For soaking, splashing, swimming, or sipping, who can say no to natural mineral waters? A good long soak or a refreshing splash or sip can mean instant rejuvenation. Whether a posh spa fits your style or you’d prefer to hike to an unimproved and rustic pool or historic site for “taking the waters,” the U.S. has much to offer. So, pack your sneakers, a plastic jug, and swimsuit (or not—several of these locations are clothing-optional) and get ready for a good sip or soak.
With a name like Healing Springs, it’s a certainty that for over 100 years people have been partaking in the waters that bubbled up from 33 springs in this locale. Today, locals and visitors regularly collect water from the three remaining overflowing springs. Each of the three is designated for a specific list of ailments, so consider bringing three collection jugs when you visit.
Discovered in 1905, Chena Hot Springs, about 57 miles from Fairbanks, offers large outdoor pools that allow relaxation and rejuvenation. If you visit at night and luck is with you, the skies will oblige with an appearance by the northern lights. Also plan to spend time in their Aurora Ice Museum, and book a massage therapy session. All-inclusive packages and tours are available.
This southwest state contains a number of popular hot springs, but widely considered the best is Arizona Hot Springs, in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The hot springs are accessed on foot, and the hike is a strenuous five-mile round trip, so try this one only if prepared in all ways for that sort of exercise in the desert. The terrain is gorgeous, as is the hot spring itself (a rough ladder leads up to the rocky pool), but note the weather before setting out, as flash flooding in the canyons is a possibility.
Hot Springs, Arkansas, is the home of Hot Springs National Park, a destination that offers all sorts of family fun and adventure. The actual hot springs have been visited for centuries as people from Native Americans to early European Explorers to all sorts of travelers bathed in the healing waters. Modern spa treatments are now on offer, complete with a soak in a hot mineral bath, a sitz bath or steam cabinet session, hot packs, and a Swedish massage. Book in advance.
In California, you can find a number of excellent hot springs ranging from rustic pools to five-star experiences. Calistoga is, perhaps, the most famous of the bunch, but farther south, you’ll find one of the best-known areas in the town of Desert Hot Springs (near Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park), where over 20 actual springs are unique in being odorless. The most famous property in the area, Two Bunch Palms, is a luxurious, adults-only resort offering several teak and concrete tubs and pools of lithium-rich waters with temperature options, and spa therapy, yoga, tennis, and fitness studios, as well. An excellent on-site restaurant, Essence, serves locally-sourced cuisine.
Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs, in Steamboat Springs, is considered by many to be the best hot springs in the Rockies. Several pools, formed out of natural rock and having pleasing soft sandy bottoms, lure soakers with different temperatures as one gets farther from the burbling source. These hot springs are fabulous in summer or winter, though being surrounded by snow as the water steams is a particular delight. Families are welcome during the day, but at night this spot switches to adults only and clothing optional.
A natural spring feeds a water flow that courses over a quarter-mile stretch in the town of Granby. Enders Falls includes six layered waterfalls that can be reached after a short hike. The pools are fine for swimming and refreshing on a warm day, and the beauty of the surrounding forest is unmatched.
Rumored to have healing and rejuvenating powers, the iron-rich waters of Chalybeate Spring, found in the Brandywine Valley, drew such crowds of yesteryear that a gigantic amusement park and resort were built around it. All of that is long gone, but a hike through the woods takes you to the original concrete well dug at the site. A volunteer group has found the site of the original spring and is restoring it to its long-ago glory days.
Warm Mineral Springs, listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, is the only warm mineral spring in Florida. At about 85 degrees year-round it’s perfect for families, even with small children who want to soak in the warm waters. Due to exceptionally high mineral content, these springs are considered highly therapeutic and curative. Book ahead for a variety of spa services, and allow enough time to study and enjoy the history here, where prehistoric human remains, saber-toothed cats, and giant sloths have been discovered.
Warm Springs names this town and the surrounding area famous for its healing mineral waters. President Franklin D. Roosevelt swam in the 88-degree mineral water and reported relief from the pain in his polio-stricken leg, causing thousands to flock there for relief from that disease and many others. Now, visit the Historic Springs Museum and feel the water bubbling from one of the pools. Many who seek therapeutic treatment rub the water on their arms and legs.
