Guide to Visiting Hot Springs National Park

Guide to Visiting Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park, located in southwest Arkansas, is a great park to visit with limited time.  It is small in size, most sites are located within just a few minutes of one another, and the town is easy to navigate.  Read on to learn how to spend your time at one of the oldest national parks!

HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK FACTS

The water in Hot Springs National Park is over 4,000 years old

  • LOCATION:  Arkansas
  • CLOSEST CITY:  Little Rock, AR
  • ANNUAL VISITORS:  2.6 million 
  •  13th most visited US National Park
  • BECAME A NATIONAL PARK:  1921
  • TOP THINGS TO SEE & DO:  Visiting Bathhouse Row

First of all, why is Hot Springs a National Park?

Near the Ouachita Mountains in southwest Arkansas, hot spring water rises up from deep in the ground to the Earth’s surface at an average temperature of 143 degrees.  This water first fell as rain over 4,000 years ago, seeping deep into the Earth in cracks in its surface.  So how does the water then come back up as hot mineral water?  Underground pressure propels the water upward and back out onto the surface.  The result is the hot mineral water that we get to enjoy the benefits of!

In the early days, people simply soaked where the water pooled above ground, eager to help soothe their various ailments.  Over time, small huts were erected over the springs and eventually bathhouses sprouted up as more and more people came to soak in these healing hot springs.

By the late 1800s, more modern bathhouses were built just below Hot Springs Mountain.  These bathhouses continued to develop additional health and wellness features such as hydrotherapy, massages, and steam rooms.  As more luxurious bathhouses were built, they continued to evolve with increased demand for therapeutic resources.  Some of the bathhouses contained workout areas, gardens, restaurants, salons, and relaxation areas.  These bathhouses became vacation destinations in and of themselves!

In 1832 President Andrew Jackson issued federal protection for Hot Springs Reservation.  This was the very first area to be protected federally.  Although it took another 90 years to become an official US National Park, it is the oldest federally protected area!

Today there are eight remaining bathhouses lined up in a row on Central Avenue.  This row of bathhouses is aptly named Bathhouse Row

Bathhouse Row on Central Ave.

Each bathhouse serves a different purpose today.  It is really innovative how the National Park Service has repurposed these historical buildings!

Bathhouse Row

The earliest bathhouses were wooden structures which were really prone to fire damage.  By 1911 the federal government would no longer renew leases on these wooden buildings in order to protect the overall safety of the public.  Bathhouse structures shifted to being built of the stone and brick we see today.

Now for the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row:

Superior 

Superior Bathhouse, built in 1916, is the smallest bathhouse on Bathhouse Row. 

Superior Bathhouse Brewery

Today, it is the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and is the only brewery located IN a national park!  Superior Bathhouse Brewery also uses the thermal spring water to make their beer.  Thankfully, by the time customers have the beer in hand, it is nice and cold 🙂

We dined here on our first evening at Hot Springs National Park and it was a fun way to kick off the trip.  Superior Bathhouse Brewery serves pub-type food along with creative beer flavors.  We sampled the flight, which is four 4-ounce pours of flavors of your choosing.  Our picks were Spicy Ride (a jalapeno ale – just a touch of spice for kick), The Beez Kneez (a honey basil blonde – great slight honey flavor and my favorite), Basic Peaches (a peach sour that was very sour – Mike’s favorite), and Candy Mountain (a good, basic ale).  

Our flight | Superior Bathhouse Brewery

After dining, we checked out the rest of the historic building.  With the tile floor, exposed plumbing, and large bathtubs repurposed as storage containers one is really reminded that you are dining in an old bathhouse!

Superior Bathhouse Brewery

Hale

The Hale is the oldest bathhouse still on Bathhouse Row, dating back to 1802.  The Hale’s unique feature is that it has a sauna in a thermal cave carved from the mountainside.

Hotel Hale

Today the Hale is repurposed as Hotel Hale, a nine-suite luxury hotel right in the midst of Bathhouse Row.  Each room contains a bathtub with mineral water pumped in directly from the hot springs.  The location can’t be beat as a place to stay while visiting Hot Springs National Park.

