We finally made it to Arkansas. Our two previous attempts were sidetracked before reaching the state line. Driven by our pursuit to visit all the U.S. National Parks, we are staying near Hot Springs National Park in an U.S. Army Corp of Engineer (USACE) park called Brady Mountain Campground. Located on Lake Ouachita, it’s yet another beautiful campground operated by the USACE.
Hot Springs National Park became the eighteenth national park in 1921. It is unlike any national park we have visited. Its meager size and urban setting adjacent to the City of Hot Springs sets it apart from other national parks we have been to. Bathhouse Row, the jewel of the park, is a collection of eight grand bathhouses owned by the National Park Service. Built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, people came to enjoy the therapeutic natural hot springs baths.
Our first impression of the park was less than enthusiastic. Our walk along Bathhouse Row was met with unpleasant traffic noise and exhaust fumes. Much of the Bathhouse’s were closed to the public due to COVID-19. Located directly behind Bathhouse Row, the 1/2 mile paved walkway along the Grand Promenade Trail was lovely. We saw beautiful landscaped gardens and places where the steaming water fissures out of the hillside. However, we still could not escape the obnoxious noise.
An afternoon at Quapaw Baths & Spa helped warm us up to the place, pun intended. A soak in the natural hot spring water was a relaxing experience. “Ah, now this is the life”. Easy to understand why this was once a haven for the wealthy. We had to wait a couple of hours before being called inside, but there were chairs to sit and the time passed quickly as we caught up online. There were four pools ranging in temperature from 95F to 104F degrees. We tried them all and loved them. The long shower afterward was a special treat for someone living in an RV practicing the art of military showers.
We ate lunch at the Superior Bathhouse Brewery, a converted historic bathhouse on Bathhouse Row. It utilizes the 144 degree spring water to brew a variety of craft beers and non-alcoholic root beer. It is the only brewery located in a U.S. National Park. The menu is typical pub fare with burgers and sandwiches. The food was good, but the root beer was better.
We discovered there was more to the national park than just Bathhouse Row. A scenic drive to Hot Springs Mountain Tower revealed a quiet lush forest with picnic areas and hiking trails. There’s an $8.00 per person fee to go up the 216 feet tower with discounted rates for children, seniors and pass holders. As we typically do, we skipped the elevator ride and choose the stairs instead (we need the exercise). The observation deck at the top provided 360 degree panoramic views of the surrounding area.
On the floor below the observation deck is a museum with display boards describing the colorful history of the area. We read stories of outlaws and gangsters that once operated gambling parlors in the city and saw a chronological history of the national park. Back down at the base of the tower is a gift shop where we bought our usual souvenir magnet and post card.
Hot Springs National Park is our first national park visit of 2021 and the twenty-second in our pursuit to see all the national parks. The renaissance architecture and historic importance of Bathhouse Row makes Hot Springs National Park worth the visit. There is enough to do for a day or two, especially if you browse the plethora of shops along Central Avenue.
Hot Springs National Park is not going to make our top ten list, but we really loved the must-do soak in the mineral spring water. We will check this park off our list and leave the area in the morning. There are more national parks to see and more adventures ahead.
So until next time…happy days and safe travels.