What To Do at Hot Springs National Park AR

Hot Springs National Park, located in Arkansas, is a unique destination known for its natural thermal springs and rich history. It stands out as the oldest protected area in the National Park System, offering a mix of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and recreational opportunities.

Of course, the park’s main feature is its thermal springs, which have been revered for centuries for their healing properties. You can witness the hot water bubbling up from the earth’s surface and even enjoy thermal bathing experiences. These springs are a rare geological phenomenon that forms the foundation of the park’s identity.

In this article, we’ll explore several topics, including: 

  • The best time to visit
  • The historical significance of Bathhouse Row
  • The park’s scenic hiking trails
  • Plus, other top things to do within the park

Whether you’re looking for relaxation, exploration, or a glimpse into the park’s intriguing past, a visit to this park is one unlike any other!

waterfalls flow into the hot spring pools inside hot springs ar national park
Mini waterfalls flow into the hot spring pools inside the park.

Best Time to Visit Hot Springs National Park AR

The best time to visit is during the spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) seasons. During these times, the weather is generally pleasant, and mild temperatures are ideal for outdoor activities.

In spring, the park comes alive with blooming wildflowers, lush greenery, and vibrant colors. The weather is comfortable, with temperatures ranging from the 60s to 70s Fahrenheit. It’s the perfect time for hiking, scenic drives, and warm thermal baths.

Fall in is equally as lovely, with vibrant autumn foliage blanketing the landscape. Like in the spring, temperatures are cool ranging from the 60s to 70s. This is obviously great weather for hiking through the forests of changing leaves. 

It’s important to note that summers in Hot Springs can be hot and humid, with temperatures often reaching the 90s. 

Winter, though less crowded, can be chilly, with temperatures ranging from the 30s to 50s. While the park’s thermal features remain accessible, some trails may be affected by winter weather conditions.

Experience Bathhouse Row

eight different historical bathhouse buildings along Bathhouse Row at hot springs ar national park
There are eight different historical bathhouse buildings along Bathhouse Row constructed between 1892 and 1923.  NPS photo/Mitch Smith

A highlight of the park, Bathhouse Row is a collection of beautiful bathhouses. It holds great historical significance as a reflection of the park’s heyday during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, hot springs bathing was a popular therapeutic activity. Let’s dig in a little with this unique attraction.

Historical Significance

Bathhouse Row represents the golden era of the bathhouse culture in the United States. It consists of eight architecturally distinct bathhouses, each with its unique style and character. These bathhouses catered to visitors seeking the healing properties of the thermal springs. The row is a designated National Historic Landmark, showcasing the architectural beauty and importance of hot springs bathing in American history.

Bathhouse Tours

You can take guided tours of the bathhouses to explore their history, architecture, and cultural significance. The tours provide insights into the unique design elements, the medical practices of the time, and the social aspects of the experience. Knowledgeable guides offer fascinating stories, bringing the rich history of the bathhouses to life.

Thermal Bathing 

While not all the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row currently have thermal bathing experiences, a few still maintain traditional thermal pools. These pools are fed by the natural hot springs, allowing you to soak in the rejuvenating mineral-rich waters. 

Spa Experiences

In addition to thermal bathing, some bathhouses have been transformed into modern spas. These spas have treatments and services, including massages, facials, body wraps, and other therapeutic and wellness experiences.  

Hot Springs Mountain Tower

view from the top of the Hot Springs Mountain_Tower hot springs arkansas what to do
The view from the top of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower.

Rising 216 feet above the ground, this tower gives terrific views of the surrounding Ouachita Mountains, the city of Hot Springs, and the park’s lush greenery.

The tower itself is an architectural marvel constructed with an open-air design. This allows you to enjoy the awesome vistas from various observation decks at different heights. You can climb to the top of the tower by an elevator or a series of stairs.

On a clear day, you can see for miles, taking in the natural beauty of the mountains, the sparkling waters of nearby lakes, and the charming cityscape below.

