by: Fawn Rechkemmer
The National Park Service is celebrating its centennial birthday this summer, and you can take part right in downtown Hot Springs! When you think of a National Park, you probably think of the great outdoors, wild animals, and park rangers, but Hot Springs National Park is very different!
Surrounding the northern end of the city of Hot Springs, this National Park has a rather urban feel to it. Because of this, it’s easy to access and free to visit. It’s a great way to spend the day with kids, as there are plenty of things to do, from exploring the springs and trails, touring the Bathhouse Row National Historic Landmark District, and becoming a Junior Ranger!
Fordyce Bathhouse and NPS Visitor Center
The park visitor center is right on the “main drag” in downtown Hot Springs, located in the historic Fordyce Bathhouse. The bathhouse has been restored to look as it did during the early 1900’s, when travelers flocked to Hot Springs to take advantage of the healing qualities of the spring waters. There are guided tours available, or you can take a self-guided tour.
The tour of the Fordyce is really interesting, as it covers the history of the Hot Springs area, the rise and fall of Bathhouse Row, and the restoration efforts. My daughter and I recently visited and took a self-guided tour. She was really interested in how the baths work and the equipment and clothing items from the “olden days”. She asked lots of questions about all the different features within the bathhouse, including treatment rooms, the men’s and women’s parlors, and the gymnasium.
In addition to all of the history, one of my favorite parts of the tour was the beautiful stained glass features throughout the building.
Becoming a Junior Ranger
When we stopped at the main desk of the visitor center before our tour, the park ranger gave Carina a Junior Ranger booklet. We learned that this program is available in several National Parks. While we explored Bathhouse Row and the visitor center, Carina completed the activities in the booklet. At the end of the visit, we returned it to the park ranger at the visitor center. Once her activities were verified, Carina was sworn in as a Junior Park Ranger! The Park Ranger also gave Carina a Junior Ranger Badge, a temporary tattoo, and a set of National Park Service trading cards that are specific to the Hot Springs Park. She was very proud!
After our tour of the visitor center, we ventured outside to explore bathhouse row. Carina’s Junior Ranger booklet guided us through exploring some of the architectural features of each of the bath houses. At the north end of Bathhouse Row, we saw the pools of hot water being fed by the springs. You can also hop on the Grande Promenade, a lovely paved trail that runs behind the bathhouses, here. At the south end, we visited the Lamar Bathhouse. Inside we found the park store, as well as an old spa tub that makes for a fun photo opportunity!
More to Do With Kids
In addition to exploring Bathhouse Row and the springs, there are also over 26 miles of trials to hike within the park. When everyone’s feet get tired, you can take a drive on the scenic North Mountain and West Mountain Drives, or hike up to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower and check out the amazing views from atop the 216 foot tall tower. History, adventure, indoors, or out – the Hot Springs National Park has something for everyone!