Seattle Culture

The Wild Sauna of Seattle

A taste of Norwegian culture comes to the Pacific Northwest

By David Gladish April 15, 2024

Lake Washington's floating sauna offers a serene retreat.

In the heart of Kirkland, tied up to a public dock, one of the United States’ first floating saunas bobs on Lake Washington, providing a unique experience inspired by sauna culture in Norway. On a recent crisp chilly day, I had the opportunity to visit Von Sauna, and experience what the owner, David Jones, calls “his baby.” 

Jones met me at the dock shack, a small building serving as the headquarters for registering guests. I was struck first by Jones’s height, somewhere in the mid 6-foot range, making my 6’ 2” frame feel small in comparison. His warm smile and friendly demeanor made me feel comfortable and at home. We chatted easily as we walked the few steps down the dock to where the sauna awaited, as whisps of smoke rose out of the wood burning stove. 

Jones first came up with the idea of opening a floating sauna when he spent time in Norway and discovered the Oslo Sauna Association, which operates several floating saunas in Oslo. He fell in love with the way the communities combined saunas with cold plunging, a type of cold-water immersion therapy that supposedly has many health benefits. Members of the Oslo Sauna Association would alternate between a few minutes in the sauna followed by a quick dunk (or dive) into the cold waters of the North Sea. For Jones, “The most enjoyable part is the post-cold plunge, when you’re feeling warm and a bit tingly.” 

With nature, the outdoors, and cold water in mind, Jones opened Von Sauna in January 2024 after years of planning, building, and jumping hoops. His goal of opening a floating sauna was to “connect people with each other,” and help people interact with water in a unique and affordable way. 

The benefits of the sauna, which include helping combat high blood pressure, the common flu, and reduce headaches, have been well studied, whereas cold water therapy is less proven as a form of healing. For Jones, simply being in the sauna on the water, watching bald eagles and otters, and combining time on the dock or in the frigid waters of Lake Washington are incredible forms of therapy regardless of what health studies say. 

Photos courtesy of Von Sauna

You reach the sauna down a short flight of stairs, entering first a small locker room area and a place to hang towels. The cozy one- room sauna has two levels of benches,; the higher you go, the hotter it gets. During my visit, temperatures ranged from 190 degrees to 210 degrees Fahrenheit, the hottest being when Jones’ brother, who is helping for the time being, put a snowball onto the stove, creating steam twhichat quickly heated up the place and sent many of us outside to escape for some fresh air. 

My first plunge into the lake was brief as I gasped for air whenas my system went into shock. As I went back and forth between the sauna and the water over the course of the 75-minute session, my body, and more importantly my mind, adapted to the water. By the end, I was able to spend about five minutes in the water before climbing the ladder back to the dock. “Ninety-five percent of people that visit cold plunge,” Jones says. 

For those who prefer not to, a bucket of water attached to a rope can be pulled up and dunked over the head to get a quick hit of cold water without going in all the way. 

Von Sauna is one of the first floating saunas in the country, and Jones has big plans for the future. He’d like to eventually have 10 saunas in one location, and he wants to find a way to drive the cost of entry down even more than the already reasonably priced starting point of $40 a visit. Right now, the challenge is finding a year-round home for the sauna. This summer, the permit for the “welcome shack” is turned over to Perfect Wave, a canoe and kayak rental service, which meanings Von Sauna must find a new location until October. 

Drawing inspiration from Norway’s sauna culture, Von Sauna is one of the nation’s first floating saunas, combining warm relaxation with invigorating cold plunges.

Photo courtesy of Von Sauna

For me, the best part of the sauna experience was gazing out of the big windows, then closing my eyes and feeling the gentle rock of the floorboards underneath my feet while embracing the warmth enveloping my body. I felt so good after my session, warm, tingly, giddy, and almost euphoric. A big smile stretched across my face, and it was then that I understood why Jones came across like a big teddy bear. 

Being surrounded by nature, feeling the dichotomy of hot and cold, gives a sense of calm and a brief reprieve from the craziness of world. It fills you up with warm cozy feelings, and leaves you feeling that all is right in the world.  

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