Luxury and Wellness Await at Arizona’s Castle Hot Springs

Located about an hour north of Phoenix and cradled in the foothills of the Bradshaw Mountains, Castle Hot Springs is a landmark resort that has been captivating visitors since the late 1800s.

The region itself has a history that dates back thousands of years. For indigenous Native American tribes, it was a place to assemble, harvest saguaro fruit, and plant maize and agave. They attributed the site’s therapeutic powers to the hot mineral waters found nearby.

Yellow lodge surrounded by palm trees, green lawns, and mountains

In 1896, railroad magnate Frank M. Murphy purchased the land and built the first accommodations with the hopes of attracting affluent patrons from the East Coast. Some of America’s wealthiest and most well-known families vacationed here, including the Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Wrigleys, Vanderbilts, and Carnegies. They would spend their days golfing, playing tennis, riding horses, and exploring the rugged, untamed landscape. During World War II, the resort served as a military rehabilitation center. Future president John F. Kennedy recuperated here following a boat accident.

On Dec. 11, 1976, a fire destroyed much of the property. And despite several attempts to reopen, it wouldn’t see another paying customer for more than 40 years. Then, in 2014, an Arizona businessman and his wife purchased the resort and embarked on a three-year, $25-million restoration and expansion.

Castle Hot Springs officially reopened in late 2019 to worldwide acclaim. And since then, it has remained at the top of “Best Of” lists for luxury stays.

An Oasis in the Desert

Getting to Castle Hot Springs is not for the faint of heart. The primitive 7-mile-long road is full of blind hills, teeth-chattering rocky terrain, and, in our case due to recent rains, washed out stretches filled with water. High-clearance vehicles are strongly recommended. But the nail-biting journey is worth what awaits — round the corner, and like a refreshing mirage, the mountains open up and an expansive swatch of verdant grass emerges from the saguaro-covered landscape.

Overview of resort property shows yellow lodge and expansive lawn

Guests arrive at the main lodge via a dramatic allée, lined with towering date palms. The canary-yellow colonial-style farmhouse was rebuilt to its original 1902 glory during the renovation.

The front desk is on the main floor, along with a fireplace sitting area and Bar 1896. The property’s restaurant, Harvest, is on the lower level.

The Lodge also is where guests meet for activities and tours throughout their stay.

Check-in is at 4 p.m., although guests are encouraged to arrive early and have lunch, wander the property, or simply enjoy a cocktail on the lodge’s porch. On arrival, we were greeted by name and provided with a map of the property and a detailed schedule for meals and any activities that we had signed up for prior to our arrival. Our bags were stored and later delivered to our room, and our vehicle was valet parked.

Luxury Hospitality

There are three types of accommodations: the Cottage, Sky View cabins and Spring cabins.

The nearly 100-year-old historic cottage is one of Castle Hot Springs original buildings. The yellow Dutch colonial-style building rests on a cliffside, echoing the Lodge’s aesthetics. A large covered porch overlooks the resort’s grounds. Designed for families or larger groups, the 1,200-square-foot Cottage offers three bedrooms (one king, one queen and two twins), two bathrooms, and a living room.

At the eastern edge of the grounds, past the pond and circling a long stretch of grassy lawn are 17 Sky View cabins. With high pitched roofs, clerestory windows, and raised front porches, these cabins are equipped with a telescope for stargazing. Each also features an enclosed outdoor bath area, complete with a claw foot bathtub that is plumbed with water from the hot springs for an intimate soak beneath the dark desert sky.

Contemporary style cabins surrounded by palm trees and mountains

We stayed in a Spring cabin, which, according to the resort, is the most luxurious of the three choices. Situated just east of the main lodge, the 12 cabins flank a burbling spring that feeds into the pond.

Palm trees and lush greenery provide privacy from neighbors. A private outdoor bathing area has plush lounge seating and a Sonoma stone soaking tub for two that can be filled with hot springs water. Inside is a stacked stone fireplace, a comfy seating arrangement, and a high-tech smart toilet with heated seat and bidet.

