Location: 101 Reserve St; Hot Springs, AR 71901
Price: Free, parking may cost
Smashed Penny Machine: Not that we found
I threw this stop into the trip just so we could get the Jr Ranger Badge. I didn’t expect too much out of this park and honestly thought it would bore my 6-year-old but she’s obsessed with getting her badges. I was greatly mistaken.
This park is very unique for a national park because it’s nearly completely urban. I mean the whole park is basically just in the middle of downtown Hot Springs. The main allure of Hot Springs both in the past and today is the water. The water is naturally hot when it arrives to the surface. There are several natural springs around the general park area where you can see and touch the water. Touch with care though because the water is very hot. We could see steam rising from the surface and it was easily 75 degrees outside.
Start your tour of the national park at the Visitor’s Center and Museum inside the historic Fordyce Bathhouse. If you are doing the Jr Ranger program you’ll be able to pick up your book at the front desk. They also offer free guided ranger tours of the facility. We opted to do the self-guided tour so we could backtrack as needed to complete the Jr Ranger book. Each floor showcased how the bath houses were set up and talked about the various medical benefits that the springs were thought to have. My daughter loved exploring the bath house with its many twists and turns. For me it was neat to see what was considered high-class at the turn of the last century.
After completing everything we could in the Museum, we then went on an architectural scavenger hunt down Bathhouse Row. It was very neat to see the various styles of the buildings. We stopped in one of the other bath houses that has been converted into a bookstore for the national park so my daughter could shop. There are tons of stores on the other side of the street where you could probably get cheaper souvenirs but I’m big into spending our money within the park system when possible. After walking all of Bathhouse Row we returned back to the visitor’s center via the Grand Promenade which was much less busy. My daughter found a water fountain where you drink the natural spring waters still hot from their source. My daughter thought it was great. I didn’t find drinking hot water on a warm day all that amazing (it doesn’t taste any different from drinking hot water from your faucet).
My daughter turned in her booklet and received her badge and historic trading cards. At this point it was time for us to be on our way. I had planned on spending about 45 minutes here and we ended up spending a very relaxing and informative two hours exploring the park. There is more that we did not do. Several of the bath houses are still operational spas. So for a fee you could experience a real hot springs bath for yourself (that one is on my bucket list for a trip without kids). The park also has some trails that go up the mountain. Also there are many other locale attractions that Hot Springs has to offer. You could make an easy long weekend out of a stay in the area.
We brought in the umbrella stroller because we thought “hey it’s a city we can totally use this.” I would not suggest bringing your stroller into the Visitor’s Center. The bathhouse is 4 stories tall. There is an elevator in the building but it was an ancient thing and I never felt like waiting for it. So I carried a folded up stroller and my husband carried a baby throughout the museum. Although the museum is fully accessible, it’s going to be much easier without it. However when we walked Bathhouse Row and the Grand Promenade the stroller was very helpful. If we were to go again, I would probably leave the stroller in the car but park close enough to go back and get it.
Overall impression: I enjoyed this park much more than I thought I would. I was astounded how much my daughter enjoyed learning about this time period. I would suggest stopping if you are passing through the area.