Wilbur Hot Springs

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The front of the lodge

Wilbur Hot Springs is a naturally occurring historic hot spring, health sanctuary, personal retreat and 1,800-acre (7.3 km2) nature reserve in Williams, Colusa County, in northern California, United States, about 2 hours northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area and 1½ hours north of the Sacramento Airport.


Wilbur Hot Springs come from the ground near Bear Creek.[1] The temperature of the springs ranges from 140 degrees[2] to 152 °F (67 °C),[3] and has a flow rate of about 30 gallons per minute. It is part of the Western US, Baja, and British Columbia Hot Springs networks,[4] with its elevation within Colusa County at 1,400 feet (430 m) [5]

  • Location: near Clear Lake
  • Temperature: 152 °F (67 °C)
  • Flow: 30 gpm (114 L/min)
  • Capacity: 0.6×106 Btu/hr / 0.2 MWt
  • Annual Energy: 4.7×109 Btu/yr / 1.4 GWh/yr
  • Load Factor: 0.89
  • Delta T: 40 °F (4 °C)


Wilbur Hot Springs’ history goes back centuries. Before European settlers came, the springs were used by the Patwin, Pomo, Wintun and Colusi – Native American inhabitants of Northern California’s Coast Range mountains.[6] According to local lore, wealthy social activist and congressman General John Bidwell [7] was searching for gold in 1863 when one of his men got deathly sick. Local Native Americans told him about powerful waters, later to be known as Wilbur Hot Springs. Bidwell brought his man to the waters where he was miraculously cured. General John Bidwell went back to San Francisco and Chico (where he owned the best known farm in California) and spread the word of these healing waters.

Throughout America in the late 19th century, hot springs became very popular among those who could afford to stay at fashionable hot springs resorts – and to get there in the first place. Often the journeys were long and arduous – and getting to the Colusa County hot springs, soon to be as renowned as Germany’s Baden-Baden spas, was no exception.[8]

However, European settlers became attracted to the Wilbur Hot Springs area because of minerals – not in the water, but in the ground – first, copper and sulfur, then gold. In 1863, Ezekial Wilbur and Edwin Howell purchased a 640-acre (2.6 km2) ranch for $1,500. Formed to mine copper along Sulphur Creek, their partnership was soon disbanded when copper ore proved difficult to treat and decreased in value. Within eight months, Wilbur purchased Howell’s share of the property for $200, built a wood-frame hotel and announced the opening of ‘Wilbur Hot Sulphur Springs’ in 1865.

Later that year, Wilbur Hot Sulphur Springs was sold to Marcus Marcuse of Marysville. Meanwhile, the reputation of the “miraculous cures” of Sulphur Creek continued to grow. By the 1880s, the European-style health resort built beside the hot springs reached its heyday: Wilbur Springs was known for its scalding hot water springs – “unexcelled for certain diseases” – that boiled up over an area of 100 square feet (9.3 m2). To get there, guests would travel on the Southern Pacific Railroad to Williams, then travel 22 miles (35 km) to the springs, a four-hour trip by stagecoach.

By 1891, however, Wilbur’s fortunes were in decline due to an absentee owner and a better property at Sulphur Creek Village. A mile down the road, Sulphur Creek featured a resort and mining village – this time for gold. With its ramshackle bathhouses and neglected cabins, there was “no hotel worthy of the name” at Wilbur. In 1909, the place became a U.S. Post Office [9] (in service until 1945) and was used as a way station for the local stagecoach. In 1915, the decrepit cabins were razed and Wilbur’s then-owner, J. W. Cuthbert, built the existing concrete hotel, which was one of the first poured concrete buildings in California. Through the decades, the property continued to change hands, first to the Barker family (supposedly of Ma and Pa Barker fame) and then to the Sutcliff family.

Modern establishment[edit]

In the 1970s, Dr. Richard Louis Miller became associated with Wilbur. Dr. Miller was a San Francisco psychologist who had left teaching at the University of Michigan in order to study in California with Virginia Satir, the founder of family therapy, and with Fritz Perls, the originator of Gestalt Therapy. Since the late 1960s, Miller had operated a clinic in San Francisco known as the Gestalt Institute for Multiple Psychotherapy. Wanting to relocate his practice to the country to develop a conscious-raising community, he believed intensive psychotherapy in a residential setting would be more effective than short, timed sessions.