Hot Springs Mountain Tower is a vantage point for scenic overlooks and a place to learn about the area’s history and geology. The tower features informative exhibits and displays that delve into the natural and cultural heritage of Hot Springs National Park, providing you with a deeper understanding of the region.

Hot Springs, AR Hiking Opportunities

One of Hot Springs National Park's beautiful forested mountain hiking trails
One of Hot Springs National Park’s beautiful forested mountain trails.

There are a variety of stunning hiking trails that reveal the park’s natural beauty. One of the most popular is the Grand Promenade, a scenic paved path that winds along the base of Hot Springs Mountain. As you stroll on, you’ll soak in the sights of lush vegetation and catch glimpses of the historic bathhouses. It’s an easy hike suitable for all skill levels.

For a more moderate hike, the Sunset Trail is a fantastic choice. This 10.5-mile trail takes you through diverse landscapes, including wooded areas and rocky outcrops, with breathtaking scenes of the nearby Ouachita Mountains. Be prepared for a few uphill sections along the way.

Up for a more strenuous hike? If so, you can test your skills on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail. This 5-mile loop takes you to the summit of Hot Springs Mountain and provides fabulous views of the city, the park, and the neighboring valleys. You’ll also encounter dense forests, trickling streams, and interesting rock formations. The trail’s varying terrain and steep areas make it ideal for experienced hikers looking for a challenge.

Another popular option is the Gulpha Gorge Trail. This short, easy 1.2-mile loop leads you through a scenic valley along Gulpha Creek. It’s a peaceful escape into nature, surrounded by towering trees, serene waterfalls, and abundant wildlife. 

Hot Springs, AR Camping

A family enjoys some time at the creek inside the Gulpha Gorge Campground
A family enjoys some time at the creek inside the Gulpha Gorge Campground. NPS photo

When it comes to camping, you’ll find a range of options. The park has two main campgrounds: Gulpha Gorge and Catherine’s Landing.

Gulpha Gorge Campground is tucked away in a picturesque valley, providing a rustic camping experience. You’ll love its serene atmosphere and proximity to the park’s trails. The campground supplies tent and RV sites with basic amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, and restrooms. 

On the other hand, Catherine’s Landing offers a more modern and luxurious camping experience. This privately owned campground has numerous amenities and facilities. You’ll find spacious RV sites with full hookups, cozy cabins, and even glamorous glamping options like safari tents and treehouses. The campground has a swimming pool, playground, laundry areas, and a camp store. 

Both campgrounds have opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing. 

Wildlife Viewing

A gentle white-tailed deer stands on a rock cropping in the forest of hot springs ar national park
A gentle white-tailed deer stands on a rock cropping in the forest. HOSP photo by Mitch Smith

The park is home to many native animal species. Here’s some of the wildlife you may encounter and good spots to view them:

White-tailed Deer: These graceful creatures are commonly spotted throughout the park, especially in wooded areas and along hiking trails. Keep an eye out for them during the early morning or late afternoon hours when they are more active.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit: These small mammals are often seen darting across open meadows or finding shelter in shrubs and brushy areas. Look for them near the edges of forests or along the Grand Promenade.

Squirrels: The park is teeming with various squirrel species, including Eastern Gray and Fox Squirrels. They can be seen scurrying through the trees or foraging for food on the ground.

Birds: Over 170 bird species are recorded within the park’s boundaries. Look for woodpeckers, warblers, hawks, and songbirds. One of the best areas for birdwatching is the Hot Springs Mountain Trail.

Waterfowl: The park’s lakes and ponds attract a variety of waterfowl, including Mallards, Canada Geese, and Great Blue Herons. Lake Catherine and Lake Ouachita are ideal spots for observing waterfowl in their natural habitat.

Reptiles and Amphibians: You can also see reptiles and amphibians, including snakes, turtles, frogs, and salamanders. Watch closely for these tiny critters while exploring the park’s trails, especially near water sources.

Nearby Attractions | What to Do

The serene, calm waters of Lake Hamilton during a clear fall day at hot springs national park arkansas
The serene, calm waters of Lake Hamilton during a clear fall day.

