When I arrived at Hot Springs National Park, I parallel parked on the side of a relatively busy city street and dropped a few coins in the meter on the curb. As I strolled to the Visitor Center, I passed fountains with steaming water and people, weighed down with as many jugs as they could carry, waiting in line to take their share of the resource.
A truly unique Park, Hot Springs is the only National Park with:
- A town in the middle of it.
- Its own brewery.
- A resource you can take with you—the water.
The town and National Park are centered on bubbling spring waters, which historically brought people to the site. Native Americans believed the hot springs had healing properties and business minded individuals built the first bathhouses in the early nineteenth century to monetize the resource. Bathhouses competed for customers by offering spa-like services and claiming to have treatments for specific ailments. Sick and sore Americans traveled to Arkansas to bathe in the healing waters, many making multiple trips. But where does the water originate?
Rainwater falling in the area surrounding the hot springs spends thousands of years slowly seeping to somewhere between 6000 and 8000 feet beneath the surface. Here, it is heated by the earth’s fiery hot interior. Cracks in the rock created by several large faults located near Hot Springs offer water collecting deep underground a chance to rapidly escape. The escaping water reaches the surface at a temperature of 143°F. The steaming, safe-to-drink water pouring from fountains scattered throughout the town is at the end of a 4000-year journey.
Today, the National Park Service protects the historic bathhouses on Bathhouse Row as a cultural treasure. Visitors to the Park can still bathe in the healing waters, but I thought the brewery located in Superior Bathhouse made best use of the water. I tried six brews over my visit:
- The Beez Kneez
- McClard’s Barn Burner Farmhouse Ale
- The Killer Irish Red
- SPA (Superior Pale Ale)
- Chaudfontaine Houblon
- Palomino Extra Pale
Naturally, I came to the Park to spend some one-on-one time with nature. Though the Park hub is in the middle of a city, I found some time to hike the 9.6-mile Sunset Trail, the longest trail in the Park. I camped at the only provided campsite, which also offers RV hookups. The town is within walking distance of the campsite.
If you are looking for wilderness, backcountry camping, and multiple days of hiking, Hot Springs National Park is probably not your best option. But, I found it refreshing and fun and it certainly offers amenities unlike other Park System sites.
I’m knocking all 59 National Parks off my bucket list. Here’s my latest road trip map, which started at my home in Columbia and ended where I work in Houston, hitting Mammoth Cave and Hot Springs National Parks along the way. #FindYourPark