“Smells like eggs!”
“Tastes like salt!”
I had only been in Saratoga Springs, New York, for about a half-hour when I heard the displeased tweens sharing their unvarnished views about the taste of one of the city’s famed natural springs straight from the ground. But that’s the way springs are…natural. And while some may taste or smell a bit more minerally than others, the Saratoga mineral springs have been a critical part of this fun city for hundreds of years. During my long weekend in town, I set out to explore them.
The springs that bubble up all over Saratoga Springs have been known to have restorative powers back to the times the Mohawk and Iroquois tribes roamed Upstate New York. By the late 1800s, locals exploited their carbonation by trapping the gas to sell to upstart soda companies, running many of the springs dry. But by the 1930s, the tide had turned, and protecting the springs wasn’t only in vogue, they were treated as lifeblood. In one part of town, business boomed at the famous Saratoga Springs Water company. Nearby, the magical waters were funneled into the newly-built Roosevelt and Lincoln Baths where thousands of people came every day to “take the waters” as part of doctor-prescribed treatments for any number of ailments.
Today, it’s impossible to walk around Saratoga Springs without running into some of the great springs that give the city its name. High Rock Park has several, and Congress Park has a handful, pumped through lovely fountains that are easily accessible to anyone wanting a sip (or even to fill a jug, as many locals do). But the greatest concentration of the springs is in Saratoga Spa State Park, just a few minutes from downtown. There, the mineral springs babble—or gush, as the case may be—out of the ground as they did hundreds of years ago.
Thanks to some great maps, it’s easy to take a self-guided tour of the Saratoga Spa State Park springs. But we chose an even more informative way to wind a path through the gorgeous grounds—a guided tour with one of the park’s docents. Our guide Zach was an expert on the history of the park’s spas and its famed Saratoga Performing Arts Center. But the real star of the tour was the Saratoga mineral springs.
On our walk, we wandered through lush patches of trees and across pebbled streams so perfect they looked like they came from a storybook. At different points along the way, we encountered some of the 12 springs still left in the park. Interestingly, these aren’t like the hot springs we’re used to relaxing in like an outdoor spa—they’re a constant 55 degrees, which is perfect for drinking water, if you’re so inclined.
Each spring has its own unique mineral combination, which varies depending on how far underground it starts. That means that each also has its own flavor and smell, which appeal differently to different people. Our first stop was State Seal, a spring that starts 100 feet down and is filtered by sand on its way above ground. The taste was pure and clean, so it’s no wonder why there were a couple of people waiting nearby to fill up their bottles. Just a few steps away, though, the spouting Polaris had a rusty and metallic taste so strong that it was all I could do not to spit it out. Luckily, I wasn’t being judged for style points.
As we snaked our way through the park, we saw visitors with their own cups and bottles apparently doing taste tests of each one of the remarkable springs, too, guessing out loud what the flavor would be before diving in. It was a bit like a treasure hunt and Russian roulette at the same time. But even with a less-than-delicious result, it was total fun.
We stopped for samples at carbonated Karista and Tallulah, a recently-replenished spring that leaves a trail of colored minerals along the hill slope. We paused by the Geyser Island spouter with its massive 85-year-old tufa mineral deposits and watched as other visitors marveled at its size and height. And even with all those stops, we just scratched the surface of the springs and all the things to see in Spa State Park.
There’s no better way to get a sense for these cool natural features than seeing them up close. There is just something special in watching the springs bubble up and make beautiful formations as they’ve done here for centuries. Even if a couple of them do smell a bit like eggs.
I was the guest of Saratoga Performing Arts Center. All opinions of the natural and beautiful are my own.