Take the Plunge: America's Best Hot Springs Towns - Page 2

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Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas  (iStockphoto)

5. Glenwood Springs, Colorado
This town’s main attraction is the world’s largest man-made hot-springs pool: 505 feet long and refilled daily by 3.5 million gallons of mineral water. Amped-up kids cascade into the 90-degree end from 100-yard-long slides, while blissed-out adults de-stress on the 104-degree end. The public pool’s locker rooms are in an 1888-built building that also houses an athletic club and spa. Another spa is nearby at America’s only known natural vapor caves—earth’s own 110-degree steam bath. Found between Vail and Aspen, but far below them in altitude and affordability, mile-high Glenwood Springs is an outdoors enthusiast’s candy store, with its own ski area, bike paths, and hiking trails, as well as a Colorado River whitewater park and the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, with cave tours and alpine thrill rides. After a silly fix at the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue, a dinner show performed year-round by professional actors, retire to a room in the historic Hotel Colorado or the recently renovated Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge.

4. Desert Hot Springs, California
Neighboring Palm Springs may be better known, but Desert Hot Springs (two hours east of L.A.) is the place to relax at a hot-spring spa. First, visit Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, a 35-room wonder made of reclaimed and found objects by Cabot Yerxa, the same man who discovered the mineral-water aquifer that put Desert Hot Springs on the spa-town map. Later, venture out to Palm Springs and its 37 galleries; the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a 6,000-vertical-foot climb above the Coachella Valley; and Joshua Tree National Park for its mind-bending rock formations. All are within a 45-minute drive. At night, relax at your inn, where the hot-springs pools and tubs (some have up to eight) may be open 24/7. Most are boutique inns with fewer than 20 rooms, ranging from $60 to $675 per night. Some are on hilltops, some have Asian or North African themes, some are clothing-optional, and one is a "dog spa" with nanny services for pampered pooches.

3. Hot Springs, Arkansas
The heart of this town, and the pine forest above it, has been a national park since before the birth of Bill Clinton—its most famous product besides Mountain Valley Spring Water. You can hike up to 26 miles on the park’s forest trails, past exposed hot springs; ascend a 216-foot mountain tower via stairs or elevator; and relish old-school or contemporary spa treatments on Bathhouse Row. The queen of the row is Quapaw Baths & Spa, a 1922-built gem with four hot-spring pools beneath a tile-covered dome. On the same main street is the king of hotels, the 478-room Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, plus the Gangster Museum of America (focused on frequent Arlington Hotel guest Al Capone) and numerous galleries and antique shops.

2. Saratoga Springs, New York
You can hoof it to Saratoga Springs (40 minutes north of Albany) for late-summer thoroughbred racing at Saratoga Race Course, or you can go any time of year to enjoy the town’s original drawing card—its mineral springs. Adults can enjoy thermal baths or spa treatments at Roosevelt Baths & Spa or Crystal Spa, and in the summer, all ages can swim at Victoria Pool or Peerless Pool (with water slides!) in Saratoga Spa State Park. Besides soaking and splashing options, the park has an auto museum, a golf course, the National Museum of Dance, and trails with 20 gurgling mineral springs—most with spigots so you can taste the carbonated water. More hiking trails are at nearby nature preserves. More than 100 restaurants line the streets back in town, tied with San Francisco for the most restaurants per capita. Stay at any of Saratoga’s dozens of hotels, motels, or B&Bs; just don’t expect any vacancies during the racing season from late July to Labor Day.

1. Calistoga, California
Visitors to Calistoga have always come for the liquids: water and wine. Pinched between two low ranges atop Napa Valley, it draws its water from local springs and its wines from grapes grown in the soil of the world’s best-known vineyard valley. That same soil is used for mud baths—Calistoga is known as "Mud City"—a squishy delight offered by ten of the town’s 23 spas. Wake up at Calistoga Roastery; hike Oat Hill Mine Trail or bike the back roads; hit some wineries in the afternoon; and then dip into your inn’s hot pools after savoring California cuisine. Must-see wineries are Castello di Amorosa, a 107-room faux castle with dungeon-level tastings; Sterling Vineyards, a hilltop winery accessible only via tram; and Chateau Montelena, an 1882 stone winery with a Chinese garden and pond. Three family attractions are also nearby if you can coax the kids out of the pool: a hot-springs geyser, a petrified forest, and wild-animal park Safari West.

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