The only National Park in Arkansas [although there are several other units] is Hot Springs National Park. The park protects an important natural hot springs area in this part of the country. However, the hot springs itself isn’t the only reason it’s a national park. It’s more for its interesting history and architecture that drove people to come and explore this part of America.
The park is small and pretty compact. But what surprised me is that there is definitely a fair amount to do in the park. So here’s a list of great things to do in Hot Springs National Park and the city of Hot Springs Arkansas.
This is the first stop and the main highlight of Hot Springs National Park. The Famous Bathhouse row is the beautiful line of historic bathhouses. The architecture here of the houses as well as the stone work in and around the houses really is quite beautiful.
I appreciate how well this area has been preserved. I do wish more of the area of the city matched the majesty of this area of the park! It’s a fun place to wander and even relax and at the end there’s a small park [Arlington Lawn] to relax and even see the hot spring water bubbling up.
Hot Spring Water
One of the main things and most amazing things in Hot Springs is obviously the thermal spring water. But even more so than that, is the ability to take and drink the water too. And the national park makes it pretty easy! All throughout the park there are faucets where you can fill up your own bottles of hot springs water. And it’s even safe (and good) to drink.
You can even buy souvenir bottles from the gift shop to fill up water as well. No one can sell the water but they can sell bottles for it. I drank water there but didn’t bring any home. I felt it was going to be difficult with the flight home.
Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center
I always recommend the visitor center as the first stop on any trip to a National Park. There’s always a lot to pick up in information, your passport stamp, and advice and events that are going on. There’s usually good exhibits too. The park rangers were some of the coolest too!
The Museum here is key to understanding the significance of Hot Springs and its place as a National Park. You walk through several floors of the bathhouse to see the various treatments, history, and devices that were used throughout the history here. There are even regular ranger-led tours which are great if you are interested in more explanation and of course stories.
Ozark Bathhouse Art Museum
Located on Bathhouse Row, the former 1922 bathhouse is now a beautiful art museum Built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, the outside was definitely more grand than the inside. The 27-tub bathhouse did eventually close in 1977.
These days the Ozark houses the cultural center and art museum. It’s free to explore and there is a lovely collection of artwork from the artist in residence as well as several other rotating exhibits.
The tricky part of visiting is that the hours are not always consistent. It is generally open Saturday and Sunday 12-4 (pending volunteers) during the Summer and occasionally open for events outside those times.
Of the two active bathhouses, Quapaw baths is the more ‘modern’ one. Quapaw features several communal pools of various different temperatures that you can wander between. You just have to follow the rules and the folks there make sure you do!
The bathhouse offers additional services such as massages, facials, aromatherapy. These are offered in a separate section downstairs. The baths are fun to pop between the temperatures and enjoy the thermal healing waters with friends and family.
They limit crowds and the place can get pretty busy during peak times so you may want to make a reservation. Once inside though you can stay as long as you want.
Buckstaff is the more ‘traditional’ of the two Bath Houses that are still in operation in Hot Springs National Park. It is the only one that has been continuously operating and it’s really an incredible piece of history.
However, given that, it’s also more geared towards some individual relaxation. It has individual tubs which was the state of how the bathhouses operated back in the past. You’ll get a mix of the old and new here though. There are some modern services such as massages and facials. I like that this bath house is different from Quapaw to give separate experiences if you want to try both.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery
Known to be the only brewery located within a National Park. Superior Bathhouse was built in 1916 and operated as a bathhouse until 1983. In 2013 it was renovated and reopened into the brewery you see today.
The brewery is known obviously for its beers, but it actually has great food as well. And for those who don’t drink, they even brew their own root beer which is also quite good! The place can get pretty crowded on busy days. Closed on Tuesdays.
Hot Springs Mountain Tower
The 216 foot tall tower provides the best panoramic views over the Hot Springs National Park, Ouachita Mountains, and Diamond Lakes region. The tower has both a small museum, gift shop, and of course the observation deck.
Best time in my opinion to be here is in the fall. You’ll get to see beautiful colors of the trees this time of year. You can either drive up here or even hike up from bathhouse row.
The tower is a separate charge, you get a one-time use token to access the elevator. There’s also a discount for National Park Pass holders, so be sure to show yours if you have one!
Hiking in the National Park
There are miles of trails at Hot Springs National Park, however it is definitely smaller and more low-key than most of the national parks. Also there really aren’t too many places to explore that you can’t do via car as well. You can actually hike up from bathhouse row as well as the other side of downtown and get some escape into nature.
Below we share about a few places to go and explore. Many of these connect with a lot of other small trails too. These are great escapes for nature lovers to the park.
- Goat Rock Trail: This is one of the top and most popular trails in the park. It’s a loop with a small off-shoot up to Goat Rock for a beautiful vista.
- Tufa Terrace Trail: A small hike up behind the bathhouses to see small sets of thermal pools and “waterfalls”
- West Mountain Trails: Far fewer people come to the west side of the park hiking trails. These are a series of short trails with some good opportunities to view wildlife too.
- Sunset Trail: The longest trail in the park. The trail includes West Mountain and Sugar Loaf mountain. Recommend going as far as you want or doing a full loop of 15-17 miles.
Gangster Museum of America
I just popped in here randomly and glad I did. What I didn’t know was the huge mob connection that existed here in Hot Springs. It’s basically a who’s who of the famous mobsters (including Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz, and more).
The museum is actually an interesting journey through history, artifacts, and stories. They are guided tours and the stories and videos are really the thing that’s worth it here. The artifacts are ok but definitely not as good as the story telling.
Tours run around an hour, and you need to be on a tour to explore. Overall, I’m glad I did it, but it does require you to be really interested in the history to enjoy it.
Where to Stay near Hot Springs National Park
- Hotel Hale: Renovated bath house within the park. It’s a pretty remarkable place, both in its design and its comfort. The hotel pumps hot spring mineral water into each room’s tubs! There’s only 9 rooms so they do book up constantly so you do have to work to reserve here. There’s also a lovely restaurant and coffee shop as well.
- Waters Hotel: Amazing location across from Boathouse Row. The beautiful waters is a Hilton brand and has great service and rooms.
- Best Western: Located a 5 minute drive from Bathhouse Row. It’s a great option if you are looking for a good hotel for a better budget.
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