Hot Springs National Park is about an hour drive from Little Rock in Arkansas. The town of Hot Springs, AR is the boyhood home of former President Bill Clinton and there are many signs to point out that fact around town. Hot Springs became popular as a spa town utilizing about 47 natural hot springs from the mid -1800s up until World War 2.
Officially Hot Springs National Park moved under the Department of Interior and National Park Service in 1921. Spas, hotels, and visitors seeking medicinal treatments had been utilizing the natural hot springs in the Ouachita Mountains prior to becoming a protected national park (it had been considered a federal reservation).
All the old hotels line up on the street known as Boathouse Row closest to the hills that carry the hot spring water down to the bathers. Basically, there are natural hot springs in the middle of this town! A lot of great Art Deco-style buildings exists in this area along with a lot of green space making for a lovely backdrop to the shops, restaurants, hotels, and hot springs.
Hot Springs National Park does have some hiking, camping, picnicking areas as well. I opted to take the hike from Boathouse Row (where I parked) and hiked up the steep Peak Trail (.6 miles pretty much straight uphill, holy calf exercise!) and looped around on the Hot Springs Mountain Trail (1.7 miles)
At the beginning of the steep slope:
At the end of the Peak Trail is a bathroom, picnic area, a few great overlooks, and Mountain Tower. I totally stuck my head under the bathroom faucet to cool off on this 98 degree day.
Visitors can go to the top of Mountain Tower for a fee. I used Mountain Tower to cool off in the air conditioning and drink from the water fountain. There is a gift shop with bottled water, soda, snacks, and trinkets too.
If your visit to Hot Springs National Park is on a hot day or you are not much of a hiker, consider the .5 mile long Grand Promenade just slightly higher than street level, making its own little park. There is shade and benches to line the easy brick walkway.
Hot Springs National Park and Hot Springs, Arkansas is a perfect day or two day getaway. If you are planning some time in Arkansas include this destination in your travels. While it isn’t as “nature-y” as most national parks it has a colorful history including Major League Baseball, Al Capone, and illegal gambling. A cell phone tour where you call in at different points is a fantastic way to gain some knowledge of Hot Springs at your own pace.
I would definitely return to Hot Springs but I’d try hiking around on a slightly cooler day Poor planning on my part. Also good to note is that Hot Springs National Park is free. Save some money while seeing some sights! And if you aren’t a nature person, there are many cute museums, stores, and restaurants to hang out in and spend some exploring the town.
Reader Question: Hiking or Shopping? Or Both?