Before You Go
Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-543-2284, or visit online at www.hotsprings.org
Hot Springs National Park, call (501) 624-3383, or visit online at www.nps.gov.

A view of downtown from the Promenade. /Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau photos

A bather enjoying the rejuvenating effects of the thermal springs . /Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau photos

The lavish Fordyce Bathhouse no longer offers baths, but it welcomes visitors as the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center . /Hot Springs Convention and VIsitors Bureau photos

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Some like it hot
Relax in the thermal waters of Hot Springs, where you can also find great museums, galleries and scenic fall beauty

Published: Sep/Oct 2002
By Brian Todd

One thing about Hot Springs, Ark., that should be obvious is that the city and national park know how to treat visitors. After all, American Indians were relaxing in these thermal waters long before Hernando De Soto wandered by in 1541.

Hot Springs has been welcoming visitors and making history ever since. The 4,800 acres that make up Hot Springs National Park were set aside as a federal reservation in 1832 to protect the 47 thermal springs. When the reservation became Hot Springs National Park in 1921, the spa was a favorite of everyone from Teddy Roosevelt to Al Capone, and Bathhouse Row was just one of the many opulent (and sometimes illegal) venues for fun.

Bathhouse Row and beyond

Today, only the Buckstaff Bathhouse remains in operation on Bathhouse Row, but the spas are still the hottest attraction in town. With its Tuscan columns and arched windows, the Buckstaff takes guests back to the lavish lifestyle in the early 1900s. While visitors today come more to be pampered than cured by the therapeutic waters, the Buckstaff still offers a full complement of relaxing, soothing and pampering services, from a hot bath and a whirlpool to a Swedish massage and a needle shower.

While the Buckstaff has been soothing visitors for almost a century, other spas and resorts take advantage of the 143-degree waters that gush from the west side of Hot Springs Mountain.

Take a thermal bath in a room with a view, and enjoy a AAA discount, at The Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa, which pipes thermal waters from the springs into 50 of its 481 rooms. The Arlington’s bathhouse offers half-day and full-day spa treatments. Majestic Hotel and Resort offers more than a AAA discount and a hot bath. Guests may play a round of golf at the Hot Springs Country Club, or cool off with a refreshment from the hotel’s Ole’ Fashioned Soda Fountain.

Other spas and bathhouses include The Downtowner Hotel and Spa, the Austin Hotel and Spa (formerly a Hilton property) and the Hot Springs Health Spa.

For an overall view of the history of bathing in Hot Springs and Bathhouse Row, visit the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center, located in the historic Fordyce Bathhouse. The 1915 Spanish Renaissance-style building–restored to its former grandeur and oppulence–has marble and mosaic tile, stained glass ceilings and ceramic fountains. A film is shown every 20 minutes about the history of the Fordyce and the growth and decline of bathing.

Relaxed and ready to go

While the baths are the attraction on which Hot Springs was built, the city offers a variety of family attractions that have little to do with a relaxing tub of water.

The Mid America Science Museum, set on 21 acres of forest, showcases exhibits that teach children and their adults how the physical world around us works. Permanent lessons on matter, energy, light and life are mixed with such items as the odd creations of Roland Emett, whose flying machine resembles the contraption featured in the Disney movie “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang.”

Few attractions offer the fascination of Tiny Town and the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum, two spots where replicas are better than the real thing. Lifelike–and lifesize–wax statues bring the rich, famous and infamous within reach at Tussaud’s, where visitors can see more than 100 figures, including Southern favorites such as Elvis and former Arkansans Bill and Hillary Clinton. Tiny Town gives a bird’s-eye view of a miniature tour of America created from recycled materials that come to mechanical life in scenes such as the Wild West and Small Town America.

While thermal waters may be the main theme in Hot Springs, Crystal Falls Water Park would only be called “therapeutic” if you need to burn off some steam. Four unique waterslides, a giant wave pool and a manmade river for lazy tubing will make guests wonder why anyone would just soak in a tub. The adjoining Magic Springs amusement park thrills visitors with gut-wrenching rides like the Arkansas Twister, The Hawk and Big Bad John. There also are more tame rides for smaller children.

A great spot for family-style entertainment is Music Mountain Jamboree, where the Mullenix family has been singing, acting and telling clean jokes for decades. This is homespun dinner theater at its Ozark best.

The great outdoors

A great way to get a look at what nature has to offer is to head for the observation deck of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. Soaring 216 feet above ground on Hot Springs Mountain, the tower offers views that stretch 140 miles from horizon to horizon.

While the national park is surrounded by the city of Hot Springs, one of the best attractions in the park isn’t outdoors. The National Park Aquarium is home to an extensive collections of frogs, turtles and lizards but no snakes. The aquarium boasts the largest collection of fish in Arkansas.

Despite its name, the Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo is not some place to get a hand chomped upon by massive reptiles. While there are more than 300 alligators on view, the wildlife zoo is home to other animals ranging from graceful swans and mountain lions to roaming deer and llamas.

Another spot not to miss, especially in the fall, is the new Garvan Woodland Gardens near Hot Springs National Park. Located on 210 acres of gently sloping Ouachita Mountain terrain, the gardens jut into Lake Hamilton on a forested peninsula. Visitors are treated to floral landscapes, free-flowing streams and waterfalls, and fascinating architectural structures, as well as hundreds of natural and exotic plant and animal species.
Land of Bill

Bill Clinton may be better known as “The Man from Hope,” but the nation’s 42nd president moved in 1953 and grew up in Hot Springs. A graduate of Hot Springs High School, Clinton’s teen years included honors such as all-state saxophone player and the state’s representative to Boy’s Nation in 1963, which allowed the young Clinton to visit Washington and meet his idol, John F. Kennedy.

Clinton may have moved on, but Hot Springs is still a favorite for anyone–from former presidents and Spanish explorers to typical American families–looking for some fun.

Brian Todd is a contributor from La Marque, Texas.


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