour. Those looking for solitude will find it on the hiking trails that criss-cross the mountains surrounding Castle Hot Springs.

People hiking Crater Canyon at Castle Hot Springs

 Mark Lipczynski/Courtesy of Castle Hot Springs

But no trip to Castle Hot Springs is complete without a visit to the spa. At its core, the property is a wellness escape, designed to help travelers unplug and enjoy nature. Their spa lives up to the hype, especially if you happen to snag a treatment with Ryan Tucker, who gave me the best massage of my life. It seems she is not an anomaly; I heard another guest refer to a therapist as “Jesus” after a particularly life-changing Watsu treatment.

When it came time to go home, the spring rains had obliterated the road we had driven in on and turned it into a raging river. Helicopters transported staff in and out and heavy machinery was brought in to smooth out what remained of the road. Most guests took a helicopter back to Phoenix, but since we had driven our own car to the resort, we waited anxiously to see if the road had become passable. 

Interior of a Spring Bungalow at Castle Hot Springs

Paul Markow/Courtesy of Castle Hot Springs

In the end, we joined a convoy of vehicles in a gripping journey down the road-turned-river. It was an adventure — a stressful one — but I couldn’t help thinking about the Indigenous Americans who made this journey on horseback or the early resort guests who braved a five-hour stagecoach ride for just a few days at this otherworldly oasis.

It’s a risk-reward that remains today — at least during a flood. But like those who came to the springs before me, I can attest that the waters of Castle Hot Springs are well worth the journey it takes to get there.

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