We left Memphis and set out for Arkansas, state #10. I wanted to check out the bathhouses so we were headed to Hot Springs. We had heard about the flooding along the Arkansas River but I could not believe how high the water was in some areas.
We found another good deal through Passport America so we stayed at Treasure Isle RV Park. This park was on the Ouachita River and there were some very nice RV spots right on the river but we didn’t splurge for one of those. This RV park also had a pool which always makes Penguin happy. We have started a page called Stays with Pros and Cons of the RV parks and campgrounds we have stayed at since they are becoming a blur and we want to remember the best ones to potentially visit again.
We headed to downtown Hot Springs to check out the visitor center, see the historic Bathhouse Row and go for a hike. Parking Tip: There is a free parking garage on Exchange Street, one block west of the Hot Springs National Park visitor center. Just follow the signs once you are in downtown Hot Springs. I was surprised to see how many people were paying to park in the lot right in front of the free parking garage. Maybe they didn’t see the free parking signs?
Per the NPS website, the Fordyce Bathhouse “was considered to be the best.” It is now the Hot Springs National Park visitor center and gives visitors a glimpse into what this bathhouse was like during its operation from 1915 to 1962. As we toured the three floors I could definitely see how this would have been a great place to relax and hang out for the day.
There are only two operating bathhouses on Bathhouse Row nowadays: Quapaw Baths & Spa and Buckstaff Bathhouse. After reading various reviews online we determined that Quapaw was more of a modern day spa experience while Buckstaff was the traditional bathhouse experience. We both agreed that we wanted to experience the traditional bathhouse.
We decided we would go for a hike through the Hot Springs National Forest and then come back the next day in the morning as the Buckstaff Bathhouse did not take appointments. We grabbed a trail map at the visitor center and started up Hot Springs Mountain. The trails begin right behind the visitor center so it was really convenient.
We hiked up to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. Our NPS pass got us a discount so it was $5/ea to go up to the observation deck. We took the elevator up and the view of downtown Hot Springs was picturesque. You can check out our video here. It was breezy and cool on the outside observation deck and that was a nice surprise as we were pretty hot and sweaty from our hike. We decided we would get some extra steps and take the stairs down. The stairs were outside so it was a great hike down with Hot Springs in the background.
The next day we headed to Buckstaff Bathhouse and treated ourselves to a Mineral Bath which included:
Tub Bath: A fifteen minute soak in a private tub where the water was 102 degrees
This was definitely my favorite part, although I would have liked my water a little bit hotter
But I did get more of a twenty minute soak because they were busy so I was very happy
The tub was long and had one powerful jet so I had to prop my feet against the provided board to stay in place
I loved the size of the tub because I could easily float my entire upper body when I wanted to
We paid extra for the loofa mitt which meant at the end of your soak the attendant scrubbed our arms, legs and back
Both of us agreed that paying extra for this scrub was not necessary and it could be skipped
Steam Cabinet: I sat in a metal cabinet with my head out for three minutes. This gave my body a good sweat
Penguin had a more traditional walk in steam room which is more intense
Sitz Tub: You sit with your butt checks and lower back in a smaller bath of hot water for ten minutes
This was my second favorite step as it targeted your lower back
Hot Packs: Four very, very, very hot towels are placed on areas the customer requested or attendants choice for fifteen minutes
I requested my neck and back. These hot towels were EXTREMELY hot!
When I laid down on top of them I thought I was going to burn my back but I didn’t and it ended up feeling so good on my sore muscles
They put a cool towel around your face and this really helps your body temperature as you get really hot from the hot towels
These hot towels get the muscles warmed up for the optional (and costs extra) 20 min Swedish Massage which we skipped
Needle Shower: The last step is a quick shower to rinse off but instead of one shower head you walk into a circular shower with probably close to a hundred small streams of water hitting you from every direction
Everyone starts with the Tub Bath but after that the order of steps could vary. For me, the Hot Packs followed the Tub Bath. For Penguin, the Sitz Tub followed the Tub Bath. Bathing suits are typically not worn and instead you are wrapped in a sheet. Your attendant does help you in and out to make sure you don’t slip and helps wrap you in your sheet. If that might make you feel uncomfortable then I wouldn’t recommend the traditional bathhouse and you may be more interested in Quapaw Baths & Spa although we didn’t check that one out. Also at Buckstaff Bathhouse the women and men are separated so you will not see your partner until your bath is over.
Overall we both loved the traditional bathhouse experience and it would definitely be something we would do again but hopefully add the Swedish Massage if it is in our budget :)