Maurice

The Maurice bathhouse is the only bathhouse on Bathhouse Row that is not currently open for use.  It is being renovated and it will be exciting to see how the National Park Service intends to use it.  

Maurice

Back in the day, the Maurice was one of the more luxurious bathhouses with a plethora of amenities such as a gym, garden, and a pool.  In fact, the Maurice was the only bathhouse to have a pool!

Fordyce

The Fordyce was developed in 1915 and was the largest bathhouse on Bathhouse Row with a long list of amenities.  

Today, the Fordyce is the official Hot Springs National Park Visitor’s Center and houses the park’s museum. 

Fordyce, the National Park Visitor’s Center and Museum

In the theatre catch the nine-minute long movie which shares a traditional bathhouse routine.  Walk through the entire three floors of the building and take a peek at the fully restored and preserved rooms.  The Fordyce had everything from soaking areas to massage parlors, a salon, relaxation areas, and the most interesting of all – a full gymnasium.  As fitness enthusiasts, Mike and I really enjoyed seeing all the old workout equipment, which is very well preserved and reconstructed for us to see today.

The gymnasium | Fordyce

Various rooms at the museum | Fordyce

This is one of the best museums we have been to in the national parks.  A visit here will take about an hour.  We also spent time talking to the park rangers to learn more about the bathhouses and to get advice on hiking trails in the area.

Quapaw

Built in 1922, The Quapaw is one of two remaining operational bathhouses today.  The name comes from a Native American Tribe that held the land here.

The Quapaw is the onion domed bathhouse to the left of Ozark

Today, you can soak in the public baths or reserve a private bath or spa service such as hydrotherapy, mineral bath, or aromatherapy bath.  This was the bathhouse Mike and I visited.  No reservations are needed for the public baths as they are first come, first serve.  We popped in after getting caught in a sleet storm and having to defer our hiking plans. 

We moved among the four baths, each heated to slightly different temperatures.  They are basically giant hot tubs filled with hot spring water with the added benefit of natural minerals.  We topped off our time here with a glass of champagne at the on-site bar.  What a relaxing (and warm!) experience!

Ozark

Also built in 1922, the Ozark was considered a middle-of-the-road bathhouse, designed for the middle class that wanted to soak but not pay for upgraded frills available at some of the other bathhouses. 

Ozark

Today, it is the Hot Springs National Park Cultural Center, displaying a variety of artwork.

Buckstaff

The Buckstaff is the only other fully operating bathhouse on Bathhouse Row.  It is the only bathhouse on Bathhouse Row to continually operate for over a century!

Buckstaff

The exterior of the Buckstaff is striking, with its blue and white awnings set against the bright white columns and brick building.  The Buckstaff recreates the bathhouse experience of days of old with using original baths and equipment and keeping men’s and women’s areas separate (still to this day).  Additional spa services are also available such as manicures, pedicures, and facials.

Lamar

The Lamar Bathhouse was built in 1923 and its claim to fame was that it offered bathtubs in varying lengths for comfort no matter your height.  It also contained a gym on site.

Lamar

Today, the Lamar has a few purposes.  It houses offices, archives, a research library, and the Hot Springs National Park Store.

Outdoor Activities

Hot Springs National Park is located right within the Ouachita Mountains in southwest Arkansas.  There are hiking opportunities and other ways to get out into nature.

The Grand Promenade

Behind Bathhouse Row is a bricked path, stretching from Fountain Street to Reserve Street.  It’s elevated so one can see the back of Bathhouse Row from above while enjoying a stroll among nature.  Throughout the Grand Promenade are informative signs.

The Grand Promenade

You can enter The Grand Promenade at various points:

The south end off Reserve Street – This entry point has some steps to get up to the Grand Promenade.  It is also near the Thermal Water Jug Fountain where people often line up to fill jugs of spring water to take home.  This water is very warm, however, so you probably don’t want to fill your water bottle up here!  

Just beyond this sign is the Thermal Water Jug Fountain and steps leading up to the Grand Promenade

Central Avenue, in between the Maurice and Fordyce Bathhouses – There are two fountains here flanked by pillars with statues on top set on either side of the sidewalk. 

