Take the Plunge

Long before the days of pampering spa treatments that most of today’s spa-goers are accustomed to, “spa-ing” consisted of bathing in hot springs for relaxation and wellness. The concept of water therapy dates back to ancient times. However, it’s proving more popular than ever with an increasing number of people seeking out natural thermal springs to soak in their many benefits. In fact, SpaFinder Wellness 365 included hot springs in its Top Ten Global Spa and Wellness Trends Forecast for 2014. Hot springs consist of geothermal-warmed and mineral-rich water from the Earth’s crust that can help improve certain skin conditions and muscle pain and provide a place for relaxation. “Hot springs are very unique venues, as they involve natural geologic phenomena, which create warm and hot water flows rich in a variety of minerals,” says Rachel Baird, hot springs activities coordinator at Dunton Hot Springs (Dolores, CO). “Natural hot springs cannot be created by man, so spas or bathhouses usually evolve around where hot springs are present.”

Hot springs have always been a draw for locals and savvy spa-going tourists alike, but in recent years, they have become even more popular, not just abroad, but in the U.S., as well. Hot springs not only offer the “mind-body-soul” benefits that are available at day and resort spas, but they also tend to provide a more authentic experience, are more affordable, and are a great option for guests interested in socializing. “I think the popularity of hot springs has gone up in the U.S. and abroad because travelers are looking to go back to nature,” says Baird. “With the overall trend toward more experiential travel, guests are looking for those unique and authentic experiences that define a destination.”

There are geothermal hot springs found all over the globe. Many are located in countries outside of the U.S., including Austria, China, Costa Rica, England, Germany, Iceland, Italy, New Zealand, Peru, and Turkey. Because of this, the location and surroundings, as well as the minerals found in the water make hot springs a truly authentic wellness experience. The iconic Blue Lagoon (Grindavík, Iceland) continues to draw crowds for its mineral-rich water and white silica-rich geothermal mud that guests can apply to their faces while they soak. Similarly, Terme di Saturnia (Tuscany, Italy) offers the Saturnia Thermal Mud ($103, 50 minutes) treatment, which features natural thermal mud enriched with toning essences and essential oils to help restore elasticity, tone the body, and fight cellulite. In Aachen, Germany, the curative water has been popular for more than 2,000 years, thanks to the essential minerals and trace elements found in it. Spa-goers needn’t flock there though to enjoy the stimulating benefits, as Babor’s new body collection, Babor Spa, features the healing water throughout the entire line.  

In addition to authenticity, guests are often attracted to hot springs for their spectacular scenery. At Banff Upper Hot Springs (Alberta, Canada), guests are never disappointed with the view. The hot springs are 5,200 feet above sea level, surrounded by a breathtaking mountain panorama, and are rich in bicarbonate, calcium, magnesium, sodium, and sulfate, which have skin-healing and muscle-relaxing properties. Six Senses Spa Evason Ma’In Hot Springs (Madaba, Jordan) features a desert backdrop and is located directly beneath a natural hot springs waterfall that cascades into the spa pool and relaxation area. Romantic views of Bath, England, can be seen from the city’s iconic Thermae Bath Spa’s open-air rooftop pool. Bath is also home to the newly opened Gainsborough Bath Spa, which is a hotel that provides direct access to the thermal waters with in-room thermal baths.

There are an abundance of hot springs spas in which to immerse abroad, but American spa-goers don’t need a passport to enjoy the plentiful benefits that hot springs offer. While hot springs have been around for a long time in the U.S., recent years have seen an increase in visitors due to spa-goers’ knowledge of their benefits, as well as modern amenities that make visiting them even more desirable. “In the early 19th century, spa-goers flocked to hot springs for their wellness benefits,” says Danny Silva,
executive spa director at Glen Ivy Hot Springs (Corona, CA). “Toward the 1950s and 1960s, hot springs in America experienced a decrease in attendance, as people sought out newer innovations in medicine to treat their ailments. Flash forward to 2014, and I think people are looking to get back to a more natural way of not only treating health issues but also working toward living a healthy lifestyle as a way to prevent health issues.” 

