As the dog days of August arrive, it’s a good time to seek an out-of-town getaway that offers a final fling of summer. Or maybe you’re thinking ahead about a ghostly Halloween outing or a Dickens-y holiday excursion.
Take a look at Excelsior Springs, located northeast of Kansas City on Highway 10, about a two-hour drive from Columbia. Chances are you’ll see something you like.
Something in the Water
Similar to its sister spa towns such as Eureka Springs, Arkansas or West Baden Springs, Indiana, Excelsior Springs rose to fame in the late 1800s on the purported healing properties of its many mineral waters. Siloam Spring — the only natural supply of ferro-manganese mineral water in this country and one of only five known in the world — lured people with its “magical” red-tinted waters and led to the founding of the town in 1880 as cure-seekers arrived in droves, camping in tents and covered wagons.
Soon more than 40 other mineral springs and wells were discovered in the area and were identified by their primary minerals, including sodium bicarbonate, calcium bicarbonate and saline sulphur. Excelsior Springs could boast of having more natural groupings of mineral water than anywhere else in the world.
The town prospered with boarding houses, hotels and restaurants built to answer the burgeoning demand, and stage lines linked Excelsior Springs with larger metropolitan areas. With its reputation as a health resort, it survived the Great Depression better than many other towns. The landmark Hall of Waters was a Works Progress Administration project that provided work for locals and produced a building that is still treasured today.
Excelsior Springs saw a decline in the 1950s as the health claims of mineral waters were questioned and the popularity of spa towns subsided. In recent years, town leaders recognized the tourism value of the spa experience and have worked to preserve the town’s history while adding new attractions. Come see for yourself in this town “where the past is present,” as the museum logo says.
Where to Stay
For full immersion in Excelsior Springs history and spa tradition, a stay at The Elms Hotel and Spa is a must. This hotel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is actually the third hotel of this name. The first two, both of which were destroyed by fire, were constructed in 1888 and 1909. The present hotel, built in 1912, is made of steel frame and reinforced concrete construction and is virtually fireproof.
The hotel features a deluxe spa and grotto, an indoor European lap pool, outdoor pool and hot tub — all amid 10 acres of lush green gardens.
Even if you can’t stay there, you can visit the hotel and see the public areas, or join one of the nightly paranormal tours to learn about the hotel’s “special” guests.
There are several bed-and-breakfasts in town, as well as AirBnB and vacation rental properties. You can get locked up at the Payne Jailhouse B&B, which is the original jailhouse transformed into modern and comfortable lodging.
Plenty to Do
Make your first stop the Hall of Waters, where you can stock up on brochures about local events and attractions, ask questions of the friendly locals who operate the tourist center and — most important — visit the Hall of Waters itself.
This 1937 building is home to the “World’s Longest Water Bar,” which at one time served a variety of mineral waters, each piped directly from one of 10 springs. Take time to read the informative history panels, and be sure to note the Art Deco and Mayan Revival architecture. Take a tour of the building, including the original mineral bath areas and the now-empty public swimming pool. There’s also a paranormal tour option.
Explore the town and nearby attractions with trolley tours offered by the Chamber of Commerce. Choose from winery tours, culinary tours, paranormal tours, holiday-themed tours and more.
Outdoor activities include golf, hiking, paddling, camping, ziplining, cycling and skateboarding. The nearby Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site and State Park is popular with both locals and visitors.
Going hungry or thirsty will not be an issue in Excelsior Springs, where local dining establishments offer a variety of food and drink.
A popular downtown eatery is Ray’s Diner, established in 1932 and famous for chili, hamburgers and homemade cinnamon rolls. It’s a true diner experience, inside and out.
Three wineries in the nearby area are Fence Stile Vineyards, Four Horses and a Dog and VanTill Farms and Winery. Dubious Claims Brewing Company and the Atlas Saloon offer house-brewed beers, along with other drink options.
Whether wine tourism, outdoor activity or spa wellness programs appeal to the traveler in you, you’ll find these and much more in historic Excelsior Springs.