Hot Springs, Arkansas:Do Drink the Water!

One of the historic bathhouse in Hot Springs

During my time in Arkansas I was lucky enough to revisit Hot Springs, a town known for notorious gangsters, lakeside views, and healing waters.The last time I went I was less than 10 years old, and my sole memory was of the wax museum. This time around I soaked up something much more interesting, the resource people rave about and drive miles to collect–water from the natural springs. The lesson learned? When in Hot Springs, Arkansas, do drink the water!

Steam coming off the water in Hot Springs, Arkansas

How hot is the water?

Super-hot! The temperature averages 143º F (62º C).

Collecting water by the jug-full

Do you drink the water or just splash around in it?

You can drink it! The water in Hot Springs is potable and abundant; there are multiple fountains on Bathhouse Row alone. On the sleepy holiday that we visited, car-loads of people were filling up. There are seven fountains with hot water and two with cold water (with the cold water coming from a different source). There are a few natural hot spring pools near Fountain Street, but they are too hot to swim in. If you want to immerse yourself in the the water, you can make an appointment at the bathhouses.

Rub-a-dub-dub, here’s an old-time tub

What’s the history behind the springs?

Native Americans in the region were certainly the first to discover the hot springs. Later, the area was acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, and early explorers sent back reports of the natural hot springs. In 1832, nearly three decades after their discovery, Congress protected the springs. (This was 40 years before the first national park was even established!) After some disputes about land ownership, the government took control of the hot springs and began building bathhouses. Some of these were fancy-shmancy, but one was free for poor patients who had a physician’s note to use the springs. Indeed, it became quite popular for health-care professionals to recommend the hot springs as part as treatment. The afflicted thermal-spring-goers (both rich and poor) suffered from illnesses such as arthritis, polio, skin diseases, and other issues.  Gradually, taking a dip in public in Europe became fashionable, and Americans followed suite. The bathhouses thus became tourist destinations, reaching their peak in the 1920s.

One of the many working bathhouses

Bathhouses, you say? Can you still take a bath there?

Eight bathhouses can be visited today, and they are all conveniently located along a short street known as Bathhouse Row. Many are still working, and visitors can purchase mineral baths, massages, facials, and other pampering sessions.

Entering a historic bathhouse in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Which minerals are in the water that make it so special?

Here is the chemical analysis for the Hot Spring water (not the cold fountains, which come from a separate source). Parts per million: Silica:             53.0 Calcium          47.0 Magnesium       4.9 sodium             4.0 Potassium        1.4 Carbon Dioxide 9.7 Bicarbonate  130.0 Sulfate             7.8 Chloride           2.2 Flouride           0.26 Oxygen            4.5

Interesting! Do these waters have healing properties?

Although the Hot Springs National Park does not claim that the waters are curative, many people believe that they do have healing properties. While at one of the fountains, we happened to meet a worker from a local retirement home who certainly believed this. She told us how she collects several jugs of water everyday to take back to the center’s residents, who are crazy about the water. Does she drink the water, too? Yes, of course! she replied.

One of the natural springs (sans fountain)

Ok, so what does the water taste like?

Did you see how many minerals are in the water? We were warned that we could even find sediment floating around our bottles! Because of this, I expected the water to have harsh mineral tones. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case.

Before: Filling up my bottle inside the visitor’s center

After: Taste test

Why the pucker? It wasn’t that the water tasted unpleasant–rather, I was taken aback by the hot temperature! Pouring water from a tap and then tasting a hot-infusion-with-no-tea was a very strange experience. Once I got used to the temperature, I went back for more. Interested in visiting? Check out the Hot Springs National Park webpage for itineraries made easy.