“Taking the Waters” at Napa Valley’s Indian Springs

Every year my oldest friend Sue (we met the first day of first grade!) and I head to Indian Springs in Calistoga for a day of relaxation and rejuvenation. We schedule appointments for massages and splurge on a pass to use the pool for the day. We happen to be creatures of habit so we visit Indian Springs each time but there are many spas to choose from in the area.

It has been said that the word “spa” comes from the first letters of the Latin words sanitas per aqua translated as “health through water” or from the name of a Belgian town named Spa where spring water rich in iron has been used since the Roman times as a treatment for injuries. Wherever the term originated, spas all have a similar purpose – to restore vitality and to promote physical and emotional health.

Both Napa and Sonoma counties contain geothermal mineral springs – known as hot springs – and the town of Calistoga has a long history of attracting people seeking rest and healing. It is believed that native Wappo Indians were the first to soak in water from the springs and to mix the volcanic ash soil found in the area with the hot spring water bubbling out of the ground to use as “mud baths” to relieve aches and pains.

In 1862, gold rush entrepreneur Sam Brannan realized the economic potential in the therapeutic waters and opened a resort that included a hotel, separate cottages, steam rooms and mud baths. The present-day Indian Springs resort and still contains all of these original amenities in an updated interpretation that remains true to its roots. In 1913, an Olympic sized mineral pool was built, replacing the original “plunge.”

Warm pool at Indian Springs resort in Calistoga, CA
Olympic size warm pool at Indian Springs

The pool is unique because it is fed by active geyers right behind the adjacent steam room. It is mesmerizing to watch the steam from the geyers billowing as you sit in deck chairs under a shaded pavilion (our favorite spot). The resort’s website states that it is a pool “like no pool anywhere else” and it’s not an exaggeration.

Billowing geyser behind the pool at Indian Springs resort in Calistoga, CA
Billowing geyser behind the main pool at Indian Springs

After our massages, we walk the short distance to the pool area wrapped in robes from the spa and stop for complimentary cups of ice water flavored with cucumber or citrus. My beach bag has all the necessities – a stack of magazines and a good book, a sun hat and flip flops. The pool loungers floating at the edges of the pool beckon you into the water and there is also an adult pool if you prefer cooler water and a bit less noise and splashing. The option to purchase light meals ensures that your every need is met.

Geothermal waters are another natural resource in a long list of wonders in California and especially the wine country. We always leave Indian Springs filled with gratitude for living in such close proximity to these heavenly spas.

Inside Tip: If you are having a spa service is to be sure to stop at the restrooms located in the massage area where the walls are filled with incredible vintage black and white photos of the resort.


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