Near a popular surf spot on the Big Island of Hawaii, you’ll find Pohoiki Warm Spring. A small natural rock pond in the jungle near the beach offers up water heated by volcanic activity seeping from the inland side and mixing with ocean water from the beach side. The resulting brackish water is a lovely 98 degrees. About 20 feet wide and four feet deep, this bowl is in a collapsed lava tube. Myriad tiny red shrimp—completely harmless—live in the pool along the warmer wall; if you remain still, they will creep over your skin.
Choosing just one hot spring in Idaho poses a problem, as there are many. One of the best is Kirkham Hot Springs, an unimproved series of soaking pools and steaming waterfalls along the South Fork of the Payette River. One can generally find an open pool or one to share in the summer, though nearby camping areas will be crowded. Intrepid snow lovers who make the trek in the winter will be treated to gorgeous clouds of thick steam rising from pools surrounded by ice and snow, and at the wintry time of year may well have the place all to themselves.
In Okawville sits The Original Springs Hotel. A natural spring at the site, with its mineral-laden waters, saw its first bathhouse built in 1868. Today, one can visit the hotel and take advantage of its Mineral Spring Spa and indoor heated pool. The Spa offers a wide range of services from massage to facials, from cupping to reflexology, and one need not be a guest at the hotel to access them; outside guest fees allow anyone to partake.
The Spa at West Baden Springs Hotel offers old-world luxury that creates an ambience of indulgence and ultimate relaxation. Over a century ago, several natural mineral springs in the area, the waters of which could match those at Baden, Germany, for curative properties, caused two fine hotels to be constructed to offer respite and curative waters to visitors. While one can no longer soak in the natural mineral springs, The Spa (currently available only to hotel guests) offers world-class pampering including mineral baths as well as a variety of top-flight spa treatments.
If a summer day spent outside is incomplete without the presence of spring-fed, crystalline water in a gorgeous natural setting, look no further than Backbone State Park. Just three miles from the town of Strawberry Point, this park gets its name from the bedrock ridge here known as Devil’s Backbone. The springs were enclosed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, and visitors will enjoy the sandy floor through which bubbles up the 48-degree water just as if it were a tiny hot spring. Campgrounds and cabins are available in the Park.
Blasing Springs was an artesian well with very high mineral content and touted as a cure-all for many decades. The Blasing family enjoyed the curative properties of the water from their well in the late 1800s and created a resort and spa at the site where they sold the medicinal waters. A tornado wrecked the hotel in 1943, but up through the 1960s people still enjoyed the park-like setting and the well still running with clear water.
A 26-acre park tucked, oddly, in an industrial area of Lexington is home to two natural springs well worth visiting. McConnell Springs Park is a tranquil area of lush greenery, walking trails, and interesting water features. Both springs flow up out of the limestone bedrock, and the Blue Hole is famous for its strikingly azure waters. The second spring is called The Boils, which refers not to heat but to the boiling action of the water after heavy precipitation, when water gushes forcefully from underground. Following the water through the park, one will see it disappear again into the ground when it reaches a cave-like rock area, and then reappear and empty into Elkhorn Creek.
Over 100 years ago, an oil drilling crew working near Alexandria hit a gusher of warm water. A worker who bathed in it enjoyed quick relief from his eczema. The “wonder waters” drew crowds wanting to partake, and the Hot Wells Sanitarium Company set up the Hot Wells Resort at the site in 1917. Closed to the public in 1986, only a few structures remain of the once-thriving mineral springs.
The Keystone Mineral Springs became a commercial concern in 1885, and expanded into a bottling house in 1929. One of the only surviving historic spots from the early period of bottling mineral water in Maine, one can still access the old spring and bottling houses. The business fell out of use in the 1990s, but in the early 2000s new owners laid plans to renovate.
