Hot Springs Arkansas Bathhouse Experience

Visiting Hot Springs National Park was a treat for me. I wanted to copy the experience Americans might have had when they came in the early to mid 1900s, and found it easy in spite of modern day conveniences.

I stayed at the Park Hotel, a historic boutique hotel built in 1930, and added to the national register in 1982. I chose it because it was convenient to the park trails and Bathhouse Row. It is one of the cheaper hotels in the national park, but it is no frills.  You can get a good cup of coffee in the morning from the friendly desk clerk, but have to go out to find breakfast.  The furniture is a bit tired but I found my room clean. President Harry Truman used to stay in room 401. I stayed in room 403. The lobby is quite beautiful and well maintained.  The Arlington is another historic hotel just down the street, and used to be a favorite place for Al Capone and other gangsters who would sometimes rent an entire floor.
Park Hotel lobby

Park Hotel, located on the Promenade
When people used to come in the heyday, they would come to get healthy. Often doctors would write prescriptions for sunshine, exercise on the mountain trails, and spa time.  The mineral water had healing qualities, leading to numerous bathhouses being built on the edge of the promenade. They were often grand in nature, including tubs, showers, attendants, and recreation floors.

I wanted to experience this, so I first I walked the Grand Promenade, and then hiked up one of the original steep trails, which took the wind out of me.  Then I went to the Buckstaff Bathhouse, where you don't need an appointment.  Once you choose your experience, you take the elevator to the appropriate floor. Men and women are separated. I put my clothing in a locker, put on a sheet and waited for Matty, my bath attendant to bring me to the bath.  No photos are allowed, but first I sat in a large tub with hot water and a contraption that looked like an outboard motor. Matty scrubbed my back with a loofah and served me several small cups of hot mineral water. From here, there was a bed with hot wet towels, then a steam chamber, sitz bath, needle shower, and finally a 20 minute massage. The whole process took just about an hour.
Grand Promenade

Buckstaff Bathhouse

Changing room

I walked down Bathhouse Row, stopping at the National Park Gift Shop at Lamar Bathhouse, which is a non-profit selling all types of bath products and robes.  Then I had a healthy lunch in the cafe attached to the Quapaw Baths & Spa. This is more modern with pools where people wear bathing suits and bathe together, and is better for families.
I took the ranger led tour at Fordyce Bathhouse, the official park visitor center.  I really recommend this, as I learned more than I would have if I had done the self guided tour. There are three floors to this building and you can see how the place was set up during the early 1900s. There is a gym for workouts, and a music room at the top where ladies gossiped and relaxed together.  Men had a lounge where they could smoke cigars. The men's spa is especially noteworthy with a stained glass ceiling and fountain in the center.  I enjoyed seeing the early exercise machines which resemble those found at modern gyms, except they were made of wood and velvet.
Ranger led tour at Fordyce Bathhouse

Workout gym
From the bathhouses, you can either hike or drive to the top of the mountain, where Bill Clinton enjoyed going when he was a teenager. There is a tower with elevators to the top where on a clear day, you can see the surrounding mountains and city. There's a gift shop on the bottom, and another floor with historic information. Be sure to bring some water jugs and fill them at the street that leads to the top. Though there are some fountains spread out throughout the city, there's a larger tap for bottles here. Though I only had a day to spend here, it was interesting and relaxing.  Though quite different from other national parks, it still has a lot to offer.


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