Hot Springs National Park

hot springs national park

While Hot Springs originally seemed a bit out of reach (13 hours from Charlotte), we seized the chance to stop by on our way to Greg’s family reunion in Tennessee this year. In the interest of gaining more states on our scratch-off map, we planned a circuitous route going from Charlotte -> Atlanta -> Birmingham -> Memphis -> Hot Springs -> Nashville -> Fairfield Glade -> Charlotte. This looked simple on paper but ended up being a lot of driving. By the time we arrived at the family reunion, we had driven the same distance as going to Maine!

We headed out to Memphis on Sunday, with educational stops along the way. First, a walk around the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, with a peek at MLK’s birthplace as well as his massive tomb (kind of an interesting circle of life there). Then a drive through the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument at Kelly Ingram Park. We played “I Have A Dream” for the kids to hear in the car, and pointed out that every time our little neighbor James comes over, the vision of white and black children peacefully playing together is fulfilled. Dr. King would be pleased.

Next stop was Tupelo MI, where Elvis was born, although the NPS designation has less to do with rock n’ roll and more to do with the Civil War. We picked up a few stamps from the Natchez Trace Parkway in the same area. Due to the incompetence of the housecleaning staff at our Home2 hotel, our overnight in Memphis ended up being free, which is either a curse or a blessing, depending on how you look at it.

Monday morning we literally crossed the Mississippi River. I was bouncing out of my seat with excitement. Anyone who traveled the Oregon Trail (my favorite computer game as a kid) knows that’s the first step in heading west! Should we caulk the wagons and float?? “Westward Ho!”

Three hours past the Mississippi is Hot Springs National Park. This is an unusual park because it is located in a city (Gateway Arch in Missouri is similar). It’s a touristy place in all the right ways – free parking, wide sidewalks, plenty of directional signs, “help yourself” fresh springwater fountains all over the place, etc. It was a balmy 95 degrees when we drove in, with pleasantly low humidity and clear blue skies. The main attractions are the actual hot springs, as well as the vintage bathhouses.

Fun fact: in the photo below, Zoe is holding a piece of pizza behind her back and scowling because she doesn’t want to eat it. In the next photo, the pizza is gone and Zoe is back to her cheerful self.

  • At Lamar Bathhouse, we bought our traditional park pin and took the classic bathtub photo (see below: “I got in hot water at Hot Springs National Park!”)
  • At Buckstaff Bathhouse, an authentic mineral bath house dating back to 1912, we gazed wistfully inside and wished they were open on Mondays.
  • At Ozark Bathhouse, the city’s cultural center, we peeked inside to get a look at the art on display.
  • At Quapaw Bathhouse, also known as Quapaw Baths & Spa, I went for a swim! They have an adults-only pool area using hot water sourced from the actual underground springs, with a series of hot tubs that start out just under 100 degrees and get successively warmer until it’s nearly boiling and your skin feels a bit singed. Delightful! And a treat for me to have my own little park adventure.
  • At Fordyce Bathhouse, the official park visitor center, we got our passport stamp and an extensive tour of this restored 1920’s era bathhouse. It reminded me of the Biltmore Estate, especially the “gym” area of this bathhouse. A hundred years ago, wealthy families like the Vanderbilts would travel to Hot Springs for therapeutic soaks and massages.
  • At Maurice Bathhouse, we wondered what it would be like to own a bathhouse. It’s an empty building, currently for sale…
  • At Hotel Hale, formerly the Hale Bathhouse, we admired the exterior and made a note to stay there next time we visit the park.
  • At Superior Bathhouse (Brewery), we purchased a bottle of craft root beer actually made with local mineral water. This is the only brewery inside a national park! The root beer was delicious. Even Rachel agreed.

By mid-afternoon, we ventured further from Bathhouse Row. We took a scenic drive up to the Hot Springs mountain tower, walked out to the Grand Promenade and poked our fingers into the water to see if it’s really hot (it is), visited the National Park Aquarium, filled our water bottles at Happy Hollow Fountain, and had a fantastic lunch of gluten free veggie sandwiches at Schlotzsky’s. We found the marker where Babe Ruth hit one of his most famous home runs (573 feet, into an alligator pond). We were having so much fun that we lost track of time and didn’t leave for Nashville until almost 5pm.

Most annoying part of the day: having to spend $15 on a mask and then wear it for about 10 feet, just to get into the Quapaw Spa.

Most disappointing part of the day: missing the chance to visit Kollective Coffee & Tea by a couple of minutes. It’s pretty sneaky of them to close at 3pm!

Most comical part of the day: when Eva gave the aquarium’s giant tortoise a hug, thinking it was stuffed, but then it started moving and she almost jumped out of her skin.

Most memorable part of the day: seeing the hot springs! It’s truly amazing to see steaming hot water bubble out of the rocks. I’ll never forget Aaron Henry’s yelp when he first touched the water with a cautious fingertip. Good memories! This was our 11th park, one of the most inexpensive, yet very enjoyable. From there we went on to Fairfield Glade for a few days with Uncle Kris, Uncle Larry, Aunt Marcia, & Uncle Jim.


Leave a Reply