Back to Nature
A Weekend of Wellness
Words by Rebecca Deurlein
Hey, gym rats, I’m talking to you! Do you ever get tired of cardio machines, protein bars, and those tiny gym shower stalls barely contained by an always-too-small plastic curtain?
Maybe it’s time to get healthy the old-fashioned way—by stepping back into nature. Imagine following that with a truly delicious meal filled with natural ingredients, soaking sore muscles in steaming natural spring water, and collapsing into a luxurious bed heaped with down bedding and fluffy pillows. I discovered all of this in one weekend in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and it made me, a confirmed gym rat, think twice about my wellness routine.
Let me start by saying that as women go, I appear to be high-maintenance but am quite the opposite. I don’t like to spend more money when less money will get me there. I don’t have to have the latest and greatest of anything, but I still like some nice things. And when it comes to exercise, my $10 gym membership suits me just fine, thank you very much. So when I went looking for wellness on a brief jaunt to Hot Springs, I didn’t want to spend a fortune, but I still wanted to take care of myself.
Turns out, I picked the perfect place, one that offered me fitness, the beauty of nature, and an opportunity to relax and pamper myself.
My first discovery was Northwoods Trails, just five minutes from Hot Springs proper, which offers 26 miles of world-class biking and hiking trails, with more on the way. An expansion and rehabilitation is currently underway to double the number of trails, which include bridges and shady woods that instantly erase your stress. If you are into biking, Northwoods has you covered, with green, blue, and black trails; single and multi-track trails; flow trails; jump lines; and an expert section. Northwoods was voted Number One Trail System in Arkansas by Outside Magazine, and that was before the expansion began. So, whether you bike, hike, or run, you are guaranteed a fun workout.
If you prefer to see civilization while you exercise, Hot Springs just happens to sit smack-dab in the middle of its name-sake National Park. Visualize this: The Grand Promenade, a paved greenway carved into the mountain that produces 47 mineral springs and sweeping views of the town below. As you get your blood pumping, the mountain pumps one million gallons of water a day from its inner core to the steaming springs you pass on your walk or jog. This is the reason people first settled in Hot Springs: to surround themselves with the healing waters, and it’s a great reason to visit today. One caveat: You won’t find ice water here. You will, however, marvel at the local resident with the tea bag, filling a china cup directly from the hot springs.
Speaking of tea, you can have that and eat a healthy lunch too, at Kollective Coffee & Tea. After working up an appetite, I was drawn to this quaint cafe and its offerings of organic and local products. Everything Kollective lists on its menu is organic or natural, with no GMO, no preservatives, and no pesticides. Owners Kevin and Agnes Rogers stress that they are there to fill the void for people with dietary restrictions, and they offer vegan and gluten-free foods that are entirely safe for those with celiac disease. I ordered a healthy detox salad and a cappuccino, and both were out of this world good. The best part was that I didn’t feel like all that exercise had gone to waste. My meal was delectable and healthy, and I can’t think of a better combination.
So, with exercise under my belt and a great meal in my tummy, it was time for some pampering. A short stroll across the street brought me to Quapaw Baths & Spa, where for one hour, I took a soak, just like in traditional bath houses found around the world. The natural hot springs fill four large-capacity thermal water soaking pools, all slightly different in temperature so you can ease your way into the hottest pool. The baths were mostly quiet; bathers who talked did so softly, in order to preserve the peaceful ambiance. In that environment, I could feel my sore muscles relaxing. I left an hour later desiring a nap, but not before experiencing the traditional spa treatments next door at the Buckstaff Bathhouse.
Rising up from the main street in the grand Roman Gothic style, the Buckstaff stands as an icon of Hot Springs and has offered the same treatments since its inception in 1912. This isn’t like any spa experience you’ve had before. It really does take you back in time, as much a history lesson and a peek into what brought people to Hot Springs as it is an opportunity to relax. You will soak in an enormous porcelain tub, your own personal bath attendant waiting to take you through the various treatments. She will cocoon you in bath sheets and hot towels, and when you finally get to your massage, you will succumb to the nap I mentioned earlier, a perfect way to round out the day.
I felt like a noodle after exercising and spa-ing, so I was happy to retreat to the gorgeous and stately bed and breakfast known as The Reserve Hotel. Opened in 2020, just as the world was coming out of lockdown, The Reserve is a lovingly restored estate with open-air porches, 13 elegant guest rooms, and two innkeepers who want nothing more than to anticipate your every need and make you as comfortable as possible. They employ an in-house chef who creates masterpieces in the kitchen and a pastry chef whom I blame for “making” me eat two of every treat offered. I’ve never slept better—the bedding is truly like sleeping on a cloud—and when I awoke and descended the stairs to the crystal-chandeliered dining room, I was greeted with warm hospitality and a cup of steaming coffee served alongside blue corn porridge with Nueske’s Bacon, topped with a poached egg and drizzled with a spicy corn puree. Yum!
After such a beautiful setting, I was hesitant to leave Hot Springs before experiencing one more slice of beauty. I had nurtured my body, and now I wanted a chance to nurture my soul, and I found the perfect setting in Garvan Woodland Gardens. The botanical garden is more beautiful at every turn, quieting your spirit and calming your mind. I’ll never forget strolling down a trail, rounding the corner, and doing a double take as Anthony Chapel appeared before me. The most beautiful chapel I’d ever seen rising out of the forest and blending in perfectly with the trees, it is at once a wonder of woodwork and a symbol of humble reverence to the nature from which it springs. You will lose yourself in the whimsical sculptures, the babbling brooks, and the seasonal flowers that you can see, breathe, and smell.