New York is home to many incredible and unique landscapes, and one such spot is Saratoga Spa State Park.
Saratoga Spa State Park is located in Saratoga County, New York, approximately 30 miles north of Albany. What makes this park so special is that it is home to an amazing collection of mineral springs and even several spouters (which are kind of like small geysers).
The 13 mineral springs here each have a unique flavor and taste (Yes, you drink the water here). Even more curiously, most of the springs are naturally carbonated, which gives this water both a unique taste and is also the reason that some of them shoot high up entire the air.
While the fact that the park has “spa” in its name and even features a spa that you can visit might make you think that it’s just for calm relaxation, this park is actually a great spot for hikers and those that love natural oddities as well.
History of Saratoga Spa State Park
The area that would become Saratoga Spa State Park was known to native tribes for its mineral water for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It is thought that this land was sacred due to their use of the spring water.
One of the first references to the area of the park after colonists arrived was a wounded French and Indian War soldier being brought to the park in an attempt to use the supposed healing properties in the water to cure him of his wounds.
Over the years, the springs grew in popularity, and, by the 19th century, people were coming to the area for treatments and entrepreneurs were digging wells to bottle the water. The natural carbonation here was even sold to soda fountains.
By the early 20th century, the wells were beginning to run dry and there was worry about the heavy use of the site. For that reason, in 1909, the Springs of Saratoga, as they were known, officially became a state reservation.
Despite the land being protected by the state, there was still a demand for the spring water’s potential medical benefits. So, in 1930, the park opened bathhouses, a drink hall, and research laboratories.
Today, there are still two spas in the park, as well as several interesting museums, swimming pools, and a golf course. However, for me, the main draw to the park was the chance to see the amazingly unique springs and spouters within the park.
Hiking in Saratoga Spa State Park
There are more than seven miles of hiking trails in Saratoga Spa State Park, and most, if not all, are quite flat and easy hikes.
The most popular trail is the 2.9-mile Geyser Trail, which goes directly past or very close to, all 12 of the open springs in the park. However, you don’t have to hike that far to see the springs.
In fact, some of the best mineral springs to visit are directly along the road and visible from your car, while the others are no more than a few hundred yards back into the woods.
For my visit, my family and I opted to hike a short portion of the Geyser Trail that starts and ends at Hayes Spring. While this portion of the trail, which is sometimes called the Vale of Springs Trail, is only about a half-mile roundtrip, it takes you past the two most popular and unique springs at the park, as well as making it easy to visit another three mineral springs.
There is a small parking area directly adjacent to Hayes Spring (number 5 on the park map), which can be found at the following coordinates: 43.051117, -73.805528.
Should this lot be full, cross Geyser Creek and park in the large parking lot next to the bathrooms. Ultimately, you’re going to want to briefly visit this side of the creek as well, so it doesn’t really matter which parking area you use.
From the parking area next to Hayes Spring, you can see one of the highlights of the park: Island Spouter.
As the name implies, this spouter is located on a small rocky island in the middle of Geyser Creek. The Spouter first appeared in the early 20th century and shoots water high up into the sky at a constant rate.
If you look closely, you can see a small tufa dome out of which the water shoots. This is actually mineral build-up that has occurred over the years from the water.
Note that there is a great viewing area for the Island Spouter (which is handicapped-accessible), so please don’t attempt to get closer to it as you could damage this geological wonder.
It’s worth noting at this point that these springs are all focused around Geyser Creek, which is named after the spouters here. However, geysers and spouters are not the same things.
While these spouters are caused by the natural carbonation of the water forcing it upwards, geysers are caused by magma heating the water and causing it to shoot into the air. Geyers are also intermittent, while the spouters in Saratoga Spa State Park flow continuously.
So, while they might look similar and the name of the creek is a bit confusing, this is a spouter, not a geyser.
Before leaving this spot, take note of the small stone structure in the middle of the viewing area. This is the tap for Hayes Spring.
Like most of the mineral springs in the park, you can sample the water from this spot. (Note that I’m not sure how often the water in these springs is monitored for contaminants, so drink at your own risk.)
Hayes Spring is one of the naturally carbonated springs in the park, and the taste was certainly interesting. Not good, but interesting.
This was a common theme for the springs in the park.
Once you’ve enjoyed Island Spouter and Hayes Spring, follow the Geyser Trail upstream along the creek. This trail follows directly alongside the waterway and there are no railings, so make sure to be careful here with younger children.
After only a few minutes of hiking along this beautiful creek, you’ll come to Orenda Spring.
Without a doubt, Orenda Spring is one of the most unusual mineral springs I’ve ever seen. In fact, the massive build-up of minerals from the spring has created a huge tufa dome that the water cascades over.
It’s truly a unique and special spot.
The trail wraps its way around the mineral build-up, which gives you a chance to get a really close look at it. It wasn’t until I got close that I realized that water was constantly pouring over the rockface, but it was so clear that I couldn’t even see it from more than a few feet away.
Once beyond Orenda Spring, the trail continues a short distance and passes under a metal bridge before coming to a stairwell. However, before taking the stairwell up the hill, check out the small waterfall and concrete ruins just a few yards upstream on Geyser Creek.
Once at the top of the stairwell, you could continue right if you wanted to do a longer hike on the Geyser Trail, but we opted to head left and walk back to our car.
Along the way, we passed a small building that featured water from Orenda Spring (which you are now nearly standing on top of). Like the water at Hayes Spring, it was certainly interesting to try, but I didn’t ask for seconds.
In about a quarter-mile, this asphalt trail returns you to the small parking area adjacent to Hayes Spring and Island Spouter. Before leaving though, take a few minutes to check out some of the other springs on the opposite side of the creek.
Here, you’ll find State Seal Spring, Polaris Spring, and the creatively named #5 Spring (which is ironically #8 on the park map).
Polaris Spring is located on the opposite side of the road from the large parking lot and features a small fountain with the water shooting out of the ground to a height of about 4-5 feet. This is another of the carbonated springs and, once again, has a rather interesting taste.
Fortunately, State Seal Spring, which is located adjacent to the bathrooms is actually quite tasty. This is the type of water that you generally associate with mineral springs, and we made a point of filling up several water bottles while we were there.
It should be noted that this is also probably the most popular spring in Saratoga Spa State Park to drink from in the park, and even on the quiet October weekday that we visited, there were several people filling up jugs of water from the spring.
If you go on a busy day, you might have to wait for a bit to try this one.
While there’s certainly a lot more to explore in Saratoga Spa State Park, the short half-mile hike I’ve covered above offers you the chance to see the park’s two most interesting spots, try more than a third of the park’s mineral springs, and see some of the area’s most beautiful scenery.
And, while the hike here is one of the easiest ones I’ve done in New York, this is also one of the most unique and beautiful spots I’ve had the chance to visit in the state.
Definitely add this Capital Region park to your list of spots to check out in New York.
[Click here for information on how to use the coordinates in this article to find your destination.]