Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park (2024)

Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas is known for its thermal springs, historic baths, and outdoor recreational activities.

The adjacent city of Hot Springs was once a haven for mobsters like Al Capone and his boss, Johnny Torrio. Although the era of organized crime, bootlegging, and gambling is long gone, this curious town never lost its charm.

Today, Hot Springs National Park and its old town make the perfect destination for a day of pampering and unwinding in nature. First time visiting? Here are the nine best things to do in Hot Springs National Park, where to stay, and what to pack for your trip!

Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park (1)

Key Takeaways

  • Gulpha Gorge Campground and Hotel Hale offer accommodation inside Hot Springs National Park.
  • Hot Springs National Park attractions can be visited on a road trip, but the recommended time for this park is 2-3 days.
  • There are no outdoor swimming holes in the Hot Springs region. Visitors can soak in two independently operated bathhouses along Bathhouse Row: Quapaw and Buckstaff.

Things to Consider Before Visiting Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is in Garland County in central Arkansas. At 5,500 acres, this is the second smallest US national park, only second to Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.

The park technically predates Yellowstone—the world's first national park—by 40 years! While Yellowstone was established in 1872, Hot Springs had been established 40 years earlier (in 1832, to be precise), but as a federal reservation. It became Hot Springs National Park in 1921.

How Many Days Do You Need to Spend in Hot Springs National Park?

You can tick off most of the best things to do at Hot Springs National Park in a day. If Hot Springs is part of a road trip or you’re staying nearby, a full day should be enough to see the highlights of the park and the neighboring city.

But if you can spare 2-3 days, that would be amazing! With three days in Hot Springs National Park, you can hike or bike its network of trails, soak your cares in the communal pools, shop, and enjoy delicious cuisine. Additional things to do near Hot Springs National Park include horseback riding, golf, fishing, and water spots around Lake Hamilton, Lake Catherine State Park, and DeGray Lake.

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Where to Stay in Hot Springs National Park

Hotels in Hot Springs, Ark

You’ll find several fantastic accommodation options inside and near Hot Springs National Park. The park surrounds Hot Springs City, so if you want to stay inside, this will be your first option.

A former bathhouse remodeled into a luxury hotel, the Hotel Hale takes the crown of the best place to stay in Hot Springs. The hotel is located along Bathhouse Row, putting you within walking distance of all the best stuff to do in Hot Springs National Park. It boasts nine suites, a restaurant offering brunch, lunch, dinner, and valet parking. With each suite’s tub connected directly to the thermal springs and the Grand Promenade behind the hotel, The Hale is where you should come to unwind from the stresses of everyday life.

The Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa is a gem and a living slice of Hot Springs’ golden era. Originally opened in 1875, this 478-room hotel is the most prominent landmark along Central Avenue. After a day of exploring Hot Springs National Park attractions, enjoy some valuable 'me time' at the on-site spa. For drinks and live entertainment, head to The Lobby Bar. All rooms have ceiling fans and heating, a tub, and free Wi-Fi, among other amenities.

Best Campgrounds in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs National Park has a campground if you prefer sleeping under the stars. Gulpha Gorge Campground is located on Gulpha Creek, making it an ideal base camp for your Hot Springs National Park itinerary. Open year-round, the campground has 40 sites suitable for tents and RVs. All sites have full hookups (water, electricity, and sewer) and can be reserved up to six months in advance. Camping at Gulpha Gorge Campground is $34 a night.

Hot Springs National Park KOA is another excellent place to rest, relax, and play. The campground is tucked in the foothills of the beautiful Ouachita Mountains, minutes from most of the Hot Springs must-do activities. Reserve one of their premium tent or RV sites, or stay in a deluxe cabin with hot baths.

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What to Wear When Visiting Hot Springs National Park

Arkansas receives rain all year long. Keep that in mind when packing your camping checklist (as well as your first aid kit) for Hot Springs National Park. Plus, although this is one of the smallest national parks in the country, there’s still a lot of walking between the best things to do at Hot Springs National Park.

