Hot Springs National Park: A User's Guide

ELEGANCE: The stained glass skylight above the DeSoto Fountain in the Fordyce Bathhouse in the park. (Photo: Ken Lund/Flickr.
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People have been drawn to the hot, mineral-laden waters of Hot Springs National Park in central Arkansas for more than two centuries, convinced healing was to be found in a soaking tub.

The Buckstaff Bath House, in continuous service since 1912, offers traditional thermal mineral baths and Swedish style massages, as does Quapaw Baths and Spa.

Hot Springs National Park also has 26 miles of hiking trail, so you have a place to get those muscles sore before hitting the spa.


The federal government took steps to protect the hot springs before Arkansas attained statehood. In 1820, the Arkansas Territorial Legislature decided that the springs and adjoining mountains should be set aside as a federal reservation to protect it from destructive development. On April 20, 1832, President Andrew Jackson signed legislation establishing the reservation — making it, in effect, a national park before the notion was defined with the creation of Yellowstone National Park 40 years later.

The National Park Service was established in 1916, and Hot Springs was designated as the 18th national park on March 4, 1921. The nearby town was then renamed Hot Springs National Park as well.

Things to do

Visitors have access to many places where they can soak in the hot spring water: the Buckstaff Baths and Quapaw Baths and Spa. Buckstaff Baths, the only operational bathhouse within the boundaries of the Hot Springs National Park, offers a traditional bath that includes a 20-minute tub bath in 100 degree water, hot packs for up to 20 minutes, a sitz bath for 10 minutes, a few minutes in a steam cabinet, finishing it off with a two-minute needle shower. Quapaw Baths and Spa — operated under a U.S. National Park Service lease — was recently remodeled and reopened in 2008. The Spanish Colonial Revival style building first opened in 1922. The spa has four group thermal water soaking pools as well as private bathing areas. Both spas offer a variety of services.

natural hot springs near Bathhouse Row

Hot Springs National Park also has 26 miles of trails. Hot Springs Mountain Trail is a rewarding 1.7-mile loop. Sunset Trail — at 10 miles, the park’s longest — takes you to Music Mountain, the highest point in the park.

Why you’ll want to come back

Where else can you complete a day hike and follow it with a soak, a message and a moisturizing paraffin treatment?

Flora and fauna

Visitors who hit the trails and leave the town of Hot Springs behind may spot whitetail deer, gray squirrels or fox squirrels as they hoof it through the hills and valleys of hickory, oak and pine.

Birds found in the park include wild turkeys, bobwhite, belted kingfishers, whip-poor-will, yellow-bellied sapsucker, ruby-throated hummingbirds, tufted titmouse, summer tanagers, scarlet tanagers, robins, cardinals, indigo bunting and rufous-sided towhee.

By the numbers:

  • Website: Hot Springs National Park
  • Park size: 5,550 acres
  • 2010 visitation: 1,311,807
  • Funky fact: There are 47 naturally flowing thermal springs on the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain.

This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. W e'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.

Inset photo of natural hot springs near Bathhouse Row: Ken Lund/Flickr