If you love national parks and hot springs like us, then a stop at Hot Springs National Park is pretty much a must-do. We were in for a pleasant surprise as it was unlike any national park or hot spring we’ve been to.
Filled with history, beautiful architecture, and good beer, Hot Springs National Park has something for everyone. Read below for interesting tips and things to do when visiting this unique national park.
1. Take a tour or soak on Bathhouse Row
Found in the middle of the city of Hot Springs, the main attraction of the national park is the historic buildings of Bathhouse Row. There is a lot of history here, as this was considered America’s first resort and had many prominent visitors.
Start your visit at the visitor’s center which is right in the middle of Bathhouse Row. Here you’ll find useful information and maps and you can even get some unique national parks stickers and badges featuring a bathtub instead of the typical nature scenes.
To see a beautiful historic building as well as learn more about the history of the park, go on the Fordyce Bathhouse tour. It begins in a beautiful lobby that is a perfect representation of the luxurious experience visiting one of these bathhouses in the early 1900s.
Continue on the tour to see the actual bath chambers and showers that visitors used in the early 1900s, as well as the pipes that carried the thermal water in from the mountain to fill them.
As you walk through the building, you can read many informational signs and see historic pictures outlining the history of the bathhouse as well as the history of the area long before the luxurious bathhouses were built.
If you’re looking to actually soak in the thermal waters, you can take a traditional bath at the Buckstaff Bathhouse or visit the Quapaw Bathhouse for a more modern spa experience. This is first-come, first-served, so you may want to plan ahead if this is on your bucket list.
2. Have a hot spring brew at Superior Bathhouse Brewery
We opted to not take a soak—natural hot springs are more our scene, and instead decided to ingest the “medicinal” thermal waters. To do this, we headed to the Superior Bathhouse Brewery.
Located in one of the original buildings right on Bathhouse Row, this brewery is the first brewery in a national park and I think the only. (If not, please let me know where the other one is!)
It’s also the first brewery to use thermal waters as the main ingredient in their brews. The brewery is a full working restaurant as well as a tasting room and you can enjoy it all in a beautiful historic setting with big windows overlooking the main street of the park.
3. Have a picnic or take a hike
Further down from the brewery you’ll find a nice open green area where you can picnic or just relax. This is also situated right in front of the Hot Springs Cascades, so when it’s cooler out you will see steam rising from the hillside behind you.
There are multiple hikes and walks that lead back into the Hot Springs Mountain from here, including the relaxing Tufa Terrace and Grand Promenade trails, as well as the Peak Trail which will take you up to the Mountain Tower.
This area is also the only place outside the bathhouse where you can feel the thermal water seeping out of the mountain. There are pools filled with it along the bottom of the hillside, but unfortunately, you’re not allowed to soak in any of them.
4. Stock up on free thermal water
If you’re looking to collect some of the thermal water for drinking there are some great options in the park. The park offers several hot water jug filling stations as well as two cold water filling stations.
These stations are free, tested by the water department and worked perfectly for filling the large five-gallon jugs we carry around in our RV. Stop at the visitor center for information on the location of these fountains.
5. Camp at Gulpha Gorge Campground
This is a full hookup campground for tents and RVs located in the national park along the Gulpha Creek. There are modern bathrooms but no showers, and the sites are first-come, first-served with no reservations.
Two trails begin at this campground, including the Dead Chief Trail which is 1.4 miles long and will take you right to the Grand Promenade trail, which runs behind the main Bathhouse Row. The other trail is the Gulpha Gorge Trail, which connects with many of the other trails that zigzag through the Hot Springs Mountain area.
6. Check out the rocks and gems nearby
Arkansas is known for its rock, gem, and diamond hunting and the town of Hot Springs offers some great opportunities for joining the hunt. Although this is not part of the Hot Springs National Park, it is such a fun and unique experience that we thought it was worth sharing. There are several shops where you can go and browse if you do not want to actually go do the mining yourself.
Whether it’s for the history, architecture, thermal waters, beer, or hikes, Hot Springs National Park is worth the visit. So next time you are in Arkansas, spend a couple of days exploring this area and all it has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.