Touted as having therapeutic qualities, the pure, odorless and tasteless waters flowing from hot springs have been enjoyed by both bathers and drinkers for centuries. At Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, these springs were considered so valuable that in 1832, Congress designated them a reservation, technically making it the first national park in the United States. Flowing from Hot Springs Mountain, these 47 hot springs became a popular attraction for visitors seeking therapeutic relief, or just simple, steamy relaxation. Eight historic bathhouses form Bathhouse Row, including the elegant Fordyce Bathhouse cum Visitor Center, and comprise a National Historic Landmark District.
An indulgent thermal bath is a must for any visitor to Hot Springs, and there are no lack of bathhouse concessioners in the park's surrounding area. Behind Bathhouse Row is the lovely Grand Promenade, where great views of the protected springs and landscape can be taken in during a post-bath stroll. Should the steamy springs make a visitor drowsy, the 25-plus miles of hiking trails winding through the park will be an invigorating change of pace. Trekkers who reach the observation tower at the top of Hot Springs Mountain will be rewarded with views of the verdant Ouachita Mountains.
Hot springs form when water moves through minuscule passages in the rock face of the earth, reaching deep into the hot crust. Upon being heated, the water is energized and returns quickly to the surface through vents.
Tour historic Fordyce Bathhouse, now home to the park's visitor center, and take a self-guided tour to learn about the geological history of the waters, and how the 800,000-plus gallons of water that pass through the springs are used. Stroll the Grand Promenade, visit the eight bathhouses and explore some of the many miles of hiking trails that twist through the mountain.
Where to Stay
Proud to have been the first B&B in Arkansas, the 1890 William House oozes charm and hospitality. The inn's six well-appointed rooms feature 12-foot ceilings, sitting areas and an array of antiques. Five of the rooms offer private whirlpool tubs.
Where else can folks slap their knee to the rhythm of a banjo while learning to blacksmith and play the dulcimer, besides the fantastic Ozark Folk Center? For visitors who have yearned to do a jig while listening to folk-music jam sessions, this historic site is the place to go. Take a lye soap-making class, or learn basic woodcarving. Young and old will be delighted to pay homage to the fascinating culture of the Ozarks. The center is a four-hour drive from Hot Springs.
Where: Located in the city of Hot Springs along the southern edge of Hot Springs Mountain
Hours: The park and Gulpha Gorge campground are open year-round. The visitor center is open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m and until 6 p.m. from May 28 through Aug. 12.
Activities: Hot springs and Bathhouse Row, auto tours, hiking, camping, bird-watching, interpretive programs
Getting there: The local Hot Springs Memorial Field or Little Rock National Airport are the nearest airports.