The Most Famous Water in America
Hot Springs has welcomed millions of tourists and many famous faces to its historic downtown and surrounding districts for centuries. The main attraction? Water. Hot Springs has gained and retained its notoriety thanks to its prime location among thermal springs and additions of picturesque sparkling lakes. Discover all the unique ways water makes a visit to Hot Springs great. Spoiler alert —there are plenty of soaks and sips to quench your thirst for a great vacation!
The Hot Springs
For longer than anyone can precisely nail down, Hot Springs has been a gathering place for soothing and healing soaks. Native Americans called the area “the valley of the vapors,” and the springs were a neutral site where different tribes could safely seek peace. In the 1500s, Spanish and French settlers fought over the land for its thermal springs, and for centuries since, people have flocked here to benefit from the 143°F water they believe heals.
Indeed, many characters from American history claim to have been restored here. From Civil War veteran and Fordyce Bathhouse namesake Samuel Fordyce (who was brought to Hot Springs in grave condition only to walk out healthy six months later) and Al Capone’s prescribed mineral bath rituals to treat syphilis to the entire Major League sending its baseball players for spring training and healing injuries. Boxing champion Jack Dempsey and former President Franklin D. Roosevelt were more of the many famous faces who trekked to the resort town for treatment — from 1890-1950, many of societal’s top elites came to “America’s Spa,” now known as the Spa City.
Bathhouse Row still accommodates travelers looking to take a dip in the famous water.
But just how therapeutic are the springs?
According to nps.gov, the water's high temperature kills most harmful bacteria, and the heat also helps relieve pain. The water itself is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory minerals, as well detoxifying sulfur.
The bathhouses (back then and still some today) deliver the water using different methods for more therapeutic benefits, including needle showers (to help stimulate internal organs), vapor cabinets (to boost metabolism and reduce muscle and joint pain through steam), sitz baths (to treat lower back problems, hemorrhoids and prostate conditions) and soaking tubs (for relaxation and to relieve pain, boost blood flow and more).
Let it sink in.
Common Ailments Treated:
Stress, arthritis, eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions, digestive issues, vascular and circulation issues, infections, weight loss and calorie burning
Note: Thermal mineral water has not been proven to cure or prevent health issues; always seek the counsel of a physician for treatment first.
It’s estimated more than 1 million baths were taken in Hot Springs by 1950 — and now, it’s your turn.
Two of Bathhouse Row’s historic bathhouses still offer soaks and many other spa services.
Quapaw Baths & Spa has four public thermal pools heated between 95 to 104 degrees, private baths and a steam cave that was built enveloping one of the city’s hot springs with the highest mineral content. The Buckstaff Bathhouse offers guests a traditional bathing experience (including old school vapor cabinets and sitz baths!). Buckstaff’s Microsilk Hydrotherapy service is unique in that it uses microbubbles to produce effervescent oxygen that promotes skin cell growth, which reduces wrinkles and minimizes scarring.
A third historic bathhouse, The Hale, was recently converted into a hotel. Each room has its own soaking tub pumping in the local thermal water. So, while no longer a bathhouse, guests can still take a spring-fed bath as many did a century ago.
There are even more spas in downtown Hot Springs with access to the natural spring water. The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, for example, has its own bathhouse fed by the springs, as well as a beauty and facial spa.
Take a "Journey of the Springs"
Though not located on Bathhouse Row, the luxurious Astral Spa at Oaklawn Racing Casino & Resort (featured on our cover) pays homage to Hot Springs' historic water and healing powers with its four-hour Journey of the Springs experience. This indulgent ritual even incorporates Hot Springs’ thermal water, sourced from three local springs. This spa package includes a foot soak with heated shoulder wrap and hot tea, a body polish treatment, a 20-minute bath, an 80-minute massage with an additional 15-minute chakra balancing with locally sourced crystals and hot oil scalp massage (a fan-favorite), and lastly, an anti-aging rose quartz crystal facial and glass of champagne.
