Hot Springs National Park
Soon after the Louisiana Purchase, increasing numbers of pioneers settled in the Zig Zag Range of the Ouachita Mountains. And word of the region’s therapeutic hot springs began to spread. The mineral-laden, 143-degree-Fahrenheit waters attracted a steady stream of people suffering from arthritis and other ailments. Bathhouses were built at the foot of Hot Springs Mountain, where many major springs flow to the surface at a rate of 700,000 gallons a day. The city grew and prospered by the spa trade, and, on April 20, 1832, the area was set aside as a national reserve, predating the advent of the National Park Service (the area didn’t formally become a national park until 1921).
As the city’s wealth grew, so did the splendor of its bathing palaces. The original establishments, some little more than canvas tents, were supplanted by wooden structures that were in turn replaced by more elaborate structures along the stretch of Central Avenue that became known as Bathhouse Row. They included the Buckstaff, Fordyce, Hale, Lamar, Maurice, Ozark, Quapaw, and Superior. Many were built in the Italianate or Mediterranean styles and filled with marble, stained-glass windows, tile mosaics, and other elaborate ornamentation.
In the 1960s, therapeutic bathing was replaced by more advanced medical treatments. One by one, the bathhouses fell into disrepair and closed. Restoration efforts didn’t begin till the 1980s. Today, you can take the waters at the Buckstaff, the only functioning bathhouse open within the national park itself, or the Quapaw Bath & Spa. The once-again opulent Fordyce contains a visitors center and museum. On its second floor you can see some of the original dressing rooms and watch a short film about the spa’s bathing rituals. The third floor has a music room, state rooms, and a gymnasium. The Lamar Bathhouse serves as the park’s gift shop.
Most of the springs here have been covered to protect them from contamination. At the end of the promenade, by De Soto Rock, you can, however, get a sense of what they were like in the early days, before all the landscaping. Various species of blue-green and green algae, the only plants that can withstand the high water temperature, thrive here. From the Grand Promenade, hike up to the 216-foot Hot Springs Mountain Tower, with its sweeping, 360-degree view of the city, nearby lakes, and Ouachita Mountains. From here you can link up with other trails in the park, which has 26 miles of them in all. In addition there are two scenic park drives; many picnic areas; and the Gulpha Gorge Campground, which has 44 first-come, first-served campsites (28 with hookups).
369 Central Ave.
- Hot Springs, Arkansas 71901
- 34.51448800, -93.05019400
- Visitors Center: daily 9--5. Roads and trails: daily sunrise--10 pm
- Visit Website
- (501) 620-6715