Hot Springs: It’s all about the water


Buy your souvenir Hot Springs National Park jug at the Fordyce Visitor Center, and fill it with water from one of the park’s public fountains for free.

For all its offerings, Hot Springs National Park exists first and foremost because of the fascinating thermal water that has flowed from the earth’s depths here for thousands of years. 

To be exact, 4,400 years. 

When the Egyptians were building the pyramids, the water that flows today from the park’s hot springs was falling as rain. Over the centuries, the rainfall traveled 6,000 to 8,000 feet below the earth’s surface, through the folds and faults within the Ouachita Mountains. As it traveled deeper and closer to the earth’s core, it got warmer and warmer. After about four centuries, the water hit a fault line, which pushed it back toward the surface over another 400 years. That is the water that now emerges at a toasty 143 degrees from 47 active springs in the Hot Springs National Park area. 

In addition to its temperature, the water is characterized by several dissolved minerals — silica, calcium, calcium carbonate, magnesium and potassium. The calcium carbonate in the water forms a gray limestone rock known as tufa when the hot water cools and evaporates. 

Under the boxes 

Many a visitor to the park has asked, “Where are the springs?” The National Park Service replies that they

Stop and take a drink from this historic drinking fountain at Hot Springs National Park. photo Marcia Schnedler

are located underneath locked green metal boxes along the sides of Hot Springs Mountain. The collection boxes are part of a piping system that brings the thermal water to an underground reservoir at the south end of Bathhouse Row. Pumps then move the water to bathhouses, where it is allowed to cool for the baths, most of which are offered at about 98 to 100 degrees. 

For those who want to imbibe the thermal waters, which have long been believed to have health benefits, the park has installed thermal spring fountains. At almost any time of the day or year, you can see people filling jugs from the fountains to take home for personal use. Here is a list of the thermal spring fountains and their locations:

  • In front of the Libbey Memorial Physical Medicine Center on Reserve Street. 
  • In front of the National Park Service Administration Building on Reserve Street. 
  • Between the Hale and Maurice bathhouses on Bathhouse Row.
  • The Noble Fountain on Reserve Street at the south entrance of the Grand Promenade.
  • The Dripping Spring between the Hale and Maurice bathhouses.
  • The Shell Fountain on the Stevens Balustrade between the Fordyce and Maurice bathhouses.

    Filling jugs with spring water is a Hot Springs tradition for both visitors and locals. photo Marcia Schnedler

  • Outside the park boundaries at the Hill Wheatley Plaza on Central Avenue.

In addition, there are cold spring fountains containing water from cold springs, which have different

sources from the hot springs. The water from these springs is treated for safety through ozone filtration systems. The Happy Hollow Spring flows out of North Mountain, and the Whittington Spring flows out of West Mountain. 

How safe is it? The National Park Service says, “The water’s high temperature kills most harmful bacteria, and it is monitored to U.S. standards for safe drinking water.” But it encourages those with medical conditions to consult with a physician before use.