Entrance to the Grand Promenade from Central Ave

This path leads back to the large fountain, known as Stevens Balustrade (the grand staircase). 

Stevens Balustrade – the fountain dispenses spring water

Once you reach the fountain, you can fill up your bottle here (it’s not cold, but not hot either).  Or, if you simply want to try a sip of the spring water, ask for a paper cup at the Fordyce National Park Visitor’s Center before you head out.

Filling up my paper cup with spring water, courtesy of the visitor’s center

The north end off Fountain Street near the Arlington Hotel – This entry point is accessible as the path is a hill and does not have stairs.   

The Grand Promenade coming up from Fountain Street

Don’t miss the Hot Water Cascade, two-tiered bricked pools with steaming hot spring water coming down from the mountain and ending in these pools. 

Hot Water Cascade

To reach it, take the trail down from the Grand Promenade which takes just a couple of minutes.  A gazebo and Tufa Rock are located here as well, which is fun for kids to scramble on.

Hiking Trails near Bathhouse Row

There are a few, short trails that are easily accessed right from the Grand Promenade.  Simply divert onto Carriage Road Trail, Peak Trail, or Tufa Terrace Trail.  These are short and sweet, perfect for kids.

The Oertel Trail runs parallel to the old Army & Navy Hospital.  It’s straight up the hill so expect to be climbing up the whole time.  It’s neat to get a closer look at the dilapidated hospital.

The Oertel Trail, which runs next to the old Army & Navy Hospital

West Mountain

To access west mountain, we left the parking garage on Exchange Street and headed to Prospect Avenue.  This area has some lovely historical homes to check out as you are driving to West Mountain.  We took West Mountain Drive up and stopped at the pull out on the right hand side of the road just before the bend. 

The pull out on the right-hand side of the road on West Mountain

From up here, there are great views of the downtown area including Bathhouse Row as well as Hot Springs Mountain Tower in the distance.  On the day we visited the weather had just turned to rain mixed with sleet!  

Views from West Mountain

There are a few hiking trails here – West Mountain Trail, Oak Trail, and Canyon Trail.  When we talked with the park ranger he suggested doing our hikes at North Mountain.  So we simply continued the drive back down into the town after briefly taking in the views.

North Mountain

To access North Mountain, take Central Avenue to Fountain Street, right by the Arlington Hotel.  Then turn right onto Hot Springs Mountain Drive which will be a series of switchbacks leading up the mountain.  While on the drive, you’ll see the back of Grand Promenade and the Army & Navy Hospital.

Hot Springs Mountain Drive | North Mountain

There are several hiking trails on North Mountain, but at the advice of the park ranger we hiked the Goat Rock Trail.  This trail is 1.1 miles and is probably the best bang for your buck in terms of a hike with a view in the park. 

To get to the overlook, climb these stairs, which lead off from the trail

It took us 35 minutes to hike including spending about 5 minutes at Goat Rock, an overlook with great views. 

View from the overlook at Goat Rock

What We Did:  We drove North Mountain Loop up to where there was a small parking lot just beyond the shelter.  There are great views here at the parking lot as well.  From here, head onto Goat Rock Trail at the trailhead and continue on to Goat Rock. 

The trailhead with the parking lot in the background

Instead of going back the way we came, we continued on Goat Rock Trail where it hooked up to Gulpha Gorge Trail.  It ends at the shelter and we walked the road back up to the parking lot.  We hike pretty fast, so give yourself a good 45 minutes if you hike at a slower pace or have small kids with you.

Hot Springs Mountain Tower

For a birds eye view of Hot Springs National Park, head up in the Hot Springs Mountain Tower.  There is a parking lot out front as well as a store and restrooms on the first floor of the tower.  

Hot Springs Mountain Tower

There are two levels of observation decks on the tower.  The highest one is exposed with only fencing between you and the elements.  You can walk around the entire exterior, taking in views in every direction. 

Views from the exterior observation deck | Hot Springs Mountain Tower

To reach the level below, take the elevator down one floor and explore this enclosed level.  On this floor artifacts are on display with vast views from the panoramic windows.

