Perhaps the least known of all national parks in the United States, Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas makes for a surprisingly great destination. It’s the smallest national park in America and the recommend time to dedicate to it is one day. In this post, we’ll offer you a great itinerary for one day in Hot Springs National Park.
How to Spend A Day in Hot Springs National Park
The main attraction in the National Park is the water and hot springs. In fact, water has attracted people to this small area for thousands of years; as a result people go there to seek relaxation and healing in the thermal waters that bubble up from the rocky ground below.
Native Americans used Hot Springs to treat injuries and when Europeans discovered the springs, it became a popular spa destination. Hot Springs was the first area in the United States that was protected as a reservation, in fact that was was as early as 1832. It became a national park in 1921, moreover Hot Springs’ heyday was in the early 20th century, when its bathhouses attracted everyone from the poor to the rich, including notorious gangsters such as Al Capone.
The park occupies both sides of the town of Hot Springs, also encompassing several historic bathhouses on Bathhouse Row. It remains a popular spa destination, although it’s nothing like it was in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Nowadays, it’s simply an incredibly pleasant place to go for a stroll and enjoy an elaborate spa treatment. One day in Hot Springs National Park is more than enough to see everything this 10-square-mile national park offers, so let’s look at how to spend that day.
Start your day in Hot Springs National Park with a visit to the visitor center, which is housed in the restored Fordyce Bathhouse on Bathhouse Row in downtown Hot Springs. There’s a free parking garage on the other side of the road. You can’t miss it.
Consider joining one of the guided ranger tours. If you like to explore at your own pace, you can tour 23 rooms in the bathhouse, decorated and restored to look just as they would have in the spa’s heyday. Those rooms include bathing rooms, massage rooms, a gymnasium and solarium and the self-guided tours are completely free. On arrival start to the right when you walk into the building to see other exhibits and an introductory 15-minute film offering all background information you need to start your visit to Hot Springs National Park. Pick up a park map and some hiking information and head out.
Hot Springs National Park encompasses Hot Springs Mountain and West Mountain, both located on opposite sides of downtown Hot Springs. I’d recommend focusing on the Hot Springs Mountain area, that’s where most but not all the attractions are situated.
Several hiking trails crisscross this gentle mountain. Points of interest include the Hot Springs Mountain Tower (entrance costs $7 for an adult), wildflowers and a few scenic overlooks. The hiking in this national park isn’t spectacular by any means, however it’s just pleasant, like a casual stroll in any other urban park.
What makes this such a unique park, however, are the hot springs, which are located at the lower west side of Hot Springs Mountain, along the beautiful Grand Promenade. Don’t miss the Hot Water Cascade behind the Arlington Lawn. You’ll also notice several drinking fountains scattered along Bathhouse Row. The water of these fountains comes directly from the springs and were once considered to have healing capabilities, therefore feel free to fill up your water bottle.
After exploring Hot Springs Mountain on foot, get back in your rental car and go for a quick drive up West Mountain, on the other side of town. There, three overlooks offer nice views of the town below, Hot Springs Mountain Tower and the flat landscapes in the distance.
Consider fishing off the afternoon with a spa treatment in one of the national park service-operated bathhouses. You can do that at the Quapaw and Buckstaff Bathhouses.
Spend the evening of your day in Hot Springs National Park in the local brewery; furthermore the Superior Bathhouse Brewery is the only brewery located in a U.S. national park. It also claims to be the only brewery in the entire world, that brews its beer with hot spring water; so it’s a great place to kick back with a beer flights and some low-key beer food.
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