The more we learned about Hot Springs National Park, the more we realized we didn’t really known anything about Hot Springs National Park.
Even though the park was the closest to our Kansas City home, we had never visited before last week, when we took off on Leg 4 of our year-long national parks adventure. We planned only two days at the small park, which was plenty of time to explore Central Avenue’s row of renovated bathhouses, attend a guided tour, hike a few trails, and relax at the campground.
Our first morning at the park was spent learning about the park at the Visitor Center, along a guided tour of Forsyth Bathhouse, and during a stroll on the promenade. Here is a bit of what we discovered:
- Hot Springs is the smallest national park at 5,550 acres. The park features a street of renovated historic bathhouses, several hiking trails, and a campground.
- The park half-jokingly refers to itself as the first national park, because Andrew Jackson set aside the springs for protection in 1832, 40 years before Yellowstone earned the official designation.
- Historically, the tourist destination of Hot Springs, Arkansas was hoppin’. Visitors would come from all over the country to soak in the healing waters of the springs. Bathhouses lined the main street, and hotels, restaurants, and gift shops popped up across the street. Popularity peaked in 1945.
- During these prime years, visits were often medically-driven (compared to the relaxation-driven visits of later years.) Doctors would actually write prescriptions for procedures at the bathhouses: beyond baths, other services included massages, mercury rubs, hydrotherapy, and exercise.
- Today, two bathhouses operate in the national park. These offer both modern hot tub-like bath experiences and private traditional baths, and additional spa services. This is the only way to soak in the springs, and it’s not cheap. This is a bit of a bummer.
- 700,000 gallons of 145-degree water pump out of the springs every day. Modern bathhouses use the water in their spa operations, and residents of the town are encouraged to bring bottles to the public fountains and bring home their fill. The water tastes great — it was especially fun to use it to make tea in the brisk morning.
- Superior Bathhouse Brewery, along Bathhouse Row, is the only brewery within the NPS system.
Although Hot Springs is a small park and requires only a quick visit, it packs a powerful punch.
And because the national park protects the land surrounding the springs, it will remain this way for years to come.
Check out our Hot Springs video for a narrated tour of the Fordyce Bathhouse and the surrounding area.