12 Hot Springs Worth Traveling For
Before the days of high-tech spa treatments, wellness seekers headed for the hot springs—and modern-day soakers can, too. From an ancient pool near the Dead Sea to the picturesque American West, join us on a world tour of the most stunning spots to take a dip.
How to Soak: The stunning Cascate del Mulino, just outside of town, is a series of thermal waterfalls that cascade into natural pools of travertine rock. The water bubbles up at about 99 degrees year-round, making this a popular relaxation spot even in the winter, and at night (access is available 24/7, at your own risk.) There aren't any facilities at the park-just strip down to your bathing suit and hop in. cascate-del-mulino.info; free.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Taking the waters, Victorian-style.
Evidence suggests that a variety of Native American tribes came together in peace to bathe in these waters in the Ouachita mountain valley. A naturalist and a chemist were sent to the region following the Louisiana Purchase, and sent word in 1804 of steaming waters and natural minerals. By 1828, simple hotel had been built to shelter bathers and over time dozens of thermal spas were opened, with the additional enticement of horse racing and gambling. The casinos aren't as prominent now, but you can still stroll streets lined with Victorian houses and historic hotels.
The Benefits: The town's thermal waters are sourced from 47 springs on the western slopes of Hot Springs Mountain. As they make their way up through the earth, the springs are infused with an array of minerals and heated to about 143 degrees; the combination has proved effective in treating symptoms of arthritis, gout, and joint and rheumatic issues. You are welcome to fill up on cold mineral drinking water at several pumps around town.
How to Soak: There are several hotels and spas in town that make use of the thermal waters, but for a more traditional experience, head into Hot Springs National Park. Get a history lesson at the Fordyce Bathhouse, now a museum. Then get in the waters yourself at the Quapaw Bath. First opened in 1922, the facilities include private mineral baths—the perfect choice for those not excited about soaking with strangers. quapawbaths.com, $30 for a private mineral bath.
Continue a tradition that dates back to the 2nd century.
The mountain town of Kusatsu in central Japan is one of the oldest hot springs sites in the country, with claims of travelers soaking here as early as the 2nd century. Samurai came in the 1600s, looking to heal their wounds. By the 1700s Kusatsu was a booming resort destination for those suffering from red light district illnesses like syphilis. The interest became scientific in 1876 when a German doctor began researching the healing powers of the waters, and helped create more targeted medical treatments using the springs.
The Benefits: Kusatsu's location near one active volcano and two dormant ones means there are more than 100 springs and baths, called onsen. Full of sulfur and healing minerals from the volcanic earth, the waters treat bruises, sprains, stiff muscles, and burns, as well as chronic indigestion. Temperatures can reach a scalding 129 degrees, so bathing is not allowed in the hottest pools.
How to Soak: There are several public bathhouses in Kusatsu, one of the most popular being Sainokawara Rotenburo. This open-air bath in Sainokawara Park can accommodate up to 100 bathers and is open year-round (japan-guide.com; $6 entrance fee). Otakinoyu has outdoor pools and a wooden bathhouse with seven tubs of varying temperatures (japan-guide.com; $10 entrance fee). Located near a source spring, Shirohatanoyu, one of the eighteen free local communal baths, has two small tubs (japan-guide.com; free).
Soak in some of the world's most picturesque springs—if you can get there.
Tibet can be a complicated country to get to (see our advice here). Once there, you can visit numerous hot spring sites, with Yambajan easily being the most picturesque. Glaciers, ancient forests, and snow-capped hills surround the town, which sits on a cold plateau at the base of the Nyainqentanglha Mountains. There are eight springs here, all with evocative names like Bread-Steaming Hot Spring (where bread can be cooked over the steam heat), Vinegar Boiling Spring, and Fish-Cooking River (which runs so hot, fish get boiled and float to the surface).