Hot Springs, Bathhouses Draw Visitors
In 1921, Congress established Hot Springs National Park, the second smallest of the 63 national parks. The 5,500-acre park includes easy hiking trails and the 216-foot Mountain Tower with views that extend 140 miles.
But the national park’s most famous feature is Bathhouse Row, eight turn-of-the-century bathhouses built in the heart of downtown. Two of the bathhouses still welcome paying customers.
Continuously operating since 1912, the Buckstaff Bathhouse is patterned after European spas and provides a traditional bathing experience, which includes a sitz bath, needle shower, steam cabinet and more. A personal attendant takes you through the bathing process.
I’m a little skittish about shedding my skivvies, so I chose a more modern experience at the Quapaw Baths and Spa, built in 1922. Four thermal pools have temperatures ranging from a lukewarm 98 degrees to a toasty 104 degrees. Between dips, attendants brought me cold spring water while I relaxed in a lounge chair.
Additional spa services — including massages, facials and body treatments — are offered at both bathhouses.
Just down the block, the Superior Bathhouse, built in 1916, features the first brewery in a U.S. national park. It’s also the world’s first brewery to use thermal spring water (144 degrees) as the main ingredient. I tried a tasting flight that included four brews with can’t-miss names — Lolo’s (Katie’s Ferrari), Frisky Business, The Beez Kneez and Camp S’morewood. Each tasted delicious, and I didn’t feel a need for the $30 “beer bath,” which includes a sample of all of the brewery’s 18 beers.
The Fordyce Bathhouse, built in 1915, is the most elaborate building and now serves as the national park’s visitor center. The bathhouse also has an excellent 23-room museum where visitors can see the bathing facilities that are no longer in use — some equipment looks more like torture devices than ways to relax. Nearby, the Lamar Bathhouse serves as the national park’s gift shop.