Grotto Spring at The National Shrine Grotto welcomes visitors with its stone spring house and adjacent pond. Head to the Visitor’s Center, and then tour the beautiful, hushed, tranquil grounds. The fact that this is now a religious site has added mystique to the potential healing properties of the spring water one can collect there.
The Berkshires are legendary for their beauty and for the opportunities for recreation and rejuvenation they offer. The Sand Springs Pool, in Williamstown, serves up warm spring-fed waters where you can bathe away your aches and stresses. Open since 1827 to visitors, the healing properties of the water have long been praised. Now a family-friendly destination, the soothing 72-degree mineral waters beckon swimmers and splashers of all ages.
From the late 19th century through the early 20th, Michigan enjoyed a mineral springs heyday, with 60 artesian wells producing waters of varying levels of iron and other minerals. Resorts boomed, and the Victorian middle class flocked to the area to take in the healing waters. Today, a visit to Kitch-iti-kipi near Manistique is a treat, as it is the most beautiful natural spring in Michigan. Located in pristine woods, the emerald pool is constantly fed by water gushing up through the limestone beneath. Wooden rafts allow floating on this pond formed by a sink over an old limestone cave.
Hiniker Pond near Mankato lures water lovers with 28 acres of spring-fed beauty. This former sand and gravel pit is now filled with water of an exceptional quality for both swimming and fishing, and the surrounding 55-acre park includes a pier, a sand beach, trails, picnic areas, and restrooms.
In the small town of Iuka hides the perfectly lovely Mineral Springs Park. The town was named after Chickasaw Indian chief Iuka, who took the curative waters and was miraculously healed of illness. Pavilions were later built over the six mineral springs, and people flocked in to drink these special waters. Today, three of the springs still flow, each with its own mineral properties and power to heal certain maladies. Visit over Labor Day weekend to take advantage of the Heritage Festival and its food, crafts, and vendors of all types.
A beautiful Art Deco-style Hall of Waters, built in the 1930’s, was the home of Excelsior Springs, where one could partake of waters considered healthful and medicinal for over 140 years. Today, the building houses City offices, court chambers, and a small museum. Be sure to see the retro “water bar” that used to offer four kinds of mineral water. Other sections of the building boast facilities for steaming, soaking, or being sprayed with the healing waters—medical doctors used to prescribe water treatments for various diseases. No bathing occurs nowadays, but you can taste the waters by stopping at Excelsior Springs Bottling Company, which sells local high-quality mineral water in eight-ounce bottles.
Montana boasts several excellent hot springs, and the most popular is Norris Hot Springs in the southwest part of the state. The 1200-square-foot pool is drained every night and cleaned without chemicals so it can refill with hot mineral water naturally by morning. Adding to the appeal here is the natural garden and the live music each weekend, Friday through Sunday, which can be enjoyed even while still soaking in the medicinal waters. There is a campground here and a bar and grill featuring organic and gluten-free choices.
Elmwood Park Grotto is part of Elmwood Park, once known primarily for its creek that is still spring fed and flowing from a rock formation. Visit here and you may well witness one of the many outdoor weddings that take place amid the lush perennial plantings of the grotto area. Or, bring a picnic and savor the verdant, hushed environment.
In the heart of the state lies Big Smoky Valley, arguably one of the most gorgeous spots in the West. Try to time your arrival at Spencer Hot Springs so that you get a sunset here; if you’re very lucky, you might also catch a sighting of the Hickison Burro Herd dawdling by as you soak. Hot mineral water consistently in the low hundred-degree range is piped into several old-time round metal livestock troughs—called Cowboy Tubs; think rustic—but with magnificent views day or night, you can’t go wrong. Camping is available nearby as is the Lucky Spur Saloon, named “Best Bar in the Middle of Nowhere.”
Conway Mineral Spring boasts a hexagonally shaped open granite pool only eight inches deep (due to a grate that keeps anything or anyone from being submerged), so this is a drinking pool rather than a floating or soaking pool. For over 100 years people have collected these waters, purported to have an uncanny ability to stay fresh, and the restored Spring House recalls the days of Balneopathy, when people did soak in these healing waters.
