Hot Springs National Park, the smallest and oldest of the parks in the National Park System, is situated in the heart of Hot Springs' Historic Downtown District, Arkansas. This 5,500-acre park’s recommended activities are scenic drives, picnicking, camping, taking a thermal bath at one of the many concessioners, and touring the Visitor Center and the Bathhouse Row area.
Hot Springs National Park was founded by the Congress in 1832 as the ‘Hot Springs Reservation’, the first federally protected reservation in the nation's history. It was created to protect the 47 naturally flowing thermal springs on the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain. People have used the spring water in therapeutic baths for more than two hundred years to treat rheumatism and other ailments. The Hot Springs Reservation was renamed ‘Hot Springs National Park’ on March 4, 1921.
The Fordyce Bathhouse, among the eight historic bathhouses at the park, is the only remaining operating bathhouse concessioner on Bathhouse Row. Considered the most elegant bathhouse when completed in 1915, it now features lovely mosaic tile floors, marble, stained glass, and restored bathhouse rooms. The Visitor Center -- which is also a museum housed in the Fordyce Bathhouse -- exhibits African Americans and the Hot Springs Baths, a 17-minute orientation movie, and a nine-minute video illustrating the traditional bath routine. The basement of the Center showcases the Fordyce spring and exhibits of old machinery. A bookstore, managed by Eastern National, is located at the Center.
The Grand Promenade, a landscaped walkway behind Bathhouse Row, offers a glimpse of the protected springs and historic landscape features. There are picnic tables on the Grand Promenade (a camp ground); Hot Springs Mountain, which has an observation tower on the top; and West Mountain. The Mountain Tower, operated by a concessionaire, features a souvenir shop. There are also fountains for collecting the hot spring water free of charge.
Campfire programs are arranged at the amphitheater at Gulpha Gorge Campground, which has a pedestal grill and water nearby. Modern restrooms and a dump station are also there. The Hot Springs Health Spa (Libbey Memorial Physical Medicine Center), operated by a concessionaire, is also located there. The park usually organizes a Junior Ranger program for children who tour the Visitor Center. In addition, it has a summer Junior Ranger program for children.
The Visitor Museum is fully accessible with wheelchairs available for loan. Blind and visually impaired visitors can experience a touchable model of Bathhouse Row and other architectural features in the anteroom of the Museum. The scheduled guided bathhouse tours and outdoor walking thermal features tours are given by park rangers and volunteers.