Visiting Hot Springs National Park? In this guide we’re sharing where to stay, when to visit, things to know, and the best things to do in Hot Springs National Park!
For our final stop on our Arkansas adventure, we headed to Hot Springs National Park, which is our 34th United States National Park. But this national park is unlike any other we have visited!
Similar to the other 62 national parks, there is some interesting nature and geology at Hot Springs National Park, but what really makes this park unique is that it is in the middle of a town! Typically you have to venture a bit off the beaten path to explore the parks, but Hot Springs National Park is located smack dab in the middle of Hot Springs, Arkansas, with tons of things to do, places to eat, and some gorgeous architecture.
We didn’t know what to expect beforehand, but Hot Springs National Park exceeded our expectations! We loved exploring the different elements of the park, from the beauty of the surroundings, the cool (or should we say hot?!) features of the hot springs, and the historic buildings. There is a little something for everyone to enjoy!
And in this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before visiting, including some facts about the park, when to visit, where to stay, the best things to do in Hot Springs National Park, and more!
Looking for more things to do in Arkansas? Check out our other guides:
- Hiking the Goat Trail to Big Bluff in the Buffalo National River
- Hiking the Whitaker Point Trail to Hawksbill Crag in Arkansas
- A Weekend in Little Rock, Arkansas Itinerary
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
- About Hot Springs National Park
- When to visit Hot Springs National Park
- Getting to Hot Springs National Park
- Getting around Hot Springs National Park
- Where to Stay in Hot Springs National Park
- How much time do you need in Hot Springs National Park?
- Things to know before visiting Hot Springs National Park
- Things to do in Hot Springs National Park
- Things to do near Hot Springs National Park
About Hot Springs National Park
The history of Hot Springs National Park dates back 3,000+ years ago, with Native Americans, specifically the Caddo, Quapaw, and Choctaw tribes, occupying the area.
The Native Americans mostly used the area to quarry a stone called novaculite in order to make tools. But there is also evidence that they used the springs as well. In 1771, Jean-Bernard Bossu, a French explorer, visited the area and noted that the Quapaw Indians used the area to take baths because they thought that the hot waters were strengthening.
However, in 1818, the land became owned by the United States and in 1832 the area was first protected as Hot Springs Reservation, making it the oldest park now managed by the National Park Service. But it wasn’t until 1921 that it actually became a national park.
Today, Hot Springs National Park, as the name implies, is home to 47 hot springs. The springs have an average temperature of 143 degrees fahrenheit and everyday 850,000 gallons of hot, thermal water flow from the springs…pretty crazy!
As we mentioned above, the park is more than just the hot springs, which you cannot soak in outdoors (more on that later!). The park is also home to parts of the city of Hot Springs, historic and beautiful bathhouses, mountains and trails, and even a brewery!
When to visit Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is open year-round and with a wide variety of activities, there will always be something to do regardless of the season or weather. However, depending on what activities you want to do, you may want to consider specific times of the year.
If you want to enjoy everything the area has to offer, including the lakes nearby, we’d suggest visiting in the late spring through the summer, when it’s warm enough to swim. However, this is one of the busiest times to visit the area, so be prepared to encounter a lot more people.
The early spring and fall still have amazing weather, but may not be the best for water activities. But if seeing the bathhouses, going into shops, and hiking are your goals, we’d highly recommend visiting during these months. We visited in mid-November and the weather was chilly and windy close to sunrise, but perfect once the sun came out. It made putting our hand in the hot spring extra enjoyable!
The winter is the least busy time to visit the park, so if you’re looking for solitude and don’t mind being a bit chilly in the morning, this is a great time to go. You’ll still be able to do most of the top things to do in Hot Springs National Park!
Getting to Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which is about 1 hour southwest of Little Rock and relatively close to a handful of larger cities in the US!
Flying to Hot Springs National Park
If you plan to fly to Hot Springs National Park, your best bet will be to fly into the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT) in Little Rock. Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta, Southwest Airlines, United, and Frontier all fly in and out of LIT and there are nonstop flights from Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Chicago, Phoenix, Orlando, and St. Louis.
After landing, you’ll need to rent a car to make the hour drive to the park. Looking for things to do in Little Rock? Read our Little Rock guide.
