10 Extraordinary Hot Springs National Park Facts

This hidden ecological gem has been federally protected since 1832

Natural spring inside Hot Springs National Park
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Located in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, Hot Springs National Park is a 5,550-acre retreat popular among nature lovers who come to enjoy the thermal waters and centuries-old traditions. Here are ten fascinating Hot Springs National Park facts.

The Ecosystem Supports 47 Naturally Heated Springs

Hot Springs National Park is the only unit of the national park system that is actually mandated to give away its primary natural resource (thermal mineral water) to the general public in its unaltered state. Most of the flow path of these thermal springs is hidden beneath the Ouachita Mountains and surrounding valleys, which are also protected by conservationists in order to preserve the natural hydrological system that feeds the springs.

The naturally heated mineral pools that make up the park are believed to have been used by indigenous Quapaw and Caddo peoples at least 3,000 years ago.

It Is One of America’s Most Accessible National Parks

Grand Promenade in Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas
Grand Promenade in Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

According to the National Park Service, the park saw 1,467,153 visitors in 2019, but visitation has fluctuated since 1962, when the park had 1,874,000 visitors. Since the park is found inside the city of Hot Springs, which has a population of just over 38,000 residents, it is extremely accessible. Plus, parking and admission to the park are completely free and pets are allowed throughout the property—including hiking trails.

The Springs Are Still Being Studied

The National Park Service and the United States Geological Survey continue to study and research the nature and characteristics of the thermal springs at Hot Springs National Park. They not only look at features like the actual source of the water and how it is heated, but also monitor the potential environmental impacts on the water’s quality and quantity.

It’s the Oldest Protected Area in the National Park System

Iron Spring In The Gorge, Hot Springs National Park
Smith Collection/Gado / Getty Images

Although Yellowstone National Park is touted as the country’s first national park, there are some who considered Hot Springs National Park to hold the title instead. In reality, Hot Springs has been protected as a reservation since 1832 and was only deemed an official national park in 1921, making it the oldest protected area in the national park system but not the oldest park. As a result, Hot Springs was the first park to receive its own quarter in the “America the Beautiful” quarter series.

There Are 26 Miles of Hiking Trail Inside Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park
Visitors can camp in the Gulpha Gorge Campground.

Zack Frank / Getty Images

The park contains about 26 miles worth of walking paths and hiking trails, including the Hot Springs and North Mountain Trails and the West Mountain Trails, both of which are considered short and are interconnected. For something more challenging, hikers can choose to tackle the longer Sunset Trail, which travels through the more remote wilderness areas of the park. There is also camping available at the Gulpha Gorge Campground that can accommodate both tents and RVs.

The Springs Aren’t Volcanic

When most of us think of hot springs, we tend to imagine volcanic, geothermic landscapes or geysers. The naturally heated waters of Hot Springs National Park in Central Arkansas are not, however, fueled by magma beneath the surface. Geologists believe instead that these springs are the result of a combination of rock types and fractures that formed along with the Ouachita Mountains. These unique, highly porous folds and faults in the rock help create a route for rainwater to travel deep below the earth’s surface (as far as 8,000 feet below), slowly heating up as it goes. Eventually, the water hits a fault line and moves back up to the surface. The whole process takes about 4,400 years.

The Water Is Rich in Minerals

The water comes out at 143 degrees Fahrenheit
The water comes out at 143 degrees Fahrenheit. aimintang / Getty Images

The water comes out of the ground at approximately 143 degrees Fahrenheit, on average. As the water moves from under the surface, the heat helps dissolve minerals from the rocks, so when it emerges it already contains a variety of dissolved silica, calcium, calcium carbonate, magnesium, and potassium. Calcium carbonate, also known as limestone, can be seen deposited onto rocks near some of the park’s display springs.

It Is the Smallest National Park in the United States

At 5,550 acres, Hot Springs National Park is the smallest in the national park system. That means it could fit inside the country’s largest national park site, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska, almost 2,400 times.

The Spring Water Is Safe to Drink

Steam Emitting From Fountain At Hot Springs National Park

Abaseen Afghan / Getty Images

Not only is Hot Spring National Park spring water great for soaking, it is also completely potable and safe to drink. Each year, thousands of the park’s visitors fill their own bottles, jugs, and mugs to take the water back home, a true testament to its quality. In addition to the two bathhouses where visitors can fully immerse themselves in the water, there are also drinking fountains scattered throughout the property.

Hot Springs National Park Contains No Federally Endangered or Threatened Species

While Hot Springs National Park is home to plenty of unique flora and fauna, there are no species known to be threatened or endangered that live within the boundaries of the park. Visitors regularly report coming across white-tailed deer and a variety of birds. Other species found in the park, like the Southeastern myotis bat, are considered a species of concern in the state of Arkansas.

Protect the Park's Wildlife

Park officials urge visitors to decontaminate gear before and after entering caves, steer clear of areas known to house hibernating bats during winter months, and report sick or injured bats to rangers in order to keep the bat population protected.

View Article Sources
  1. "Hot Springs National Park." United States Geological Survey.

  2. "American Indians at Hot Springs National Park." National Park Service.

  3. "QuickFacts: Hot Springs City, Arkansas." United States Census Bureau.

  4. "Hot Springs Geology." National Park Service.

  5. "Experience the Water." National Park Service.