Nestled in the picturesque Black Hills lies the charming town of Hot Springs, SD, a place where history, healing, and natural beauty intertwine. Known for its geothermal wonders and therapeutic springs, Hot Springs has a rich and storied past that dates back centuries.
In this blog post, we'll take a deep dive into the history of Hot Springs, South Dakota, from its Native American origins to its role in the healing arts and modern-day attractions.
Native American roots
Hot Springs is situated on the ancestral lands of the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne tribes, who were among the first to discover the healing properties of the natural thermal springs in the area. They revered the warm waters for their curative powers and considered the region sacred. The Lakota called the springs "Minnekahta," meaning "warm water."
Exploration and early settlement
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, European settlers began to explore the area, drawn by the legends of the healing waters. The region was part of the Louisiana Purchase and became a hotbed of exploration and expansion. In 1879, the town was officially founded and named Hot Springs due to the bubbling thermal springs that became its centerpiece.
The healing waters
The mineral-rich, warm waters of Hot Springs have long been known for their therapeutic qualities. The high mineral content, including calcium, magnesium, and sulfur, made the springs famous for their potential to alleviate various health issues. Patients came from far and wide, seeking relief from ailments like arthritis, rheumatism, and respiratory conditions. To cater to these visitors, sanatoriums, bathhouses, and hospitals were established, forming the foundation of Hot Springs' reputation as a healing destination.
Today, these waters can continue to be enjoyed by booking relaxing and rejuvenating services at Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa or by taking the family to Evan's Plunge. If you prefer to get back to nature, it's worth a trip to Cascade Falls — hailed as a "warm springs" this nature area and swimming hole are located about nine miles south of Hot Springs, SD.
Rails to trails
In addition to its healing waters, Hot Springs has two trailheads of the George S. Mickelson Trail, a recreational gem with an intriguing history of its own. The trail was once a historic rail line that stretched 109 miles through the Black Hills — from Edgemont to Deadwood. The entire trail features more than 100 converted railroad bridges and four rock tunnels.
The original railway was transformed into a scenic pathway, perfect for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The trail offers stunning vistas, tunnels, trestles, and an opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region.
Hot Springs played a significant role in both World War I and World War II. During World War I, the U.S. Army established a military hospital in the town to treat veterans suffering from physical and psychological trauma. Many believed that the healing properties of the springs could help with their recovery. This hospital later became the Battle Mountain Sanitarium, which provided care to veterans for decades.
Today, the Hot Springs VA Medical Center provides primary care and specialty health services.
The Mammoth Site
Hot Springs is also home to the world-famous Mammoth Site. Discovered in 1974, this paleontological treasure trove contains the remains of mammoths and other Ice Age creatures. The site provides a unique glimpse into the prehistoric past and has become a prominent attraction, drawing visitors from around the world.
The modern city of Hot Springs, SD
Today, Hot Springs is a thriving community that continues to celebrate its rich history. The town's downtown area boasts beautifully preserved historical buildings, making it a charming place to stroll and explore. The best way to see Hot Springs on foot? Take a walk down Freedom Trail.
Authentic tipi accommodations
Rent a tipi in Hot Springs, SD for a memorable stay in the Black Hills. The tipis at Highland Meadows Resort are equipped with king-size beds with access to full bathroom facilities. While this glamping adventure differs from days gone by, the glow of the sun through a tipi and the sounds of nature just beyond the thin walls is a memorable way to experience the history of Hot Springs.
Explore Hot Springs
Hot Springs, SD, has a captivating history that weaves together the stories of Native Americans, European settlers, and military presence. The town's geothermal wonders have been a source of healing and inspiration for centuries, attracting visitors from all walks of life. As you visit this charming town, you'll find yourself immersed in the soothing embrace of its warm waters, the echoes of history that permeate its streets, and the unique opportunity to spend the night in an authentic tipi. Whether you seek relaxation, adventure, or a deeper connection with the past, Hot Springs is a destination that has it all. See what else there is to do in Hot Springs.