There seems to be a dating app or website for every type of person. So why not make one for National Parks? Until someone creates Tinder for travelers, I’ll be showcasing some of the lesser known parks. Read their profile to see if these under-the-radar spots might be your National Park soulmate.
Our first bachelorette is Hot Springs National Park. Nicknamed “The American Spa,” this park surrounds the north end of the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Yep, a national park in a city—unexpected, right?
Here’s why you should swipe right on Hot Springs National Park.
Age: Normally, I think it rude to ask a lady her age, but I’m quite proud of my years on this planet. In 1832, I became the first piece of land set aside by the federal government for preservation. Basically, I was a National Park before they were a thing. I may be old, but us cougars are their own brand of seductive, aren’t we?
Location: Head southwest of Little Rock for about an hour on I-30 W. I’m said to be the most accessible park in the country.
Size: I’m the smallest National Park of all. They say good things come in small packages, and I don’t disagree.
First thing people usually notice about me: When you think National Park, you probably envision a big hole in the ground (have a sense of humor, Grand Canyon, I’m just pullin’ your leg); or elk grazing in an expansive meadow. But not me—I’m in the midst of a bustling southern town, complete with Gilded Era bathhouses.
Claim to fame: My hot springs are said to heal and rejuvenate the weary. In the ‘20s and 30s, my proverbial dance card read of all the big names of the day. From Hollywood “It Girl” Mary Pickford to Babe Ruth and Al Capone, I was quite the draw. They’d luxuriate at one of my many bathhouses, soak in my therapeutic waters, get rub downs and destress.
History: I may be the first National Park, but my history goes waaaay back. Indigenous people discovered me 8,000 years ago, dubbing me “the Valley of the Vapors.”
To delve into my more modern history, check out Fordyce Bathhouse, now the park’s visitor center. Don’t strip down to your skivvies—though you may tour the bathhouse (which has been returned to its original splendor), it’s no longer operational. If you want that old school bathhouse experience, go to the Buckstaff, which has been in business since 1912. Be warned: their services are very true to the era, so don’t expect a soothing Enya soundtrack, flickering candles and cucumbers on your eyes.
Hobbies: I’m kind of a leisurely gal. I enjoy a hike from time to time, as the park boasts 26 miles of trails. You’re more likely to find me strolling down picturesque Bathhouse Row and the Grand Promenade, within the National Historic Landmark District. The entire Bathhouse Row area is designated as a National Historic Landmark District that contains the grandest collection of bathhouses of its kind in North America.
I’m really good at: Keeping things hot, literally. With 47 thermal springs flowing on the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain, I pump out 700,000 gallons of water per day. Lookie but no touchie— in my natural element, the water spews from the earth at a hot 143 degrees.
Known for: Bills! Meaning both Bill Clinton and Billy Bob Thornton were born and raised here.
My perfect Friday night: You’ll find me painting the town. On the first and third Fridays of the month, there’s a Gallery Walk and an Antique/Boutique Walk, respectively. Galleries and shops stay open late and offer live music and complementary refreshments while you browse for that one-of-a-kind find.
Not to be presumptuous, but if you were to spend the night…: Outdoorsy types can pitch tents at the Gulpha Gorge campground, but if you prefer four walls, soft beds and air conditioning, there are lots of beautiful properties in Hot Springs (http://www.hotsprings.org/places/lodging/). You can even rent a houseboat!
How I like to spend Sunday Morning: I’m a bit of a glamorpuss, and love a day of pampering. Send me to the onsite Quawpaw Baths & Spa for a massage, facial and a little relaxation in the steam cave.
Most Private thing I’m willing to admit here: I’ve had some work done (anyone who says they haven’t at my age is a liar or dead!). My natural hot springs flow from the western slope of Hot Springs Mountain. However, in the park, the springs have been altered to conserve the production of uncontaminated hot water for public use.
Favorite quote: “There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down so far and then I say: ‘I’ll go take a hot bath.” ― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Best place for a Selfie: Atop Hot Springs Mountain Tower, a 65.8 meter-high observation tower built of lattice steel on Hot Springs Mountain. Great view of town!
Weird fact about me: As the oldest park maintained by the National Park Service, I graced the first America the Beautiful Quarter. In my world, that’s like landing the cover of Vogue’s September issue.