Mineral Springs Spas

Ojo Caliente Hot Springs, New Mexico
Ojo Caliente Hot Springs, New Mexico.

Ojo Caliente

Mineral springs have been valued for centuries for their power to ease joint pain, arthritis, and treat other physical ailments such as depression and rheumatism. The practice of soaking in hot springs, which have naturally occurring minerals, almost certainly began with native peoples, or perhaps their predecessors, if the snow monkeys of Japan are an indicator.

Natural Mineral Springs in Saratoga Springs
TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

What Mineral Springs Are Made Of

Mineral springs have naturally occurring minerals and trace elements such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, iron, manganese, sulfur, iodine, bromine, lithium, even arsenic, and radon, which in very low quantities can be beneficial. The exact makeup of the water varies from spring to spring, and many spas post the exact chemical make-up. Different waters are considered beneficial for different ailments.

Mineral springs may come out of the earth at a cool or tepid temperature and then be heated for bathing, as in the case of Saratoga Springs, New York, a major 19th-century spa destination for wealthy Americans. If there is geothermal activity in the area, the mineral water is heated before it emerges from the earth, in which case it is called a hot spring or thermal spring. The temperature of the water may be so hot it has to be cooled before you can bath in it.

Ozark Bath House in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Wesley Hitt/ Getty Images

Where You Can Find Most Mineral Hot Springs

Of some 1,700 hot springs in American, the vast majority are located in the 13 states of the West, including Alaska and Hawaii. In the eastern part of the US, there are just 34 thermal springs, of which only three qualify as hot springs: Hot Springs, Arkansas; Hot Springs, North Carolina; and Hot Springs, Virginia, which are part of the Blue Ridge mountain chain.

Mineral springs spas vary greatly in the degree of luxury and amenities they offer. Some are historic bathhouses where you go to soak for 20 or 30 minutes in a private room that may be very simple. There might be communal outdoor pools. But some of the world's most lavish hotels and resorts were built on the site of mineral springs.

Dr. Wilkinson's hot springs and mineral bath motel, Calistoga, California
George Rose/Getty Images

History of Mineral Springs

Some of the world's great spa cities rose up because of mineral springs, include Baden-Baden in Germany, Spa in Belgium and Bath in England. The U.S. has its share of historic spa cities that sprang up in the 18th and 19th centuries, including Berkeley Springs, Virginia, Calistoga, California and Hot Springs, Arkansas.

In the 19th century, not just bathing, but drinking the mineral waters was an important part of the cure. This was a time when the wealthy classes went to spas to mingle, and the sipping pavilion provided the perfect opportunity. It was also a time when there was very little in the way of effective medical treatments, and spas made lavish claims about their curative powers.

Hot springs and mineral springs fell out of favor in the by the 1940s, when the rise of effective medications like penicillin and other antibiotics made mineral springs seem like quaint and ineffective quackery. But it still feels good to soak in hot mineral springs. And combined with massage and other forms of relaxation, it's still a tonic to the system. 


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