As I drove my Dodge Charger into the parking area at the top of the hill, I noticed the car next to me was another Charger, and next to that another one, then a Challenger. I had happened on a Charger/Challenger Rally. Needless to say I fit right in. Mine is Photo 5.
Of course one of the main things to do at Hot Springs National Park is to go to bathhouse row and experience the springs. People have flocked to the area since the mid 1800s to experience the healing powers and just plain comfort from the hot natural water. Bathhouse row started then and has changed in some ways and stayed the same in some. Of the eight original buildings on the row; one is now the visitor's center and two (I think) function as bathhouses.
Since the 1940's, all of the springs have been closed in and the water is piped to the bathhouses and fountains. This has been done to protect the health of those who bath and drink the water. A few of the original springs are still open and you can visit them. Take the walkways on either side of the Maurice Bathhouse, around back. You will find several open springs for your viewing.
Running along the side of Hot Springs Mountain, behind the bathhouses is the Grand Promenade. It is a quieter area, where you can find shade, benches and a pleasant walk. When your day seems long, take a break and listen to the wind in the trees somewhere on the Promenade.
Take a traditional bath at the Buckstaff Baths, a park concessionaire since 1912, or at any of the following bathhouses in the city of Hot Springs that have Park Service special permits to offer thermal bathing:
Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa, Austin Hotel and Spa, Downtown Hotel and Spa
Bathhouse Row is the center of the original 'Medicinal Reserve' created in 1832. The Federal Gov't set aside the hot springs and the mountains to protect this natural curative waters. Because it was so remote from the population centers of it's time, it never became a common goal of health seekers like the Spa's of Europe. But it did provide comfort, both medically and physically to those who came here to take the waters.
For more information, see my Bathhouse Row Travelogue.
Fordych Bathhouse has been fully restored by the National Park Service. Today, you can visit the entire building and find out what was involved in taking a 'medicinal' bath. It's more than just soaking in the tub. For a feel of the tour, please visit my Fordych Bathhouse Travelogue.
We saw this tower from the top of the opposite hill. It is part of the National Park, but is operated bya concessioner, so even though there is no admission for other parts of the park, there is an additional fee to go to the top of the Tower. The road up to the tower winds up the side of the mountain, with many hairpin turns which is inaccessible to motorcoaches. We had a difficult time, just in a regular car. On a clear day you can see 140 miles. There were two of those coin operated binoculars. But it isn't just the view - there is also historical info is located on the enclosed observation deck, and includes a souvenir shop.
The drive up is Free and there is Free Parking at the top.
This tower, which is a 65.8 metre high observation tower built of lattice steel built in 1983 is not the first tower to be built on this location. The Wikipedia entry notes: In the nineteenth century, a 75-foot wooden fire tower was constructed on the site. This tower was later struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The mid-twentieth century saw the construction of a 175-foot steel structure [later renamed the Rix Tower] which later proved unstable and was torn down.
November 1- February 28 9 a.m. -5 p.m.
March 1- May 15 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
May 16-Labor Day 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Day After Labor Day-October 31 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Admission (which is rather steep)
Adults(12 and over) $4.00
Children(5 to 11) $2.00
Children (4 and under) FREE
Some people report that the fee was $6.00, but if that is so, they haven't changed the website yet.
The sign outside Fordyce Bathhouse (which has been restored to the original appearance by the NPS) says:
"Inspired by the spas of Europe, Colonel Samuel Fordyce opened this Renaissance Revival bathhouse in 1915. With its copper-framed glass marquee and elegant window design, the Fordyce reflects a crowning achievement of the Golden Age of Bathing.
The bathhouse occupied an ideal location next to the Formal entrance to the park, its roof garden was within sight and sound of the grandstand on the hillside above."
Inside the Fordyce Bathhouse is the Visitor's Center for the National Park. The whole bathhouse has been restored and is a museum where you can see such things as the gymnasium, the dressing rooms, the treatment rooms, and the roof garden areas.
The core of the Hot Springs National Park includes eight restored bathhouses. Although all the literature says there are eight, I only count seven of them. The southmost one is Buckstaff, and then, in order are Ozark, Quapaw, Fordyce, Maurice, Hale and Superior. Of the bathhouses, only Buckstaff remains open for the traditional baths, although baths can be taken at other locations such as the Arlington Hotel or the Majestic Hotal.. Both Fordyce and Maurice Bathhouses can be leased.
We walked up the street along Bathhouse Row and I took pictures of the bathhouses on the south end before we toured Fordyce Bathhouse. I wish we could have tried a traditional bath, but our health concerns precluded it.
The mission style Ozark bathhouse opened for business in 1922. In 1946 (a peak year) they gave over 82 thousand baths. Ozark closed in 1977 after giving fewer than ten thousand baths that year. It is now being restored by the NPS and will be available for lease when restoration is complete. The twin towers are strictly decorative. Quapaw, Fordyce and Hale also have the red clay roof tiles.
The Caddo, Quapaw and Choctaw tribes lived in or visited the area in the 1700s and 1800s. The Quapaw bathhouse was named for the Quapaw Indians, and the owners incorporated an indian head design over the entrance. It was completed in 1922 and occupies the side of two earlier wooden bathhouses, the Horseshoe and the Magnesia.
There are two automobile roads up into the mountains in the Hot Springs National Park. One of them is up West Mountain. This road is steep (goes up to 1100 feet above sea level) but is relatively straight (for a mountain road). It has two or three overlooks, one of them with a picnic area shelter and there is a loop at the summit.
We drove up this mountain after we visited the NPS Visitor's Center.
Hey, you can't travel to Hot Springs and not try the water that folks drive over to fill water jugs with! Souvenier stores across the way sell jugs for you to fill, but we just used an empty water bottle for a small taste at the spring next to the visitor center and later at one of the thermal jug fountains. While it comes out fairly warm (as if you were drinking tea), I have to say that it is very crisp water, and would be very good if it were cold.
You can circle back behind Bathhouse Row along the Grand Promenade. This is a brick paved trail that took decades to build up. It's a pleasant walk, from which you'll see a few more springs. You'll also see dozens of green bunkers. These are actually in place to keep some of the springs in sterile condition.
Maybe the most famous aspect of the park is Bathhouse Row. This is a set of ten or so buildings that were created to use the hot springs water as a sort of spa. Most of them are now privately owned, but there are plaques outside each one that give a little history about the building. Some of the architecture is quite neat.
If possible, park along Fountain Street and take a walk over to the Hot Water Cascade. Here, you'll see the steam rise from the hot water as it pours down the mountain side. You can stick you finger in it to see just how warm it is (somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 degrees.) This also is the trailhead for the Tufa Terrace trail. This trail takes you past several other springs, and branches off to other various hiking trails.