Hot Springs National Park Turns 100 Today—The Oldest Protected Land in America

On the slopes of Hot Springs Mountain in the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, the first-ever piece of United States land was protected forever—40 years before Yellowstone became the first national park.

Today, Hot Springs National Park will celebrate its centennial: having been converted from a Reservation (its 1832 designation, which “reserved” it as a recreation area, closed to development) to a National Park in 1921—about a hundred years after the Quapaw Indians ceded the land around the hot springs to the US in a treaty and moved to a reservation south of the site.

The Park protects 5,500 acres of forested hillsides sitting over a fault line that, over the course of thousands of years, turns rainwater to 143° Fahrenheit, and sends it rushing out of the ground.

Now a bit of history: Hot Springs National Park is the only park that is mandated to freely give away its most plentiful resource, and members of surrounding communities regularly come and fill up jugs of water from the hot springs.

Bathhouse Row, where eight different buildings host swimming pools of the warm water, is a National Historic Landmark, and for decades it was the most visited natural spa in the country.

Hot Springs was the first location ever chosen by a Major League Baseball team for a “Spring Training,” too, and legends like Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Satchel Page, and others all prepared for the season here—enjoying the ability to rest and recover in the spas after training.

A year of celebration

A number of centennial celebrations will be taking place during the month of March, and throughout the year.

For athletes, 2021 is the year of the iron ranger, and those who log 100 hours of running, hiking, paddling, or cycling within the park system of Arkansas will receive a special iron ranger patch.

In April, the month when it was first declared a Reservation nearly 200 years ago, the park will offer specialty guided hikes and guided tours looking at the park’s history.

On June 12 there will be a 1920s themed party, where guests are encouraged to dress like characters from The Great Gatsby for a costume contest, music performances, and more.

A monthly photo contest will be held each month on social media and on the Hot Springs webpage. Participants need only follow the theme for the month, then submit their photos to the park via email at [email protected], or through social media using the hashtags #HotSprings100 and #HotSpringsPhotoContest. Each monthly winner will be featured on the park’s website banner.