The earliest record of Hot Springs, Arkansas as a health spa comes from notes kept in 1541 by Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto's party describing a three week stay in the "Valley of Vapors" to refresh themselves in the mineral rich hot water pools. The area was recommended to DeSoto by friendly Indians who had frequented the area for many years, bringing their sick and wounded to the springs to bathe in the "health restoring waters."
After DeSoto's visit there is little evidence of visits to the springs by European or American travelers until the late 1700s. But by 1804 the area had gained enough notoriety that President Jefferson had heard of the healing powers of the springs and commissioned an expedition to analyze the contents of the waters. Between 1808 and 1812 a few cabins owned by John Perciful were being used by visitors to the springs and the area enjoyed a brief population boom. But by 1831 the springs had no permanent residents. However their reputation as therapeutic waters were enough to convince Congress & President Andrew Jackson, 1832, to make the hot springs and a four square mile around the springs the nation's first United States Reservation - which is the origin of the park's claim to be the oldest US National Park (175 years old in 2007). During the next few years visits to the area increased dramatically, attracting permanent residents and some entreprenuers who build the first crude bathhouse facilities - later to be replaced by more palatial structures.
The Buckstaff Bathhouse
What is particularly interesting about the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas is that first before it was a city it was a National Park (Reservation) and the four square miles that are now the center of the city were the property of the United States. The city grew around the park. The bathhouse's and other downtown structures were built on park land and operated under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. It wasn't until 1877 that the original size of the reservation was cut down to allow private ownership of land and administratively separate the city from the park.
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Hot Springs Bathhouse Row & Grand Promenade
The Grand Promenade is a secluded, wooded and flowering shrub pedestrian walkway running behind Bathhouse Row - stunning in both spring (left) and fall (right) colors.
The Grand Promenade offers periodic overlooks of springs and gardens along Bathhouse Row and Central Avenue.
One of the remaining free-flowing springs is behind the Maurice Bathhouse.
Eight of the historic bathhouses remain on Bathhouse Row in various stages of restoration by public and private funds. The Buckstaff (circa 1912) is fully operational.
The Fordyce Bathhouse serves as the HSNP Visitor Center and is fully restored as a museum with self-guided tours.
Here's a restored Mens Stateroom for gentlemen who preferred to undress in privacy before their bath and relax after bathing.
Hot Springs Park Walking & Hiking Trails
The nations first Army and Navy Rehabilitation Hospital was located in Hot Springs National Park, built into the hillside just above Bathhouse Row. It was later replaced by a more modern and larger structure in 1933.
In addition to the soothing benefits of the hot springs, trail walking was an integral part of traditional spa therapy. In the 1920s Dr. Max Oertel was instrumental in developing a graduated network of color coded paths and trails, progressing through increasingly difficult walking challenges. Oertel's trails remain as the core of a very extensive network of scenic hiking trails throughout the park.
The Honeysuckle Trail is one of the intermediate difficulty trails leading to the top of Hot Springs Mountain.
Jo takes a rest at a shelter on the trail before proceeding on the last leg to the top.
Don't feel like hiking . . . you can always drive to the top of the mountain! A pretty drive in the fall or the spring.