Arkansas is a pretty underrated state with plenty of small towns that would make for a charming getaway. This state is known for another place, though, and it's one that pre-dates any other destination of its kind in the country. Hot Springs National Park was created in 1832, making it the oldest national park in America, bringing with it a rich history that goes back even further than that. When it was first created, it was known as Hot Spring Reservation and in 1921, it was officially named Hot Springs National Park.

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It was once believed by the Native Americans that these ancient hot springs had mystical healing powers, and many famous historical figures - mostly presidents - were quick to follow suit in believing the same. With temperatures that range from 98 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, it's easy to see how a soak in these tepid pools could ease away all of the stress and pains of daily life. Located deep within the Ouachita Mountains, the surroundings of these hot springs are just as beautiful as the springs themselves and offer plenty in the way of hiking and sightseeing. In town, there's plenty to explore, as well, with a multitude of dining options as well as boutique shopping. If you have some time and plan on visiting Hot Springs National Park after its reopening, this is what's worth adding to the itinerary.

Obviously, A Soak

For this, head down to the famed Boathouse Row. This is where all of the Hot Springs bathhouses are located and they were constructed between 1892 and 1923. This area also contains the Promenade, which is a scenic overlook giving way to views of the surrounding mountains. It's also a designated historical landmark and it's this same history that one can sense upon walking into any one of its eight bathhouses.

The bathhouses are as follows: Lamar Bathhouse, Buckstaff Bathhouse, Ozark Bathhouse, Quapaw Bathhouse, Fordyce Bathhouse, Maurice Bathhouse, Hale Bathhouse, and the Superior Bathhouse. Each one is different and unique, with some housing shops or historical visitor centers, while others offer unique spa services such as hydrotherapy. Depending on what you're looking for, there's bound to be a bathhouse for it, and it's worth taking a stroll along the Promenade and taking in the beauty of its fountains before visiting each one. Each bathhouse also features stunning architecture with many of the buildings having been restored to their original construction, some of which dates back more than a century. The bathhouses are also easy to find, as they line the street, one right after another, along Central Avenue. For those looking for lengthy soaks, both the Buckstaff and Quapaw bathhouses offer public baths with water piped in from the surrounding hot springs.

Hot Springs National Park Hiking

Another aspect of the park that brings visitors from all over is its hiking, and there are 26 miles of trails for hikers to choose from. With a total elevation that's just under 2,000 feet, some hikes are more strenuous than others but the views from the top will make all that effort worth it. Throughout the forested grounds of Hot Springs National Park, hikers will find trails that take them past the hot springs themselves, which reach a max temperature of 147 degrees Fahrenheit. While these hot springs don't permit soaking, visitors are allowed to feel the water before it gets piped into the bathhouses.

Both the Hot Springs and North Mountain trails are popular among first-timers since they lead to two favorite spots: the hot springs themselves, and scenic views of the surrounding mountains. These trails are also not overly difficult and are shorter and more traveled than the West Mountain trails. For those who prefer a more secluded and quiet route through the woods, the West Mountain trails give way to potential wildlife sightings and trails that have less foot traffic. The longest trail in the park, Sunset Trail, is the longest with a total of ten miles one way or up to 17 round-trip. The great thing about hiking through Hot Springs National Park is that any number of these trails can be used to create loops, with many connecting at certain points that will loop around to others.

The park is also open for mountain biking, with a mix of terrains and various overlook points as bikers wind their way through these lush woods. For those interested in extending their time in the park, one option is to book a hotel in town, and the other is to take advantage of the camping at Gulpha Gorge Campground, which is a quiet and secluded site near Gulpha Creek.

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