Enjoy the Best Spa in Hot Springs Arkansas at this Underrated National Park

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Hot Springs National Park is an underrated national park offering iconic views, outdoor recreation, fabulous food, and lots of wellness opportunities- plus the best spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas!

hot springs national park

I visited Hot Springs, Arkansas as part of a press trip to Visit Hot Springs. All thoughts are mine.

A national park might seem like an unlikely location for a wellness getaway, but Hot Springs, Arkansas has a very long history of wellness. Pair the healing waters with a walkable location, delicious food, and unique spa treatments, and you have the ingredients for the best spa experience in Hot Springs, right in the middle of a national park!

Recently, I jumped at the opportunity to travel to Hot Springs – in part because of the allure of the bathhouse spa experience but also because of the park itself. It’s a goal to visit all of the national parks and Hot Springs National Park was still on my list.

I’m also really interested in wellness travel. After years of putting all family members’ needs ahead of my own, I have become more invested in taking care of myself. Maybe you can relate?

grand promenade

Hot Springs National Park Facts

When you think of iconic national parks, you might not think about a small park in the middle of Arkansas. But this underrated US national park, about an hour southwest of Little Rock, is deserving of your time and attention.

Nestled among the Ouachita Mountains within the city limits of downtown Hot Springs, it’s the second smallest national park. At only 5,550 acres it was the smallest for many years. However, when the 91 acre Gateway Arch complex became a national park in 2018, Hot Springs lost that distinction.

Hot Springs became the 18th national park in 1921. It is not technically the oldest park in the National Park Service (that award goes to Yellowstone). However, Hot Springs Reservation lands were set aside by the federal government in 1832 for protection, forty years before the lands of Yellowstone were earmarked for protection.

healing waters hot springs

Healing Waters of Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is made up of 47 geothermal springs. The water that bubbles to the surface all over the park originally fell to the ground over 4,000 years ago! Curious minds will want to know that pyramids in Egypt were built around the same time. Water emerges out of the ground all over the park at an average of 143 degrees!

Hot Springs was originally called the “valley of vapors” by the Native Americans who began frequenting the thermal waters over 10,000 years ago. This marked the beginning of trekking to the area for ceremonies, healing, and bathing.

The nice thing about the spring water in Hot Springs is it is potable! Instead of smelly sulphur water like you’ll experience at Yellowstone, the delicious Hot Springs water contains minerals like silica, calcium, magnesium, sodium, fluoride, potassium and more. It’s tested often to make sure it’s safe to drink and people come from all around to take the natural spring water home to drink.

Hot Springs National Park is Free!

There is no fee to enter Hot Springs National Park. Besides Bathhouse Row, the park also includes the Grand Promenade, 47 natural hot springs, and 26 miles of hiking trails, many of them accessible. In fact, Hot Springs National Park is billed as one of the most accessible national parks in the United States.

Bathhouse Row at Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs’ crowning glory (besides the stunning mountain views) is Central Avenue’s Bathhouse Row. The impressive architecture of eight historic bathhouse buildings all lined in a row is really breathtaking.

The stunning bathhouses along Bathhouse Row have all been restored and are functioning in some capacity. They are not all operating as the bathhouses they once were, but they all serve a unique purpose.

superior bathhouse brewery beer flight

The Superior Bathhouse now Superior Bathhouse Brewery

The former Superior Bathhouse is now home is a fabulous local brewery: Superior Bathhouse Brewery. It is the only brewery located inside a national park! And, it’s the only beer brewed with thermal mineral water!

I highly recommend stopping in for a meal. In nice weather, you can eat outside on the patio. Sip on a flight of beers and enjoy stunning views of the historic Arlington Hotel and Spa. In worse weather, sit inside and take in the original tiles and wood work from the building’s days of bathhouse glory.

The Hale Bathhouse now the Hotel Hale

If you’re looking for a unique place to stay in Hot Springs, you’ll want to take a look at the Hotel Hale. What was once a historic bathhouse is currently a boutique hotel. It has just nine beautifully appointed suites, and each one includes a thermal spring water soaking tub. That means, you can enjoy the healing properties of the mineral water in your own private sanctuary.

Book early! Hotel Hale is a very popular destination in Hot Springs!

fordyce bathhouse hot springs

The Fordyce Bathhouse now National Park Visitor’s Center

The former Fordyce Bathhouse is now the Visitor’s Center. This is an amazing place to really get an understanding of why visitors came to Hot Springs in the early 1900s for health, healing, and wellness.

The Forydce is a huge, ornate building and the largest of the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row. It is intricate and beautiful. I could have spent hours exploring this amazing museum.

Park Rangers are on hand to answer questions. And you can even arrange for a guided tour of the building – something I highly recommend.

quapaw baths hot springs arkansas

Quapaw Bathhouse

For another historic spa experience in Hot Springs, you’ll want to also enjoy the thermal pools at Quapaw Baths!

Back in the day, visitors went to the Quapaw to soak in thermal pools. Four main pools make up the main area of the Quapaw and each pool contains water heated to different temperatures. You must wear a swimsuit to soak in the main pools (though suits are optional in the private tubs).

