Article Overview: Best Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
If you’ve ever wondered if national parks, breweries, and historic bathhouses could coexist, it’s time to visit Hot Springs National Park and see for yourself.
These are just two of the many unique and surprising things to do Hot Springs National Park, which is the second smallest in the country.
What Hot Springs lacks in size, it makes up for in sheer charm. This quaint park feels just as much like a luxury resort as it does a wilderness enclave. There are over 20 miles of trails and swaths of unspoiled land, yet the park is also home to indoor mineral spas and stunning full-scale hotels.
With several unique experiences beyond hiking and scenic overlooks, it can be tricky deciding where to start. This guide details fifteen amazing things to do in Hot Springs National Park.
Ready to get started? Let’s go!
Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
Table of Contents: Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
Table of Contents: Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
- Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
- Why Trust Us About the Best Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park?
- Things to Know Before You Visit Hot Springs National Park
- Top 15 Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
- Top 10 Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
- Top 5 Best Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
- Map of Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
- List of the Best Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
Why Trust Us About the Best Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park?
We’re Will Pattiz and Jim Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
If you’d like to follow along our journey we’d be delighted to have you!
Things to Know Before You Visit Hot Springs National Park
There are NO entrance fees to Hot Springs National Park but if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which I never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂
If you’re looking for a good insect repellent that plays nice with our good friend earth, we recommend this one or this one if you’re a DEET person.
National Park Maps
National Parks Checklist Map: This beautiful National Parks Checklist Map can be ordered to your house.
Framed National Parks Map: We’re a sucker for maps, this framed national parks map is the best.
Where to Stay in Hot Springs
Planning a trip to Hot Springs but haven’t found a hotel yet? This is our favorite hotel around Hot Springs National Park.
Top 15 Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
15. Stroll Historic Bathhouse Row
Considered the crown jewel of Hot Springs National Park, Bathhouse Row is home to eight bathhouses, all built between 1892 and 1923. Touring these buildings, the youngest now officially a century old, and admiring their impeccable architecture is one of the best things to do at Hot Springs National Park!
The Buckstaff and Quapaw bathhouses are the only two of the eight that still welcome visitors in to experience a traditional mineral bath with water straight from the hot springs. Both also offer other spa services, such as massage and paraffin treatments. The rest of the historic bathhouses have been reimagined into museums, art galleries, luxury hotels, and even a brewery.
Hot Springs’ official park store and gift shop, aptly named Bathhouse Row Emporium, is also on Bathhouse Row. To pick up a few unique souvenirs such as a vast variety of crystals and unique rocks or miniature soaking tubs, head to the shop inside the Lamar Bathhouse.
14. Go Birding
Every winter, birding turns into THE thing to do in Hot Springs National Park as the park comes alive with folks looking to do a little public good.
Specifically, we’re talking about the Christmas Bird Count, when citizen scientists (the general public) are invited to traverse the park, armed with binoculars and a checklist to count birds.
This contributes to understanding local species and protecting the park’s wildlife.
13. Show Your Pup Around the Park
Your dog is an honored guest at Hot Springs National Park. The park is exceptionally pet-friendly, and dogs are welcome to join their owners on all the trails and outdoor common areas.
Keep in mind that you can’t bring them inside most buildings, unless they’re service animals. One exception is the dog-friendly Arlington Resort & Spa.
Hot Springs even operates the Bark Ranger program, in which dogs (and their humans!) complete two short activities to get sworn in as a Bark Ranger.
Dogs receive an official certificate for achieving this canine honor, making this one of the most fun, unique things to do at Hot Springs National Park.
12. Touch the Thermal Hot Springs
In addition to soaking in the natural springs or drinking from them, another one of the best things to do in Hot Springs National Park is physically touch them.
While there aren’t places that you can simply slip into one outdoors, you can reach your hand into two of the springs, experiencing for yourself what so many have called “healing waters” for centuries.
The first spring you can touch is called Display Spring, right behind the Maurice Bathhouse. This spring flows into a perfectly circular rock pool, and makes a fantastic photo op.
The second touchable spring in the park is Hot Water Cascade at Arlington Lawn. This one comes from a hillside and flows down a cliff, like a hot spring waterfall!
