Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park

We were supposed to visit Hot Springs National Park back in February 2015, but a cold snap and ice storm kept us away [see Cold And A Virus In The Mid-South post] and we routed ourselves away from Arkansas at that time. But we didn’t miss it this time! One word sums up this park: water. Not in a lake. Not in a river. Under the ground. The therapeutic properties believed to be in the waters found here in these hot springs have been attracting visitors for centuries. I love the history of this park.

Early French trappers, hunters, and traders first became familiar with this area in the 17th and 18th centuries.  What we now know as Arkansas was part of the Louisiana Purchase that the U.S. acquired from France in 1803, and as more people explored the area, interest in the springs continued to grow.  As more and more people came to soak in the healing waters, the idea of “reserving” the springs for the entire nation took hold, and in 1832 the federal government took an unprecedented step and set aside four sections of land here.  [Note this was 40 years before Yellowstone was declared the first National Park in 1872.]  But as boundaries were not marked, many laid claim to the springs and surrounding areas.

During this time, crude lumber and canvas structures were built around and over the springs, but fire and wood rot often destroyed these shabby structures.  Hot Springs Creek ran right through the middle of these early “bathhouses” and was generally an eye-sore, not to mention dangerous when the water was high and stagnant when the water was low.  In 1884 the federal government made a channel for the creek to flow through, built a roof over it, and laid a road on top of it.  Noteworthy, the main street, Central Avenue, still flows over the creek to this day which protects the waters from contamination among other things.

Hot Springs NP

In the 1980s the National Park Service began exploring ways these glorious bathhouses could be returned back to splendor, if not as bathhouses, for other uses.  This lead to the Quapaw Baths re-opening as a modern day spa and the Ozark opening as The Museum of Contemporary Art.  The Buckstaff is the only bathhouse that has been in continuous operation since it opened in 1912, and is the only one that provides the traditional therapeutic bathing experience still today.

The photos below are of the Fordyce Bathhouse which today houses the park’s Visitor Center.  It has been restored to its Gilded Age glory with artful marble, tile, fountains, statues, and stained glass.  On display inside is the latest equipment — designed 100 years ago, that is! — to pamper the bather.  State rooms, beauty shops, and even a gymnasium were all here to help cure-seekers who came from far and wide to feel better.  This old equipment was magnificent to see!

The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa

We stayed in the old Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa at the end of Bathhouse Row. Fred took a ranger-led tour of the Fordyce Bathhouse while I decided that I couldn’t come to a place like this without undertaking some treatments myself. Talk about pampering!… I had a bath in the old original baths including a scrubbing “just like a baby” from Ms. Izzette, followed by a cool down in the ladies cooling room, a “needle shower” contraption (very cool!), and then a mud treatment. I don’t mind telling you, my skin was smooooth after my spa morning and I was definitely relaxed!

Fred getting water from the springs

We were very pleasantly surprised with this small but historically rich national park.  It is nothing like the big ‘land grab’ parks that offer hundreds of thousands (or more!) of acres to explore.  Hot Springs NP includes just 5,549 acres of land, but it protects 47 hot springs and eight historic bathhouses.  There are a few short trails in the nearby park and a 20-miler that allows hikers an escape into the nearby Ouachita Mountains.  If anyone is looking for a long-weekend getaway, we highly recommend Hot Springs!  I’m already planning a return visit for a girls’ getaway weekend when we come off the road.  Don’t forget your water jugs!

People filling their water containers from the hot springs
People filling their water containers from the hot springs

We were very pleasantly surprised with this small but historically rich national park. It is nothing like the big ‘land grab’ parks that offer hundreds of thousands (or more!) of acres to explore. Hot Springs NP includes just 5,549 acres of land, but it protects 47 hot springs and eight historic bathhouses.

There are a few short trails in the nearby park and a 20-miler that allows hikers an escape into the nearby Ouachita Mountains. If anyone is looking for a long-weekend getaway, we highly recommend Hot Springs! I’m already planning a return visit for a girls’ getaway weekend when we come off the road. Don’t forget your water jugs!

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