Actually, Hot Springs Reservation was initially created by an act of Congress on April 20, 1832 — even before the concept of a national park existed — and was the first time that a piece of land had been set aside by the federal government as an area for recreation. For centuries, the hot spring water was believed to possess medicinal properties — and the subject of legend among several Native American tribes. Following federal protection, the city developed into a successful spa town and has been home to Major League Baseball spring training, illegal gambling, speakeasies and gangsters such as Al Capone, horse racing at Oaklawn Park, the Army and Navy Hospital, and 42nd President Bill Clinton.
Established in 1921, the soothing thermal waters first attracted rich and poor alike to Hot Springs National Park who came for the baths that heat and relax. A thriving city built up around the hot springs and was nicknamed “The American Spa.” Today, you can stroll through the Bathhouse Row National Historical Landmark District, drive the scenic mountain roads or hike and explore the park’s 26 miles of trails.
The park includes portions of downtown Hot Springs, making it one of the most accessible national parks (nearly 1.5 million visitors in 2015). Bathing in spring water is available in approved facilities and the entire Bathhouse Row area is designated as a National Historic Landmark District. It contains the grandest collection of bathhouses of its kind in North America, including many outstanding examples of Gilded Age architecture. The row’s Fordyce Bathhouse serves as the park’s visitor center and Buckstaff and Quapaw still operate as bathhouses.