Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hot Springs National Park

Being a native Californian who enjoys camping, hiking and the great outdoors, I've always associated hot springs with natural settings. In California, hot springs are generally the destination for a camping trip, because they're located in scenic, and usually remote, settings.

So when I relocated to the East Coast in 2005, I was excited to stop at Hot Springs National Park when I drove through Arkansas. I chose spontaneity as my sightseeing style on that trip, so I didn't do any advance research. I simply looked at the mileage for the next day's driving, and then checked out the map for points of interest in the general vicinity of where I'd end the day's drive.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out that Hot Springs National Park is located in as natural a setting as New York's Central Park. Hot Springs is a town, albeit a charming one, and the eponymous springs have all been capped. The hot water is diverted to historic bathhouses, which drew visitors from around the world in their heyday. You could probably call it the "most urban" National Park.

Nevertheless, I found it interesting enough to while away the afternoon, despite my mistaken expectations. The spa featured gorgeous stained glass, and the vintage gymnasium was quaint. But two-thirds into my 3,000-mile drive, I would have preferred to experience the hot springs more directly.

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