Dr. John "Doc" Wilkinson opened his Calistoga hot springs spa in 1952, long before the current spa craze began. When Doc started his chiropractic practice, he soon realized that a warm mud bath had healing properties, and his family has been dealing in relaxation ever since. Doc is now deceased, the business turned over to his children, who run the spa in his tradition.
The property also includes a motel and bungalows with access to two outdoor mineral pools and an indoor hydrojet pool.
If you want to know more about the mud bath experience, read our guide to mud baths.
This comfortable place is largely unchanged since Doc started it in the 1950s. It's clean, with updated paint and decor, but basic and homey. I particularly like the mud bath attendants here, an experienced group who are expert at making a fully-nude, mud-covered person feel as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
When Doc Wilkinson first opened his spa, the mud baths were concocted from natural hot spring water and local volcanic ash. Doc soon discovered that adding peat moss to the mixture improved its characteristics. The peat makes you buoyant, not so much that you pop up like a cork, but just enough that you hang in the warm mud mixture without touching sides or bottom. With cool cucumber slices on your eyes and a cooling cloth on your forehead, you'll soon find stress departing for locations unknown.
Treatments include mud baths, facials, massages and whirlpool baths. You can try just one, or a package. I enjoyed The Works: mud bath, whirlpool bath, steam room, blanket wrap and a half-hour massage. By the end, I was so relaxed that I wondered whether they would have to pour me out the door.
Wilkinson's has two treatment rooms, one for men and one for women. They provide robes to get from the dressing area to the mud bath, but the mud bath tubs are next to each other, and there will be a few moments when you'll be completely exposed. If you're feeling modest, you can wear a swimsuit, but don't wear your best one because the mud bath may stain it.
Wilkinson's provides the basics for cleanup: shampoo, hair dryers and skin care products. However, you should bring your own hair brush, and if you're fussy about your hair like me, you may want to also take a small bag with your favorite hair and skin products into the treatment area.
Treatment area lockers are not secure, so you'll check your purse or wallet at the front desk. It's a secure place, but leaving it there makes it difficult to tip because the tip envelopes are in the treatment area. The easiest solution is to bring the cash for your tip into the locker room. Otherwise, grab a tip envelope as you leave the dressing area, put the cash in it when you get your wallet back and give it to the receptionist.
Anyone who is under a doctor's care should check with them before taking any treatments. High-temperature treatments like the mud baths are not recommended for pregnant women.
Getting to Doc Wilkinson's
Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs ResortDoc Wilkinson's is on the main street in Calistoga, toward the east end of town.
1507 Lincoln Avenue
Calistoga CA 94515
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary treatment for the purpose this review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.