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Trip 6, Stop 2: Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is the oldest park maintained by the National Park Service and the second smallest park in the system (with only Gateway Arch National Park being smaller). The park includes portions of downtown Hot Springs and is framed by surrounding mountains. The key attraction of the park is the row of ornate bathhouses that line Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Two of the bathhouses are in operation and offer bathing experiences using thermal mineral water from the springs. The Buckstaff has been in continuous operation since 1912 and offers a full traditional bathing experience (20-minute tub soak in thermal mineral water, sitz bath, vapor cabinet, and hot packs), with the optional addition of a swedish massage. The Quapaw has four opulent public thermal mineral pools (pictured above), each maintained at a different temperature ranging from 95 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, plus offers private baths, massages and facials by reservation. At the time of our visit, Buckstaff baths and the Quapaw public pools were available on a first-come/first-served basis. We went early in the day and had no issues getting in at either location. We highly recommend checking out both of these services, as they provide different experiences to enjoy the thermal mineral water.

While the bathhouses are the main attraction, there are plenty of walking and hiking trails as well. The Grand Promenade passes behind bathhouse row and has a few display areas where you can see the thermal water emerging from the ground. There are also a few trails up Hot Springs Mountain that you can take to get to the 216-foot tall Hot Springs Mountain Tower, with panoramic views from the observation deck. In addition, the Fordyce Bathhouse has been turned into a visitor center and includes exhibits on the thermal bathing industry. Many of the rooms appear as they did during the time it served as a bathhouse from 1915 to 1962. It was interesting to note how much more opulent the men's area of the bathhouse was (pictured above right) than the women's area.

As for brew pubs, Hot Springs is the only national park that contains a brewery and it occupies the Superior Bathhouse building (hence the name Superior Bathhouse Brewery!), which dates back to 1916. This is also the only brewery in the world that uses thermal spring water as its main ingredient. We stopped in several times during our stay in Hot Springs to enjoy their outdoor patio space and a drink or two. It was nice that it was walking distance to our hotel from the brewery. There were four drinks I particularly enjoyed there -- Basic Peaches (peach sour), Foul Play Oatmeal Stout, Blue Ribbon blueberry ginger seltzer, and DeSoto's Folly golden stout (yum!). If you are a big fan of kombucha like I am, you will really like the blueberry ginger seltzer. Mike stuck with their Space Force IPA and Northwoods IPA. Within walking distance of downtown, we tried SQZBX Pizza and Brewery; the pizza was tasty, but they had somewhat limited selection of draft beers. We also drove a few miles out of town to Lake Hamilton to Bubbas Brews. Mike had previously tried their Skullcrusher IPA and really liked it. The food at the restaurant was good, but we did not care for the particular drafts we had there (Scooter Trash IPA and Pit Boss Hefeweizen). While it is not a brew pub, we also checked out the Ohio Club in downtown Hot Springs. It's the oldest bar in Arkansas (opened in 1905) and has a very interesting history. The hand-carved mahogany back bar (photo bottom right above) dates back to 1911. Definitely worth a stop.

Finally, we need to call out a few key places we stopped at on our way back from Hot Springs. We did a short stop in Memphis, to include watching the parade of the ducks at the Peabody Hotel (with much fanfare, the ducks march to the fountain in the lobby every day at 11 am) and lunch at Bosco's Restaurant & Brewing Company. Both the food and beer (I had Midtown Brown and Mike had Bombay IPA) were outstanding! It is definitely worth the drive to the Overton Square area in midtown Memphis to try it out. Our final brew pub of the trip was Schlafly's Bankside in St. Charles, Missouri, not too far from the St. Louis airport. St. Charles is a quaint historic town and is easily walkable. The brewery had a great selection of beers. Since I couldn't choose, I did a flight to include Raspberry Hefeweizen, Bankside Lager, Vanilla Milkstout, Oatmeal Stout and Coffee Stout. All very good. Mike enjoyed the Tasmanian IPA and Pale Ale. A good way to wrap up the trip.

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