Just Say Spa

Let yourself go and experience a healthy and relaxing getaway to these Arkansas spa towns.
by Sally M. Snell

At the turn of the previous century, visitors traveled to Arkansas to drink and bathe in healing spring waters. Today, Hot Springs and Eureka Springs continue to provide guests with rejuvenating getaways.


Above: Stained glass and statuary are part of the long-ago elegance preserved at the Fordyce Bathhouse in Hot Springs. Michael C. Snell photo

Below: For centuries, travelers have come to Arkansas to bathe in the thermal spring water. Today’s visitors have a wide selection of spas to enjoy. Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism photo


Warm up to Hot Springs

Visitors to Hot Springs once filled their water jugs at fountains or bathed in water purported to have great healing properties. Forty-seven thermal springs flow within this national park, but unlike thermal springs found elsewhere, these warm spring waters are completely colorless, tasteless and odorless. Though the government is quick to disavow the notion that the water holds curative powers, it has been proven safe to drink using modern testing methods, and visitors are encouraged to fill up their water jugs today.

Rumors of this region’s potential as a health resort spread quickly by early settlers, and the government soon stepped in. In 1832, it was established as the Hot Springs Reservation. Hot Springs National Park is the oldest among the current park properties and predates Yellowstone by 40 years.

Through the years, fires destroyed the rough and tumble construction of the frontier town, allowing more stately structures to be built in their place. By the early 20th century, these wooden Victorian structures were replaced by fire-resistant brick and stucco bathhouses that featured marble floors, gymnasiums and stained glass windows. Since the early 19th century, the government has owned and controlled the buildings along Bathhouse Row, leasing them to private businesses. The old Fordyce Bathhouse now houses the National Park Visitor Center, and its early 20th-century bathhouse halls are interpreted through exhibits and displays of original equipment.

The oldest operating bathhouse in the national park is Buckstaff Bath House. Its wide white porch shaded by thick columns and blue and white awnings have made it a notable landmark along this stretch of the park since 1912.

Buckstaff is a traditional bathhouse with floors segregated by sex. Men are on the first floor, while women bathe on the second. Buckstaff offers private baths that include a Swedish massage as part of the package. Sitz baths, vapor cabinets and needle showers may sound old-fashioned, but their therapeutic benefits have never gone out of style at Buckstaff. Sitz baths ease discomfort with lower back problems such as hemorrhoids and fissures; vapor cabinets envelope the torso and limbs with steam at 140 degrees; and then the multi-source water pressure of the needle shower knocks off the salt that forms during normal sweating processes. Many of these services are explained during the tour of the Fordyce. Buckstaff does not take reservations, so plan your visit accordingly.

Quapaw Baths & Spa is the newest addition to Bathhouse Row. Located in a newly renovated and completely refurbished bathhouse building that reopened in July 2008, Quapaw features marble floors and stunning arched stained glass ceiling panels over the baths. The area’s natural spring waters feed their communal bathing pools at a temperature of around 104 degrees without using an outside heat source or cooling it with city waters. Carbon dating tests on the water indicate it is around 4,000 years old.

According to owner and general manager Don Harper, Quapaw is one of the few spas in Hot Springs to use thermal waters rather than providing only therapeutic spa services. An on-site retail store highlights work by Arkansas artists, and the café serves healthy choices on its menu: elixirs for relaxation, and smoothies made with fresh ingredients. Private bath services that include rose petals or a citrus lavender sea salt scrub will be added in mid- to late-spring. Baths for couples also will be added.

A minute north of the national park, Andrea Rose is a modern-day therapeutic spa without traditional bath services. The spa operates out of two neighboring Queen Anne cottages. Services offered range from basic manicures to facials and 90-minute massages. Chocolate lovers will appreciate the chocolate fix scrub, which involves being dry brushed on a massage table, applying steam therapy, then massaging a chocolate scent into the skin.

Girls as young as 6 years can discover the magic of spa pampering with a Little Princess Package, which includes manicures, pedicures and facials. Their third cottage operates as an unhosted bed & breakfast and can be combined with spa services in a getaway package.

Twenty-five miles west of Hot Springs on the shores of Lake Ouachita, Turtle Cove Spa offers a broad spectrum of treatments in a relaxed lakefront setting. Services include standards such as massages, facials and pedicures. Crystal energy work (vibrating musical tones combined with massage) and yoga in a pavilion set in the woods add a meditative and centering quality. Their “outdoor gym” as they call it includes opportunities for hiking and mountain biking, boating, and horseback riding. As part of the Mountain Harbor Resort, Turtle Cove Spa offers romantic getaways for couples, or girlfriend retreats in multi-bedroom cottages.

Discover Eureka Springs

Arkansas’s bath and spa heritage doesn’t end at the Hot Springs city limits. Four and a half hours north of Hot Springs, the small town of Eureka Springs also has a long and rich bathhouse history with 63 cold water springs found within the city. Many still flow in small fern-shaded parks tucked against the steep hillside. But leave the water jugs at home as modern tests reveal it is unsafe to drink today.

Hundreds of years ago, Osage and Cherokee Indians were the first to discover the curative powers of this water and chose specific springs to treat specific ailments. The land was considered to be sacred; no weapons were allowed to be brought into the area.

In 1879, the town was founded with 20 residents. Within 10 years, that population boomed to around 20,000. Wealthy Victorian tourists would spend lengthy vacations here staying at hotels like the Crescent and Basin Hotels. Both welcome guests today.

Eureka Springs’ heyday as a health resort was over by the early 1900s. Today, the town has a permanent population of less than 2,500, but over a million tourists visit each year. Spas are abundant, and massages, herbal wraps and steam bath services can be found at nearly every turn of its windy mountain streets.

Serenity Spa within the 1905 Basin Park Hotel offers a variety of services and packages to relax and rejuvenate. Spa director Aggie Henley said that the 50-minute Swedish massage is “pretty popular with the ladies.” Raindrop therapy works on the nervous and circulatory systems. A sequence of eight or nine essential oils are placed on the feet and back, then gently feathered in.

Couples may choose the Duet—side-by-side massage with the partner—while brides may arrange for a “Do Not Disturb” bridal package for six members of her bridal party. The package includes six 50-minute Swedish massages, exclusive use of the deck, two suites with a personal server, hors d'oeuvres, champagne and punch. Eureka Springs is second only to Las Vegas in the number of weddings per capita each year, and this is a popular choice the night before the event.

And Hot Springs or Eureka Springs are popular places to find relaxation and healing. Plan your getaway soon and find the new you.

Sally M. Snell is a contributor from Lawrence, Kan.

Mar/Apr 2009 Issue

For more information, contact Hot Springs National Park at (501) 624-2701 www.nps.gov/hosp; Eureka Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission, (866) 566-9387 or www.eurekasprings.org.

To visit Arkansas’s springs and spas, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. List of offices

Order free information about Arkansas through the Reader Service Card, online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.

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