I’m not a big fan of nudity when it comes to public settings. That’s why I was a little anxious about what to expect during my traditional bath treatment at Buckstaff Bathhouse in Hot Springs Arkansas.
Buckstaff Bathhouse has been in continuous operation since 1912 and they’re the only bathhouse that offers spa patrons the unique adventure of trying the full traditional bathing experience today.
I’m sharing more about what to expect so that you can both appreciate and feel prepared for your hot springs bath experience at Buckstaff Bathhouse before you go.
Buckstaff Bathhouse is the only traditional thermal water bathhouse in Hot Springs National Park.
I’ve visited the Széchenyi Thermal Bath in Budapest, Hungary after my river cruise on the Danube River and I was curious to see how this bath experience would differ.
Take the Self- Guided Tour of Fordyce Bathhouse Before Your Buckstaff Bath Treatment
369 Central Avenue, Hot Springs, AR
I can’t emphasize this enough!
Fordyce Bathhouse functions as the Visitor center for Hot Springs National Park and takes you into various rooms of a former bathhouse that dates back to the 1900s’ during a self guided tour.
It was so helpful for me to see the different types of equipment used back then.
I also appreciated learning more about the traditional bathing process before my bath treatments at Buckstaff Bathhouse.
Why Were the Hot Springs Baths So Popular?
Hot Springs is famous for thermal mineral water that was believed to be healing for muscular issues and diseases. There is no sulfur in the water which makes it odorless and tasteless.
In the beginning bathhouses were considered medical facilities and someone would only go to one if something was wrong vs. preventative healthcare.
Even though the water in the Hot Springs baths had no healing qualities, it did have health benefits.
Toward the beginning of bathhouses you needed to have a prescription and over time the Hot Springs baths later transitioned to a spa experience.
Hot Springs became a popular vacation destination because of the thermal water and was known as the “birthplace of Major League Baseball” spring training.
Is there an Admission Fee for Hot Springs National Park?
There is no admission fee for Hot Springs National Park and you don’t need a reservation.
Hot Springs became a National Park on March 4, 1921 and encompasses 5,550 acres with 47 hot springs.
History of The Fordyce Bathhouse
The building opened in 1915 and is the largest bathhouse on the row at approximately 28,000 square feet.
I found it fascinating… but not shocking that the men’s section of the separate bathing areas was WAY larger and more beautiful than the women’s private bathing section.
On the third floor you can view the oldest gymnasium in the state of Arkansas.
What Does the Traditional Bath Experience at Buckstaff Bathhouse Include?
The Thermal Mineral Bath includes all OR any of the following services:
- Mineral water whirlpool tub
- Hot packs
- Steam cabinet
- Sitz bath
- Cooling rinse off needle shower (*Buckstaff Bathhouse is currently not doing needle showers or loofa mitts at this time)
All of Buckstaff Bathhouse’s hydrotherapy treatments are additive and chemical free.
Their traditional hydro therapy program was developed by local physicians for relaxation, relief of arthritic type conditions and stress.
*Make sure that you check with your personal physician before visiting if you have active heart conditions, high blood pressure, open sores, or a recent surgery (within 6 weeks).
How Long Does the Traditional Bath Experience at Buckstaff Bathhouse Typically Take?
The traditional bath and massage package at Buckstaff Bathhouse takes about 1.5 hours on average but can take much longer during peak periods.
What Do You Wear at Buckstaff Bunkhouse During Your Treatments?
Swimsuits are optional and not required during your treatments. I would also recommend bringing a pair of flip flops to wear as you are transported to different stations for your services.
I was actually glad that I had the full experience that was WAY out of my comfort zone.
During my visit, all of the guests that I saw in between treatments but one were just wearing their birthday suit with a sheet wrapped around them.
Can You Skip Bath Treatment Services?
The Thermal Mineral Bath includes all or any portion of the following services.
You need to advise your bath attendant of the portions of the bath that you wish to take or skip. There are NO Refunds for skipping parts of the bath.
Be Open to the Full Bath Experience at Buckstaff Bathhouse
I say this as someone who doesn’t like to undress for doctor appointments.
The idea of a stranger seeing me naked was definitely a bit intimidating at first. I realize that the attendants have literally seen it ALL …in ALL shapes and sizes of guests EVERY single day for YEARS.
But…I also don’t want strangers to see me naked and I don’t like to see strangers naked…
I’m actually a little scarred from images burned in my brain of the old ladies in my gym locker room who had zero modesty when I had to go back to my locker.
Thankfully the only person who saw me naked during my bath experience was my attendant…AND thankfully I didn’t see any other people naked during the experience either.
All of the other guests also had a sheet covering them during the times that I would see transitioning to other treatments.
It’s also important to note that the bath areas are separate for men and women and bath attendants are male for the men and female for the women.
*You’ll be instructed to keep your phone in your locker. The images that I do have were in my private changing stall when no one was in the changing area.
The Historic Thermal Mineral Bath Process
The traditional bath experience starts by signing in at the front desk.
You are given tickets based on your services and women are transported to the second floor by an elevator attendant.
I’ll be sharing my perspective in the women’s bath area and I’m assuming that it’s pretty similar for the guys in their private bathing area as well.
Next you will be shown a private changing stall with a locker where you undress and place your belongings including your phone, in the locker.
The locker has a key that you can wear around your neck.
When you are ready the attendant will have you stand with your back to the curtain and she will wrap you in a sheet, toga style.
I waited in the sitting area of the locker room until my name was called.
Guests are guided through a traditional bathing experience that mimics what you would have received in the 1900s.
My attendant shared each step along the way with a calmness and tone that helped me immediately feel more at ease and relaxed in the process while being cared for.
