An Insider’s Guide to Hot Springs National Park

Magnolia blooms in front of a bathhouse with people sitting on the front porch and walking aroundSometimes guests who stay with us are surprised by Hot Springs National Park.  They arrive expecting to see miles and miles of open spaces, and want to swim in the natural hot springs.  While they won’t find either of those, they will rapidly fall in love with what the park does offer.  Here is what they find:

  • Hot Springs is a unique national park.  Historic Bathhouse Row sits across the street from the city of Hot Springs.  It’s also one of the smallest parks, with just 5550 acres.  However, the park does have 26 miles of hiking trails, so it is possible to find remote areas, especially on the Sunset Trail
  • It really IS the oldest national park!  President Andrew Jackson established Hot Springs Reservation in 1832 to “protect the unique geothermal spring water and associated lands for public health, wellness, and enjoyment.”   That’s 40 years before Yellowstone and 84 years before the National Park Service was created in 1916!
  • You CAN drink the water.  It has the only hot springs on earth where the water is potable (the temperature kills pathogens, making it safe to drink).  That high temperature (147° F) is also the reason why you won’t find a natural creek or pond to swim in.  Hot Springs National Park’s mission is “preservation of the 47 hot springs that come out of the Hot Springs Mountain and the historic resources built for visitor enjoyment of the hot springs.”  Therefore, all the natural hot springs have been covered, and the only way to “take the waters” is to bathe in one of the bathhouses, or to drink it.
  • While it may be one of the smallest parks, it is also one of the most popular, so plan accordingly.  There are 2 bathhouses in operation as such.  Quapaw Baths and Spa offers 4 public thermal pools that can be enjoyed on a first-come, first-served basis (bring your swimming suit and plastic or rubber slip-on shoes), but their private baths and spa services require reservations, as do all services at Buckstaff Bathhouse.  Both bathhouses recommend making reservations at least 2 weeks in advance, especially on weekends and holidays. 
  • The only brewery in a national park is Superior Bathhouse Brewery.  It is also the only brewery in the world to use thermal water to brew their beer.  If you don’t drink beer, they also serve their world famous root beer.  The Superior is a great spot to stop for lunch or dinner while visiting the park, and you can purchase a growler of beer to-go.  We recommend enjoying it by our fire pit at night after your national park visit. 
  • Hot Springs National  Park was once nicknamed “The American Spa,” and a doctor’s prescription was required for taking a bath in a bathhouse.  The typical regimen prescribed a 3-week stay, drinking the thermal water, bathing and doing physical therapy in the mornings, and then exercising and socializing in the afternoons.  If only we could find a doctor to prescribe that treatment now!

Visiting Hot Springs National Park doesn’t take 3 weeks, but we do recommend to plan your stay for at least 3 nights.  In addition to the park, there are 5 lakes and 4 state parks near us, as well as Garvan Woodland Gardens, The Gangster Museum of America, art galleries, mountain biking trails, and don’t forget to spend some time relaxing on our front porch swing!  Make your reservations as early as possible, because just like the national park, our calendar fills up quickly. 

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