While a hot tub soak feels good pretty much anytime of year, those who are trying to escape the winter blues should set their sights on Hot Springs National Park. Surrounding the north end of the city of Hot Springs in Arkansas, the name is in tribute to the hot springs that flow down the mountain of the region. It is the smallest and most urban national park in the area, comprised of approximately 5,500 acres, but still attracts 1.3 million visitors every year and is open daily except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
The Native Americans called what is now Hot Springs National Park the “valley of the vapors.” The natives gathered at the springs for over 8,000 years to relax and take advantage of the healing properties of the waters. French and Spanish settlers who arrived later were aware of the area, but it wasn’t really explored until after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Because it was believed that the springs could cure diseases, rheumatism, various sicknesses, and nervous afflictions, physicians and patients came from far and wide to utilize its “magical” properties. Cottages and bathhouses quickly sprang up to accommodate the flood of new visitors and residents of a newly burgeoning town.
You can take a stroll alone or grab a guide to take you down the Grand Promenade and Bathhouse Row and see the elegant bathhouses of an era long passed. The restored Fordyce Bathhouse, in operation from 1915 to 1962, includes not only elaborate baths, but a music room and a bowling alley as well to round out the entertainment options. It remained vacant until 1989 when it was reopened as the park’s museum and visitor center. If you want to take a traditional bath from more than 50 years ago, venture over to the Buckstaff Baths. If you prefer a modern spa experience, Quapaw Baths and Spa will be more your speed.
Hot Springs National Park also has 26 miles of trails for those who are looking for an invigorating hike. The longest of them all, Sunset Trail, covers 10 miles of varied terrain, traversing West Mountain and offering breathtaking views of Sugar Mountain, and eventually passing through what was once the Fordyce family estate. The Hot Springs Mountain Trail begins just below the Hot Springs Mountain Tower and takes visitors through pine and hardwood forests and up the western side of the mountain for a lovely rustic experience.
If you’re interested in camping, primitive hookup campsites can be attained for $10 per night and full RV hook-up sites are $24 per night. Check out this clip of what awaits you in the soothing town of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Happy soaking!
Images via Ken Lund