Calistoga is a magnet for people who are passionate about mud baths. Meanwhile, some people are apprehensive about them, and others are in the dark about taking the plunge. So, it’s time to reveal all — pun intended.
As a therapeutic treatment, not much has changed since the indigenous people of this region recognized the healing power of soaking in mud baths to relax and rid the body of toxins. That said, there have been plenty of changes to mud bath protocol over the past 8,000 years.
Today, people travel from all over the world for Calistoga’s signature natural mud baths. This location benefits geographically from a combination of natural hot springs water and volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount St. Helena millions of years ago. Infused with skin-loving ingredients like sulfur, calcium, and magnesium, the thermal water is piped straight into pools and spas at several Calistoga resorts, providing rejuvenating mud baths heated by the naturally mineral-rich water.
MUD BATHS: A GIFT FROM THE EARTH
Napa Valley is fortunate to have such a significant thermal source. Kathy Quast, Calistoga’s Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort proprietor, explained, “Calistoga mud baths are truly a gift from the Earth. Having the opportunity to experience the combination of 100% natural geothermal water, local volcanic ash, and natural peat is unlike anything else. This combination allows for numerous health benefits which range from arthritis and joint relief, increased circulation, detoxification, and the perfect prelude to a massage since the muscles are warmed and supple.”
For historical reference, she added, “The Wappo Indians were very familiar with the benefits of the geothermal water for many of their ailments and additionally began mixing in the volcanic ash for detoxification thousands of years ago when they settled in the Calistoga area.”
MUD BATHS: THINGS TO KNOW
A mud bath is a fully immersive experience, which is quite different from a mud treatment in which the body is brushed with mud that is left to dry in the sun before being removed. Before indulging in a mud bath adventure, there are some key facts to know about the ritual of mud baths and why they feel unlike anything else.
Authenticity: The internet may host some glamorous stock images, but remember, mud baths are essentially about getting dirty right up to the neck. P.S. The mud bath rooms and tubs aren’t elegant; they’re functional.
Clothing optional: Soak au naturel without a swimsuit, or wear an old one because it may get permanently stained with mud. Robes and flip flops, possibly disposable shower caps, may be provided. A trained spa attendant assists with the treatment, and privacy is respected. Do bring a swimsuit for relaxing in the resort’s thermal pools; these are located separately from the mud room.
Heat: Most mud baths are around 100º F – 103º F to invigorate circulation. One can expect to get sweaty while enjoying the sensation of being gently suspended in thick, squidgy mud; perspiration is part of the process of cleansing the pores.
Smell: Essential minerals often have a high sulfur content, so an odor like rotten eggs is not uncommon in mud bath rooms. However, there’s no need to hold one’s breath since breathing in the non-toxic vapors benefits one’s health.
Hygiene: Women should tuck their hair away neatly. Be aware that the mud is for single use only. Between sessions, showers and tubs are thoroughly hosed down with hot water, and the mud is replaced for each service.
Timing: Slip into the tub and scoop the mud to cover the body. Spend 15 minutes or so relaxing until the mud cools down, which is enough time for an immersive heat-intensive experience. Afterward, a shower to rinse off the mud and a mineral soak never felt so good. For a customized full-day spa experience, consider additional rejuvenating options: Soak in a geothermal mineral hot spring pool, have a deep tissue massage, get a facial, and finish off with a cool down in a relaxation room.
Massages: A mud bath loosens up the muscles, so do the mud treatment before the massage.
Couples: It’s a “yes” to sharing the experience. A couple may be any two people taking the mud treatment in two baths positioned side by side. Roman Spa has private treatment rooms to accommodate couples and one that will accommodate three people. Ask about separate men’s and women’s facilities if that’s a personal preference.
When to skip the mud bath: Those with a circulatory or nervous system issue or heat sensitivity due to diabetes. Treatment is not recommended for pregnant women, those with high or low blood pressure, a pacemaker, a heart condition, or anyone under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Guests must be able to get in and out of the mud tub comfortably.
MUD BATHS: THE AFTERGLOW
Enthusiasts that have professed the healing powers of mud baths claim the practice helps to alleviate swelling and inflammation, thus reducing stiffness from arthritis. Benefits most frequently mentioned include improved circulation, relaxation for sore muscles and joints, and drawing out toxins and impurities from the skin. Exfoliation for incredibly soft skin? Guaranteed.
MUD BATHS: WHERE IN CALISTOGA
Spend time in charming historic Calistoga, where there are comfortable places to soak in a mud bath, relax in geothermal pools, spend the night, or stay longer. Book the mud bath at any of these resort properties with as much advance notice as possible because these treatments are quite popular. Most resorts offer specials, seasonal packages, weekend getaways, additional spa services, and gift cards.
Calistoga Spa Hot Springs: Mud baths can be reserved from Thursday through Sunday. Also available: a geothermal mineral pool, spa, fitness room, and accommodations. For those not interested in staying overnight, day passes are also available. // www.calistogaspa.com
Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs: Experience world-renowned mineral-rich mud baths perfected by Doc Wilkinson nearly 70 years ago in their reimagined wellness spa, renovated in 2021. After a mud bath, soak in an Epsom salt-infused mineral whirlpool to soothe tired muscles. Opt for the geothermal steam room to help remove toxins, followed by a blanket wrap. Ask about their CBD-infused massage oils and CBD Epsom bath salts upgrade options. Accommodations are available. // www.drwilkinson.com
Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa & Resort: Get the Golden Haven glow with a four-part treatment that starts with a uniquely detoxifying mud bath followed by a clay mask and cool compress, a hot mineral water soak, and an aromatherapy wrap. A couples or friends’ mud bath is available and can accommodate up to four people. Accommodations are on-site. // www.goldenhaven.com
Indian Springs Resort & Spa: The iconic Indian Springs Mudbath Ritual uses pure volcanic ash and mineral water from their own geysers. An excellent prelude to a massage, it is both detoxifying and relaxing. Follow any mud bath treatment with a curated mineral soak. Mud baths can be booked daily from 9:00am to the last treatment at 4:30pm. // www.indianspringscalistoga.com
Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort: Mud baths and treatments are tailored to guests’ specific needs and are always intimate and personalized for a one-of-a-kind experience. Mud baths can be booked a la carte or paired with other services for a unique spa treatment. Two mud rooms for one or two people offer a private experience that is shared only when booked for two. Available to guests and non-guests of the hotel. Locals get 15% off treatments on Thursdays. // www.romanspahotsprings.com