Home to over 300 miles of picturesque coastlines and some of the tallest mountains in the eastern United States, North Carolina is known as the birthplace of aeronautics and is world-famous for its quaint townships and colorful cities. Yet, with so many fantastic attractions, one of the Old North State’s greatest draws often goes unappreciated by international tourists.
While hot springs are abundant throughout the American West, only a small collection of these thermal pools can be found scattered throughout the country’s central and eastern regions.
And one such occurrence of these rare mineral springs is located in North Carolina, offering a calming respite after an active journey exploring the region’s intrepid landscapes and storied landmarks.
Whether looking to soak your worries away at a full-service hot spring spa or seeking a natural spring in a preserved corner of the state, this is everything you need to know about hot springs in North Carolina, from where to find them to the best cold water spring alternatives.
The History of Hot Springs in North Carolina
There is only one hot spring in North Carolina, located in the aptly named community of Hot Springs. Tucked away deep in the Pisgah National Forest, the hot springs were discovered by European explorers in 1778.
At that point, a small settlement was established by the site, which has since grown into the Hot Springs community that continues to service the springs today.
However, long before their discovery by the western world, the springs were renowned for their healing properties and were often frequented by Native American tribes that presided in the area.
Visitors from around the world continue to visit the site over two centuries after their discovery to embrace the same healing properties of the water once enjoyed by the land’s ancient inhabitants.
Hot Springs in North Carolina
Hot Springs feature average water temperatures of about 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
As the only hot spring in North Carolina, the site is popular amongst tourists and features plenty of infrastructure for housing international visitors.
These are some of the best accommodations for experiencing the natural mineral waters of Hot Springs.
Broadwing Farm Cabins
Providing guests with one of North Carolina’s only private accesses to the state’s sole hot spring, Broadwing Farm and Cabins is one of the best methods for visitors to submerge in the site’s mineral waters.
While not located directly on the hot spring itself, the farm’s property is connected to the same underground aquifer that feeds the spring.
Broadwing Farm offers guests a selection of three cabins, each boasting its own private hot tub fed directly from the hot springs’ aquifer. Upon extraction into the tubs, the spring water averages about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. However, once in the hot tub, the mineral water can be warmed to desired temperatures up to 104 degrees.
Along with providing onsite accommodation, the Broadwing Cabins are the best method for soaking in North Carolina’s warm mineral waters while enjoying the secluded ambiance of dense forests filled with native plant and animal life for visitors to explore.
Hot Springs Resort & Spa
Opened the same year that the hot spring was discovered, the Hot Springs Resort & Spa has been a popular destination for visitors to soak in the natural healing waters for over two centuries.
Occupying 100 acres of pristine countryside in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, the Hot Springs Resort offers visitors several ways to engage with the natural water supply while also taking advantage of the resort’s pristine environment for a series of fun outdoor activities and explorations.
Offering several onsite accommodation options, visitors to the resort will engage their surroundings along several hiking trails before retreating to the facility’s eponymous hot spring baths, where they can soothe their well-worn muscles.
For an even more enhanced relaxation experience bathed in tranquility, the resort offers several treatments at their full-service spa, all of which take advantage of the mineral water’s healing properties.
Cold Water Springs in North Carolina
For those unable to make the journey to Hot Springs along the state’s western border, North Carolina is also home to several natural pools fed by cold water springs.
While these pools don’t boast the warm temperatures that define hot springs, they do share the same high mineral concentrations and offer a soothing respite throughout the summer months.
Elk River Falls
Located north of Hot Springs, the Elk River Falls is one of the most beautiful natural springs in North Carolina and features a 50 ft mountain waterfall cascade. A picturesque watering hole, the waterfall plummets into a large oval pool.
Visitors will have to make a short half-mile hike from the trailhead near Banner Elk to reach the spring. There are plenty of scenic vantage points from which to observe the falls, and those that wish to get up close to the waters need only follow the path to the foot of the pool.
While visitors are invited to touch the mineral water, guests are warned not to swim. The high volume of water displacing within the pool causes strong undertows that pull everything to the bottom of the spring, making it unsafe for visitors to submerge.
Luckily, the area around the spring is filled with natural beauty, and visitors have plenty of opportunities to explore the state’s local wildlife and plant species.
Another beautiful natural cold water spring fed by a majestic waterfall, the Shacktown Falls is located in Yadkinville in central North Carolina. While only a short walk from the parking lot, the springs at Shacktown Falls feature plenty of interweaving hiking trails through the surrounding area for visitors seeking to engage in further exploration of the region.
Like Elk River Falls, the Shacktown Falls feed into a large pool. However, this spring is only about 4 feet at its deepest and is entirely safe for visitors to swim in. The best time to visit this natural spring is during the summer when the cold water temperatures are slightly warmer and provide a cool escape from the summer heat.
It is also worth noting that the spring is best avoided during times of high rainfall as the falls can often become flooded, resulting in unswimmable rapids taking the spring’s place.
Found within the Big Creek region of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Midnight Hole is another beautiful natural spring in North Carolina and is a famous swimming hole for locals and tourists alike.
The springs require a 2.8-mile out-and-back hike to access and are fed by a 6-foot waterfall that plummets into the spring. The crystal-clear water area is surrounded by large boulders, resulting in a comfortable and safe swimming hole for visitors to submerge.
Most popular throughout the summer, the Midnight Hole can become crowded during the peak season as visitors seek an escape from the heat. Visiting during the late spring and early fall are the best times to visit the spring with reduced crowds.