11. Savor a Cold One at the ONLY Brewery in a National Park
If enjoying a craft beer in a national park sounds as amazing to you as it did to me, then head to Superior Bathhouse Brewery. The shtick here, as it’s the only brewery within official national park boundaries AND it’s the only brewery in the entire world that uses thermal spring water as the main ingredient!
Enjoying a flight or meal at the brewery is one of the most on-brand things to do at Hot Springs National Park. Plus, the beer and food are genuinely delicious. Superior Bathhouse has a full menu of salads, steaks, and sandwiches that you can enjoy inside or on the outdoor Beer Park Patio.
Alcohol in open containers cannot be opened or consumed on park premises, so just be mindful before you start strolling down Bathhouse Row with your beer!
Beer connoisseurs rejoice and add this to your list of things to do in Hot Springs National Park.
Top 10 Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
10. Hike Sunset Trail
Just as its name implies, Sunset Trail is one of the premier places to watch the evening roll in over Hot Springs National Park. This trail is the longest in the park, clocking in at 10 miles one-way, and it’s divided into three sections: West Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Stonebridge Road.
The trail takes you through some of the least-visited parts of the park, making it one of the best things to do in Hot Springs to really get a sense of the area.
It also runs along private property at some points, so it’s important to take care to stay on the trail and not trespass (look for the orange blazes!). You can park at either end of the West Mountain section.
9. Stay at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa
Staying in a luxury resort isn’t something you can do at many national parks. That’s exactly why an overnight stay at Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa is one of the best things to do at Hot Springs National Park!
This historic hotel, built in 1875, is the largest in Arkansas, with nearly 500 rooms and a long list of upscale amenities.
Book some spa time at the onsite thermal pools, enjoy a delicious Sunday brunch in the Venetian Room, and stroll Bathhouse Row, just outside the front doors.
8. Sleep Under the Stars at Gulpha Gorge Campground
Staying overnight at the park’s sole campground, Gulpa Gorge, is a wonderful way to enjoy the unique natural surroundings. It’s open year-round and has 40 sites that accommodate both tents and RVs.
All sites have full hookups, picnic tables, grills, and access to water, and there are shared restrooms. There are no showers, but hey, there’s the perfect excuse to take a refreshing dip in nearby Gulpha Gorge Creek! That in itself is one of the best things to in Hot Springs National Park!
The campground costs $34 per night, and advance reservations are required. Like most national parks, campers are welcome to stay up to 14 consecutive days.
7. Relax on Arlington Lawn
Arlington Lawn has plenty of low-key things to do on your visit to Hot Springs National Park, including picnicking, walking, flying a kite, or reading. You may even see a few people napping!
This grassy knoll is perfect for relaxing and enjoying all the sights and sounds of downtown Hot Springs, while also being in the heart of the national park.
You’ll also find the Hot Water Cascade at Arlington Lawn. It reaches over 140 degrees, so be careful and keep an eye on little ones. The lawn itself sits in front of the historic Arlington Hotel.
6. Take a Scenic Drive
The entire park is super walkable, but taking a scenic drive is one of the best things to do in Hot Springs National Park to really see its full glory.
Take the winding roads up the mountain through the dense forests to catch glimpses of the other ranges in the distance. There are also several overlooks to stop at, with some of the best being West Mountain Picnic Overlook, Balanced Rock Overlook, and Goat Rock Overlook.
Top 5 Best Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
5. Get a Birds’ Eye View From Hot Springs Mountain Tower
Even if you’re on a major time crunch, one of the best things to do in Hot Springs National Park is head up to Mountain Tower. The upper open-air observation deck offers panoramic views over the Ouachita Mountains and several lakes. Downstairs, there’s a gift shop and some interactive exhibits.
To reach Mountain Tower, you can take a super-scenic drive up the mountain or hike the 1.5-mile trail, starting from Fountain Street downtown.
This trail has some relatively steep elevation gain but isn’t at all technical, and has several beautiful overlooks that make natural resting points.
4. Get a Taste of Mountain Spring Water
Feeling a little parched? Just stop by any of the park’s thermal spring fountains! Not only is drinking from them acceptable, it’s actually encouraged!
At one time, Hot Springs used the term “quaff the elixir” in marketing campaigns to draw visitors. This is by far one of the coolest and most unique things to do at Hot Springs National Park — and it’s totally free!
The park has a total of seven thermal spring fountains open to the public. Five have cold water and the other two have warm water.
