By Joan Rykal
While on the surface, stepping into a hot spring may seem as simple as stepping into a bath or pool, if you take the time to research the history behind the use of water as a healing source, it gets much deeper than that.
“Taking the waters” has been considered therapeutic for a variety of health issues for thousands and thousands of years. Hippocrates, the Father of Western Medicine, is also known as the father of balneology and hydrotherapy. Balneology is the therapeutic use of natural spring waters or mineral waters, while hydrotherapy is defined as the use of water for pain relief and treatment. But Hippocrates studies about the healing benefits of water, circa 360 BC, weren’t the first. The ancient Egyptians and early Romans also looked to water to treat, and in some cases, cure a multitude of ills.
In the late 1800s, aristocrats were known to flock to European spa towns, like Bath, England, and Baden-Baden, Germany to partake in the mineral springs, or baths. In the US, Native Americans so believed in the power of healing waters that mineral springs were declared “common ground” and tribes put aside their differences while enjoying the soothing waters.
Throughout the US, these healing waters are still sought out and thousands of people immerse themselves in these magical springs annually. Hot springs are heated geothermally, or by heat produced from the earth’s mantle, while mineral springs are naturally occurring springs that have a high content of minerals, including bromine, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium.
A soak in these springs is known to increase blood flow, circulation, and metabolism as well as detoxify the lymph system. TrailBlazer has compiled a list of some of the public springs around the country where you can take a dip to “cure what ails you.”
Goldmyer Hot Springs, North Bend, Washington
If you plan on a soak at this hidden gem at the foothills of the Cascades, make a reservation. The springs allow only 20 bathers per day to not only limit human impact on the area, but more importantly, to make your soak a more peaceful experience. Goldmyer has three hot pools and one cold pool that contain low amounts of minerals including potassium, calcium and sodium.
Bagby Hot Springs, Oregon
Hunter and prospector Bob Bagby discovered these hot springs in 1880. Located south of Portland, within Mt. Hood National Forest, Bagby has three major springs and several minor seeps. Enjoy a solo soak ($5 per soak) in a hollowed out log or opt for a communal dip in the six foot round tub, all set among the lush Mt. Hood forest.
Travertine Hot Springs, Bridgeport, California
The snow-capped Sierras are your view when you soak in one of several “pools” that vary in temperature at Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport (a short drive from Yosemite National Park.) Weekends are more crowded than weekdays, but if you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a trip – the scenery is unparalleled.
Note: bathing suits have been known to be optional here, so keep that in mind.
El Dorado Hot Springs, Tonopah, Arizona
This is definitely a place to go with friends and commune with nature. Just about an hour west of Phoenix, El Dorado features several different areas for soaking that include views of the desert and Saddle Mountain. Tub temperatures vary but the mineral balance here has visitors saying “it’s like bathing in liquid silk.” It’s been described as rustic but worth the visit.
Mystic Hot Springs, Monroe, Utah
You may feel like you’ve stepped back in time – to the 1960s perhaps – but the scenery and the cascading water that fills up the eight tubs and two pools are worth the visit. The spring has been flowing for millions of years and contains healing minerals such as magnesium, calcium and iron.
Langford Hot Springs, Big Bend National Park, Texas
Located within Big Bend National Park, Langford Hot Spring has been a popular destination since 1906. Not accessible by car, it can be reached in 0.5 mile round trip from the trailhead. This naturally heated spring water is believed to have healing powers by all who visit. Enjoy the hike and relax with a soak.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Of course our list wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Hot Springs, Arkansas. There are 47 thermal springs in the city of Hot Springs and then there’s Hot Springs National Park. Luxuriate and relax in a 100 degree mineral bath in this historic park. Don’t miss Bathhouse Row, a collection of eight separate bathhouses built during the heyday of healing water pilgrimages during the late 19th and early 20th century.
Warm Mineral Springs, North Port, Florida
Soothing waters at a consistent 87 degrees is what you’ll find at Florida’s only naturally formed warm water mineral spring. This round pond is surrounded by green space for relaxing and sunning and is said to have the highest mineral content of any spring in the United States.
Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
George Washington soaked here! Inside this charming State Park in West Virginia, visitors can enjoy the experience of Roman baths or mineral water pools. According to the history of Berkeley Springs, Native American tribes came from as far away as Canada for the healing waters. In addition to the baths and spa, don’t miss the charming town of Berkeley Springs.
Warm Springs, Virginia
Jefferson Pools are named for our third president who sought out these soothing waters for relief from rheumatism. We should note that this is probably not a place for a family romp as soaking “in the buff” as they say has been the norm since the springs first opened to the public in 1761. Sans suit is only permitted in the single sex soaking areas and there is a family soak time, but best to know this about the Jefferson Pools whose crystal clear waters and a consistent 98 degrees make these waters relaxing and restorative.
Please note this is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to hot springs in the United States. California has more than 30 while Oregon, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado have several. And of course, there are the private spas that are built in and around these magical waters so that is, of course, another option when you’re seeking soothing waters. Think New York’s Saratoga Springs and Virginia’s The Homestead. Check out Soak.net, a site where you can search out hot springs in the United States.
Check out our site, thousandtrails.com, to plan your next stay near one of these beautiful springs.