In addition to soaking, you can also enjoy private couple tubs, massages, and facials.

Check out Quapaw Bathhouse for more information on the spa services they provide.

bathhouse row

Best Spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas

You definitely want to visit Hot Springs, Arkansas for a traditional bathhouse spa treatment. A bathhouse spa experience at Hot Springs National Park is unlike any other spa experience I’ve had – it’s like stepping back in time and getting a first-hand example of health and wellness straight out of the 1930s.

Before arriving in Hot Springs, I really didn’t understand the bathhouse spa concept. It turned out to be one of my favorite experiences in Hot Springs, but it was nothing like I imagined it would be. When I think of a traditional spa, I think of Aspira Spa in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin: a serene location with skilled masseuse, indulgent pampering, and complete relaxation.

The bathhouse spa, however, is unique and one of a kind. To really gain an appreciation for modern medicine, the first thing to do when visiting Hot Springs is to tour the Fordyce Bathhouse, the Visitor’s Center for Hot Springs National Park.

What to Expect at Buckstaff Bathhouse – the best spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas

You’ll find a full, traditional bathing experience at the Buckstaff Bathhouse, the only bathhouse offering time-honored spa packages on Bathhouse Row. It’s been in continuous operation since 1912 and you won’t regret trying this interesting thermal mineral water bathing experience. If you’re curious what to expect, here’s what happens!

Upon arriving at the Buckstaff, you have your choice of treatments, including the bathing experience, massage, facial treatments, and manicures. The bathhouse spa experience I enjoyed was pretty much the same routine bathers enjoyed in 1912! 

After touring the historic Fordyce Bathhouse, we wondered what sort of torture to expect. But it was so fun! I signed up for the full thermal treatment straight out of 1912. That includes a private bath, hot packs, a steam cabinet, sitz bath and 20 minute full body Swedish massage. A Needle Shower was shown on the services list, but it was not operational when we were there.

dressing rooms at Buckstaff Bathhouse

After paying, we rode up an old elevator to the second floor. Then we were ushered into a changing room. Everyone got a private locker and a changing area. We took off every stitch of clothing and then the attendant wrapped us in a warm sheet.

From there, a personal attendant took us through the entire experience. I really had to hand myself over to this woman. Here I was, naked under a towel and a little apprehensive about what was going to happen.

Bathtub First

First, we stepped in hot water in a deep tub in a private room. It was a little bit like being in a hot tub. I like really hot water so I enjoyed it! If hot, hot water’s not your thing, you might want to ask for a bit of a cool down. While we were soaking, the attendant gave us little cups of hot water water to sip. Apparently, getting the hot water moving throughout your entire body is supposed to be beneficial.

Hot Packs Second

Once time was up in the tub, the attendant returned. She helped us get out of the bathtub very carefully. Then she wrapped us in a warm sheet and took us to a lounge. Next up, was a hot pack experience. In the hot pack area, super hot, wet towels were draped over our body as we reclined on a lounge. 

At first, the heat from the wet towels was a little uncomfortable. Luckily, the heat wasn’t unbearable and it subsided pretty quickly. We were given little cups of ice water and were encouraged to drink the water and suck on the ice as we relaxed under the hot towels.

sitz bath and steam cabinet at Fordyce Bathhouse
The sitz bath and steam cabinet seen at Fordyce Bathhouse were very similar to what we used at the Buckstaff. But those that we used at the Buckstaff were much cleaner and nicer looking. 🙂

Next up: Steam Cabinet

After the hot packs, it was time for the steam cabinet! This is essentially a funny looking box that you sit in, completely naked. The attendant closes you in by shutting the doors around your body and your head sticks out the top. 

Steam vapor comes out to envelope your body. I equate it a little bit like being in a sauna. The nice thing about it is your body gets hot but your head gets a break. I had to squirm around to find a comfortable position in the box. At 5’9, I’m on the tall side and found the box to be a little bit short for me.

Sitz Bath

Sitz bath was next and this one cracked me up. I’m not sure why. The sitz bath is a small, low tub for your rear end, good for hemorrhoids and post childbirth bottom care. We had plunk our naked booties in this hot thermal water and then sit there for 15-20 minutes.

Swedish Massage to End the Best Spa in Hot Springs

After the sitz bath, the massage was the final piece of the bathhouse spa experience. We went to another part of the bathhouse and waited for our turn at massage therapy. The masseuse was very nice and the short 20 minute massage was relaxing and enjoyable.

The combination of experiences plus the historical significance at the Buckstaff definitely make it the best spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas!

Book your historic bathhouse experience at the best spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas now!

hot springs bathtub photo op

Lamar Bathhouse now Giftshop

One of many neat gift shops in Hot Springs, the Lamar Bathhouse is definitely worth a quick stop. Here’s where to take your picture in the period bathtub and also where to get your national park souvenirs!

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you know all about Hot Springs National Park and the best spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas, you definitely need to book your trip!

Ready to travel? Use these helpful links to book your stay!

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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