A Visit to Hot Springs NP

What do Babe Ruth, Al Capone, and Bill Clinton all have in common? Hot Springs, Arkansas! (Why? What were you thinking?!)

Turns out this National Park site, steeped in hot water and history, boasts a long list of notables. It was the place where major league baseball teams would host spring training, where Babe Ruth hit his first professional Home Run (on St Patrick's Day 1918), and where stars like Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson swung for the fences and equality. The baseball teams traveled to Arkansas for spring training so they could recover in the rejuvenating Hot Baths. (Maybe that’s where “spring” training got its name?) They also came to Hot Springs so they could take part in - and be part of – the town’s active betting scene.

Before Vegas there was Hot Springs. The gambling that took place here attracted wealthy tourists and well-known gangsters such as Al Capone. Between the 1927-1947 the 10 casinos and horse track dominated the scene. Corruption and bribery were rampant amid elected officials and the local police. And, yet, while all this was happening an impressive Army Navy hospital was built as a crowing structure above Bathhouse Row for the treatment of soldiers and training of medical professionals during World Wars I & II. In the 1960’s gambling was shut down, the bath houses were integrated, and Bill Clinton was a student and saxophone player at Hot Springs High School.

It seems that by today’s standards Hot Springs feels a bit more like a National Historic Site than a National Park recognized for natural value and resources. But it’s historic and cultural significance should not overshadow the 700,000 gallons of steaming, gurgling water that flows daily from the ground. These thermal springs have shaped the unique geology and flora and fauna on Hot Springs Mountain.

The Park includes 5,500 acres and 30 miles of trails, so even though the Visitor Center and NPS run bathhouse is currently closed due to Covid (3.15.21), it is still a great time to visit and explore Hot Springs National.