by Heidi Mayer Kruse
• History and hot springs in South Dakota
• Invigorating attendees through a unique water experience
When most people think of waterparks, they envision rapid slides, lazy rivers, and drenching, spraying apparatus, few think of warm tranquil waters. Lo and behold, the Midwest is home to one such location, Evans Plunge in Hot Springs, SD, the only natural hot spring waterpark located in the Midwest.
Long before the Black Hills of South Dakota was dotted with tourist towns or even mining camps, the warm springs of the Southern Hills were highly valued and frequently visited.
The Lakota and Cheyenne Native American tribes sought refuge in the area’s year-round mineral hot tubs and spring fed streams placing hope in a belief of the water’s medicinal healing properties. They appropriately called the area “Minne-kahta” or “warm waters.
Later, pioneers pressed into the area and the small town of Minnekahta grew up around the springs between the statuesque pines and red cliff faces. Eventually, the town was renamed “Hot Springs.”
In 1890, Evans Plunge, opened to the public making it the oldest tourist attraction in the Black Hills region. The facility was filled with mineral water from several small springs and a single large one.
Today, the community is a bit quieter than at the height of its boom time but its attractions are still unique and diverse even among its Black Hills neighbors. Many of the historic buildings still line the streets and tourists still seek out the area for its natural beauty and rich past. The Mammoth Site, discovered by random chance in 1974, showcases an active paleontological dig site and the largest concentration of mammoth remains known in the world. The facility educates thousands of visitors each year with tours through its dense fossil bed. Currently, the dig has unearthed 61 mammoths.
And those “healing waters” still flow.
Owned and operated for years privately, Evans Plunge has undergone several renovations and the building of new structures until finally being purchased by the City of Hot Springs in 2013. You can still swim or soak in the minimally treated waters – their temperatures lingering comfortably at 87°F year-round. The springs continuously flow at a rate of 5,000 gallons per minute and refresh the entire pool every one and a half hours. The facility boasts several slides, two children’s pools, two hot tubs, a sauna, steam room, and weight room among other amenities. The City is working on restoration efforts to preserve and promote the venue for future generations.
While no longer promoted as a cure-all, the peaceful setting and warm waters are still a destination for those seeking relaxation and rich history. With great group rates, year-round fun, and being located in the picturesque Southern Gateway of the Black Hills, your guests will enjoy an experience to write home about.