Relax in the Whirlpool Mineral Bath Tub
Buckstaff Bathhouse still uses all of the original bathtubs and equipment which makes this historic adventure even more immersive…literally.
I have a picture of one from the bathtub exhibits at Fordyce Bathhouse to use as a visual reference.
My bath attendant walked me into the curtained entrance of a private stall with a bathtub. I removed the sheet and stepped on the small stool into the tub with just a key around my neck.
I did have to laugh at myself at the reality of my situation.
About 10 minutes into my bath I noticed the nail on the wall where I could have left my key… but by then it was too late and I wasn’t getting out before I was supposed to. I was also in a hurry to get into the bathtub as quickly as possible.
Inside the bathtub was a motor to help create a whirlpool type experience. There was a towel for the back of my head but I wasn’t fully submersed in the tub that’s a maximum temperature of 102 degrees.
I could see the wall clock from within my stall and I tried to make myself not look at it often.
I wavered between trying to truly relax and be present in the moment… and not laugh at myself at the reality of this adventure that was WAY out of my comfort zone.
My attendant checked in on me from time to time and offered a small cup of mineral water while I was in the bath for about 20 minutes.
She wrapped me back up in the toga sheet while my back was facing her and had me pull the drain stopper before the next treatment.
You’ll be comforted to know that the bath tubs and all of the fixtures are scrubbed and disinfected after each use and then refilled with fresh water.
Next she had me sit on a long table and gave me a small cup with mineral ice water.
My bath attendant had multiple guests at the same time and moved each of us singularly through the process in stages within a few minutes of each other.
After a few minutes she placed warm towels in different placements on the table. (Once again I’m using a picture from an exhibit at Fordyce Bathhouse to help as a visual.)
After I laid down on my back she put a cushion under my knees and then added a warm sheet. I definitely felt WARM but thankfully she also added a cold towel around my face.
Breathe in the Vapors in Steam Cabinet
After that it was time for the steam cabinet while still wrapped in the toga sheet.
(*The picture above is an obvious photoshop with my head coming out of the steam cabinet exhibit at Fordyce Bathhouse NOT Buckstaff Bathhouse. I just wanted you to have some type of visual to help picture a similar experience.)
This crazy contraption is a metal box with doors on it where you sit on a bench and only your head is sticking out of the box while steam flows. Thankfully the metal wasn’t hot to touch.
I was instructed to just breathe in and out the steam vapors while inside the box… but honestly the breathing technique went out the window when I thought about the reality that I was sitting in a metal box.
The 3-4 minutes seemed to take FOREVER as I tried to adjust my mind and my body in the seated position within the box.
The experience was a definitely a good reminder that I need to get better at breathing and meditating.
Time to Sit in the Sitz Bath
Next, was the sitz bath while still wearing the white sheet. The experience was basically like sitting in a really warm foot bath.
*The picture above is NOT at Buckstaff Bathhouse but again I wanted to help you get some sort of visual reference.
The water felt VERY warm in the beginning but I toughed it out and kept it at that temperature… which didn’t seem as bad with a little more time.
I could have asked for it to have been adjusted at any time, I just chose not to.
Transition for My 20 Minute Massage
After the sitz bath, my attendant took me to a room where I dried off and received a new sheet to wear. She also handed me a small envelope with her name for gratuities later.
I obviously didn’t have anywhere to keep money to give her in that moment so I was grateful to be able to take care of her at the front desk afterwards.
She made an unknown, out of my comfort zone experience WAY more comfortable for me.
You Can Add Swedish Massage To Your Bath Package
I was also getting a massage that day so I was directed to a room with chairs, lounge tables and cold water to wait until the massage therapist was ready.
My massage therapist gave me the option to use the restroom before my massage and then took me back to the private room. The full body open hand 20 minute Swedish massage felt great, especially after all of the bath treatments.
There wasn’t a hole in the table for my face so it was a bit of a challenge to find the right angle for my head when I was laying on my stomach.
After the massage I was directed back to the changing room where I snapped a quick picture in my toga sheet while in my private stall.
Would I Recommend the Traditional Bath at Buckstaff Bathhouse?
Yes, the traditional bath at Buckstaff Bathhouse is truly is an unforgettable experience that I would recommend checking out at least once…even if you choose to wear a swimsuit.
Note that this isn’t a spa experience. It’s WAY more primitive which is what makes it so unique!
Where is Buckstaff Bathhouse Located?
Buckstaff Bathhouse is located on bathhouse row at 509 Central Avenue, Hot Springs, AR.
Do You Need to Make a Reservation for a Traditional Bath Experience at Buckstaff Bathhouse?
You don’t need a reservation for Buckstaff Bathhouse. Their baths and massages are walk-ins only.
*You do need an appointment for the manicures and facials.
When is the Best Time to Go to Buckstaff Bathhouse?
Midweeks are slower than the weekend. Saturdays are the busiest day.
If you don’t want to wait long it’s recommend to get there around 8am if you want a morning session. For an afternoon bath it’s recommend to get there at 12:30 for the 1pm time slot.
They stop accepting walk ins at 2:45 so that you have enough time to be in the bath by 3.
Is There An Age Requirement at Buckstaff Bathhouse?
Baths and massages are for ages 10 and up.
A parent/guardian needs to be present for guests under 10 for a facial or manicure.
If you want to continue your Hot Springs adventure Quapaw Baths is only a few doors down from Buckstaff Bathhouse.
What’s the Difference Between the Buckstaff Bathhouse and Quapaw Baths and Spa?
- Buckstaff Bathhouse is a traditional bathing experience.
- Quapaw Baths and Spa has 4 public coed thermal pools and all guests are required to wear swimsuits. They also offer private baths for singles or couples.
Both thermal bathhouses are two unique experiences to try during your visit to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Thanks again to Visit Hot Springs for hosting my visit.