Hot Springs National Park
101 Reserve Street
Hot Springs, AR 71902
At Hot Springs National Park -- nestled within the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas -- bathhouses collect the steaming-hot spring waters that spill forth from Hot Springs Mountain. Visitors can both bathe in the waters and view the unusual rock and algae that gather around the mouths of the hot springs. The mountain itself offers hiking, camping, horseback riding, and bird-watching for visitors who are more inclined to see the sights than soak in the waters.
Entrance fees: Admission is free
Visitor center: The visitor center is open daily except January 1, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25
Other services: One campground and six bathing facilities
Accommodations: Gulpha Gorge Campground is open year-round and operates on a first-come, first-served basis.
Visiting Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs is the smallest of our national parks, and in many ways, it is the most unusual. Instead of covering hundreds of thousands of acres of spectacular scenery and wildlife habitat, Hot Springs is nearly surrounded by a city. And instead of protecting natural resources from commercial interests, Hot Springs National Park continues the commercial use of its major natural resource, a practice that began in the 1800s.
Mineral-rich water comes bubbling forth from the park's 47 natural hot springs at the rate of nearly a million gallons a day. The National Park Service collects, cools, and supplies hot water to commercial bathhouses both inside and outside the park.
The waters of Hot Springs have long been used for medicinal purposes, first by Native Americans, then later by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. He is said to have taken a hot bath here in 1541. The unique properties of the waters were investigated in 1804 under authority of President Thomas Jefferson. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson set aside the springs as a special federal reservation.
The long history of presidential interest and involvement allows park officials to refer to Hot Springs as the "oldest area in the national park system." After all, the government took control of the area 40 years before Yellowstone National Park was created.
Perhaps a soak in the bathhouses sounds inviting, but don't forget that Hot Springs National Park has more to offer than just lounging in the steamy water. Keep reading to learn more about what you can do at this national park.
Sightseeing at Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is a place to come if your body is sore and you want to enjoy the rejuvenative waters, or as a natural refuge where you can hike peacefully among the squirrels, rabbits, deer, foxes, warbling vireos, and warblers. Hot water springs have been cherished since the beginning of civilization, from the Roman baths of Pompeii to the ancient thermal springs of England's Bath. At Hot Springs National Park, visitors can know the simple pleasure of resting in water that has been gently warmed in the bosom of the earth.
You can enjoy a hot springwater bath at the Buckstaff, the only bathhouse operating on Bathhouse Row. The Fordyce Bathhouse is a restored spa in which visitors can see stained-glass windows, assorted statuary, and gleaming pipes, as well as the luxurious tubs in which the aficionados of another age undertook three-week therapy courses of daily hot baths and massages.
Hot Springs Mountain, from which water flows at 143 degrees Fahrenheit, rises above the heart of the park. This park includes a total of 47 hot springs, as well as some of the finest hardwood forests to be found in the Ouachita Mountains of central Arkansas.
It offers more than 24 miles of wonderful hiking and bridle trails that wander through woods of oak, hickory, flowering dogwood, eastern redbud, southern magnolia, and shortleaf pine. Local bird-watchers have counted nearly 150 bird species in the hills and valleys of this unique national park. Indeed, it is nationally known as a bird-watcher's paradise.
Hot Springs National Park Photo Opportunities
Hot Springs National Park offers both historical and natural photo opportunities. Here are just a few spots where you can snap that perfect picture:
- Bathhouse Row: While only one of the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row is still functioning, the street is still lined with the grand spas built to mimic 19th century European bathhouses.
- The Cascade: The Cascade is the only hot spring in the park that's in its natural state. Algae growing in the water coats the rocks in a bright blue-green.
- The Grand Promenade: Along the Grand Promenade, which is behind Bathhouse Row, you can see the protected springs that provide water to the bathhouses.
- Ouachita Mountains: The Ouachita Mountains, including Hot Springs Mountain, offer numerous scenic views.
Hot Water From the GroundThere is only one hot spring in its natural condition in Hot Springs National Park. Called the Cascade, it is located approximately a half mile above bathhouse-lined Central Avenue.
The spring was created in 1982 by park officials who cleared away tons of dirt, decaying plants, and other materials that had collected over decades. The water flowing from the Cascade may have fallen as rain as long ago as 4,000 years and then seeped through fractures in the earth's surface. It was heated when it passed over hot, igneous rocks deep within the earth. Eventually the water returns to the surface through faults in the rock of the mountain.
The new tufa rock being created by the Cascade hot spring is building up at the rate of one inch every eight years. The bright blue-green color on the rock is algae, the only plant species that can survive in such hot water. Several concealed natural springs are located along the Tufa Terrace Trail, which is on the opposite side of the Grand Promenade from the Cascade.
Hot Springs National Park was one of the first in the U.S.'s national park system. Go to the next page to learn about the history of Hot Spring's National Park.
The History of Hot Springs National Park
Throughout the 19th century, the town of Hot Springs prospered as a health spa, with people coming from around the world to "take the waters." Entrepreneurs covered the springs and piped hot water into bathhouses along the city's main street, Central Avenue, which is also called Bathhouse Row. The elegant bathhouses that line the avenue were modeled after some of the finest spas in Europe.
In 1832, the Hot Springs of Arkansas became one of the first natural areas to be set aside for the purposes of preservation in the history of American conservation when President Andrew Jackson afforded it federal protection. The singular area was later established as a national park in 1921, shortly after World War I.
Today, Central Avenue is the heart of Hot Springs National Park. Hot Springs Mountain, from which the water flows at 143 degrees Fahrenheit, rises above the street. Its lower slopes were once covered by an unusual, white porous rock, called tufa, which was formed of minerals deposited by the hot water. But the slopes were altered more than a century ago when the rock was covered with tons of dirt, and professional landscapers planted shrubs, trees, and grass.
In recent years, medical science has detracted from the mystique of taking hot mineral baths, which in the past were believed to cure or provide relief from such ailments as arthritis, paralysis, and gout. Nevertheless, visitors still flock to Hot Springs National Park to bathe in its soothing waters.
Arkansas's Hot Springs National Park has attractions for the active vacationer and the spa-seeker alike. It's easy to see why this area has been cherished by so many people.
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