As temperatures dip in much of the U.S., you may be looking for a warm escape — and if you want to think outside the exotic island box, you’re in luck. A hot springs vacation is what you should be taking this fall, according to wellness experts. While you may have seen social media posts about — or even visited some — renowned hot springs, like the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, there are many worthy options scattered across the United States. All you have to do is hop in your car (or on a plane, train, or bus) and you can be submerged in soothing warm geothermal water in no time. There may even be one right in your backyard — or at least close to it — and you may not even realize it.
In addition to their calming effects, hot springs are also good for your body. Research has shown that they can help alleviate musculoskeletal problems, like aches and pains, as well as skin conditions, like eczema and psoriasis. And the hot sulfur water is good for your blood circulation, too (despite its infamous odor). There is even a scientific term for using mineral waters from natural hot springs to alleviate ailments and reduce inflammation: Balneotherapy. For this, the water temperature has to be at least 20 degrees Celsius and have a mineral content of at least 1g/L.37. (True, not many of are walking around with a thermometer or device to measure the mineral content of a hot spring before getting into it, but it’s safe to say that they still have therapeutic powers regardless.)
Nathaniel Altman, author of Healing Springs: The Ultimate Guide to Taking the Waters, also runs HealingSprings.info, which he says has the largest online directory of hot and mineral springs in the world. His book is the first to give medical evidence that mineral springs can both cure and prevent disease. “There is abundant medical evidence that mineral springs can prevent and treat a wide variety of health problems, including arthritis, rheumatism, heart, liver, kidney and circulatory diseases, skin diseases, gastrointestinal disorders, and diabetes,” he tells TZR in an email. “Hot springs bathing is also great for reducing stress and strengthening the immune system. And balneotherapy is part of the medical mainstream in many European countries.”
Hot Springs Are Good For Mental Health, Too
Aside from the physical benefits hot springs provide, they’re also great for your mental health and are so relaxing, they can help you sleep better. “Going to a hot spring offers an opportunity to disconnect from the routines, concerns, and stresses of daily life,” says Altman. “Hot spring bathing is an essential part of social life in Japan and Taiwan that is good for both body and mind.” He adds that bathing in a warm or hot mineral spring is very soothing. “Our first home was the liquid environment of our mother’s womb, so warm water bathing allows us to recall primal feelings of comfort and safety,” he says.
Lennart Klipp, an emotional wellness coach and meditation teacher in Los Angeles, also thinks soaking in a hot spring is beneficial for your mental health. “In today’s anxiety-ridden climate, many of my clients experience increased levels of stress and anxiety,” he tells TZR in an email. “They tend to overthink things, live very much ‘in their head,’ and are looking for relief. In my practice as an emotional wellness coach, I help people to overcome these complaints by letting them reconnect to their emotions and their heart.”
While he says there are many ways to do this, it’s important to do self-soothing and self-care rituals that help you relax — like visiting a hot spring. “[It is an] experience designed to create space and time for you to relax and restore,” he says. “It is key to create a safe space for yourself in which you can let your guard down and welcome whatever it is that is going through your body and mind. Not to fight it, but to welcome and accept it.” He says that once you do, your painful and difficult thoughts and emotions start organizing and healing themselves naturally. “It’s just what the body-mind system does when we relax: restore and rejuvenate,” he says. He adds that the human body is made up of around 60% water, so to be surrounded by warm water naturally feels safe and relaxing. “It makes us feel at ease and at home,” he says.
Ahead, read about some famous — and more hole-in-the-wall (er, ground) — hot springs you should definitely take a soak in this fall and winter.
Berkeley Springs in Berkeley Springs, WV
Berkeley Springs is famous for being the very first spa in the U.S. and is one that Altman highly recommends. It has many spa options, like a Roman Bath House. (Fun fact: He says George Washington used to go there often.) It’s located in the West Virginia mountains, yet only 90 minutes from the Washington/Baltimore metro area. So you can enjoy being in a remote location, as well as close enough to a bigger city.
Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa, Hot Springs, SD
On a road trip through South Dakota a few years ago, I came upon the cutest town: Hot Springs. And, yep, it’s full of all-natural hot springs, like the quaint Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa (which was still being built when I saw it in person, yet has rave reviews).
Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, AR
You can get a very nature-immersive experience when you visit Hot Springs National Park. In addition to the thermal springs that have been there for hundreds of years, you can hike or visit one of the nine bathhouses, too. (There’s also a bathhouse museum for history buffs!)
Calistoga Spa, Calistoga, CA
Altman says that Calistoga, CA is one of the most important spa towns in the U.S. One of the hot springs there is the Calistoga Spa, known as “Napa Valley's authentic four season hot springs spa experience.” You can also opt for a massage before or after your geothermal mineral water soak.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs, Steamboat Springs, CO
You’ll find Strawberry Park Hot Springs in the heart of the Rockies in Colorado. The pools are separated by natural rock and the pool floors have sand as cushioning to maximize your comfort even more so. You can sit in the springs day or night — the latter is perfect for stargazing, of course — then stay in a rustic cabin or pitch a tent and camp. Fun fact: At night, it’s adults-only and clothing is not mandatory.
Hot Springs Resort & Spa, Hot Springs, NC
You’ll find the 100-acre Hot Springs Resort & Spa — in the aptly named village of Hot Springs, NC — in the picturesque mountains of Western North Carolina. The village has been a spa attraction for more than 200 years, ever since the Native Americans discovered the restorative mineral waters there. You can stay in a suite or cabin, or camp across the road for a more rustic experience.
Bozeman Hot Springs, Bozeman, MT
For more than 100 years, people have soaked in the Bozeman Hot Springs. There is also a spa and fitness center on site, in case you want to get in a workout before relaxing in the thermal water. There are 12 pools to choose from, and some are a bit cooler than others (if that’s your thing), with temperatures ranging from 59 to 106 degrees.
Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel, Desert Springs, CA
Altman says that Desert Springs, CA, is another important spa town in America. One place you can visit is the Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel, known as a natural hot mineral water resort. You can go there to retreat after spending the day at a nearby attraction, like Joshua Tree National Preserve.
The Homestead Crater, Midway, UT
For those who believe the more unique the location, the better, you won’t want to miss soaking in the geothermal waters under The Homestead Crater located at the Homestead Resort in Midway, UT. It’s hidden within a 55-foot tall volcano-shaped limestone rock and took around 10,000 years (!) to form. Sunlight comes in through the hole at the top and the mineral water stays nice and hot within, ranging from 90-96 degrees Fahrenheit. Aside from soaking, you can also swim, paddle board, snorkel, and scuba dive. (Fun fact: According to the Homestead Resort, the crater is the only warm-water scuba diving destination in the continental U.S.)
Recreating A Hot Springs Experience At Home
Although nothing can replace the real thing, if you really can’t get away and visit a hot spring — like one of the ones below — you can try to recreate one at home (sulfur smell not included). “It is possible to enjoy a warm bath with added Epsom salts at home,” Altman says. “If you don’t have a bathtub, you can soak your feet in a tub of water with added bath salts.” He also notes that it’s sometimes possible to buy mineral salts from hot springs online. “But it isn’t the same experience as going to a natural hot spring or spa,” he says. Klipp, too, seconds the idea of trying to recreate a hot spring experience at home. “Pour some of your favorite essential oils or elixirs into your bath,” he says. “Light a bunch of candles and play some of your favorite music. Develop your own ritual and do whatever you feel drawn to.” He emphasizes that the key to relaxation is joy. “Find joy,” he adds. “Oh, and make sure you have time. Time to just be.”