Driving to Hot Springs National Park
Driving to Hot Springs National Park instead? Here is how far the park is from nearby cities:
- Little Rock, Arkansas: 1 hour, 56 miles
- Fort Smith, Arkansas: 2.5 hours, 131 miles
- Memphis, Tennessee: 3 hours, 190 miles
- Shreveport, Louisiana: 3 hours, 182 miles
- Fayetteville, Arkansas: 3.5 hours, 190 miles
- Tulsa, Oklahoma: 4.5 hours, 245 miles
- Dallas, Texas: 4.5 hours, 288 miles
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: 5.5 hours, 310 miles
Getting around Hot Springs National Park
Although you’ll likely need to rent a car (or drive your own) to get to Hot Springs National Park, there are a handful of ways to get around the park besides driving your own or rented vehicle. Here’s a list of all of your options so you can decide what works best for you!
Driving your own (or rented) car
To experience all of the best things to do in Hot Springs National Park, you’ll definitely need to do a bit of driving. Although some areas are walkable (more on that in a second!), the hikes we will mention on this guide, as well as some of the neighboring parks, will require a short drive.
Important note: the vehicle length limit on park roads is 30 feet. This is due to the windy and steep nature of the mountain roads.
Where to park
Due to most visitors driving to the park, Hot Springs National Park has quite a few parking options.
There is a large, free parking lot at 128 Exchange Street, super close to the visitor center.
RV & Bus Parking
There are limited parking spots for large vehicles at 629 Central Ave, which is just one block south of the visitor center.
Metered Parking Downtown
There are metered, parallel parking spots all along Central Avenue, on Bathhouse Row. These spots are super convenient, but have a two hour limit, so they may not work well depending on your plans.
We parked our 22.5 ft long Sprinter van in one of these spots (we are too tall for the free parking garage) around sunrise on a Sunday and had tons of spots to choose from.
The main area of the park around Bathhouse Row is super walkable, so you can park your car in one of the parking areas above and wander around the majority of the park on foot. However, if you want to go on hikes or visit some of the areas outside of the park, you’ll need to drive or use one of the other options mentioned below.
Hot Springs City Bus
While Hot Springs National Park doesn’t have an official park shuttle, there is a public city bus in Hot Springs that you can take to get around different parts of the city, including the park. You can see the full schedule, rates, and routes here.
Hot Springs Trolley
Looking for a way to see the park and learn some history? Take a trolley tour! These tours last 1 hour and 20 minutes and cost $18 for adults, $17 for seniors and military, $3 for kids aged 3-17 (as long as there is a paying parent), and free for children 3 and under. You will get to see historic homes, learn about the park, and also get a mini water jug to fill up with the spring water!
Where to Stay in Hot Springs National Park
One big perk of Hot Springs National Park being located in a city is that there are a lot more lodging options compared to some of the more rural national parks. Here are some great spots to consider for your visit!
- The Cabin @ Ravine Retreat: A 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom super cute cabin with fun hammock swing chairs and lots of character!
- Mountain Air Treehouse: A studio “treehouse” with a great open feel and really cool ceilings!
- Apartment 1 mile from downtown: This small studio apartment is in the building of a former oil and lube shop and has a lot of charm with brick walls! It does not have a full kitchen, but if you plan to eat out, this would be a great, affordable spot.
- Hilltop Home: If you’re traveling with a group, this 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom house (which sleeps 6) would be a great home base outside of the park. It has lots of space to hang out indoors and outdoors, as well as a killer view!
- The Paddock Boutique Bungalow: This 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom 1940’s bungalow is super cute! While not walkable to the national park, it’s only about a 5 minute drive.
- Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa
- Hotel Hale (A bit $$$, but this is one of the original bathhouses and only has 9 rooms!)
- The Waters Hot Springs
- Staybridge Suites Hot Springs
- Embassy Suites Hot Springs
- Hampton Inn Hot Springs
In addition to Airbnbs and hotels in the area, there are also a couple campgrounds to check out!
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Gulpha Gorge Campground
This is the official Hot Springs National Park campground and is great for both tents and RVs. There are 40 total sites, all of which have electric hookups and cost $30/night (must be paid with a credit or debit card).
The biggest downside of this campground is that it’s first-come, first-served, so if you visit during peak times, you may have a hard time getting a spot.
Located less than 15 minutes Southeast of Hot Springs National Park is Catherine’s Landing, which is home to tent campsites, RV campsites, yurts, and cottages. This property has a ton to offer in terms of amenities, like a disc golf course and kayak rentals!
How much time do you need in Hot Springs National Park?
