Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is in the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Unlike many of our national parks which are expansive nature retreats, this one is in a city center, within the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. Known for naturally heated springs. Spanish and French settlers claimed the area in the mid-1500s. It’s unknown how long people have been visiting the springs. Native Americans called this area “the Valley of the Vapors,” where all tribes could enjoy its healing waters in peace. I am enjoying the natural vapors!

History of Hot Springs

Spanish and French settlers claimed the area in the mid-1500s. European explorer Hernando de Soto arrived in Hot Springs in 1541. In 1803 through the Louisiana Purchase, this area became part of the United States. The hot springs were such a coveted natural wonder that in 1832, President Andrew Jackson designated Hot Springs as the first federal Reservation. In 1916 the National Park Service was formed and in 1921, Hot Springs Reservation changed its name to Hot Springs National Park. This change made it the 18th National Park.

Known for its healing and wellness capabilities people came from all walks of life. The ornate bathhouses were for those that could afford such luxuries. After the civil war many people hearing about the healing powers of the springs made their way to the area. For the impoverished they made dugouts such as “Corn Hole”, for soaking feet; and Ral Hole Spring was for impoverished people with syphilis. One such campsite was named, “Ral City.” Ral was a term representing neuralgia, a nerve disorder caused by several conditions, including syphilis.

Must See at Hot Springs National Park

The visitor center is located on bathhouse row in a former bathhouse. The Fordyce has three floors of artifacts and loads of information about the hot springs and the spa treatments of the day. The museum offers a most interesting and surprising journey through history.

The technology seemed quite advanced considering the times, but also of note is the treatments that they offered, later to be known as quite dangerous, such as the electric baths, yes, they added electric currents into the water! No deaths were reported from this procedure. Male and female mercury rubbers were on staff, generally in combination with another duty. Another common medicinal treatment was the use of mercury rubs to treat syphilis. It was applied using a glove or brush. Mercury was the primary treatment for syphilis from the 1500s until the advent of penicillin in the 1940s. Mercury is toxic and harmful to the human body. This appears to be an example of the solution causes more harm than the issue . Personally, I appreciate the advancements that medicine has made.

Photos from Visitor Center

At 5,550 acres Hot Springs National Park is one of the smallest. There are paved walking trails behind the bathhouse row filled with greenery and hot springs. In 2004 the park began a leasing program with private businesses to reopen the bathhouses. Two continue as bathhouses while others adapted for additional services, such as hotels. There is one campground, within the park Gulpha Gorge Campground. To get to the campground you take the exit toward Magic Springs Dr/Mill Creek Rd/AR-7-SPUR onto E Grand Ave. Go for 0.2 miles, then 0.19 miles, turn left onto AR-7S go for about one mile and you have arrived at Gulpha Gorge Campground,150 Gorge Rd, Hot Springs National Park, AR 71901

Photos Outside the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center

I spent a day and a half at the park.  I got to see and learn much about the history and the people that were instrumental in the park.  I left a little something for my next visit, such as staying in a historic hotel, taking advantage of the spa offerings in the privately owned bathhouses, camping in the park, and visiting the hot springs mountain tower built of lattice steel on Hot Springs Mountain.

Lodging in Hot Springs, I stayed at Dame Fortune’s Cottage Court, 609 Park Ave.  A Boutique Vintage Hotel independently owned by a very nice innkeeper.  Located less than a mile from Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center.  Dame Fortune’s Cottage Court is where modern amenities and vintage-inspired design merge with mid-century “roadside” motor court cool.  Reasonable rate, central location, clean rooms.