The soothing warm water of a natural hot spring is not the first thing that comes to mind when imagining a trip to the Midwestern State of Illinois. However, along with sweeping prairies, the city of Chicago, and centuries of history, the state is also home to a small collection of natural springs, including one of the only hot springs in the American Midwest.
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, Illinois was actually a very popular hot spring destination, with several thermal pools riddled throughout the state. Today, only one of these hot mineral pools remains and entices visitors to unwind in its soothing waters throughout the year.
Several cool water springs boasting similarly high mineral concentrations are littered throughout the Prairie State but are inaccessible to the public during the cold winter months. Conversely, the state’s sole hot spring remains open throughout the year and is a particularly popular destination for escaping low seasonal temperatures.
From the best hot springs practices and where to find them to alternative cold spring options when visiting other regions of the state, this is everything you need to know about hot springs in Illinois to get the most out of the state’s healing waters.
The History of Hot Springs in Illinois
During the mid-19th century, several springs in Illinois were uncovered to have high mineral concentrations reflective of hot springs in other states. Known to possess healing and soothing properties, these springs were quickly converted into hot spring resort destinations.
For the rest of the century and into the early 20th century, several of these resorts prospered in the state, including the hot spring tourism town of Vishnu and the Mineral Springs of Pekin. Throughout their time in operation, these facilities were renowned for their warm healing waters, luxury hotels, and a myriad of entertainment options and outdoor activities.
Over the decades that followed, most of Illinois’ hot spring destinations were gradually abandoned and left to decay into obscurity. Of the state’s thermal complexes, only one remains in operation today. At the same time, several cold-water springs can still be visited and boast similar mineral concentrations that give the waters their healing properties.
Hot Springs in Illinois
While several hot springs once presided in the state, only one of these thermal pools remains today and promises the same traditional soaking experience once enjoyed by the state’s early residents.
The Original Springs Hotel
Illinois’s last surviving hot spring was first discovered by Rudolph Plegge in 1867. Extracting water from his property’s well, Plegge noticed the water was inexplicably decaying his pots and pans. When it was tested, high levels of magnesium and sulfur were uncovered in the water.
At the time of its discovery, mineral spring resorts were popping up around the country to service similarly composed springs, which had recently become renowned for their natural healing properties.
Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on his good fortune, Plegge promptly established a bathhouse sourced from his underground water supply.
After three decades of moderate prosperity, Plegge’s bathhouse burned down and was rebuilt in the same location and remains in operation today, nearly 150 years after its first establishment.
While retaining its turn-of-the-century charms, The Original Springs Hotel has been modernized throughout the years and boasts several additional amenities reflective of a hot spring resort. These services include onsite accommodation, therapeutic services, fine dining facilities, and even an events venue with in-house catering.
Beyond its historical and healing waters, The Original Springs Hotel is also famous as a hot spot for the paranormal and is a renowned destination for lovers of the supernatural.
In addition, it is a fantastic destination for unwinding in the hot mineral waters while exploring the facility’s haunted halls and storied walls.
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Cool Water Springs in Illinois
While Illinois is home to only one hot spring, several cold-water springs can be found throughout the state and invite visitors to submerge in their high mineral waters throughout the summer. These are some of the most popular cold water spring alternatives for visitors unable to make the journey to The Original Springs Hotel in Okawville.
Bell Smith Springs
Located in the Shawnee National Forest towards the southern edge of Illinois near Ozark, the Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area is a preserved corner of the state that features one of the region’s most beautiful natural mineral pools.
Along with its eponymous cold springs, the recreation area features plenty of outdoor adventures, including eight miles of interweaving trails that guide visitors along clear spring streams, picturesque canyons, and several unique and engaging rock formations.
One of the best times to visit the Bell Smith Springs is during the spring and summer when the creek waters are typically about calf high and feed into larger pools scattered throughout the area.
While Bell Smith Springs may only be a cold spring, the cool waters of the site make it a refreshing escape from the summer heats while providing a natural getaway for visitors to explore Illinois’ indigenous flora and fauna species.
An alternative natural spring destination located just outside of Chicago in northern Illinois, the Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area is one of the most accessible natural pools in the state. The bubbling spring features high mineral concentrations that produce silver-like reflections of sunlight from which the water gets its name.
Additionally, thanks to the spring’s high mineral concentrations, the Silver Springs never freeze, even throughout Illinois’ frigid winter months. While the temperatures of the waters during this time are still much too cold to swim in, the state park remains a fantastic spot to hike, camp, and engage in outdoor activities year-round.
The Silver Springs State Park consists of 45 acres preserved as a prairie restoration area. Along with dipping in the natural springs bubbling water, visitors will also have the opportunity to explore a beautiful landscape similar to the earliest days of the region’s settlers while observing several local wildflowers, animals, and bird species.
Mineral Springs Park
Perhaps the most accessible of Illinois’ natural spring destinations, the Mineral Springs Park operates out of the heart of Pekin and is home to over 200 acres that feature a wide array of amenities and landmarks, including its notable Pekin Park Lagoon.
The half-mile round lagoon is famous for hiking, picnics, fishing, and paddle boarding. However, the park also features additional family-fun activities, including a children’s playground, a mini-golf course, and even the DragonLand Water Park.
While the Mineral Spring Park may not boast the same natural scenery as many other natural springs found throughout Illinois, it is the destination for visitors seeking to submerge in the high mineral waters of the site while embracing the myriad of additional services offered within the park.