A guide to Arkansas’ most beautiful national park, which is also the oldest in the United States
Hot Springs National Park is the only place hikers can stop at public baths for a swim after exploring 26 miles of beautiful mountain trails.
Arkansas is a pretty underrated state with many small towns that would make for a charming getaway. This state is known for another location, however, and it is the one that precedes any other such destination in the country. Hot Springs National Park was established in 1832, making it America’s oldest national park, bringing with it a rich history that dates back even further than that. When it was first created it was known as Hot Spring Reservation and in 1921 it was officially named Hot Springs National Park.
Native Americans once believed that these ancient hot springs had mystical healing powers, and many famous historical figures – mostly presidents – quickly followed suit, believing the same. With temperatures ranging from 98 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s easy to see how a dip in these lukewarm pools could relieve all the stress and aches of everyday life. Located in the heart of the Ouachita Mountains, the surroundings of these hot springs are just as beautiful as the springs themselves and offer many opportunities for hiking and sightseeing. In town, there is also a lot to explore, with a plethora of dining options as well as shopping. If you have time and plan to visit Hot Springs National Park after it reopens, this is what is worth adding to the itinerary.
Obviously, a soak
For that, head to the famous Boathouse Row. This is where all of the Hot Springs thermal baths are located and they were built between 1892 and 1923. This area also contains the Promenade, which is a panoramic view giving way to views of the surrounding mountains. It is also a designated historic monument and it is this same history that one can feel upon entering one of its eight public baths.
The public baths are: Lamar Bathhouse, Buckstaff Bathhouse, Ozark Bathhouse, Quapaw Bathhouse, Fordyce Bathhouse, Maurice Bathhouse, Hale Bathhouse and Superior Bathhouse. Each is different and unique, with housing stores or historic visitor centers, while others offer unique spa services such as hydrotherapy. Depending on what you are looking for, there is bound to be a public bath for this, and it is worth strolling along the promenade and admiring the beauty of its fountains before visiting them. Each bathhouse also features stunning architecture, with many buildings restored to their original construction, some dating back over a century. The public baths are also easy to find, as they line the street, one after the other, along the central avenue. For those looking for long baths, Buckstaff and Quapaw Public Baths offer public baths with water from the surrounding hot springs.
Hike in Hot Springs National Park
Another aspect of the park that draws visitors from all over is its hiking, and there are 26 miles of trails for hikers to choose from. With a total elevation of just under 2,000 feet some hikes are more strenuous than others, but the views from the top are well worth it. In the woodlands of Hot Springs National Park, hikers will find trails that lead them past the hot springs themselves, which reach a maximum temperature of 147 degrees Fahrenheit. Although these hot springs do not allow soaking, visitors are allowed to smell the water before it is piped into the public baths.
The Hot Springs and North Mountain trails are popular among novices as they lead to two favorite spots: the hot springs themselves and scenic views of the surrounding mountains. These trails are also not too difficult and are shorter and busier than the West Mountain trails. For those who prefer a more secluded and calm route through the woods, the Western Mountain trails give way to potential wildlife sightings and less traveled trails. The park’s longest trail, Sunset Trail, is the longest with a total of ten miles one way or up to 17 round trip. The advantage of hiking in Hot Springs National Park is that any number of these trails can be used to create loops, with many connections at some points that will loop to others.
The park is also open to mountain biking, with a mix of terrain and various vantage points as bikers make their way through these lush woods. For those who wish to extend their stay in the park, one option is to book a hotel in town, and the other is to enjoy camping at Gulpha Gorge Campground, which is a quiet and secluded site near Gulpha Creek.
Next: These Healing Hot Springs Offer The Most Breathtaking Views In The World
Sushi and Drink Pairings Are Easier Than You Think: A Helpful Guide
About the Author