America’s First Spa Town – Berkeley Springs, WV

Berkeley Springs, WV: America’s First Spa Town

Many resort towns boast spas offering body-pampering treatments, restaurants serving creative entrees using the freshest ingredients, and galleries showcasing original artwork by accomplished artists. But how many promise you a chance to sit in George Washington’s open-air bath tub?  You can do that and more in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.

The town owes its existence to the warm mineral springs which rise up from the rocky soil of the Capacon Mountain and flow through the town. Native Americans knew of the springs. They sometimes shared and sometimes fought over using them for therapy, ceremony, and relaxation. (Capacon is a Shawnee word meaning “mineral waters.”)

Photo Courtesy of Travel Berkeley Springs

In the mid-1700’s, early surveyors, including a 16-year old apprentice by the name of George Washington, took a break from mapping the wilderness to enjoy a Colonial hot tub experience. In 1776, George and his buddies took a break from planning the Revolution long enough to formally establish the town, naming it Bath, after the spa town in England with the same name. That’s still the official name, although it’s rarely called anything but Berkeley Springs.

Wraps, Rubs, and Therapies

Photo Courtesy of Travel Berkeley Springs

Photo Courtesy of Travel Berkeley Springs

Today, this tiny village in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle filled with Victorian-era houses teetering on nearly vertical streets welcomes visitors seeking a complete change of pace and attitude. It’s relaxed and unhurried with residents genuinely glad you’ve come to share their town. The town brags that there are three massage therapists for every lawyer in town, which is reason enough to visit — and stay! That doesn’t count the reflexologists, acupuncturists, Reiki practitioners, chiropractors, Shamanic healers, and hypnotherapists.

Five major spas present guests with a tantalizing array of treatments, each one giving a new definition to the word “pamper.” Private whirlpools, eucalyptus steam rooms, hot stone therapy, coffee scrubs, sugar scrubs, body wraps, any and every version of massage… you could spend your entire visit just oozing from one relaxing spa experience to another.

But that would mean missing Berkeley Springs’ other delights. Believing that you’re entitled to indulge your taste buds as well as the rest of you, food in Berkeley Springs is very important. Creative chefs take advantage of the local farms and rivers to get their produce, poultry, fish, and fruit. The result is a ‘restaurant row’ of innovative, exciting places to dine.


Photo Courtesy of Travel Berkeley Springs

Photo Courtesy of Travel Berkeley Springs

Inspired Art and Accommodations

The positive energy generated by the healthy practices and the beauty of the mountains draw artisans and artists to the region. Stroll along the main thoroughfare or explore the side streets to find shops shops showcasing high-quality artwork, crystals and New Age books, and wares from India and the East.


There’s an equal variety of accommodations. The town boasts that it has everything from lace curtains to log cabins. Eight B&Bs, most in historic houses, each with furnishings and ambiance that reflect the personalities of their hosts are the best way to further enjoy Berkeley Springs’ characters. Then there are the historic inns that hark back to the grand, golden years of Victorian elegance. The most popular lodgings in the area, though, are the cabins, lodges, and mountain farmhouses available for rental.

Festivals All Year Long

Photo Courtesy of Travel Berkeley Springs

Photo Courtesy of Travel Berkeley Springs

With a wonderfully cheerful outlook, the people of Berkeley Springs throw many parties during the year. Their calendar of festivals starts in January with a three-month long Winter Festival of the Waters, celebrating the healing power of water. The International Water Tasting Festival in February judges municipal and commercial waters from around the world to determine which tastes best. For municipalities, winning is a ‘quality of life’ feature used to attract new businesses. For commercial bottlers, winning means worldwide recognition and a flood of new orders.

George Washington Bathed Here?
Mid-March sees the George Washington Bath Tub Celebration. With typical Berkeley Mountain irreverence, the stone trough George may have splashed in is celebrated as “the only outdoor monument to presidential bathing in the country.” The weekend features lots of places serving GW’s allegedly favorite breakfast of corn hoecakes.

Photo Courtesy of Travel Berkeley Springs

Photo Courtesy of Travel Berkeley Springs

Undoubtedly better food is served at the Uniquely West Virginia Food & Wine Festival in mid-April and the Apple Butter Festival held on Columbus Day Weekend in October. The Hay Girlfriend Weekend in June is a town-wide, grown-up sorority fling and slumber party with specials at the spas, ‘chick flicks’ at the classic movie theater in town, chocolate and wine tastings, and sales at the clothing and gift shops.

Visit the official website for Berkeley Springs.


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