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The Best Things to do at Hot Springs National Park

Explore Arkansas’s Hot Springs National Park with our travel guide that has details on trails, bathhouses, camping, lodging, and where to find the best views.

Explore the best things to do at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas including tips on where to hike, soak in thermal baths, and more.

Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas is different from any other national park out there. It’s the most urban national park you’ll find, and most of it is in the city of Hot Springs itself. While you might not find the same dramatic scenery as some of the more popular parks like Yellowstone, there are still many worthy things to do at Hot Springs National Park and a visit is highly recommended.

In this post, we share our favorite outdoor activities in this unique and cultural National Park as well as some intriguing history.

Learn the best things to do Hot Springs National Park including tips for exploring the geothermal bathhouses, trails, landscapes, and more.

Where is Hot Springs National Park?

Hot Springs National Park is located in Hot Springs, Arkansas which is about an hour southwest of Little Rock, the capital. To get to the National Park from Little Rock, take I-30 towards Dallas. From there, take exit 111, or Highway 70, toward Hot Springs (there is a big sign). Highway 70 takes you right into town. At the intersection of Spring Street (first stoplight) take a right toward downtown. When you get to the Y in the road, stay to the right. That will become Reserve Street. In two blocks you will come to Central Avenue and Hot Springs National Park will be on your right.

You might not feel like you are in a national park when you visit due to the fact that Hot Springs National Park is located right in the town of Hot Springs. Once you get into downtown on Central Avenue and drive north, the shops and buildings to your left make up the city of Hot Springs. The buildings to your right are the historic bathhouses on Bathhouse Row.

Hot Springs National Park History

Many people recognize Yellowstone to be the first national park in our country, but Hot Springs National Park was actually the first land set aside for recreational purposes by the United States Government for its natural beauty and cultural significance. Congress established Hot Springs Reservation on April 20, 1832. That’s 84 years BEFORE the National Park Service was even created!

The area was known as the “Valley of the Vapors” due to the numerous free-flowing 143-degree hot springs in the Ouachita Mountain and earned its National Park designation on March 4, 1921. National Park Week is actually celebrated on the anniversary week of the Hot Springs designation. As people began to settle the area in the early 1800s, they capped the springs and piped them into bathhouses. Today there are three thermal pools where you can experience the hot water which are detailed below.

Things to Do In Hot Springs National Park

There are a number of great things to do in Hot Springs National Park whether you are visiting for an hour or a full day. If you’re short on time, even just an hour will give you enough time to learn the historic importance of the area with a guided tour of the Fordyce Bathhouse.

If you have a little bit longer, catch the park film Valley of Vapors at the Visitor’s Center and pick a trail to explore. Below are more details to make you make the most of your time in the park.

Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center and Museum located in the Fordyce Bathhouse
The Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center & Museum is located in the Fordyce Bathhouse

1. Explore the hiking trails

Hot Springs National Park has 26 miles of hiking trails that make for great day hikes. From the streets of downtown Hot Springs, you can be on a hiking trail within a five-minute walk. Guided outdoor tours are also offered during the summer season with a Ranger. Because the park is surrounded by the city, after your hike you can easily walk right into a restaurant for dinner or to grab a beer.

Sunset Trail

The longest Hot Springs National Park hiking trail is Sunset Trail which is 10 miles one-way and can be accessed at several points along the way. It snakes around the majority of the park. Sunset trail begins at the Gulpha Gorge Campground and ends at the West Mountain Summit. This trail bypasses the downtown area, but if you want to make it a loop, you can connect to other trails that will lead you through downtown and back to Gulpha Gorge Campground.

Sunset Trail in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas / See our guide for the best things to do
Sunset Trail is the longest hiking trail in Hot Springs National Park at 10 miles one-way (Photo credit: Mara Kuhn)

Goat Rock Trail

Another favorite hiking trail in Hot Springs National Park is the Goat Rock Trail. You can either access this trail from the North Mountain overlook or from Gulpha Gorge Campground via the Gulpha Gorge Trail. The Gulpha Gorge Trail can get steep, but I love the view to the north from Goat Rock.

Keep in mind that there is no backcountry in. Hot Springs National Park so multi-day backpacking trips are not possible. If you would like to backpack, the Ouachita National Forest is fairly close and has many opportunities for overnight trips. For more information on Hot Springs National Park hiking trails, head to the NPS website.

2. Take a scenic drive

Not up for hiking? Hot Springs National Park has several scenic drives that take you to the top of West Mountain and North Mountain. From the vistas on West Mountain, you can look south over the town of Hot Springs. There are three overlook pullouts located on West Mountain Drive where you can stop and take pictures.

