June 2005: Hot Springs National Park


Hot Springs, Arkansas

The water that bubbles to the ground at 143 degrees Farenheit fell to earth 4,000 years ago, percolating deep into the earth and heating four degrees every 300 feet before seeping out of the lower west slope of Hot Springs Mountain. Spanish explorers and French trappers visited the springs for centuries. In 1803 the United States acquired this land in the Louisiana Purchase and in 1832 the Federal Government reserved land around the springs - the first "national park" to protect a natural resource. There was little done to administer the reserve, however, and private bathhouses sprung up to cater to tourists visiting to relax in the "healing" waters. Finally in 1921, Hot Springs became a true National Park, a unique blend of a highly developed small city set in low-lying, rounded mountains. 

There are more than 30 miles of top-notch canine hiking available in Hot Springs, mostly on short, inter-connecting trails on Hot Springs Mountain and West Mountain that flank the city. Many of these paths were carved for visitors who were encouraged to walk daily in addition to their baths as part of an all-encompassing healthy routine at the spas. Most were constructed wide enough to handle carriages and are still roomy today. Although the mountains only top out at little more than 1,000 feet expect to find some climbs that will leave you and your dog panting. Also, there aren't many streams so make sure you carry plenty of cooling water for your dog on a summer afternoon's outing.

For extended canine hiking head out on the Sunset Trail that leaves West Mountain and tags Music Mountain at 1,405 feet (the highest spot in the park) before doubling back onto Sugarloaf Mountain. This trail doesn't loop and is a good candidate for a car shuttle. Back in town you can take your dog on a tour of Bathhouse Row with a half-mile saunter down the Promenade, vsiting several of the 47 springs that flow at an average rate of 850,000 gallons a day.

Across from Bathhouse Row you can catch a ride on a Duck Boat, an amphibious vehicle that drives south of town for a cruise on Lake Hamilton. Dogs are allowed to ride on the top deck.

Bathhouse Row and the center of town are on Arkansas Route 7 that slices through the center of the state, north to south. Hot Springs cn be reached via US 27 or US 70.