Castle Hot Springs review: What it’s like staying at one of the most exclusive resorts in Arizona

Castle Hot Springs provided TPG with a complimentary two-night stay. The opinions expressed in this story are entirely the author’s and weren’t subject to review by the resort or any other entity.

Hidden in a valley of the Bradshaw Mountains about 45 minutes north of Phoenix lies an oasis in the desert. Originally opened in 1896 as a winter resort for wealthy guests like the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers, Castle Hot Springs sits on land that has a natural hot spring. Long known by the native Yavapai Indian Tribe as a place of healing waters, the resort today stays true to that idea with its focus on wellness, connecting with nature and relaxing spa treatments.

Castle Hot Springs is reachable in only two ways due to its remote location: turning off the highway and driving down an unpaved road that stretches for 7 miles or arriving via helicopter. An exclusive escape that’s nonetheless all-inclusive, the hotel is open seasonally, harkening back to its beginnings as a winter resort, though the season is longer now — running from September through June.

From the moment you arrive, you are greeted by staff — many of whom live on the property — and welcomed into an oasis that rejuvenates as much as it relaxes.

What is Castle Hot Springs?

Castle Hot Springs operated seasonally until 1976, when a fire burned the main guest building called the Palm House. Some of the original palm trees with burn marks survived and still line the pathway. No one was hurt, thankfully, but the resort closed. It changed hands a few times over the next three decades, and parts of the hotel — like original wooden doors, knobs and dishware — ended up in antique shops in central Phoenix.

This resort has always been somewhat of a legend in the area — for part of the 1940s, it was used as a rehabilitation facility for servicemen wounded in World War II. One of the most famous servicemen to retreat here was former President John F. Kennedy.

Fast forward to 2014, when Mike and Cindy Watts, local Arizonans, purchased the resort, which was in a state of deep disrepair. They set out to rebuild and restore the resort to its former grandeur and honor its place in history. The focus for the design of all the rooms was to bring the outdoors in to take advantage of the incredible location. I’m told the Stone House, a favorite of the owners, had to be reassembled like a jigsaw puzzle with rocks that had originally been quarried. The Lodge, which was the administration building, was reconstructed from the foundation.

Brand-new bungalows were added throughout the property, along with spa cabanas and an enhanced relaxation area at the natural hot springs, where you’ll find lounge chairs and a changing room. Photos and artifacts throughout the property pay homage to the history. The resort reopened in 2019.

The results are nothing short of stunning and create a relaxing retreat that’s exclusive and secluded. Only registered guests are permitted to enter the property, which is set some 20 miles off Interstate 17 — and about an hour northwest of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) — at the end of a long unpaved road. I’ve heard that they won’t pave the road for two reasons: in order to keep it exclusive and due to the summer monsoon rains, which could wash away any paved road that would be constructed. Leaving it unpaved helps build the sense of adventure you’ll experience upon arrival.

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How to book Castle Hot Springs


Castle Hot Springs is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (but does not participate in the Hyatt partnership) and is all-inclusive. Nightly rates start at $1,650 per room, per night based on double occupancy and include all meals, snacks, soft drinks, activities and gratuities. A $25 daily beverage credit per person is also included and can be applied to alcohol. Spa and wellness activities are additional. You can find a detailed list of inclusions on the resort’s website.

The hotel is bookable directly through its own website, with a luxury travel adviser network such as Virtuoso and via American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts. The property already includes breakfast and doesn’t offer an alternate Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts benefit for the program’s daily complimentary breakfast for two guests, but it does offer the $100 experience credit and will honor the 4 p.m. late checkout. Normal checkout time is 11 a.m. You must stay at least two consecutive night to take advantage of these benefits. If booking through Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts, you can also use Amex Membership Rewards points toward the cost of your stay. A quick check of January 2024 dates showed rooms available for 192,500 points per night.

A secluded and peaceful desert oasis

Set in a valley in what is officially Morristown, Arizona, Castle Hot Springs has beautiful views, lush grounds and, in the evening, dark skies for stargazing. The evenings were quiet and peaceful. There are pathway lights around the property, but once the sun sets, it is dark, so the flashlight provided in the room comes in handy.