For a great view of the nearby Ouachita Mountains and the city of Hot Springs, you can also visit the top of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. If you have a park pass you get a discount on admission! A glass elevator will take you 216 feet from the bottom to the observation deck. Feeling energetic? You can also climb the stairs to the top. From the observation deck, you get a 360-degree view of the area.

View of Arkansas’s Hot Springs National Park / See our guide for the best things to do
Views out over the town of Hot Springs from Hot Springs Mountain Tower (Photo credit: Mara Kuhn)

3. Explore historic bathhouse row

Walking around Bathhouse Row is one of the top things to do in Hot Springs National Park. Bathhouse Row consists of eight bathhouses that were originally built between 1892 and 1923. Today, two of the bathhouse are still in use while the other buildings have been converted into museums and other businesses.

Here are a few things not to miss as you explore this downtown cultural area:

Fordyce Bathhouse

The Fordyce Bathhouse was once the largest bathhouse on Bathhouse Row, but now the elegant building is home to the National Park’s visitors center and museum. You can do a self-guided tour of Fordyce Bathhouse or guided tours are offered seasonally.

Fordyce Bathhouse in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Buckstaff, Quapaw, and Hale Bathhouses

While there are no outdoor hot springs to soak, visitors can enjoy the warm natural waters in one of these three historic bathhouses. The Buckstaff Bathhouse has been continually operated as a bathhouse since Feb. 1, 1912, and offers individual soaks patterned after European spas of the early 1900s.

The Quapaw Bathhouse is home to the Quapaw Baths & Spa and offers a more modern spa experience.

If you want a private, luxury hot springs experience, book a room at the Hotel Hale, formerly the Hale Bathhouse. This historic building has been recently remodeled with stylish suites and mineral water soaking tubs in each room.

Lamar Bathhouse and Ozark Bathhouse

The Lamar Bathhouse is home to Bathhouse Row Emporium where you can find unique and interesting gifts from Hot Springs National Park.

If you’re interested in art, the Ozark Bathhouse has been converted into an art gallery. Here you can enjoy works of art created by the Artist-in-Residence program.

Superior Bathhouse

If all that exploring has gotten you tired, you can have some downtime and enjoy a craft beer at the Superior Bathhouse. The Superior Bathhouse Brewery offers several varieties of craft beer on tap and you can also get a tasty meal if you are hungry.

4. Walk the Grand Promenade

In addition to exploring Bathhouse Row, don’t miss walking the Grand Promenade. This half-mile walk is a brick pathway that takes visitors through some of the prettiest parts of the National Park. You can see the caps that cover the springs and walk next to a hot springs cascade.

The cascade, which flows into Arlington Lawn, is left untouched and gives visitors a glimpse of what the springs looked like before the bathhouses were built. If you are up for a longer walk, explore nearby Whittington Park (located on the north side of West Mountain), which is a manicured park with a gravel walkway that surrounds a creek.

Grand Promenade in Hot Springs National Park. Taking a stroll here is one of the best things to do.
Taking a stroll down the Grand Promenade is one of the best things to do in Hot Springs National Park

5. Visit Garvan Woodlands Gardens

Garvan Woodlands Gardens isn’t technically part of Hot Springs National Park, but it’s located in Hot Springs, Arkansas and worth a visit if you’re in the area. These gardens are known for their beautiful botanical landscapes featuring unique bridges, stone pathways, and intimate garden spaces including a peaceful Bonsai garden.

One of the coolest features in the park is the Anthony Chapel, a six-story tall structure with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and an intricate wooden design. It’s a stunning piece of architecture.

Garvan Woodland Gardens is open daily from 10am to 6pm and tickets are $15 per adult.

Anthony Chapel in Garvan Woodlands Gardens, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.
The Anthony Chapel is a must-see in Garvan Woodlands Gardens

Camping and Lodging in Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park only has one campground, Gulpha Gorge Campground. All sites can accommodate tents and also have full hook-ups for electricity, water, and sewer. Campsites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, only.

If you don’t want to camp, you can stay at the historic Hotel Hale on Bathhouse Row or there are plenty of hotels in the downtown area that put you just steps away or within the National Park.

What are your favorite things to do at Hot Springs National Park? What spots did we miss? Leave a comment below!

Explore the best things to do at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas including tips on where to hike, soak in thermal baths, and more.

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  1. I can attest to the sheer beauty of Hotsprings Arkansas! I’ve lived here for 35 of my 42 years. I’ve moved away but came back. This place has one of the most unique convergence of rural and urban than anywhere else I’ve been.

  2. Looking forward to visit hot springs in a couple weeks. All three pictures have me excited….can’t wait

    1. Hi Diane, there aren’t any waterfalls we know of inside the National Park, but there is a hiking trail closeby called Falls Branch Trail that ends at a seasonal waterfall. It’s located in Lake Catherine State Park.