Hot Springs National Park – Bathhouse Row & Hot Springs
Seven of the original bathhouses along Bathhouse Row remain and have been restored or in the process of restoration.
Fordyce Bathhouse serves as the Park Visitor Center. In addition to information on the park and activities, the various rooms and services of the original bathhouse have been preserved and restored and can be seen in a self-guided tour. Also a small theater with a 15 minute movie presentation of the bathouse era. Touring the bathhouse facilities can take from 15 minutes to an hour depending on how much time one wants to spend with each exhibit. Fascinating look into an era and the forerunner of the todays resort spas. The facilities served a wide variety of patrons from those with quite serious maladies to the wealthy leisure class looking to be pampered and enjoying what was essentially a club-like ambience.
Two of the bathhouses currently serve patrons. The Quapaw Bathhouse operates much as it did back years ago, offering both a large communal bathing pool as well as private bathing tubs. Their principal appeal is to those who are looking to soak in the hot, mineral rich waters. The second operating bath house, the Buckstaff Bathhouse, offers a more modern version and a complete array of spa services. In addition to soaking in a tub, they offer loafa scrubbing sponges and massages.
We decided to try out one of Bathhouses. We chose Quapaw because it had a package that fit our needs -a private spa for two. While the large public spa pools are refurbished versions of the pools from the 1920s our private spa room was somewhat newer and more modern – basically a Jacuzzi for two. So we didn’t step back 90 years to sample a replica of what had been in the heyday of Quapaw. But none-the-less the spa was soothing – you could feel something different in the water – it wasn’t the same as our hot tub at home. But afterword Jo and I decided next time we’d have a go at the public pool because you could move around more and get a little water aerobic exercise. And the public spa is a from the original bath house.
Other bathhouses are being converted to other uses. The Ozark Bathhouse is the home of the Hot Springs Museum of Contemporary Art. The Hale Bathhouse offers a café and bookstore and soon will host music and dramatic performances. The Lamar Bathhouse serves as the parks official gift shop, bookstore, and souvenir shop. The Hot Springs National Park’s website offers some interesting tidbits on the history of Bathhouse Row plus links to learning more about each of the current bathhouses.
The Promenade walk & Hot Springs
The bathhouses are set in an attractive landscaped park against the base of Hot Springs Mountain where up to 20 springs perculate out of the ground. The street in front of the bathhouses originally was Hot Springs creek, formed from the numerous springs eminating from the mountain. The creek still exists but now it runs in a tunnel underneath Central Avenue.
While a few of the springs have been left untouched, flowing out of the rock and cascading into pools of water, so visitors can see how they looked years ago. However 44 of the springs are now routed to reservoirs. Some of these provide the water sources for the bathhouses. Three fountains are located in the bathhouse row park, each of them with several spigots for filling up water jugs. The minerals in the water are believed by many to be healthful to drink as well as for bathing and soaking. The water is also uncontaminated as it boils up from deep within the earth, estimated to be 4000 feet below the surface. Scientists estimate that the water being drunk today originally fell as rainwater over 3000 years ago!
The Promenade is a tiled and landscaped walkway that runs along the hillside behind and above the bathhouses. At several points along the walkway one can view the active springs coming out of the ground. Numerous walking and hiking trails intersect with or cross the Promenade. These trails and walkways were constructed as part of the therapy plan of the spas. They cover a wide range of difficulty. The Promenade is the most gentle walkway and is handicapped accessible. Other trails go up the mountain or across the side hills of the mountain. Some are paved and have staircases, others are graveled and several are well-worn dirt trails through dense woods. In the 1920s Dr. Max Oertel designed the original network to provide spa patients an increasing level of difficulty. They could start out on short and relatively level paths and as their endurance and strength increased progress to steeper and more lengthy trails.
Gulpha Gorge Campground & Hiking Trails – The extensive network of hiking trails also connects downtown to the park’s Gulpha Gorge Campground which is on the other end of Hot Springs Mountain.
For more information on hiking and exercise opportunities see the article on Hot Springs National Park in the scenic byways section of our QuiltingPathways website. There you’ll find a map and directory to hiking trails in Hot Springs National Park.
Hot Springs National Park is located near the southern end of Arkansas Scenic Highway 7.
Visiting Hot Springs Arkansas – Hot Springs Visitor and Tourism Website
Camping and Hiking in Ouachita Mountain National Forest