Some U.S. hot springs spas take pride in their authentic settings and the experiences they offer, while others have modernized their properties with additional wellness opportunities that attract spa-goers. Dunton Hot Springs has kept the experience as pure and natural as possible. “Our hot springs date back to the 1800s, when the mining town of Dunton was in its prime, and range in size and location,” says Baird. “From the main Bath House with a large spring pool to the various outdoor springs, we want our guests to experience the springs as the miners originally did. We enhance these experiences with treatments in our spa, housed in an original Pony Express cabin.” Dunton Hot Springs are sulphur-free, eliminating the unpleasant odor, and contain iron, magnesium, and lithium, which help improve circulation. “These minerals also give bathers softer skin, and the heat in the springs is great for aches and pains after hiking, biking, and skiing,” says Baird.

Glen Ivy Hot Springs boasts traditional mineral baths, as well as 19 pools located throughout the property, each offering a special benefit. At the Lounge Pool, guests can wade or float on a raft while socializing with friends, or they can soothe aching muscles and joints in the heated Saline Pool. At the Vista Pool, guests can enjoy Glen Ivy’s views of the Santa Ana Mountains and Temescal Valley or partake in a water aerobics class offered in the Lap Pool. “Many hot springs sites in California are simply openings in the ground where people flock to take advantage of the water,” says Silva. “Other establishments, like Glen Ivy, offer a full-circle spa experience. In addition to our pools mentioned above, we have a cafe that serves organic Mediterranean cuisine and sushi, offer outdoor exercise classes, and have a retail boutique.”

Combining old and new, The Spa at The Omni Homestead (Hot Springs, VA) provides guests with their choice of either indulging in a truly authentic experience or a more modern one. “In our spa, you can enjoy the best of both worlds,” says spa director Joyce Owens. Those guests seeking authenticity can soak in the property’s historic Jefferson Pools, including the Gentlemen’s Bath House, which dates back to 1761, and the Ladies’ Pool House, which was built in 1836. For a more modern experience, guests can relax in the Octagon Springs in the Spa Garden, where the natural hot springs fill a pool, and underwater benches built along its perimeter offer comfort. Adjacent to the Octagon Springs is the River Reflexology Walk, a carefully designed stone path with one to two-inches of natural hot springs flowing on top for a relaxing, soothing foot massage.

Guests at The Spa at The Omni Homestead can also enjoy the benefits of the healing hot springs with the Mineral Springs Mud Wrap ($170, 50 minutes), which features an application of warm mud created from the hot springs, followed by a skin exfoliation. After the natural properties of the mud absorb into the skin, guests are asked to shower before hydrating cream is applied.

Hot springs spas are located in many parts of the U.S., from New Mexico and Arkansas to North Carolina and Virginia, but the American west has the largest number. The hot springs at Two Bunch Palms (Desert Hot Springs, CA) are sulfur-free and contain lithium, which is a natural relaxant and anti-depressant. The spa offers skin and body services and features outdoor treatment gazebos, river rock alcoves, outdoor showers, mud cabanas, and watsu pools, but the highlight is the “taking the waters” ritual, which involves a 10-minute soak in The Grotto’s healing waters before and after spa services. It helps prepare the mind and body for a deep state of rest and relaxation and the therapeutic benefits of the spa treatments. “In the past, people soaked and relaxed for hours and made it a regular part of their wellness routines,” says Rianna Riego, corporate director of brand and communication at Two Bunch Palms. “Today, hot springs spas seem to be more of a choice, and even if people go to one, sometimes they do not take full advantage of the bathing ritual. At Two Bunch Palms, we have a 60 to 70 percent repeat guest profile, and our guests come back routinely to soak in the waters. In fact, we even have a whisper policy, so people can truly relax. We have plans to add a high-energy grotto, so guests who want to socialize while soaking can be separated from those who simply want to be.”

Besides pregnant women and clients with health concerns who are advised to consult a personal physician before a visit to hot springs due to the potential danger from prolonged heat exposure, hot springs can be enjoyed by new and seasoned spa-goers of all ages. In addition to the many skin and health benefits they offer, hot springs provide guests with an original spa experience that is unique to their location—an increasingly attractive feature for many of today’s spa-goers. Says Owens, “Many travelers want an authentic experience, and hot springs spas provide the perfect combination of authenticity and rejuvenation.”—