Travelers looking to soak in a natural thermal or mineral spring are most likely to think about jetting off to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, a spa in Bath, England, or perhaps visiting one of Japan’s famous onsens to “take the waters.”
But the U.S. — despite being home to well over 1,600 hot springs sites, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — isn’t as internationally recognized as a natural springs hot spot.
That’s likely to change over the next few years. Thanks to a renewed wave of interest and investment in geothermal-related wellness, the U.S. is quickly growing its reputation as a top-tier hot springs destination.
“People are paying a lot more attention these days to the health benefits of water,” said Jane Kitchen, editor at large for Spa Business. “And when talking about hot springs, we’re talking about natural thermal waters that tend to have very unique mineral content. And one of the things that’s so exciting is that we’re now seeing a lot of development in the U.S. around these really dynamic types of hot spring resorts.”
According to Kitchen, U.S. hot springs properties are upping the ante by incorporating a more diverse array of wellness offerings as well as more interactive and social programming into their geothermal experiences.
“There are places that are now doing live music or screening films and just creating a lot more kinds of active participation,” added Kitchen. “It’s not just sitting in a pool and that’s that.”
Vicky Nash, executive director of the Hot Springs Association trade group, said there was record demand for hot springs resorts.
Established in 2019, the Hot Springs Association has a membership base of close to 70 hot springs owners and operators.
“Over the last two years, we’re seeing record-breaking visitation numbers at some of these properties,” Nash said. “And what we’re also seeing across the industry is a lot of new construction, expansion, restoration and revitalization. It truly is a renaissance.”
Hot springs-related wellness is far from an entirely new concept in the U.S. The late 19th century ushered in something of a heyday for many domestic hot springs properties, with the practice of bathing in geothermal waters widely touted as a cure-all at the time.
“But that started to change around the 1940s, as modern medicine became more readily available,” Nash said. “And [hot springs bathing] kind of fell out of favor. The resorts that still operated became much more recreationally oriented, but now we’re really seeing a shift back to wellness.”
That post-1940s drop-off in mainstream popularity meant that a large number of U.S. hot springs destinations saw tourism dollars dwindle.
“A lot of the smaller properties have fallen into disrepair, but now investors are coming in and completely transforming these sites,” Nash said.
Among the many players pouring new investment into the U.S. geothermal water space is the 483-room Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va. The property’s Warm Springs Pools natural hot springs site, located approximately eight miles from the Omni Homestead, is fresh off a $4 million revamp and reopened last December, following a six-year closure. (The Omni Homestead Resort as a whole is currently in the midst of a phased $140 million renovation.)