There are several attractions and activities worth exploring near Hot Springs National Park. Here are some of the top ones:

Hot Springs Historic District: Located in downtown Hot Springs, the historic district is a cute area known for its beautifully preserved architecture and rich history. 

Stroll along Bathhouse Row, visit the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center, and explore the shops, galleries, and restaurants. Don’t miss the opportunity to sample the famous thermal waters at the historic bathhouses.

Mid-America Science Museum: Situated just outside Hot Springs, the Mid-America Science Museum is a fascinating destination for science enthusiasts of all ages. 

The museum features interactive exhibits and hands-on displays that explore various scientific principles. Engage in fun activities, learn about space, physics, and the natural world, and enjoy the outdoor Discovery Area with its nature trails and gardens.

Ouachita National Forest: Ouachita National Forest offers a wilderness escape with its long stretches of woodlands, mountains, and scenic trails. It’s an excellent location for hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife viewing. Take part in outdoor adventures along the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, and explore the area’s sparkling lakes and rivers.

Lake Hamilton: Lake Hamilton is also a popular destination for water-based activities like boating, fishing, kayaking, and watersports. Rent a boat, go fishing for bass or catfish, or unwind by the water’s edge. The lake’s marinas, resorts, and waterfront dining options add to the appeal.

Final Thoughts

The rolling Ouachita Mountains sprawl along the length of hot springs ar national park
The rolling Ouachita Mountains sprawl along the length of the park.

The natural wonders, rich history, and nearby attractions of Hot Springs National Park, AR, make it the ultimate place to relax, experience culture, and find adventure. 

The park is perfect for nature lovers and history enthusiasts, from the healing thermal springs and historic Bathhouse Row to the scenic hiking trails and diverse wildlife. 

Additionally, the Hot Springs Historic District, Mid-America Science Museum, Ouachita National Forest, and Lake Hamilton have even more opportunities for exploring and enjoying the surrounding area. 

What are you looking forward to most about your next trip to this spectacular national park? 

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FAQs

Is Hot Springs National Park worth it?

Absolutely! The park consists of a unique blend of natural beauty, thermal springs, rich history, and recreational opportunities that make it well worth a visit.

How long should I stay in Hot Springs National Park?

A typical visit here can range from a day trip to a few days, depending on your interests. Spending 2-3 days allows you to explore the park, experience the thermal baths, hike the trails, and see nearby attractions.

How far is Little Rock from Hot Springs?

Little Rock is 55 miles northeast of Hot Springs, making it a convenient day trip or a nearby city to explore while visiting the park.

Can you swim in the hot springs at Hot Springs National Park?

No, swimming is not allowed in the natural hot springs. However, there are designated thermal bathing facilities and spas where you can experience the healing properties of the thermal waters.

What is the best season to visit Hot Springs National Park?

The best seasons to visit are spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) when the weather is mild.

Where can you swim at Hot Springs National Park?

You can swim at Lake Catherine, Lake Ouachita, and Lake Hamilton, which are nearby lakes outside the park boundaries.

What is so special about Hot Springs National Park?

This location is special due to its unique combination of natural thermal springs, rich history as a spa destination, stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and the distinction of being the oldest protected area in the National Park System.

What famous site is in Hot Springs National Park?

The most famous site is Bathhouse Row, a collection of historic bathhouses that were once popular for their therapeutic thermal baths. It is a designated National Historic Landmark.

What is Hot Springs best known for?

Hot Springs is best known for its natural hot springs, which were believed to have healing properties and attracted visitors seeking health and relaxation. It became a renowned spa destination during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

What are three facts about Hot Springs National Park?

  1. The park has been protected as a reservation since 1832 but only became an official national park in 1921. This makes it the oldest protected area in the National Park System but not the oldest park.
  2. The park encompasses more than 5,500 acres of scenic landscapes, including the thermal springs and the surrounding Ouachita Mountains.
  3. The thermal waters of Hot Springs National Park are some of the hottest in the United States, reaching temperatures of up to 143 degrees Fahrenheit.

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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