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Thermal Waters, Bathhouses, and Gangsters!

I highly recommend that you take a trip to Arkansas. The drive alone, through this Natural State, is worth it. Lush green wherever you turn, lakes around every bend; it’s a beautiful state and there’s unlimited opportunities for fun recreation. During your trip, take a detour to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where you’ll find Hot Springs National Park in the middle of downtown and a fun and speckled history.

The naturally thermal pools (or hot springs) remain around 143 degrees Fahrenheit and lack the Sulphur odor of most hot springs, which caused many doctors to recommend these pools for health and healing. In addition, thoroughbred horse racing began in the early 1900’s (and gambling was made legal in the 20’s). This bought an influx of people to the city, which became neutral territory for gangsters and was Al Capone’s home base for many years (check out the Gangster Museum when you visit!). Spring training was held here so the ball players could heal their sore muscles (and detox after a night of heavy drinking!).  A Navy and Army hospital was created to help treat vets and today, many locals can be seen carrying empty jugs to the hot springs water stations, which are found throughout the park. 

In the touristy downtown area of Hot Springs, visitors discover cute shops, restaurants, art galleries, and Bathhouse Row, which consists of eight bathhouses. Two bathhouses continue to function as a bathhouse (more details below) and one has been turned into a Brew Pub where they use the thermal waters to brew the beer (yum!). The remaining bathhouses are an Art Gallery, permanently closed, open for lease, and used for the National Park’s visitor center and gift shop.

Today, when visiting Hot Springs National Park, the tour not to miss is the one at Buckstaff Bathhouse (or Ozark). These bathhouses continue to operate today as they did in the past. Order the full treatment and be prepared to relax and enjoy (side note: if you’re modest or uncomfortable with your nakedness, this tour may not be for you!). Men and women then go to separate floors, put their clothes and personal items in a locker, and don a clean sheet. Then let the fun begin!

The first stop on the bathhouse tour is a 20 minute whirlpool mineral soak. An attendant (female for the women’s floor or I assume a male or female for the men’s floor) assists you in removing your sheet and climbing into a cast iron tub that’s filled with the famous thermal waters (note: curtains surround each tub, so you have privacy from the general public.). After the soak, the attendant returns, grabs the loofa mitt you were given at check-in, and proceeds to scrub your entire body (this is optional). They help you out of the tub, wrap you in your sheet, and direct you to the next stations: (1) hot towels (tell them where you want the towels, lay on a table, and enjoy the warmth soaking into your muscles (2) steam cabinet (sit down on a bench, and metal (maybe?) doors are closed around you, so that only your head sticks out) (3) sitz bath (2-3 inches of hot water surrounds your bottom); and (4) needle shower (shower off the water and sweat with a 180 degree shower that sprays your entire body). Finally, it’s time for the 20 minute massage. After the previous soak and four stations, you’ll never feel so relaxed before a massage. It’s the perfect ending!

For the outdoorsy type, the park offers trails to hike, lakes to ski across, and duck tours that take place on land and lake. There are monthly wine walks (and many other events) in the downtown area and Oaklawn offers horse racing and slot and poker machines for those who need a gambling fix. The Arlington Hotel offers the traditional bathhouse package as well (whether you stay at the hotel or not). Oh, and make sure you stop by Ambrosia Bakery before you head out of town.

Hope you find the time to visit Hot Springs National Park.




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