Springs fever

Water-based wellness is a hot trend these days. And operators of geothermal and mineral springs facilities and resorts in the U.S. are ramping up their offerings, letting enthusiasts know they don’t need to head overseas to get in a healthy soak.
Springs fever

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.”

Liquid assets

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.)

The Warm Springs Pools project involved a comprehensive restoration of the site’s original bathhouse structures — some of which date as far back as the 1760s — as well as a modernization of its restroom and men’s and women’s changing room facilities.

“The sheer number of people that are coming has far exceeded what we initially thought,” said Mark Spadoni, the Omni Homestead Resort’s managing director. “It’s not unusual on the weekends for us to have 300-plus people in the bathhouse.”

In fact, the Omni Homestead Resort recently had to add a 36-person bus to its shuttle fleet in order to accommodate the volume of guests traveling between the resort and the springs as part of the resort’s complimentary roundtrip transportation service.

“The loyal, longtime Warm Springs Pools users are coming back, but there’s also a high level of curiosity from those driving down from, say, Maine or Florida and deciding to stop,” said Spadoni. “There are a lot of individuals who are reading about it and are intrigued and fascinated, so we’re attracting a lot of new people.”

In Arizona, the Castle Hot Springs, located 50 miles outside of Phoenix, is similarly in the midst of a resurgence. Originally opened in 1896, the 1,100-acre, 30-room resort — which claims to have once been “the wellness retreat of choice” for the Vanderbilts, Astors and other influential Gilded Age families — underwent a massive restoration project and relaunched in 2019. 

According to Castle Hot Springs general manager Kevin Maguire, a 1976 fire left the property badly damaged. Left in limbo, the resort and changed hands multiple times until 2014, when its current owners, Arizonans Mike and Cindy Watts, took over and jump-started an extensive overhaul. 

“Basically, everything has been redone,” said Maguire. “The entire hot springs area has been returned back to its original grandeur, with modern conveniences added. And we’ve enjoyed some really great success.”

The adults-only property, which operates seasonally from September through June, has augmented its hot springs amenities with more active offerings like a Via Ferrata adventure course, the centerpiece of which is a 200-foot-long aerial walkway suspended over a canyon, and a robust activity calendar featuring everything from axe throwing to horseback riding.

The resort’s wellness programming has also been enhanced with a newly built Watsu pool, which is used for aquatic massage therapy, and offerings like yoga, meditation and sound bathing. At the bathhouse, two new cold showers give guests a chance to jump straight from the hot springs into a spray of 58-degree water. 

“We’re still polishing this diamond,” said Maguire. “And our goal is to keep people as active as they want to be. Or, if they don’t want to be active at all, they can just chill.”

In Calistoga, Calif., a destination long famous for its hot springs and mineral pools, the former Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort has similarly entered a new era, undergoing a major refresh and relaunching itself as Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs in 2020.

The 50-room property, best known for its mineral-rich mud baths, now features updated guestrooms, a new restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and a redesigned spa. The upgrades have helped the resort attract a fresh wave of guests who are relatively new to hot springs as well as corporate groups.

“We’ve always had a strong base, but now we’re seeing more millennials and Gen Z guests,” said Avery Winter, director of spa and wellness at Dr. Wilkinson’s. 

“And groups have also really grown,” she said, pointing to growth in groups of women or friends from college and high school, as well as from companies. “They’ll have their trainings or meetings, but then they’ll also add things like a wine tasting and some time at the spa.”

More on the way

Along with an influx of enhancements, there is a growing pipeline of new thermal and mineral spring projects.

One of more high-profile names making a foray into the space is IHG Hotels & Resorts’ wellness focused Six Senses flag, which in January announced plans to transform Napa County’s Aetna Springs into the Six Senses Napa Valley. The site, discovered in the 1870s, had previously operated as a natural-spa resort and destination until the 1970s. 

On track to debut in 2026, the 3,000-acre Six Senses Napa Valley will relaunch with 95 rooms and suites, including 10 tent-style accommodations, and 16 residences. The property’s amenities will include indoor and outdoor mineral spring experiences, four food and beverage outlets and a wellness program centered on yoga, meditation and mindfulness. 

In some cases, lack of an existing natural spring isn’t stopping enterprising developers. 

Set to open next year just outside of Atlanta in Forsyth County, the Passport Springs & Spa is billing itself as a “10-acre immersive hot springs venue” that promises to evoke Costa Rica, Rome, Israel and Japan by way of 25 themed mineral and thermal pools.

In the venue’s Israel pavilion, for example, a Dead Sea-themed flotation pool will be filled with water that mimics the mineral content of water in the Dead Sea, while nearby mud pools will feature mud directly imported from that region.  

Each pavilion’s architecture, landscaping and food offerings will also be themed to its respective destination. 

“The reality is that this high interest in hot springs and bathhouse culture is something that spans continents and centuries, but the only region that hasn’t really experienced a real proliferation yet is North America,” said Jacob Bloch, Passport Springs & Spa’s CEO. “And that’s because most hot springs in North America are located in remote areas. We’re looking to make it accessible and, at same time, offer something that’s really extraordinary.”

An eye on the future

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of growth potential for some of the country’s more remote mineral and thermal springs destinations. One of the biggest challenges for that segment, however, is its fragmentation. 

“It’s a mixture [in terms of ownership], but I’d say around 80% of U.S. hot springs are independently owned or are owned by maybe a husband-and-wife team,” said the Hot Springs Association’s Nash. “So, hot springs in the U.S. don’t really [have a history of] working together.”

Back in 2015, Nash spearheaded an effort to buck that trend with the launch of the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, a destination marketing-style platform promoting eight different Colorado geothermal sites by grouping them together as part of an 800-mile looped driving route. 

That effort, and the launch of a corresponding COHotSpringsLoop.com website, helped drive  media buzz and encouraged travelers to embark on Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop road trips.

“Now, it’s almost like a pilgrimage for people to visit sections of the loop, and the loop has even expanded further,” said Nash. “It’s been super successful.”

Spa Business’ Kitchen also sees significant upside for the U.S. hot springs scene, especially out West.

“There’s just so much potential,” said Kitchen. “You’ve got beautiful landscapes in places like Colorado, California and New Mexico, and these could be world-class hot spring destinations that bring people in from all over the world, not just regionally. And I do think we’ll see that in the years to come.”

By Christina Jelski

By materials of https://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Hotel-News/Springs-fever?ct=hotels

Фотографии: Castle Hot Springs; Omni Homestead Resort ; Passport Springs & Spa

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