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Experience hot springs and history on a weekend trip to Benton Hot Springs

Experience hot springs and history on a weekend trip to Benton Hot Springs
The Inn at Benton Hot Springs offers secluded hot tubs with water at 140 degrees. (Sara Lessley)

As I was looking for some self-care in the Sierra Nevada after a knee injury, I heard about a long-established hot springs at a little outpost called Benton, Calif., near the Nevada border. The word was it offered funky lodging and some hot, healing, reasonably accessible mineral water. Locals have long claimed that these hot springs, with water at a consistent 140 degrees, are among the purest in the world. OK, why not? The tab: $139 for a room with private bath (taxes included) at the Old House and Inn at Benton Hot Springs; no charge for serenity or starry skies. Inn guests can choose from two tiled, above-ground tubs and one deck-level old-style spa — too tricky for someone with a bum knee to access.

Lou Spirito For The Times
Lou Spirito For The Times
An old gas pump stands outside the general store and former Wells Fargo building on Highway 120 in Benton Hot Springs, Calif.
An old gas pump stands outside the general store and former Wells Fargo building on Highway 120 in Benton Hot Springs, Calif. (Duncan Selby / Alamy Stock Photo)

THE BED

The family-run inn, built to replace an older hotel, has seven B&B rooms (most with shared bathrooms and hot tubs), several renovated older houses (pet-friendly) with private hot tubs, and about a dozen camp sites with their own spring-fed hot tubs. My room at the inn, the only one with a private bathroom, was brimming with old-time decor (vintage suitcases created an attractive TV stand) along with a fridge/freezer, satellite TV and other modern amenities. The fluffy white robes and bedside flashlights encourage anytime visits to the hot springs-fed tubs in the garden out back. Other rooms rent for less.

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THE MEAL

True confessions? The deli picnic (yes, wine included) that I brought for poolside snacking was enough for me in this rustic retreat. Why leave my healing hot tub and its view of the shimmering dark skies to zip 30 miles down U.S. 6 to Bishop's dining options, including my favorite, the Mountain Rambler Brewery? My aching knee made the call: Stay submerged in this steaming pool. No driving. The next morning, the inn's complimentary hot breakfast of quiche, eggs, berries and coffee was shared with other travelers who had insider tips on other local hot springs.

THE FIND

Old Benton or Benton Hot Springs, often confused with modern-day Benton, has a grand Old West history, including a murder at Convict Lake, a trading post that supplied mining sites and the Hotel Wai-Wera. The hotel supposedly attracted celebrities in the '40s and '50s for its curative baths and, of course, the hot springs. Today, there's a self-guided tour of what's left of the old town, and opportunities to get inside the closed buildings for dinners and talks about local history.

THE LESSON LEARNED

Bring bug spray. Little biters found my ankles even in September. Yes, the inn did advise: "We are blessed with many mosquitoes." The insects were a momentary inconvenience compared to the mentally restorative moments I found here.

Old House and Inn at Benton Hot Springs, 55137 Highway 120, Benton, Calif.; (760) 933-2287, bentonhotsprings.org. Wheelchair-accessible.

Historic Benton Hot Springs, historicbentonhotsprings.com. Dinner and talks ($50) on July 27, Aug. 31, Sept. 28 and Oct. 12 and 26.

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