Hot Springs, Arkansas
A Spa Town With a Difference
I was so looking forward to this trip. Who wouldn’t want to go to a town so famed for its relaxing thermal mineral waters that it is named Hot Springs? But I was surprised by how much more Hot Springs has to offer.
Both the town and the national park are named Hot Springs. One side of the town’s main street is in fact inside the park. Like in most national parks, you can hike, mountain bike and enjoy forested trails and wonderful views. Unusually, you can tour historic buildings and get a massage too.
The earliest bathers soaked up the soothing waters under the sky. By the mid 1800s, bathhouses became the preferred location. Soon Hot Springs’ bathhouses were grand edifices rivaling those of European spas. Today you can visit many of these restored buildings along Bathhouse Row, and even “take the waters” in two of them.
Many claim the water from the 47 different hot springs is healing. Until just a few decades ago, physicians would recommend their patients come to treat ailments from rheumatism to syphilis. It became so popular that the government eventually provided a clinic with a free bathhouse, so that people of any income could follow their doctor’s advice.
As medical science evolved, the popularity of the baths waned. Today there’s no scientific evidence of health benefits from the springs. But I can vouch that lazily soaking in a pool of hot water (where phones are not allowed) is an excellent treatment for our hurried modern way of life.
The spring water is also delicious to drink. Filling stations line the edges of the national park welcoming you to fill a jug with Hot Springs’ perfectly neutral pH7 water, all for free. Unlike most water from thermal springs, there is no iron or sulphur. The water comes out of the ground at about 62°C and doesn’t need treatment to make it safe to drink. Many believe that drinking the water is good for you too.
The Quapaw Baths & Spa feature four mineral pools at varying temperatures. At Quapaw, you can add on massages, body treatments and facials, plus visit the steam cave. The cave feels like a combination of sauna and steambath. I sat on a cedar bench in the man-made cave, designed to gather the heat coming off the underground springs below. While I didn’t see clouds of steam, I very quickly felt the moist therapeutic heat. I ended my 20-minute session relaxed and well-glistened (a lady glistens, not sweats, in the South).