More are flocking to rebuilt Harbin Hot Springs

At Harbin Hot Springs, where clothing is optional poolside, you’ll find birthday-suit bathers soaking with masks on. Over the past couple of months, as COVID-19 wanes, the Lake County resort has had an uptick in visitors. And they’re arriving just in time for Harbin’s rebirth.

In 2015, the Valley fire destroyed 95% of the buildings and infrastructure at the place many saw as a sanctuary for rest and reflection. The fire consumed nearly everything at Harbin, including the conference center where the Human Awareness Institute met, cabins, a restaurant and cafes, a kitchen, steam room, showers, sauna and sun decks.

But over the past five years, the owners have rebuilt and people have returned.

“We’re now reaching our daily (COVID-19) limit of 200 on most days,” said Chayo Mosqueda, treasurer of the Heart Consciousness Church, which owns the Middletown resort. “It feels great to have people come back and experience the magic of Harbin after the fire.”

The catastrophic wildfire blazed through more than 76,000 acres in Lake County before it was contained. It ultimately killed four people and destroyed nearly 2,000 buildings.

“When I saw the devastation (of Harbin), I cried,” Mosqueda said. “There are no words for it. I haven’t even finished processing it. It’s still an open wound.”

With most of the buildings — including the restaurant, the temple and the theater — on the property reduced to rubble in the fire, the owners began their multimillion-dollar effort in April 2016 to preserve the legacy of the treasured waters with a long history. Dating back to 1866, the resort drew Native American shamans and invalids from San Francisco traveling nine hours by stagecoach to take in its healing, spring-fed pools.

Today the waters at this offbeat resort revive unabashed skinny dippers, though masks are required during the pandemic. A look at Yelp reviews shows the affection people have for the place. “Harbin is a bit funky but that’s why I love it. Just try shedding your clothes. … There are all kinds of bodies and I really don’t care if they’re fat or thin,” wrote Jeffrey S. Paulman N. said, “It’s clothes optional, co-ed, but I try not to stare.”

Jenifer Cutler from New York, relax in a pool next to rebel structures at Harbin Hot Springs near Middletown, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Jenifer Cutler from New York, relax in a pool next to rebel structures at Harbin Hot Springs near Middletown, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

“Of course, like many others, I was shy and kind of weirded out by being naked amongst strangers, but I’m so over it now,” A reviewer named D.L. said. “I can’t wait to strip off my clothes and feel the water on my skin. … In this world of judgments and perfection, it’s nice to see naked people of all shapes and sizes. Not a lot of places where you can do this.”

This no-judgment zone, where the imperfect are revered, embodies the principles of the Heart Consciousness Church, Mosqueda said.

“The Heart Consciousness Church is the practice of a single truth,” she said. “This truth in psychological language is expressed as the Human Potential Movement. In health or scientific language, we summarize it as the Holistic Natural Movement.”

In 1972, Robert Hartley bought Harbin Hot Springs from Sandy Estates and donated the property to the Heart Consciousness Church in 1975.

Today, the church has rebuilt eight pools, with varying temperatures, and added a couple more — an aquatic body work pool and a hot pool that’s compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, the pool area now has an elevator to also make it ADA accessible.

While the rebuilding of 92 cottages and guest rooms continues on the property’s 2,900 acres, the mid-March unveiling of two reconstructed domes, which look like something from outer space, piqued guests’ interest this spring. The domes offer seven rooms of lodging, six of which are now open for stays.

Even though pre-fire peak season had ushered in 1,000 guests per day, Mosqueda said, the resort’s current traffic is a good sign considering the pandemic. The pace of vaccinations and the easing of restrictions have encouraged more people to venture out of their pods, she said.

Von Maffei, an employee of Harbin Hot Springs in Middletown, hula hoops during a break, Tuesday, May 4, 2021.  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Von Maffei, an employee of Harbin Hot Springs in Middletown, hula hoops during a break, Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

The pandemic hamstrung the resort’s reopening efforts. COVID-19 forced Harbin to shut down in March of 2020, with it reopening in July. But with widespread vaccinations in California beginning to stabilize the state, the resort is seeing the biggest influx since its July reopening. Today these relaxation seekers are still required to wear masks and socially distance 6 feet apart. The resort is still limited to 200 visitors per day and reservations are required. Reservations can be made online at or by calling 707-987-2477.

While the resort doesn’t track the ages of guests, Mosqueda said it seems like an even split between baby boomers and millennials who find a respite from stress with a soak in the nude.

Orr Hot Springs in Mendocino’s Ukiah is the nearest other clothing-optional soak, she said.

“I’ve gone without clothes in the pools,” Mosqueda said. “It’s a liberating experience. It makes me feel comfortable being in my own body and being in nature.”

You can reach Staff Writer Peg Melnik at or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

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