Hot Springs National Park is extremely unique. It was the smallest National Park at 5,500 acres, until the St Louis Arch was upgraded to Gateway Arch National Park a couple months ago. These two are pretty similar in their qualities that make them unique from other Parks; small, nestled in the middle of an urban area, and not what comes to mind when you think “National Park.”
Normally I love parks for having lots of great hiking and scenic views… that is not really this park. The park itself is a dream for those that envision their National Park vacation to be little to no hiking and lots of time to treat yo self. While they have about 25 miles of trails, the main part of the park is the historic Bathhouse Row; 8 remaining bath houses from the 1900s. This around the time that the Hot Springs gained national fame for it’s “magic” waters that would cure any and every ailment you might suffer from, which led to the popularity of bathhouses. Two of these original bathhouses, Buckstaff and Quapaw, are still offering these services and that is what a large majority of people come here for. If you come down here with plenty of money, you will be pampered like royalty.
On the opposite side of the street of Bathhouse Row, are dozens on dozens of cute shops and restaurants. The town of Hot Springs also has lot of family friendly and touristy things to do like mini golfing, museums, and tours. You definitely won’t be bored if you have money to spend.
While we don’t have an impressive bank account, we wanted the traditional bath experience, so we went to Buckstaff Bathhouse. For $33, you get to have the same experience that people did 100 years ago; you get naked (you can wear a swimsuit if you’re modest), an attendant will dress you in a linen sheet, draw a hot bath for you, then wrap you in hot packs while you relax, a few minutes in the vapor room, a sitz bath, and then the cooling room.
I am absolutely awful at relaxing. Yoga, meditation… I can’t do it any of it well when it comes to “emptying the mind” and stuff. However, I still enjoyed this Hot Springs Bathhouse experience. If you have the means to indulge a bit more, you can also get massages and facials.
We spent about three days exploring the area and the Park. We found a (free!) campsite at a nearby park; Cedar Glades. I highly recommend this area if you want to come to this park and camp. It’s secluded, but still just about a mile from the action. The camping actually might be why I enjoyed our time here so much. Despite it being tick season, it was quite delightful to not sleep at a Walmart or a rest stop and have a “home” for a few days.
We hiked a few of the trails; Sunset, West Mountain, and Hot Springs Mountain. Pretty, but nothing mind blowing. The real treats for me in this park were exploring the bathhouses (the Visitor Center is in the Fordyce Bathhouse – it’s stunning and has a wonderful self guided tour) and learning more about our National Park system from a presentation by a NPS intern who is a bioscientist! I also learned quite a bit about the Hot Springs themselves, how it’s all connected, and the unique architecture of the bathhouses.
Oh, and one of the bathhouses is now a brewery; the first in the country to use spring water, and the only one within a National Park. Basically, two of my favorite things combined; national parks and craft beer. Winning!