Established before the concept of a national park existed, it was the first time that a piece of land had been set aside by the federal government to preserve its use as an area for recreation.
Originally established by Congress as Hot Springs Reservation in 1832 and later becoming a national park in 1921, Hot Springs National Park represents the oldest protected area in the National Park System.
Hot Springs National Park covers an area of 22.5 square kilometers (9 square miles) or 2,250 hectares (5,550 acres).
The park is centered on 47 thermal springs, from which more than 3,200,000 liters (850,000 gallons) of water, with an average temperature of 62 °C (143 °F), flow daily.
The springs emerge in a gap between Hot Springs Mountain and West Mountain in an area about 460 meters (1,500 feet) long by 120 meters (400 feet) wide at altitudes from 176 to 208 meters (576 to 683 feet).
The water all comes from the same deep source, but surface appearance of the springs differed.
In addition to the hot springs, the park encompasses a wilderness area with over 32 kilometers (20 miles) of trails and a campground.
The park includes portions of downtown Hot Springs, making it one of the most accessible national parks.
The entire Bathhouse Row area is designated as a National Historic Landmark District that contains the grandest collection of bathhouses of its kind in North America, including many outstanding examples of Gilded Age architecture.
Members of many Native American tribes had been gathering in the valley for over 8,000 years to enjoy the healing properties of the thermal springs.
The first non-Native American known to see the hot springs was Hernando de Soto in 1541.
In 1673 Father Marquette and Jolliet explored the area and claimed it for France. The Treaty of Paris 1763 ceded the land back to Spain; however, in 1800 control was returned to France until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
In November 1864 during the American Civil War, a large part of “the valley” (the central portion of the city along Hot Springs Creek) was burned – presumably by Union troops.
The Dunbar-Hunter Expedition came here in 1804, sent by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the southern reaches of the Louisiana Purchase. Soon a bustling town grew up around the hot springs to provide services for health seekers. The resultant bathing industry led to Hot Springs becoming known as the “American Spa.”
Hot Springs National Park is the oldest park managed by the National Park System.
Until the re-designation of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial as Gateway Arch National Park in 2018, it was the smallest national park by area in the United States.
Incorporated January 10, 1851, the city has been home to Major League Baseball spring training, illegal gambling, speakeasies and gangsters such as Al Capone, horse racing at Oaklawn Park, the Army and Navy Hospital, and 42nd President Bill Clinton.
During the peak popularity of the hot springs, until the 1950s, the many patients staying for three weeks, six weeks, or longer were a large source of business for the numerous hotels, boarding houses, doctors, and drugstores.
Since Hot Springs National Park is the oldest park maintained by the National Park Service, it was the first to receive its own US quarter in April 2010 as part of the America the Beautiful Quarters coin series.
The hot water is supplied to the various bathhouses, with resulting income from concession fees going to the U.S. Treasury.