If you want to just see the highlights, including Bathhouse Row, touching the hot spring, and going for a short hike, you could definitely get away with just 1 day in Hot Springs National Park.
However, if you want to do the majority of the items listed on this guide, or go at a slower pace, we’d suggest having 2-3 days to fully experience the park and the surrounding area.
Things to know before visiting Hot Springs National Park
Before you visit Hot Springs National Park, here are a few important things to know so you can have the right expectations!
You cannot soak in the springs outside.
With a name like Hot Springs National Park, you may envision soaking in natural hot springs, while surrounded by nature. But unfortunately, there are no opportunities to soak in hot springs outdoors. You can only soak in the thermal waters in the Buckstaff and Quapaw bathhouses, which have a fee.
The park is FREE!
Since the park is also part of a city, there is no entrance fee and you do not need the America the Beautiful pass to get free access to the park, although we recommend the pass if you plan to visit other National Parks!
Dogs are allowed.
Unlike most national parks, pets are allowed in Hot Springs National Park, including on all trails. The only place they are not allowed is inside the park buildings.
Things to do in Hot Springs National Park
Whether you love history, hiking, relaxing, or shopping, there is a little something for all interests in Hot Springs National Park! Trying to figure out how to spend your time in the park? Below we’re sharing our top things to do in Hot Springs National Park!
Explore Bathhouse Row
One of the most iconic things to do in Hot Springs National Park is Bathhouse Row. Bathhouse Row is a stretch of Central Ave, the main road going through the park, with eight bathhouse buildings, all constructed between 1892 and 1923.
The original bathhouses in the park were essentially tents made of canvas and lumber, sitting over individual springs. These tents evolved into being wooden structures, but unfortunately would frequently fall apart due to poor construction, burn, or rot due to the weather.
They then began construction on the bathhouses we see today, which are made of much more reliable materials. And while a couple of these bathhouses still offer bathing and spa services, which we will cover in a bit, the majority of them have gained a new purpose.
One is a hotel (Hale), one is now the visitor center (Fordyce), one is a cultural center (Ozark), one is vacant at the moment (Maurice), one is a bathhouse emporium with souvenirs (Lamar), and even a brewery (Superior).
The bathhouses are all beautiful and ornate, with each one having a completely different and unique look. Some even looked like they belonged in Europe! We absolutely LOVED walking around and seeing their architecture and consider this a must when at Hot Springs National Park!
Drink the water
One of the more unique things to do in Hot Springs National Park is to drink the spring water! In fact, some people travel from far away with large jugs just to get the clean, fresh water to enjoy back home!
Throughout the park you can find fountains where you can fill up your own water bottle, jug, or any container you can think of. Below is a map with the different fountain locations, with the red icons being the thermal fountains and the blue being the cold fountains.
As you can see above, the majority of these fountains are from the thermal springs, so the water is warm, which may surprise you if you weren’t expecting it. We still drank the warm water and we will say, it was pretty tasty! But be warned, the water comes out FAST!
The cold fountains are less plentiful and come from cold springs instead of the thermal springs, which either flows out of West Mountain or North Mountain, depending on what fountain you choose. These springs are required by the Arkansas Department of Health to be treated and an ozone filtration system is used, as it’s the least intrusive. However, you cannot taste any treatment if you drink from the cold fountains.
Need a container to fill up? They sell jugs and bottles in the Bathhouse Row Emporium!
Touch a Hot Spring
While you can’t soak in the hot springs outside, you can touch them in their more natural element!
There are two places in the park where you can touch the water. The first is the Display Spring, which is a small pool located behind the Maurice Bathhouse.
The second, and the one we visited, was the Hot Water Cascade, which is located at the Arlington Lawn and is the largest visible spring in the park. This pool is very pretty, with greenery surrounding it, two pools, and water cascading down rocks.
While the water is 147 degrees fahrenheit when it comes out of the ground, it is cool enough to touch by the time it reaches the pool. It still is pretty hot though!
Soak in the thermal water
As we mentioned earlier in this guide, while you cannot soak in the hot springs outdoors, you can soak in the thermal waters in two of the bathhouses, the Buckstaff Bathhouse and the Quapaw Bathhouse.
The Buckstaff Bathhouse has been operating continuously since 1912 and is one of the best preserved bathhouses on Bathhouse Row. Its exterior has tons of blue overhangs, making it pop against the more neutral colored bathhouses that make up Bathhouse Row.