Ringwood is home to The Highlands Natural Pool, where you can dive into the relaxing, healing waters. The pond is constantly refreshed by the spring that feeds it, and many swear by its healthful properties. Surrounded by Norvin Green State Forest, this pond offers bracing 65-degree water that is perfection after a long hike in the surrounding nature area. Amenities, game fields and courts, board games, and nature programs make this a family-friendly spot.
Due to the geothermal nature of the southwest, New Mexico offers quite a few hot springs experiences, both undeveloped and resort-style. If you travel to Jemez Springs, you can enjoy both. Spence Hot Springs is a rustic spot of rock pools about a quarter-mile off the highway. Be prepared to share this location, which is popular and at times takes on a party atmosphere. For a more relaxing soak, try Jemez Hot Springs, formerly Giggle Springs, where the water temperatures are in the low 100s. The Jemez river burbles close by the outdoor pools wherein the hot mineral water has no sulfuric odor. Children over 14 are welcome; swimsuits are required.
Saratoga Springs offers 21 public mineral springs scattered about the area. Most of the mineral waters here are carbonated, and no two taste quite the same, nor are the health benefits of the differing springs alike. So, spend a day on a self-guided tasting tour, and don’t forget to bring numerous water bottles so you can try every spring in town and take home your favorites.
In Hot Springs you will find a 100-acre resort with more hippie flair than posh spa. These hot mineral springs were first discovered by the Cherokee Native Americans, but today modern tubs are dotted along the river banks inside separate wooden structures. Hot steam mesmerizes as you soak and gaze at the tranquil views. Birders will enjoy the many species winging past as you soothe and heal your body in the warm waters.
This state has only one naturally occurring waterfall, formed by an underground spring: Mineral Springs Waterfall. Beautiful forests flank the trail that leads you on a day hike offering incredible views of the Sheyenne River Valley. About 4.5 miles through the trees brings you to the waterfall itself, where you can splash in these natural spring waters and relax in the tranquil scene.
Loaded with healing minerals, Mineral Springs Lake offers over 100 acres of natural spring water, miles of shoreline, and camping and cabin rentals. Beautiful, pristine, and quiet, you can enjoy not only the mineral waters, but also boating and fishing, as well as hiking on seven miles of trails through verdant forest. An excellent family vacation spot.
Several cold-water mineral springs dot Chickasaw National Recreation Area, and most are enclosed in native stone pools. Huge old trees provide shade, making the springs comfortable and relaxing for all. Sulphur springs, mud, and bromide springs are available to visitors, and though the park makes no claims of therapeutic properties, the pools and pavilions maintain their popularity.
Umpqua is one of the most popular undeveloped hot springs in Oregon. Requiring a steep but short hike from the trailhead, the three pools cascading down a rocky slope are extremely picturesque throughout the year. Weekends will see many visitors here, so if a bit more privacy is to your liking, try it on a weekday. Soaking au naturel is the norm. A campground just a few miles away is a good bet if you’d like to spend a few days exploring the area.
Frankfort Mineral Springs, a natural and historic area in Beaver County, attracted many invalids in the 19th century who sought the mineral-rich waters for their healing properties. Today you can hike a short trail to view a lovely waterfall and a bowl carved in rock from the falling iron-infused water.
For an excellent lake-side beach and wonderful swimming, try Olney Pond in Lincoln Woods State Park. This naturally occurring, spring-fed pond—large enough to be considered a lake—is the central feature of the 627-acre park that serves up all sorts of rugged beauty. Take a hike, bring a picnic, swim in the azure waters, and let the setting carry you back to a simpler time.
The healing waters found at God’s Acre Healing Springs are not swimmable because the water simply burbles out of a set of pipes and runs across the ground. Yet, many people come for the waters, especially those who are disabled. The Native Americans who lived near this site believed the waters to be sacred because of their healing powers. Cool, crystal clear, and delicious, this water is a favorite of all who travel from far and wide to collect some for themselves in bottles and jars. Even better, the land was deeded to God, so it’s hard to doubt the divine influence.