Both cabin styles showcase concrete or wood flooring, leather and wood furnishings, and modern area rugs that interpret vintage patterns. Framed historic photographs and ephemera decorate the spaces, connecting the present to the past. The overall look honors the resort’s history but appeals to today’s traveler. And all rooms are stocked with snacks, coffee, tea, wine, and water.

Plush seating and king size bed inside cabin

Sustainable Fine Dining

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included in any stay at the resort. And all meals are based on the day’s harvest.

There are about 3 acres of farmland on the property — as well as two growing greenhouses for seedlings and microgreens, a tomato greenhouse, a 3-acre agave farm, a quarter-acre of stone fruit trees, and a citrus orchard. According to farm director Ian Beger, who manages all of the gardening, there are about 5 acres under cultivation.

Sunflowers grow in gardens with greenhouse in background

 

The resort grows hundreds of varieties of produce, including herbs, dozens of varieties of chiles, root vegetables, specialty and experimental produce, and even edible flowers. All feature prominently in the ever-changing restaurant menus.

A large garden fans out from the southwest corner of the lodge, offering kitchen staff instant access to fresh ingredients. The farm’s yield also is used extensively in the cocktail program as well as some spa treatments.  The tomato greenhouse sits opposite the Lodge, across the expansive lawn. And another large garden and the additional greenhouses are located on the property’s southwest corner, near the entrance gate.

Breakfast and lunch were the same each day during our stay. Fresh fruit, eggs, mushroom crepes, shakshuka, and avocado toast were morning staples, while afternoon meal options included pizzas, sandwiches, and the taco of the day.

Farm fresh dinner of chicken and vegetables

Dinner is a five-course chef’s tasting menu. The first three courses are pre-selected by the chef and typically include a soup, salad, and palate cleanser. Then guests can choose among four main dishes, including beef, chicken, or fish, as well as a vegetarian option.

Wine pairings, craft cocktails, and other alcoholic beverages are available for an additional cost.

Taking the Waters

There are plenty of activities to keep guests busy, including hiking, biking, paddle boarding, archery, mixology classes, and in the cooler months, horseback riding. Although the main purpose of our trip was to relax and unwind, we did try the Sonoran Aerial Walkway. This 90-minute 1-mile hike took us up the mountainside and across a narrow steel cable “bridge” 100 feet above the canyon floor.

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For a more pampering experience, the resort offers a complete menu of wellness services, including massages; water therapy, including the new Watsu aquatic bodywork; facials; sound bath meditations; yoga; tai chi; and much more.

But the main attraction here is the hot springs. More than 200,000 gallons of steaming 120-degree water flow out of the rocks daily from an underground cistern into a series of rejuvenating pools that get progressively cooler as they make their way down the mountain.

Soaking in these natural pools, surrounded by saguaro-studded mountains — or, at night, under the starry skies — is an experience unlike any other.

It takes about 7 minutes to walk up the hill to the hot springs, which are accessible 24-hours a day. However, if you don’t want to or can’t make the walk, the resort is happy to provide golf cart service. We visited the pools in the morning, after lunch, and late at night. The resort provides flashlights, which are needed, as lighting is very minimal. If you’re like me and have a fear of dark waters, you’ll want to stick to daylight soaks and your room’s private outdoor tub, which we also used every night.

Water pours from rocks into crystal blue pools

If You Go

For most vacationers, Castle Hot Springs is a once-in-a-lifetime splurge. Rates begin at $1,250 a night, depending on the time of year. And a minimum two- or three-night stay is required. During the peak winter months, rates can run upwards of $2,100/night. The price includes all meals, gratuities, and many activities. Some activities, spa treatments, and alcohol are extra.  

Castle Hot Springs also is a true escape. There are no loud late-night parties or rowdy children running around. Guests must be 16 years of age or older. And there are no TVs in any of the rooms. However, internet service is available.

Also, as previously mentioned, the road to the resort is primitive. If you don’t want to drive, an SUV service is available for $500 each way. Or, make an entrance by air. For $1,795 round-trip, you can arrive at Castle Hot Springs by helicopter. 

Can’t make it to Arizona? More than 1,600 known geothermal springs are found in the U.S., many of which are connected to hotels and resorts

 

Opening image courtesy of Castle Hot Springs. All other photos by Rebecca L. Rhoades.

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