It is also the only bathhouse that offers a traditional bathing experience, which includes a whirlpool mineral bath, loofa mitt and a 20-minute full body massage. You can see all of the services they provide here.
The Quapaw Bathhouse was built in 1922 on the site of two previous bathhouses and is named after a Native American tribe that once held land in the area. The bathhouse has a gorgeous tiled dome and in our opinion, is the most beautiful of the 8 bathhouses.
Quapaw Bathhouse offers a variety of services, including private baths ($30-$40/person or $45-$55/couple), public thermal pools ($20/person), a steam cave ($10 for 15-20 minutes), and other spa services. You can see all of the options, as well as more pricing here.
Walk the Grand Promenade
The Grand Promenade is a beautiful 0.5 mile, paved pathway that goes behind Bathhouse Row.
It starts on the south end of Bathhouse Row and ends at the Arlington lawn and along the tree lined path you get to see the backside of the bathhouses and open hot springs, as well as fill up at a thermal fountain. You can also connect to a few trails from the promenade.
We’d suggest walking along Bathhouse Row one direction and then taking the Grand Promenade the other direction!
Enjoy local food and coffee
Hot Springs, Arkansas is home to some great restaurants and coffee shops to fuel you for your adventures in the national park. Want to support some local businesses while in the area? Here are some spots we recommend!
Lunch and Dinner
Deluca’s Pizzeria (Closed Monday-Wednesday)
Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer Garden
Ohio Club, which has been around since 1905 and is a former hangout for gangsters and baseball players
Steinhaus Keller (Closed Sundays & Mondays, only open starting at 3 PM on the other days)
VAULT (Closed Sundays & Mondays, only open starting at 4:30 PM on the other days)
SQZBX Brewery & Pizza
Have a beer at the only brewery in a national park
One of the craziest things to do in Hot Springs National Park is visit the Superior Bathhouse Brewery, which is not only the first brewery in a national park, but also uses the thermal spring waters as their main ingredient. So cool!!!
The brewery not only brews their own beer, but they also have a large menu with tons of food options. And the best part is that you get to enjoy it all while sitting in one of the historic bathhouses.
Note: The brewery is closed on Tuesdays.
One of the best ways to learn more about national parks is to speak with a ranger! And at Hot Springs National Park you can go on two different guided tours to learn more about the park’s history.
The first guided tour is of the Fordyce Bathhouse, which was said to be the best bathhouse back in 1915. In this tour you get to explore the luxurious bathhouse and learn more about it along the way. Reservations are not required, but they suggest checking in advance to see if space is available.
The second tour is of the outdoor areas of Hot Springs National Park including the Grand Promenade and Bathhouse Row, while learning how rainwater becomes hot spring water.
As we mentioned in the “getting around Hot Springs National Park” section of this guide, you can go on trolley tours to learn more about the park’s history and see historic homes.
These tours last 1 hour and 30 minutes and cost $21 for adults, $7 for kids aged 3-17 (as long as there is a paying parent), and free for children 3 and under. You also get a mini water jug to fill up with the spring water!
Go on a hike
Although the hot springs and bathhouses are likely the most popular things to do in Hot Springs National Park, the park is also home to 26 miles of trails to explore. And the best part (in Kona’s opinion)? They are all dog friendly!
Here are some of the trails to check out while in the park, ranging from short and easier hikes, to a longer and more challenging one.
Goat Rock Trail
Miles: 2.4 miles
Elevation: 380 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions
This is the trail we hiked during our time in the park, well, sort of. We parked in the main parking area, which only fits a handful of cars and has a nice view itself, and followed the AllTrails map, but did get a bit confused by the trail.
We ended up passing the stairs up to the Goat Rock overlook (which will be on the right), as we didn’t know if we were supposed to go up there, but after researching the viewpoint online real quick, we realized we were supposed to go up the stairs and turned around.
The view of the mountains from the top is really nice! To be honest, we aren’t sure if it’s worth continuing past the overlook on the trail, as we didn’t see any views after that.
Miles: 13 miles
Elevation: 2,372 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions
The Sunset Trail is a loop trail and the longest trail in the park. It crosses many different types of terrain and gives you a great tour of the whole natural side of the park. It can be broken up into 3 different sections.
The West Mountain section is 2.8 miles and will take you to the highest peak in the park, Music Mountain at 1,405 feet.