For a rustic but highly pleasurable soak, try Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa. Several outdoor pools allow you to choose your perfect temperature, from 88 to over 102 degrees. A fireplace in the pool house will keep you warm after your soak, and you can stay for a few nights and enjoy the accommodations, the on-site restaurant, a sauna, massages, and yoga classes.
Red Boiling Springs is a misnomer, as the word “boiling” refers to the appearance of the water, which is sometimes tinted red. These waters are cool, but are considered medicinal. The only way to access them is by booking oneself in at Armour’s Red Boiling Springs Hotel, as it offers the only mineral bathhouse in town.
Langford Hot Springs (in Big Bend National Park) used to boast an exceptionally grand bathhouse. The original foundation still retains the hot mineral springs, also known as Boquillas Hot Springs, meaning “little mouths” in Spanish, a nod to the myriad streams joining the Rio Grande. Access will require an easy (flat) half-mile hike from the Big Bend Hot Springs Trailhead, but beware the summer heat on the unshaded track and plan to visit autumn through spring. Don’t miss the red pictographs on the cliff faces as you hike to the springs.
Located on private land, Meadow Hot Springs is nevertheless accessible due to generous property owners who ask only that you respect the place and act responsibly. A short half-mile walk takes you to three soaking areas with mineral water at about 100 degrees. Accessible year-round and pet-friendly, this spot is unimproved, so bring everything you’ll need.
Brunswick Springs has been considered a healing spot since the 1700s, first used by the Abenaki Indians, who later cursed the spot when a confrontation involving White people wanting to bottle and sell the water ended with two Native Americans dead. Four hotels later built on the site burned to the ground. All that remains are foundations and some stone stairs. Many locals believe that drinking these waters will result in healing.
Warm Springs is where you’ll find the Jefferson Pools, also called Warm Springs Bathhouses, first opened to the public in 1761, and soaking in the buff has been the tradition ever since. Take the waters inside the two original wooden octagonal buildings where Americans, Thomas Jefferson among them, have enjoyed the 98-degree, crystal clear baths. Times for same-sex skinny dipping in the different buildings, in addition to family hours requiring bathing suits, allow everyone to have his or her favorite sort of soak.
As is true of many Western states, Washington offers up a number of hot springs. If an easy five-mile-round-trip hike through magnificent pacific northwest forest sounds like fun, head to Olympic Hot Springs. Think redwoods . . . and more redwoods. Here along the Elwha River Valley you will find about a dozen small pools of temperatures varying from 100 to about 112 degrees. Bring a suit or not; lots of folks soak here in the buff. The trailhead is near Port Angeles in the Olympic National Forest ($25 vehicle fee), and campgrounds are available nearby.
Berkeley Springs State Park, a small park in a town of the same name, offers the serenity of the natural spring water flowing through the park, and mountain views as well. Both Roman baths and modern jacuzzi tubs are available for a soak in 102-degree water (for a small fee). Children can splash in the stream, and adults can enjoy summer concerts on Saturday afternoons. If geology and local history are of interest, be sure to see the museum.
The Chula Vista Resort in the Wisconsin Dells is a perfect place to relax in any season. The Spa del Sol at this resort offers an upscale experience including heated mineral water pools (with a large, outdoor whirlpool), heated concrete decks, and a lovely outdoor fireplace for warming before or after a soak. Relax and gaze up at the immense Norway Pines that flank the Wisconsin River. Access to The Spa is currently limited to guests staying at the resort, and offers a full slate of spa treatments
Thermopolis, Wyoming, is home to Hot Springs State Park, in which the State Bathhouse offers free indoor and outdoor pools of 104-degree mineral water for communal soaking and private tubs in which clothing is optional. An area called Star Plunge is set up for family fun with two mineral pools and water slides. Also fun is the swinging bridge across Bighorn River, from which you can view the Rainbow Terraces where hot water cascades into the river, and don’t miss Teepee Rock, created by the effluvium of mineral-rich waters. Elsewhere in this must-visit State Park are hiking trails, picnic shelters, boat docks, and fishing.
Top photo by Aaron Burden