The Best Drinking Water
Not only does the hot springs water have healing properties available through these incredible spas, resorts and bathhouses, it is also the perfect drink to quench your thirst. Locals boast of the superior taste and benefits of the water, which is why people line up to sip straight from the springs or drink beverages made with this storied spring water. Here are three ways to sip the springs:
Many free thermal spring fountains are available to the public and three are specifically for filling up any container with water to-go:
- Hill Wheatley Plaza
- Libbey Memorial Physical Medicine Center
- National Park Service Administration Building
Visitors can find other spring fountains on Bathhouse Row, including the Noble Fountain, Shell Fountain on the Stevens Balustrade and The Dripping Spring.
What was once the Superior Bathhouse (built in 1916) on Bathhouse Row, is now the famous Superior Bathhouse Brewery—known for being the first and only brewery in the United States to utilize thermal spring water for its beloved beer. It also received national attention for being the only brewery to be located within a National Park (as if the water wasn’t famous enough!).
Owner Rose Schweikhart decided to take a chance on the vacant bathhouse and open a craft brewery, which is beloved by locals and tourists alike who flock for these creative beers. Non-drinkers will love the patio (it’s dog-friendly), the root beer (also made with the thermal water) and the Bavarian soft pretzels (enough said).
Pro tip: Try a Beer Bath that lets you sample all 18 on tap!
All Bottled Up
Hot Springs’ famous drink has been bottled and distributed to the masses for more than 150 years thanks to locally based Mountain Valley Spring Water. Since 1871, the company has helped familiarize America with the Spa City’s natural wonder via its widely recognized green bottles of still and sparkling mineral water.
The company prides itself in its glass bottles, which are used to protect the liquid rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium—perfectly pH-balanced water.
Visitors are encouraged to try it and tour the company’s visitors center located on Central Avenue near Bathhouse Row. The history of this local company is fascinating to say the least. You can even stock up on the coveted water supply.
Mountain Valley Spring Water has been featured on TV with stars such as Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Ashley Judd. Sinatra and Sugar Ray Leonard were known to prefer Hot Springs’ water, and Elvis Presley was such a fan that he would request the green bottles on the riders for his shows.
Gorgeous Lakes & More!
Hot Springs decided to double down on its claim-to-fame with the addition of three man-made lakes, beginning in the 1930s with Lake Catherine and Lake Hamilton. In the 1950s, Lake Ouachita arrived, bringing with it a new nickname for this resort town: the Tri-Lakes.
Decades later, these lakes are busy year-round with a bevy of water activities. From fishing and kayaking to water skiing, tubing and wakeboarding — there’s even scuba diving on Lake Ouachita. And nearby, Hot Springs Village has its own lakes (12 of them, in fact!), and 40 minutes away is beautiful DeGray Lake in Bismarck.
Post-pandemic, the lakes have only become more popular, with vacation home sales and rentals thriving, alongside new hotels and marinas—and much-needed renovations—happening all over the area to accommodate the influx of lake-going tourists.
What Lies Beneath? Reel it in!
Hot Springs water holds even more greatness. World-class fish: trophy largemouth bass and stripers, along with bream, catfish crappie and water walleyes are why the city has rapidly become one of the top fishing destinations in the South.
Amateur anglers love to try for the big one during quiet mornings in their favorite coves, but it’s the pros who have made the Tri-Lakes famous as of late. Lake Ouachita is ranked as a top 10 hot spot for largemouth bass fishing and is known as being the cleanest lake in the country. Its most popular tourist attraction is the Major League Fishing Phoenix Bass Fishing League Tournament, where pros come to reel in award-winning black bass found in the lake.
As the largest lake in Arkansas, Ouachita is stocked with largemouth bass, bream, catfish and crappie each year during the winter season.
On Lake Hamilton, trout can be found at the base of Blakely Dam, and the lake is full of largemouth bass and striper fish. Its shoals are perfect for fly-fishers casting for rainbow trout.
Lake Catherine State Park is most popular for its bass, crappie, bream, catfish and more.