It's important to pack some layers regardless of when you plan to visit. Spring and summer call for breathable, quick-drying, and moisture-wicking items. But while the temperatures may be warmer during the day, nights can get chillier. Definitely include a few layering items in your backpacking checklist to stay comfortable.

Winter camping in Hot Springs National Park is gorgeous because of the thinner crowds. Arkansas, in general, does not snow a lot. But expect the park to be chilly both day and night. Light showers are common, too. Layering up is the trick to staying comfortable and safe as you enjoy this park’s outdoor winter activities. Bring warm and insulated pants, jackets, boots, wool socks, and gloves.

Check out our selection of women’s hiking clothing styles and men’s outdoor wear thoughtfully cut for the greater outdoors!

What to Do and See in Hot Springs National Park

Visit Fordyce Visitor Center and Museum

The Fordyce Bathhouse is one of the cool places to see in Hot Springs National Park, especially if you’re short on time. Located at 369 Central Avenue, Fordyce is a former bathhouse that now serves as the park's visitor center and museum.

The three-story landmark was the biggest and the most luxurious in its heyday. Its splendor is still visible today, accentuated by the marble walls, statues, stained glass ceilings, and delicately tiled floors.

The first floor houses a hydrotherapy room and bath halls for men and women. This is where you get a glimpse of the Golden Age of Bathing and learn why visitors flocked to Hot Springs in the 19th and 20th centuries. You'll find massage parlors, dressing rooms, the Zander machine, and two impressive exhibit spaces on the second floor. The music room and gymnasium on the third floor are other wonders waiting to be found.

Other highlights of the Fordyce Visitor Center include a 15-minute video about the park’s history and a 9-minute movie on traditional bathhouse routines.

Fordyce Visitor Center and Museum is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM. Visitors can explore all the floors on a self-guided tour or join a guided tour. There are no visiting charges.

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Enjoy a Leisurely Stroll Along Bathhouse Row

Any itinerary of what to do in Hot Springs National Park should include a stroll along Bathhouse Row. Bathhouse Row is a historic street in downtown Hot Springs comprising eight architecturally unique bathhouses made between 1892 and 1923.

A pleasant stroll along the Row is an excellent way to learn about the history of the Hot Springs area and how it shaped modern luxury spas. From south heading north, the bathhouses are Lamar, Buckstaff, Ozark, Quapaw, Fordyce, Maurice, Hale, and Superior. Only Quapaw and Buckstaff bathhouses still offer the tradition of submerging yourself in the “healing waters.” The rest have been repurposed.

Check Out the Grand Promenade

The Grand Promenade is a Hot Springs must-do! The Promenade is a beautiful brick walkway behind Bathhouse Row. It’s accessed by stairs on both sides, meaning no bikes or cars. The setting of this project, which was completed in 1957, helps ensure the intended purpose of this walk: to provide a serene escape from the bustle of Bathhouse Row.

The Grand Promenade is lined with trees and shrubbery overgrowth. You'll also find benches and tables where you can rest and placards with cool facts about the area. Overall, this is a great place to take a nature walk while listening to your favorite podcasts or music while soaking up the sights. The stroll is about 0.7 miles out and back and takes 40 minutes to complete nonstop.

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Soak in the Famous Springs

Thermal springs are Hot Springs National Park's main attraction. For centuries, vacationers from across the country have flocked downtown Hot Springs to soak up the health benefits of the mineral-rich waters.

Hydrotherapy pools were once believed to help treat conditions such as arthritis. Although you probably won't throw your cane or crutches after submerging yourself in these thermal springs, the minerals in these waters are believed to help improve skin health, relax muscles, and reduce blood pressure.

There are no outdoor swimming spots in Hot Springs National Park. Quapaw and Buckstaff Bathhouses offer a classic bathing experience for $25 to $45.

