Hot Springs National Park Overview

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The waters that gush from Hot Springs are 4,000 years old—that's how long it takes for the rain to percolate through the earth's geologic drip coffeemaker before rising back up to the surface. On average, 850,000 gallons a day bubble out the side of Hot Springs Mountain—the emerging water is rich in minerals, and tremendous subterranean heat filters out impurities.

For Indians, the Hot Springs was a neutral ground where different tribes came to hunt, trade, and bathe in peace. Tradition has it that the first Europeans to see the springs were the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his troops in 1541.

Congress established Hot Springs Reservation in 1832, making it the oldest park currently in the national park system—40 years older than Yellowstone National Park.

Take a Therapeutic Plunge
People have taken therapeutic baths in the hot springs for centuries. During the roaring 1920s, ornate spas were built along Bathhouse Row—marble, brass, and stained glass adorned these decadent cathedrals of health. Today, Bathhouse Row and its eight historic bathhouses are protected as a National Historic Landmark District. You can experience the thermal waters in a variety of ways including tub and pool baths, shower steam cabinet, hot and cold packs, whirlpool, and massage.

You don't have to go for full immersion—instead of a dip, take a sip. The waters have a pleasant taste and smell. Traces of minerals combined with a temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit are credited with giving the waters therapeutic properties. Waters from the cold springs, which have different chemical components and properties, are also used for drinking. And hey, it's free. So bring along a few extra water bottles and stock up.

Hike Above it All
There are approximately 26 miles of day-use hiking trails in the park (mountain bikes are prohibited). The Sunset Trail is the park's longest trail and a worthy hike. The path loops around the ridgeline above the park and the city, offering a rare opportunity to get away from it all while in close proximity to civilization. The trail crosses the summit of Music Mountain, which, at 1,405 feet, is the highest point in the park. A short spur path off the trail takes the hiker to Balanced Rock, an old Indian quarry.

View Wildlife at Hot Springs
Dense forests of oak, hickory, and short-leaf pine dominate this region. Flowering trees are also common, and successive seasons have displays of colored leaves and abundant flowers. Redbud and dogwood bloom in the early spring, gracing the understory of the pine and hardwood woodlands. Songbirds and small animals are abundant in the forest. The park and environs are home to an extraordinary number of snakes, lizards, frogs, and turtles.

The extensive bird list for Hot Springs catalogs a wide range of habitats, including forests, wetlands, meadows, and urban areas. Be on the lookout for an interesting variety of woodpeckers, warblers, finches, owls, ducks, and vireos.

Cruise to the Views
The area in and around Hot Springs is laced with pleasantly scenic drives. Within the park there are two main drives. Hot Springs Mountain Drive is a 4.5-mile loop that starts on Fountain Street. Along the way you can stop at Hot Springs Mountain Tower for panoramic views of the surrounding area, and the 0.7-mile leg-stretcher Goat Rock Trail, which passes through some gorgeous wildflower meadows on the way to a massive rock outcrop.

The longer West Mountain Drive turns off of Whittington Avenue. You'll find many scenic pullouts along the way and trailheads for the Sunset Trail, the park's longest hiking trail.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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