It’s quite popular to head up to the hot springs after dinner for a float while stargazing. If you live in a city or in most places east of the Mississippi, you probably haven’t seen truly dark skies like you can see in parts of Arizona, which has over a dozen certified Dark Sky communities and parks.

With only 60 guests and a staff ratio of 2:1, the resort is a boutique property that mixes historical luxury and modern conveniences but also creates an environment for reconnecting with nature, tuning out the world and just relaxing.

Sustainable farm-to-table concept

A newer addition to the resort is a larger farm and greenhouse. While some of the ingredients for meals had been grown on the property in the early days, Ian Beger, the resident agronomist, and his team take it to a whole new level.

I took a farm tour offered as one of the guest activities and was able to explore the garden and greenhouse. The team cultivates and harvests more than 150 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and florals, including 30 types of heirloom tomatoes, per season. That’s 40% to 60% of the resort’s food and drink ingredients.

The staff practices a number of sustainable initiatives, including using the property’s natural hot springs’ mineral-rich water to create fertile soil and using all organic practices free from herbicides and pesticides while implementing crop diversity and composting.

I was able to chat with Beger and learned that he meets with the executive chef Chris Knouse a few times a week. They review the incoming guests’ dietary restrictions and plan the menus based on that and what’s about to be harvested. You can’t get much fresher than salad greens plucked from the garden right before dinner service.

He has a personal connection to the resort as well. As a fifth-generation Arizonan, his great-great-grandfather was the last territorial governor of Arizona: Richard E. Sloan. Sloan and his family would spend Christmas at the resort, and for a time, the resort was considered the territorial capital of Arizona if a governor was present from the town of Prescott.

Rooms are spacious and well appointed

There are 30 bungalows on the property and two main room types. Sky View Cabins are positioned for idyllic stargazing with telescopes on the deck, and Spring Bungalows feature private fireplaces, as well as outdoor tubs that source mineral water directly from the hot springs.


There’s also the historic cottage with three bedrooms and space for up to six guests, making it a good choice for a girls trip.

I stayed two nights in a Spring Bungalow. All rooms have private patios with outdoor showers or concrete soaking tubs and front patios with tables and chairs, plus oversized loungers so you can relax and take in the gorgeous mountain views.

From the moment I entered the room, I noticed how spacious yet cozy it felt, even with a king-size bed. Natural light streams in through the oversized glass entry door and matching window that flank the outdoor remote-controlled fireplace. Blackout curtains and sheer drapes hang from both the entry door and window, so you can adjust the lighting as needed.

A welcome amenity of refillable stainless steel water bottles and logo baseball caps awaits each guest. There is also a pocket-size welcome booklet that provides details about the property, its history, activities, desert safety and wildlife you might encounter.

There is a sitting area with club chairs, leather footrests and a side table that faces the gas fireplace — simple to turn on with the flick of a switch.

The bedroom closet holds a soft hooded robe lined with microfleece that wicks moisture away from the body, and instead of slippers, there are black waterproof sandals perfect for walking the trail up to the spa or hot springs. A counter in the entryway holds a Bluetooth speaker, postcards, snacks and an iPad that you can use to look up property information or watch a movie about the resort’s history. A shelf above holds a selection of books, board games and two flashlights for navigating the property at night.

The spacious bathroom has a tiled walk-in shower with a full-length window that looks out to the private enclosed patio where the concrete soaking tub pipes in the mineral water from the nearby hot spring. The shower includes a small bench and lavender-eucalyptus shower products in refillable bottles. Next to the shower is a glass door to exit onto the large, enclosed private patio. I loved spending time out on the private patio that had an oversized concrete bench with a Sunbrella cushion and pillows. It was a comfortable place to relax and get some rays.

Back inside, the single-sink vanity features ample counter space on both sides for personal belongings, and on the opposite wall is a makeup vanity station with a light-up mirror and a cushioned stool for sitting down to do your hair or makeup.

A separate water closet with a door leads to an automatic toilet and bidet combination. The automatic sensor lifted the toilet seat if you entered the room.