We'd recommend Buckstaff if you want to experience the historical bath service as early visitors did. But keep in mind that this includes being nude in front of the bath attendant and other health seekers. If you'd prefer a more modern spa vibe, then you'll love Quapaw. Quapaw offers a variety of experiences, including communal pools, private baths, and spa treatments, such as facials and massages.

Grab a Beer (or Quick Bite) at Superior Bathhouse Brewery

Your first vacation to Hot Springs, Arkansas, will only be complete with a beer at Superior Bathhouse Brewery.

  • Fun fact 1: Superior Bathhouse is the only brewery inside a US national park.
  • Fun fact 2: This is the only brewery in the world to brew craft beer with 100% thermal spring water.

Superior Bathhouse was built in 1916 and operated until 1983. It remained vacant until 2013 when it reopened as a craft brewery and restaurant. Today, one of Hot Springs National Park's things to do is to order a beer flight from its 18 taps. The brewery also carries beers from other regional breweries, making the experience even more wholesome.

It’s not just beer. Superior Bathhouse Brewery also has a full-service, family-friendly on-site restaurant that serves simple but fresh dishes and beverages. Enjoy your brew or bite on the self-served patio with views of Arlington Resort and people strolling along Bathhouse Row.

Superior Bathhouse Brewery in Hot Springs, Arkansas, opens daily from 11 AM to 10 PM.

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Take a Hike!

Hiking is one of the fun things to do in Hot Springs National Park. Hot Springs National Park has 26 miles of hiking trails ranging from 0.5 to 18 miles. What we like about hiking in Hot Springs is that many trails are interconnected. This allows you to vary your outdoor adventures as you wish. Plus, all the trails are pet-friendly, meaning Max and Luna can tag along so long as they are leashed.

Here are our picks of the best hiking trails in Hot Springs National Park:

Goat Rock Trail

This is a 2.2-mile out-and-back trail with views of unique geologic formations and Ouachita Mountains. Goat Rock Trail has an elevation gain of 886-1067 feet and is rated moderately difficult.

Hot Springs Mountain Trail

For an easy hike in Hot Springs National Park, consider the 3.3-mile Hot Springs Mountain Loop Trail. The trail starts by winding through a forest offering shade and wildlife sightings. At the top, you get rewarded with epic views of the park from the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. A picnic shelter during the descent is a great place to rest or enjoy a snack as you take in the views.

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Sunset Trail

Sunset Trail is probably the best hike in Hot Springs National Park if you want a moderate to challenging route. This is the longest trail in the park at about 10 miles one way or 17 miles loop. However, there are options to break the trail into smaller sections at West Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Stonebridge Road.

Enjoy Unparalleled Panoramas From the Mountain Tower

The hot springs in Arkansas offer some of our favorite things to do for many reasons, especially the views. Hot Springs Mountain Tower is a three-level structure rising 216 feet into the air.

The ground level has a gift shop where you can buy gifts for friends, family and kids. The second floor is home to a mini-museum with exhibits on the area’s history.

But the real reward awaits you at the elevator-accessible observation deck at the tower’s pinnacle. This open-air observation deck offers unbeatable panoramas of the Hot Spring area, extending up to 140 miles in each direction. You’ll get a clear view of downtown Hot Springs, Hot Springs Mountain, the Ouachita Range, and the Diamond Lakes.

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Final Thoughts

Most East Coast National Parks may overshadow Hot Springs National Park in terms of popularity. But there’s a reason most people now have it high on their travel bucket lists. This Arkansas gem boasts many unique attractions worth checking out, from melting your worries in a natural hot spring to exploring short but thrilling trails.

The beauty of this national park is its accessibility. Because it surrounds the city, getting into Hot Springs National Park activities is a breeze. If you plan a trip to this part of The Natural State, we bet you already know what to do at Hot Springs National Park.

Featured image by: Richard.

Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park (2024)

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