Note that these aren’t the type of water fountains where you walk up and take a drink; instead, you fill up a container. As you walk around Hot Springs, you’ll see people carrying water bottles and jugs of all sizes! The fountains are stationed all over the park and the water is continuously monitored for safety, so drink up!
3. Visit the Fordyce Bathhouse Museum
The Fordyce Bathhouse Museum is certainly one of the more educational things to do at Hot Springs National Park. History buffs will love watching the educational videos and learning about the park’s storied past through interactive exhibits.
Doubling as the park’s visitor center, the museum is an architecturally stunning place where the area’s history has been perfectly preserved.
While it’s well worth a stop, particularly for architecture or history enthusiasts, be warned that little ones might not find it to be the most exciting experience in the park.
2. Take a Stroll Along the Grand Promenade
As an official National Recreation Trail, this paved half-mile walk is just what you need to slow down and cool off after a long day exploring the park. In fact, a walk along the Grande Promenade may be one of the most relaxing things to do at Hot Springs National Park.
There’s not much to do on this little sojourn other than enjoy, but it’s a lovely way to get a scenic, shaded view of the park. It winds around a path behind Bathhouse Row that has benches, tables, and even a chessboard.
As a bonus, there’s a hot springs cascade along the trail that gives a glimpse into what the springs were like centuries ago.
1. Soak in the Hot Springs
Let’s be honest, this is probably why you came to a park called Hot Springs. Many first-time visitors are surprised to learn that you can’t soak in any of them outdoors, but there are other opportunities to enjoy the thermal spring water in the park.
One of the best things to do in Hot Springs National Park is slide into the toasty water at either the Buckstaff Bathhouse or the Quapaw Bathhouse.
Buckstaff Bathhouse was built in 1912 and is the oldest continuously running bathhouse in the park, operating for well over a century. Visitors ages 10 and up are welcome to enjoy a traditional thermal mineral bath experience, with waters that reach 102 degrees. The bathhouse also offers other chemical-free hydro therapy treatments using water from the springs.
The “baby” of the bunch, Quapaw Bathhouse was constructed in 1923. It offers the same relaxing mineral bath experience, plus a variety of upscale modern spa treatments and public soaking pools.
Map of Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
FAQ Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
The top things to see at Hot Springs National Park are Bathhouse Row, the Grand Promenade, and the Hot Springs.
One day would be sufficient to get to all of the top things to do at Hot Springs National Park.
List of the Best Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
- Soak in the Hot Springs
- Grand Promenade
- Fordyce Bathhouse
- Taste the Mountain Spring Water
- Observation Tower
- Scenic Drive
- Arlington Lawn
- Gulpha Gorge Campground
- Arlington Resort Hotel
- Sunset Trail
- Superior Bathhouse Brewery
- Thermal Hot Springs
- Bark Ranger
- Stroll Historic Bathhouse Row
Pin the Best Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park
Tips for Visiting Hot Springs National Park (or any national park)
Permit Systems and Reservations
Check to see if the national park you’re visiting has a permit or reservation system in place before visiting. As parks become increasingly crowded more has to be done to safeguard them which means controlling the hundreds of millions of people who visit these places each year.
Popular national parks with reservation systems of some kind include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Arches, Acadia, Denali, and more.
Want Less Crowds? Try a National Forest!
Try visiting a national forest while you’re on your trip to avoid the crowds. There are 155 national forests in America, many of which are equally as beautiful as the national parks they neighbor and only see a fraction of the visitors.
For example, try the Flathead National Forest next to Glacier National Park, the Bridger-Teton next to Grand Teton, and the Dixie which borders nearly all of the Utah National Parks.
Practice Safety, Seriously
National parks are amazing but wild places so it is essential to practice basic safety while visiting them. Every year people die while vacationing in national parks. This is easily avoided by:
- Sticking to trails
- Checking the weather before going out on a hike
- Maintaining a safe distance between wildlife which means at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators
- Avoid ledges with steep drop offs
Helpful Related Articles
Hot Springs National Park Facts: 12 Fantastic Facts About Hot Springs National Park
Arkansas National Parks: 7 Amazing Arkansas National Parks to Visit
Arkansas Historic Sites: 10 Must-See Historic Sites in Arkansas
National Parks Near Little Rock: 6 Beautiful National Parks Near Little Rock
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