Known as the “Natural State,” Arkansas is an environmentalist’s daydream. From pristine lakes to intrepid hiking trails with abundant foliage, the state offers plenty of adventures for any outdoor enthusiasts. And, after a day of delving into the rugged countryside, there is no better way to unwind than by soaking in a natural hot spring.
All hot springs in Arkansas are focused around a singular destination in Garland County, the aptly named town of Hot Springs. Promising a myriad of activities and bathing experiences, Arkansas’s hot springs differ from typical thermal pools found elsewhere in the country in the fact that there is no volcanic activity in the area.
Instead, the water reserves that feed the pools derive from rainwater that would have fallen in the area approximately 4,000 years ago. Over the millennia, this water has percolated its way through the Earth’s crust, increasing in temperature the nearer it approached the planet’s molten core before rapidly returning to the surface.
Today, over a million gallons of this ancient water flows out of approximately 47 natural pools situated around Hot Springs and within the Hot Springs National Park. However, before visiting these wonderous water features, there are a few things you should know about hot springs in Arkansas.
Arkansas Hot Spring Regions
All Arkansas hot springs are located within a relatively small area and are confined to Garland County, primarily in the township of Hot Springs. Still, the hot spring experience differs between three regions in the county.
Hot Springs National Park
Established as the Hot Springs Reserve in 1832 and later made a national park in 1921, the Hot Springs National Park is the oldest managed park in the U.S. It features most of the region’s naturally occurring thermal pools.
Along with its eponymous pools, the park protects 30 miles of hiking trails, several scenic drives, and offers campsites for a full day of exploring the natural landscape.
While the park is home to 47 thermal springs, only two are accessible, none of which are swimmable thanks to their scorching temperatures.
- Hot Water Cascade
- Hot Springs National Park Display Springs
Home to nine historic bathhouses, Bathhouse Row explores the region’s past as a tourism spa destination while offering the park’s only opportunities to submerge in the spring water.
Of the original buildings, only two remain in operation as a bathhouse and spa facility, while the Fordyce Bathhouse has been converted into the park’s visitors center.
- Buckstaff Baths
- Quapaw Bathhouse
Rivers Around Garland County
Most of Arkansas’ thermal pools are located within the confines of Hot Springs National Park. However, there are a few lesser-known spots within the region that experience warmer waters thanks to the same phenomenon.
Unregulated by any formal body, only one of these spots has been confirmed to exist. Located in the Caddo River, this out-of-the-way thermal pool combines the hot spring’s hot water with the river’s cold water for a warm and comfortable swimming experience.
- Caddo Gap Springs
The Most Popular Hot Springs in Arkansas
Hot Water Cascade
As one of only two thermal pools in Hot Springs National Park that visitors are permitted to touch, the Hot Water Cascade is perhaps the best water feature in the park for exploring the landmark’s ancient heating process.
Visitors to the springs watch as ancient rainwater completes its 4,000-year journey through the Earth’s crust as it cascades down the cliffside, feeding the thermal pool with 143-degree waters.
Frequented by European settlers for over two hundred years and by indigenous tribes for thousands of years before that, the Hot Water Cascade is the best thermal spring in Arkansas for exploring the history, geology, and natural healing powers of the state’s idyllic hot spring sites.
Visitors should remember that no swimming is permitted in the Hot Water Cascade as the waters of the springs are far too hot for the human body. Instead, visitors wishing to submerge in the spring’s tranquil waters will want to head over to one of the nearby bathhouses.
Situated in the historic Bathhouse Row, the Buckstaff Baths is the only bathhouse in Hot Springs to have remained in continuous operation since its opening in 1912.
And, after a century of providing a tranquil soaking experience to visitors of Hot Springs, they are the best facility for submerging in the spring’s healing waters.
Engaging chemical-free processes, Buckstaff Baths combine hot and cold spring waters to produce a warm bathing experience with 100% natural mineral water boasting the same soothing powers once enjoyed by indigenous visitors.
For additional relaxation, the baths also offer full spa treatments, including Swedish massages, sitz baths, steam cabinets, and hot packs.
Caddo Gap Springs
Located in the Ouachita Mountains, the Caddo River weaves its way through west-central Arkansas. It is known for its clear waters, shallow river valley, and safe conditions for family-friendly tubing.
However, the Caddo River is also famous as one of the only instances in the state of a thermal pool outside of Hot Springs National Park. Situated between the community of Caddo Gap and Glenwood, the Caddo Gap Springs is the best place to experience the thermal waters in a natural setting.
It combines the river’s cool waters with the hot waters of the underground spring to produce a comfortable swimming experience, with temperatures hovering around 95 degrees throughout the year.
Types of Hot Springs in Arkansas
After percolating through the Earth’s crust for thousands of years, the hot springs in Arkansas feature clean, mineral-rich waters. But while these waters come from the same natural source, the community of Hot Springs utilizes their preserves in three unique ways.
Natural Outdoor Springs
The outdoor hot springs of Arkansas are the most beautiful variety of thermal pools in the state and allow visitors to enjoy the warm, soothing waters while admiring the picturesque beauty of the surrounding environments.
Unfortunately, most of these outdoor pools feature water far warmer than the human body can bear, with temperatures averaging about 147 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, of Hot Springs National Park’s 47 naturally occurring pools, visitors are only permitted to physically touch two, and even these are considered unswimmable.
Luckily, a few locations are scattered throughout Garland County where the water is slightly more manageable. Around the national park, rivers such as the Caddo River feature confined areas where the hot spring water feeds into the cooler stream, producing warm waters comfortable for lounging in Arkansas’s idyllic terrain.
However, since these limited areas are tucked away and typically require a small journey to reach, most visitors instead opt to visit one of Hot Spring’s onsite bathhouses.
While the natural pools of the region may not be swimmable, the water’s healing properties have attracted visitors for centuries and were even heavily featured in many legends of local indigenous tribes.
The hot springs began to attract European settlers when it was first discovered by Western society in 1804, and in 1832 they received official protection as the Hot Springs Reserve. Several facilities began to pop up around the small town shortly after that, and Hot Springs quickly became a popular spa community.
Among its new services was a series of bathhouses that combined the hot natural spring water with cooler water to produce a comfortable soaking experience. This temperature control method remains the best way to submerge into the spring’s waters.
During its heyday, nine bathhouses lined the reserve’s Bathhouse Row between 1892 and 1923. Today only three of these facilities remain open, while only two continue to operate for their original function.
While visitors are permitted to stroll Bathhouse Row, the only buildings available to enter are the Fordyce Bathhouse, which now operates as a visitors’ center, and the Buckstaff Baths, which still provide visitors with a comfortable soaking experience.
Additionally, visitors today can visit the Quapaw Bathhouse, which was reopened after renovations in 2004, and offers full spa treatments among its services.
Hot Spring Fountains
Thanks to the water’s high temperatures and the purification process of its origins, the water secreted into the region’s natural hot springs are entirely clean and safe to drink. On top of that, the water is also very rich in minerals, giving it an even more significant nutritional value than purified water.
The town of Hot Springs takes advantage of its ample supply of clean mineral water by making it widely available throughout the community via several hot spring fountains. In fact, the community’s clean spring water supply is so vast that they encourage visitors to bottle the substance to bring home.
Thermal spring fountains dispensing warm water can be found in seven locations scattered throughout the park and community. Two additional fountains at Happy Hollow and Whittington Spring also dispense mineral-rich water but are sourced from nearby cold springs instead.