The Sugarloaf Mountain section is 2.6 miles that goes along the edge of Sugarloaf Mountain and provides some of the most scenic views in the park especially at Balanced Rock.
Finally, the Stonebridge Road section is 3.8 miles and takes you to Ricks Pond and some old stone structures.
Miles: 1.3 miles
Elevation: 357 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions
The Peak Trail will take you up to the base of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, which you can pay to go to the top of and has amazing views of Hot Springs National park and the surrounding area.
West Mountain Trail
Miles: 1.9 miles
Elevation: 354 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions
The West Mountain Trail is a popular loop hike on the west side of the park that has great views of the national park and area along the way!
Hot Springs Mountain Tower
Located in the mountains behind Bathhouse row is Hot Springs Mountain Tower.
This tower originally opened in 1877 and since then there have been a handful of iterations of the structure before the current one we see today, which opened in 1983. The current tower is 216 feet tall and has views up to 140 miles away, including Hot Springs National Park, the Ouachita Mountains, and the Diamond Lakes area.
You can either drive or hike to the base of the tower (1.5 miles) and it costs $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for military, and $4.50 for children ages 5-11 to go up to the top of the tower.
Things to do near Hot Springs National Park
Not only are there many things to do in Hot Springs National Park, but there are also lots of things to do outside of the park boundary in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Here are our top suggestions if you want to explore beyond the park!
Explore Lake Ouachita State Park
Lake Ouachita is Arkansas’s largest lake with 40,000 acres of beautiful water. At this lake you can swim, water ski, scuba dive, go boating or kayaking, go fishing, camp, and hike.
If we had more time in the area, we would’ve loved to hike the Caddo Bend Trail, which is 4 miles and takes you around a peninsula on the lake. It looks gorgeous!
Visit Garvan Woodland Gardens
Garvan Woodland Gardens is a must-visit attraction in Hot Springs, Arkansas! This 210 acre botanical garden is located on the water and is home to the STUNNING wood and glass Anthony Chapel, different wooded walks and gardens, and some really unique treehouse structures.
The gardens are about 20 minutes south of Hot Springs National park and it costs $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 4-12 years old to enter the property.
There are a handful of museums to explore in Hot Springs, Arkansas outside of the national park. Here are some of the best ones to check out!
Mid America Science Museum
If you love science, make sure to check out the Mid America Science Museum, which has over 100 hands-on exhibits and looks CRAZY COOL! We’re kicking ourselves for not going here. Tickets are $11 for adults and $8.80 for military, seniors, and children ages 3-12 years old, which is a steal considering how awesome this museum is.
The Gangster Museum of America
As we mentioned above when talking about the Ohio Club, gangers used to frequent the area around Hot Springs. At The Gangster Museum of America, you can learn all about the history of gangsters, with 7 different galleries.
Tickets cost $15 for adults, $14 for seniors, and $6 for children ages 8-12.
Wander around the Historic Baseball Trail
Hot Springs, Arkansas used to be a huge baseball hotspot! In the early days of baseball, the majority of MLB teams were in the north and northeastern part of the United States, which made outdoor spring training a bit tough in the cold, winter months.
In 1886, Cap Anson brought the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs) to Hot Springs to have the first spring training in the southern part of the United States. This started a bit of a trend and over time, other teams called Hot Springs their spring home, including the Pttsburgh Pirates and the Boston Red Sox. Five fields were built and up to 250 players would come to the area to train, including Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Jackie Robinson.
You can now follow the footsteps of baseball legends by exploring the Hot Springs Baseball Trail in town. This app helps guide you through the area, telling you about historic spots and sharing stories of how the city shaped baseball. There is also a really cool baseball mural to check out, which can be found here.
Visit Lake Catherine State Park
Lake Catherine is one of the 5 lakes in the Ouachita Mountain area and is home to a campground, boat rentals, fishing, and a popular trail called Falls Branch Trail.
This trail is 1.6 miles and takes you to a nice little waterfall and across a cool bridge!
Get extreme at Adventureworks
Want to have a more thrilling adventure in Hot Springs National Park? Go to Adventureworks! This adventure park has 10 zip lines you can fly down and also a 16 element aerial adventure course with swinging bridges, hanging vines, rock walls, cargo nets, and more. It looks SUPER fun!
Ready to explore Hot Springs National Park?
Pin this guide of things to do in Hot Springs National Park to help plan your trip!