This is not the only place in the room where technology was designed to enhance your stay. Three small square windows above the bed can be cranked open for ventilation but have a small shade that is controlled by a button above the bedside table, allowing you to further block out any light source if you wish.


One thing that was absent from the room was a TV. There are no TVs, and it is glorious. I rarely, if ever, turn on a TV in a hotel room anyway, so it was not missed. You are encouraged to unplug while staying, and if you go to access the Wi-Fi, you are given a subtle reminder via the Wi-Fi password, “RUsureUwant2?”


Nightly turndown included a small gift — one night, it was a logoed bookmark, and the second night, it was a small journal to write or sketch with a note encouraging guests to reconnect with the nature surrounding them.

Attentive service and gourmet dining


All meals are served at Harvest in the main building. The restaurant itself is an indoor-outdoor space with a wall of windows that opens to the patio. The temperatures were a perfect mid- to high 70s both nights, so I opted to eat dinner outside on the patio.

Dinners are always five courses, with the first three courses set, plus an entree that you pick from a choice of four options: a fish, beef, poultry or vegetarian option. On the first night, I had a prime beef strip loin with a rosemary potato fondant, asparagus, pesto rosso and a balsamic drizzle. The second night, I selected a Cornish hen raised nearby at Two Wash Ranch. Both were expertly prepared.


I am not usually a dessert person, but my server convinced me it was worth it even though I was sufficiently full after four courses. It was a rum cake with passion fruit caramel, blackberry and a passion fruit gel that was light and delicious. It was the perfect sweet ending to the meal.

Many of the restaurant ingredients are sourced from local Arizona purveyors — that is, if they aren’t grown 50 feet away in the 1-acre garden or greenhouse. There’s also an extensive wine list with varieties from around the world and a handful from award-winning Arizona wineries as well. While alcoholic drinks aren’t included in the rate, a daily $25 beverage credit is offered per guest, per night.

The service was prompt and attentive — friendly and not overly formal. The staff were all very knowledgeable about the ingredients and where items are sourced if they aren’t directly from the farm on-site.


For breakfast in the mornings, because I wanted to relax and do a bit of work (no, I did not fully unplug), I ordered breakfast to my room. It was delivered on both mornings within 10 minutes. The mushroom crepe was phenomenal, and all of the mushrooms are grown on the property by Russell, who, besides being a “fun guy” (as they refer to him around the hotel), also bartends in the main building. Breakfast is delivered in a brown paper bag with utensils and biodegradable containers. I liked having the option to enjoy the room a little longer, but I would not suggest it for dinner. Dinner is a multicourse experience that should be savored under the stars rather than hunkered down in your room.

Challenging hikes and classic lawn games

With over 300 days of sunshine, Arizona is known for being an outdoor adventure paradise. Winter temperatures hover in the low 60s during the day, so there are ample opportunities to explore the outdoors. The resort offers a full slate of activities — many of which are included in your stay — like archery, axe throwing, some hikes and farm tours. Other activities like e-bike tours, the Via Ferrata course, mixology courses and couples massage classes are an additional charge. Activities can change seasonally, and the resort lists each schedule on its website.

You can also play classic lawn games like life-size chess, pickleball or boccie, or practice your chipping on the miniature green set up on the lawn.


With so many outdoor activities and beautiful weather, I only participated in morning yoga and skipped the fitness equipment, which is in the Stone House across from the main reception building.

There is a small pool by the main reception building behind the hedges of the Harvest restaurant patio. My only chance to relax there was right before my hike when I ordered a quick lunch to eat poolside on a chaise lounge. I ordered a kale and quinoa salad with avocado, and it was delivered in about eight minutes. It was crisp and citrusy, with a few flakes of Maldon sea salt over the avocado. It was the perfect light and refreshing meal before a hike.

There are also group fitness activities, such as yoga and guided meditation, which you can sign up for upon arrival and are also free of charge with your stay.

One of my favorite experiences during my stay was the Crater Canyon Exploration hike ($150), which takes you down a trail to a slot canyon and a ropes course that requires a harness and carabiner setup. It was equal parts challenging and fun and jaw-droppingly beautiful. It ended up just being three of us — another female resort guest and our guide, Lexi.

