That’s the temperature of the mineral water bubbling out of the ground in 47 spots around Hot Springs, Arkansas. And in the midst of one the country's coldest winters, I can't think of anything nicer than taking a good, long soak in these natural, healing waters.
Folks have always gathered at these founts, from pre-history American Indians to today’s vacationers, to wash their cares away. A storied history swirls around the healing waters. Recognized as the first national preserve in the U.S., the area attracted bathers galore before the Civil War. Gangsters, including the infamous Al Capone, laid claim to the town in their era, but not all visitors were so sketchy. Major League Baseball teams practiced here at the turn of the 20th century so players could soothe aching muscles.
These days, Hot Springs visitors flow around the National Park Service’s eight historic structures called Bathhouse Row. Start your visit by walking through the Fordyce Bath, which provides a glimpse into early 20th century bathhouse culture. Then, pick out a couple of services at either the Buckstaff or the Quapaw Bathhouse. Both are privately run.
Patrons line up morning and afternoon for the no-frills Buckstaff. Forget the idea of chic spas with piped-in mood music. Buckstaff hasn’t changed much in decades, and that’s a good thing. For a whopping $64, you can partake of the Traditional Bath experience that includes sliding into a 100+ degree bath for 20 minutes and following that with your choice of a sitz bath or the steam cabinet and then a cool shower. Before you depart, you’re treated to a full-body Swedish massage.
The Quapaw Bath & Spa reopened a few years ago with several unisex pools open to guests. Each is kept at different temperatures, from 90 to 104 degrees. Even if you forgot your swimsuit, Quapaw’s gift shop offers affordable swimwear as well as upscale products. You could spend the entire day here, trying out the steam room that’s situated over a natural spring, sampling the café’s salads, sandwiches, beers and smoothies, and relaxing with a soothing massage.
For more information on Arkansas travel, visit Escape to the Southeast!