Corbitt's National Parks
     Hot Springs
                National Park


1832: Reservation

1921: National Park

Size: 5,500 acres

2008 visitors: 1,238,147

Stamp: ?

Rating (1-5): Unrated

About the Site

America realized early on the intriguing nature of these 47 hot springs. In 1832, some 40 years before Yellowstone was made a National Park, Hot Springs was set aside as a Reservation. The springs are unusual because they lack the sulfur odor and taste of many other hot springs. Rainwater soaks through the rocks to the northwest of the springs, and is heated underground by contact with the hot rock deep beneath the earth's crust. Eventually, the water (850,000 gallons a day) seeps out in 47 springs at a temperature of 143 degrees.

147 Native Americans used the springs before Europeans came upon the scene. More permanent settlement began after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 gave the United States a vast tract of relatively unknown land. In its prime, between 1890 and 1920, the park's fantastic bathhouses catered to crowds of health seekers. People came to Hot Springs seeking relief from rheumatism and arthritis and other ailments. It eventually became known as "The American Spa", because it catered to the wealthy and indigent alike.

Although Hot Springs was set aside in 1832 as a federal reservation (to distinguish it from an indian reservation), the government wasn't quite sure what to do with it, and so for the next 45 years not much was done. Private enterprise was allowed to grow, various entrepeneurs built bathhouses and charged fees, and by the mid-1800's there was a tangle of competing claims on the land and springs. The Department of the Interior was established in 1849, and soon thereafter control of Hot Springs was passed over to that body. It wasn't until 1877 that all claims were settled in court, generally in favor of the government.

What You're Going to See

Eight of the bathhouses have been preserved for visitors, the finest collection in the United States. The free-flowing water comes out of the mountainside and into the beautifully landscaped Bathhouse Row. Much of the water is still channeled to traditional bathhouses and jug fountains, for bathing and drinking.

Two springs are open for dislay to visitors, and there's a larger display at the Tufa Terrace, where minerals have built up a thick deposit. The Park's visitors center is housed in the restored Fordyce Bathhouse, and provides a history and geology of the area. Nearby drinking fountains provide free thermal water. Also nearby is water from natural cold-water springs. Visitors can take baths, sit in a whirlpool, or have a massage at a number of bathhouses operated by concessioners.

Apart from the obvious attraction of the springs, numerous trails wander around the park's mountains, and through the dense oak-hickory-pine forests. Many of these start from the scenic paved road that ascends North Mountain and Hot Springs Mountain. There are conducted walks and evening programs in the summer. Camping is available in Gulpha Gorge. Visitors may also indulge in auto touring, bicycling, fishing, ascending (but not descending) an observation tower, and picnicking.

Personal Observations

I haven't been there yet. But maybe a winter-time visit wouldn't be a bad idea ...

Getting There

From Little Rock, go southwest on I-30 for about 20 miles to the junction with US 270. Take that west for about 25 miles to the town of Hot Springs, which touches the Park. The Park visitor center is on Route 7, on Bathhouse Row.

Nearby Attractions

55 miles to the northeast, in Little Rock, is Central High School National Historic Site. About 80 miles to the northwest is Fort Smith National Historic Site. About 100 miles to the north is Buffalo National River.

Not visited yet.