Lexi talked about the flora and fauna while we hiked and expertly guided us through the ropes course to the slot canyon. During our hike, we discovered we all love art and painting. Lexi shared she will soon be hosting “paint and hikes” as a resort activity. It was a great way to enjoy the outdoors and meet new people.

Not your traditional resort spa


Beyond traditional spa treatments, the entire resort focuses on wellness, from digital detox to eating healthy, and the spa and natural hot springs are focal points. The resort doesn’t have a stereotypical spa building like you might find at other luxury resorts, but rather five private spa cabanas. Treatments include massages, facials and body wraps. A particularly interesting treatment is the mineral scrub and full body massage. The scrub is a white clay mixed with mineral water from the hot springs that’s said to have relaxing properties; once applied, it’s followed by a full body massage lasting 90 minutes ($375).

I had a relaxing 60-minute custom massage ($255) after my hike, and my therapist, Cassandra, was excellent. I left feeling like all the knots in my shoulders had been worked out, and I headed up the hill to the natural hot spring for a soak.

I had heard a couple at dinner the night before talking about the hot springs, and the server mentioned the minerals in the water — lithium, magnesium and bicarbonates — can have a relaxing effect. I can definitely say a 30-minute soak in the 100-degree water was the perfect post-spa activity. It would have only been better if I had time for a nap before dinner.

Lower hot spring used for watsu. BECKY BLAINE/THE POINTS GUY

There are also 60-minute watsu treatments for $295 that are conducted in one of the lower hot springs with a therapist. One was ending as I walked by, and I noticed they put a sign out to notify guests so you don’t disturb them and head into that lower spring for a soak; you’re directed to the upper springs.

There are three “pools” in all, as well as two hammocks that hang between palm trees on the left as you walk up the hill. It was nice to relax and listen to the calming sound of the stream that trickles down the hill toward the bungalows.

If you don’t want to walk up the path to the hot springs, you can call for a bellman to drive you in a golf cart any time of day or night. There are a locker room, a restroom and a changing room, as well as a phone and lounge chairs up at the springs. It’s well stocked with towels and a water machine. The only rules are alcohol is not permitted and you must wear swim attire.



There are two accessible guest rooms on the property, and even though most buildings have some stairs, at reception, the Stone House and the restaurant, ramps are available. The pool and hot springs are all accessible with chair lifts, so all guests can enjoy the amenities on the property.

Some pathways are bricked with pavers, while others are dirt. Golf cart rides are available 24 hours a day for any guests who wish to be driven around the resort.

There are visual or auditory alerts for fire or smoke alarms. If guests require any accessible features, it’s best to speak to the reservation coordinator at the time of booking and designing your itinerary so proper accommodations can be made.

Alternatives to Castle Hot Springs


Arizona has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to luxury resorts. While the majority are in Phoenix and Scottsdale, there are a few in Sedona and Tucson, too. However, Castle Hot Springs is so unique with its history and location that it would be hard to compete with. The only resorts in Arizona that might come close as far as service and amenities go would be Enchantment Resort in Sedona and Miraval Arizona and Canyon Ranch in Tucson.

Checking out


Due to the resort’s nightly minimum requirement, departure days are limited to Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Since I arrived on a Tuesday, I was departing on a Thursday. After a leisurely breakfast on my patio, enjoying my fireplace and the most comfortable hotel robe I’ve ever put on, I headed over to the Stone House for yoga at 8:30 a.m.

Once I returned to my room after yoga to finish packing, a bellman was promptly at my door at 11:10 a.m. to take my bags up to the reception area, where my car was waiting for me. They had already loaded my pre-purchased bathrobe into the backseat of my car.

As I departed the resort, I couldn’t help but feel that the two nights were not long enough. It goes by fast if you pack your days with activities. I am already planning to return — for being just under an hour from my home in Scottsdale, it feels a world away. It’s not just the amenities that make or break a stay; it’s the people. Every employee I encountered was so friendly, and you could tell that they truly love their jobs. They know they are caretakers of something special, and they love sharing it.

That’s true hospitality.

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