Have your heart set on seeing hot springs in Hot Springs National Park? You’re definitely not the first person traveling to this world-famous park for the chance to dip a toe in these mysterious waters. When we arrived in Hot Springs as part of our Midwest National Parks road trip, we were surprised to find a much different story in the geothermal features here than in other national parks like Yellowstone. Finding a hot spring in Hot Springs is not as easy as you think.
About the Hot Springs
For centuries, people have flocked to Hot Springs hearing tales of mysteriously healing waters. When the federal government annexed the land as a reserve in 1832, the Quapaw and the Caddo tribes had already considered the lands to be culturally significant for hundreds of years. By the mid-1800s doctors from all over the United States began writing prescriptions for hot springs baths, promising all types of maladies could be remedied with an afternoon or two in the tub. At one time, more than 47 different springs bubbled hot water here, giving the area the nickname “Valley of the Vapors.” Having visited Yellowstone National Park and the Sol Duc area of Olympic National Park, we expected steaming walkways and geothermal activity all around the park. But after more than 150 years of development and water diversion in the area, the hot springs no longer flow through the natural channels and the park service limits the above-ground exposure to avoid contamination. Today, many visitors are surprised to learn there are only two marked places to see hot springs in Hot Springs National Park.
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The Best Places to See Hot Springs in Hot Springs National Park
Despite the popularity of the park and how many hot springs can be found in the area, there are only two spots to get an up-close view of a hot spring in the park.
Hot Water CascadeHot Water Cascade is largest and most prominent hot spring in Hot Springs National Park. Located near Arlington Lawn and the heart of the downtown historic district, it’s easy to find and well-marked. The large spring starts at the top of the hill and flows down under the trail and into two pools near the Arlington Lawn. The spring can be viewed from the Arlington Lawn and near the Grand Promenade area.
The Display SpringThe second spot to see hot springs in Hot Springs National Park is located directly behind Bathhouse Row near the park’s visitor center. Tucked behind the Maurice Bathhouse, this hot spring is much smaller than Hot Water Cascade. But given it’s more secluded location, it tends to be less busy and a good spot to observe the hot spring in detail.
Tufa Terrace TrailWhile not marked on the National Park Service map of Hot Springs because the spring waters don’t always consistently flow here, another spot to catch steam rising and some spring action is along the Tufa Terrace Trail. The trail gets its name from huge calcium carbonate deposits called tufa, formed as the hot springs water used to flow out of the ground in this area. Along the way you may spot signs of spring waters.
Watch for Green Boxes - They're Actually Hot Springs!
As mentioned above, most of the hot springs in Hot Springs National Park are covered to prevent surface contamination. The National Park Service covers the springs with large green utility boxes to allow for safe access for water sample studies and research. If you’re wandering the trails around the park, watch out for these green boxes. They’re actually hot springs!