In 1972, Miller came across Wilbur Hot Springs, which was in terrible shape, badly vandalized and littered with junk. Rusting vehicles and dilapidated buildings were scattered around the property, including the decrepit 20-room bathhouse; and literally tons of old wood, broken glass, burned mattresses and couches, old toilets and other junk littered the land.

Miller rented the “Red House” next door to the hotel and began to live at Wilbur on weekends, where he later rented the hotel for psychology seminars. To address the Herculean task of cleaning up the property, Miller led free Esalen workshops in exchange for two hours’ work per day. The barter system proved effective in cleaning the hotel area so that it could then be fully restored. In addition, the hotel was enlarged with a second floor bunkhouse and a new third floor. Later, an eight-suite passive solar lodge was built into the hill above the hotel.

Miller’s relationship with Wilbur was about to become more permanent: after the Sheriff nailed a foreclosure notice on the front door, Miller attended the foreclosure auction and won the bid for the property. Soon after, Miller and his wife moved to Wilbur full-time, where they lived for seven years. Their daughter Sarana, born at Wilbur in 1975, is now an occasional yoga instructor at the hotel.

Miller opened the historic Hot Springs to the public in 1974. Some years later, he implemented his desire of working with patients in the country. In 1981, he started Cokenders Alcohol and Drug program, closing the hotel for one week a month to hold this pioneering, non-institutional treatment program. There at Wilbur until 1990, Dr. Miller detoxified 1,500 seriously addicted, chemically dependent patients using the hot springs’ waters and natural ambiance as healing detoxifying agents – and not one patient required medication or hospitalization during their treatment.[10]

In 1999 Dr. Miller bought the adjoining valley consisting of 1,560 acres (6.3 km2), which had been used for hunting. He placed a conservation easement on the property, thereby limiting development in perpetuity. As a result, Wilbur Hot Springs now has its own nature preserve.[11]

Many consider the hot springs a "place to slow down",[12] but it integrates a series of different routines [13] that allows you to create your own experience, no matter what it may be. Renowned for being a place that is about peace and quiet,[14] it is the community of shared experiences that really bring it together. From a shared kitchen [15] to the clothing optional Fluminariums, it is very much a shared experience in modesty and self-respect. From the historic turn of the 20th century hotel to campsites on the nature preserve,[16] the hot springs are available to everyone from every walk of life for healing and rejuventation.

In March 2014, the main hotel was severely damaged by fire.[17] The resort was temporarily closed for repairs.


The Köppen Climate Classification subtype for this climate is "Csa". (Mediterranean Climate).[18]

Climate data for Williams
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 12
Average low °C (°F) −1
Average precipitation mm (inches) 79
Average precipitation days 8 7 7 4 2 1 0 0 1 3 6 8 47
Source: Weatherbase [19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bear Creek, CA near Wilbur Hot Springs to Cache Creek Conf". Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  2. ^ "140degrees" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  3. ^ "152degrees". Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  4. ^ http://members.peak.org/~skinncr/hotsprings/index.html%7Ctitle=Hot Spring Networks |accessdate=2009-05-12
  5. ^ "wilbur hot springs - Google Maps". Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  6. ^ Wilbur Springs History. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  7. ^ "JohnBidwell". Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  8. ^ "Bay Area Health". Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  9. ^ Trucco, Terry (1994-06-26). "NYTimes on Hot Springs". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  10. ^ Teachings of Dr. Miller. 
  11. ^ "WIEH". Archived from the original on April 24, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  12. ^ "BPN". Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  13. ^ Zuckerman, Sam (2007-04-22). "Chronicle Springs article". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  14. ^ "Hot Springs for Health". Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  15. ^ Lucas, Eric (2008-12-02). "LA Times Hot Springs article". Los Angeles Times. 
  16. ^ soakersbible.com
  17. ^ Carolyn Jones (March 31, 2014). "Wilbur Hot Springs historic lodge hit by fire". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  18. ^ Climate Summary for Williams, CA
  19. ^ "Weatherbase.com". Weatherbase. 2013.  Retrieved on June 27, 2013.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°2′19″N 122°25′15″W / 39.03861°N 122.42083°W / 39.03861; -122.42083