The lower observation deck with signs and artifacts | Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Our Experience:  We took the elevator up to the very top of the observation deck to start.  Again, our day was cold with intermittent wintry mix so we walked around, grabbed a few photos, and headed back inside.  We spent a little more time at the enclosed level, reading the signs and checking out the displays.  This level was not heated, though, so it was cold even though it was enclosed.  Once we were done we took the elevator back down to the first floor where we started.  All in all our visit here took about 30 minutes of our time.

Dining in Hot Springs National Park

There are some unique dining establishments here and the ones we ate at we highly recommend:

  • Superior Bathhouse Brewery – With the claim to fame of being the only brewery in a national park and using the spring water in the making of their beer, that alone is reason to dine here.  The food was good and the beer flight was a great way to try a variety of their flavors.  Dining in a historical bathhouse is a very unique experience!
  • The Ohio Club – This bar and restaurant’s history includes being a speakeasy during prohibition as well as hosting many famous guests over the years.  We asked to be seated upstairs and we picked a table that would overlook the jazz band that began playing at 7:00 pm that night.  The food was good with a great variety of delicious cocktails.  And staying to listen to the jazz band while sipping an espresso martini was a great way to end the night!

The Ohio Club

  • Kollective Coffee – We stopped in here for a mid-morning coffee and I also got a yogurt bowl.  It was delicious topped with a vast amount of fruit and drizzled with local honey.  

Kollective Coffee

  • DeLucas – This was where we ate lunch on the full day we spent in Hot Springs National Park.  We asked the ranger at the Fordyce for lunch spots and this was one of the places he recommended.  We enjoyed our meal of salad and meatballs.  

Where we stayed

When researching the trip to Hot Springs National Park I planned on staying at Hotel Hale.  However, when it was booked for our dates, I researched a bit more.  I came across The Reserve, a bed and breakfast just a short drive from Hot Springs National Park.  I cannot rave about it enough!  The property has a large house and a slightly smaller house next to it. 

The main house

The smaller house, where we stayed

We stayed in the smaller house and had the entire house to ourselves for the first night!  The kitchen is stocked with coffee, snacks, and water for you to get at your leisure.  In the evenings, Mike and I enjoyed relaxing with a drink and reading in the cozy living room.  The interior is fully renovated and beautifully decorated.  Our room and bathroom were spacious.

 

The interior of the house we stayed in

Included in the stay is a daily two-course breakfast in the main house.  On day one it was a roast beef hash followed with beignets.  On day two it was Eggs Benedict followed by a yogurt and granola bowl.  The food was incredible and the service was also spectacular. 

The set up at breakfast at the main house

Staying at the Reserve was an absolute enhancement to our stay in Hot Springs National Park and we cannot recommend it enough.

Things to Know Before You Go:

Weather:  The best time of year for comfortable temperatures is March – May.  Fall is also a great time to visit due to the fall colors.  From hiking trails to Goat Rock to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, you’d have beautiful views of the fall colors.  

We visited in late February/early March.  Just before we arrived, the park experienced a warm spell with temperatures in the 80s.  Unfortunately for us, on our full day at Hot Springs National Park, a cold spell blew in to town so we had cold weather and intermittent rain mixed with sleet.  After we left the temperatures rose again.  We still enjoyed ourselves, ducking into the visitor’s center and the Quapaw Bathhouse during the coldest and wettest parts of the day.  We ended up hiking the morning we left and it was a great way to begin the day!

Parking:  There is a large, free parking garage on Exchange Street, which runs parallel to Central Avenue.  We always found parking here, although we were not visiting during peak times.  

The parking garage

Restrooms:  There are restrooms located in the Hot Springs National Park Visitor’s Center, the Fordyce Bathhouse, as well as outside on either side of the Quapaw Bathhouse.

Hot Springs National Park is a great national park to visit with limited time.  We actually were headed to Dallas, Texas after this for a family wedding.  We will share our full itinerary and how to pair this with a trip to Dallas in our next article.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. zencortex reviews

    I’ve been visiting this site for years, and it never fails to impress me with its fresh perspectives and wealth of knowledge. The attention to detail and commitment to quality is evident. This is a true asset for anyone seeking to learn and grow.

Leave a Reply