Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas Turns 100 This Month

Peter Watson

Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas is marking its centenary this month with a series of outdoor celebrations that will continue throughout the year.

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Hot Springs National Park is celebrating its centenary (Image: Zack Frank/Shutterstock)

Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas officially turned 100 years old on March 4th, 2021. Thursday marked 100 years since Congress designated Hot Springs National Park and the local community celebrated the milestone anniversary.

An official proclamation was delivered by horse-drawn carriage in the City of Hot Springs and declared March 4th as “Hot Springs National Park Day.”

Home to 47 naturally flowing thermal springs on the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain, Hot Springs National Park formally became America's 18th national park in 1921.

Congress initially created the Hot Springs Reservation to conserve the thermal springs for public use and enjoyment in 1832 when President Andrew Jackson signed the first law in history to preserve land for recreational purposes.

Hot Springs is one of America's oldest federally protected sites with its official inauguration taking place before the protection of Yellowstone National Park (the world's first national park) and around 84 years before the creation of the National Park Service (NPS), which now oversees 62 national parks and 423 national park sites in the United States, and employs more than 20,000 people.

On March 4th, 1921, Congress then changed the name from Hot Springs Reservation to Hot Springs National Park, officially making Hot Springs a national park. The thermal springs in Hot Springs National Park were the first, and continue to be, the only federal controlled hot springs in the United States to be managed for both public health and consumptive use.

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Bathhouse Row is home to eight surviving bathhouses (Image: Calvin Smith/National Park Service)

Nearly 1.5 million people visit Hot Springs every year. They tend to make the most of filling their vessels with thermal spring water, hiking the wonderful network of trails in the park, walking along Bathhouse Row, visualising the heyday of the American Spa, and appreciating the best that Hot Springs – a real gem of a mountain town – has to offer.

The eight surviving bathhouses on Bathhouse Row trace their roots back to the 1830s. The oldest surviving bathhouse, the Hale, was built in 1892. Use of the bathhouses peaked in 1946 when over 1 million baths were taken.

Centennial Events

Hot Springs National Park will host a mixture of year-long events and special, monthly events throughout 2021.

These include the Iron Ranger Challenge, where participants register 100 miles of cycling, walking, paddling or hiking on any public lands in Arkansas throughout 2021. The challenge has been running for five years and has seen over 1,000 people take part.

The state's public lands include Arkansas National Park, Arkansas State Park, Arkansas Game & Fish Commission lands, any US Forest Service, National Wildlife Refuge, Army Corps of Engineers sites, or any city park.

There is also a themed monthly photo contest, with details released every month on the park's website, Facebook and Instagram pages.

The themes will vary from month-to-month and are intended to highlight the spectacular features of the park, from the historic bathhouses to the diverse wildlife to the spectacular panoramic views.

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Steam rising from the Hot Water Cascade (Image: Calvin Smith/National Park Service)

Some Key Dates

March: March 4th is the park’s official 100th anniversary as a national park includes a range of birthday celebrations and events.

April: April 20th is Hot Springs Reservation Day celebrating the 189th anniversary as a federal reservation, Hot Springs National Park will offer guided hikes and dedicated tours of the park.

May: May 1st is BioBlitz where the public can join the park’s science team for a day of learning about and exploring the park's diverse flora and fauna.

June: The roaring ‘20s will be back in full swing downtown and at the ark on June 12th for a 1921-style block party which will feature tours of Bathhouse Row, music, games, and shopping.

July: July 3rd is BARK Ranger Day celebrates ur furry companions with the park's K9 ranger, local pet shelters, stores, and trainers.

August: August 7th is Junior Ranger Day, a family-focused day full of hands-on activities, specialized workshops, guided hikes, and collaborations with surrounding agencies and parks.

September: September 18th –s the Thermal Springs Festival, a family-friendly event and educational celebration of the very foundation of the park.

October: An opportunity to join the park archaeology and history team on October 16th for a day-long event to learn more about history’s mysteries and the role archaeologists serve in the park. !

November: November will see the Park Rx Weekend, in conjunction with the Spa City Running Festival and the Güdrun Mountain Bike Festival, when Hot Springs National Park will host a public health fair.

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Scenes from the previous Iron Ranger Challenges (Image: National Park Service)

Interesting Facts About Hot Springs National Park

  • Hot Springs National Park was set aside by Congress as Hot Springs Reservation in 1832, making it one of the oldest federally protected sites to preserve a natural resource.
  • Hot Springs National Park is the second smallest national park in the NPS system after Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis.
  • The spring water starts out as rain falling on nearby mountains and takes about 4,400 years to travel roughly 6,000ft (1,800m) deep into the Earth before reappearing at more than 47 hot springs.
  • Hot Springs National Park has thermal and spring water fountains throughout the park, encouraging visitors to take the water home with them.
  • The springs produce between 600,000 and 800,000 gallons of water every day, which emerges at an average temperature of 143°F (62°C).

About Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is located around 50 miles southwest of Little Rock. The park preserves and protects the 47 thermal springs that form the heart of the 5,500- acre park. The park’s forested hillsides surround the city’s downtown area where urban meets wild.

Throughout history, a visit to the hot springs was designed to treat not just the body, but the mind as well. Hot Springs National Park was once among the most visited health and wellness resorts in the United States.

Visitors to the park can soak in the thermal waters, drink spring water from the fountains, and hike densely wooded slopes – all just steps away from downtown Hot Springs.

More information on the centennial events can be found on the National Park Service website here.

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Peter Watson is a writer, photographer and adventurer. A keen trekker and climber he can usually be found on the trails of the Greater Ranges. He’s visited over 80 countries and is currently focused on climbing the seven summits – the highest mountain on every continent. Four down, three to go... He has also travelled extensively around the US developing a penchant for American backcountry, abandoned buildings and natural wonders en route.

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