Once a hotbed of gambling and outlaws, the geothermal features of this state's only national park now attract those looking for rest and relaxation.

As the USA's National Park Service celebrates its centenary, we're profiling the wilderness areas it manages.

Today: Arkansas' sole national park . . .

Hot Springs National Park

"After Hot Springs Reservation was reestablished as government property, the area rapidly changed from a rough frontier town to an elegant spa city."
- Sharon Shugart, museum specialist, Hot Springs National Park

The smallest park and oldest designated area protected by the Park Service is also one of the most colourful.


Hot Springs' therapeutic waters have attracted people since Native Americans called this the "Valley of the Vapours" and bathed here for the reputed healing powers. In 1541, Hernando de Soto became the first European explorer to visit Hot Springs.

Centuries later, Hot Springs became a hotbed of gambling and outlaws. Jesse and Frank James, Al Capone and Charles "Lucky" Luciano all found their way here. Luciano met his not-so-lucky downfall in Hot Springs when a New York City police detective spotted him.

Eight bathhouses, constructed between 1892 and 1923, still stand. They and the brick Grand Promenade were declared a National Historic Landmark district in 1987. The park visitor centre and museum are inside the Fordyce Bathhouse.

Nature paths also were laid down early in the park's history; hiking is a popular pastime.

The water continues to flow at a rate of 2,649,788 litres a day, at a temperature of 61.7 degrees, and may be experienced by visitors at spas and elsewhere.

Here, about an hour southwest of Little Rock, tourists may take a traditional thermal bath at Buckstaff Bathhouse, Quapaw Baths and Spa or the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa.

Park visitors may use the fountains to fill bottles with drinking water.

Size: 5549 acres

Founded: Federal protection, 1832; national park, 1921

Attendance: 1,418,162 (2015)

Read more:
The essential guide to Alaska's national parks
The essential guide to the National Park of American Samoa
The essential guide to California's national parks
The essential guide to Colorado's national parks
The essential guide to Florida's national parks
The essential guide to Hawaii's national parks
The essential guide to Kentucky's Mammoth Cave National Park
The essential guide to Utah's national parks
The essential guide to Virginia's Shenandoah National Park