Hot Springs National Forest is the oldest National Park in the United States. It was the first piece of land to be protected by the government. It is also one of the few National Parks that lies partially within an urban area.
That being the case, many of the activities tourists do while visiting the park are different from what you would expect from other National Parks. However, this doesn’t make it any less of a unique experience, and it provides interest from one end of the year to the next.
Here are the best things to do in Hot Springs National Park throughout the year and with kids.
Things to do in summer
Check out the Grand Promenade
If you are already interested in visiting the area around Bathhouse Row, you might as well take the time to walk along the Grand Promenade. This area is right behind Bathhouse Row and features beautiful walkways with access to more shops and spas that set the little city apart.
The Grand Promenade is a pathway that winds through more of a natural, park-like landscape. You can get closer to some of the hot springs here, some of which are even open as fountains for the public. Others are closed to protect them from pollution, and these should be avoided.
The most notable feature along Bathhouse Row and the Grand Promenade is the Hot Spring Water Cascade at the northern end of each, accessed via a stairway coming down off of the Grand Promenade.
Walk along Bathhouse Row
Hot Springs has a total of 47 different pools throughout the entire area. The National Park lies partially in an urban environment, the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas. One of the city’s primary attractions and the park is the road running along Bathhouse Row. It features a focused amount of history in the buildings and their architectural styles.
Most of the buildings were old bathhouses that gained their business from the hot springs that now define the National Park. Since then, they have been turned into spas and shops that cater to both tourists and locals.
Hike the Sunset Trail
Walking around a busy town might not be the way you were looking forward to spending time in a National Park. If you are ready to engage with nature more, don’t worry since there are still trails to take in and around the park with hiking boots in tow.
Sunset Trail is one of these, best done at the time right before sunset to gain the mesmerizing effect from the sun over the hills. It passes along the park’s highest elevation and through peaceful fields of wildflowers.
Read More : What Should I Bring for A Day Hike?
Things to do in fall
Hike Hot Springs Mountain
Hiking along and around Hot Springs Mountain gives you access to some of the more forested trails in the National Park. It is beautiful during the Fall due to the changing leaf colors and the cooler air.
The entire park is less than 9 square miles, so don’t expect to have to go too far. You can link some of the trails together if you want to have more of a chance to do a longer hike. The trail up Hot Springs Mountain is only 1.7 miles long from the hills right behind Bathhouse Row.
Pop into Superior Bathhouse Brewery
Hot Springs National Park is one of the few parks that has a brewery within its borders, and it was the first to claim this title. It also happens to be a great way to end a day of fun and relaxation at the baths or hiking around the park.
This brewery isn’t only unique because of its association with the park. It also claims prime real estate by being housed within a remodeled bathhouse with a history. The beer they brew here uses water that comes directly from the hot springs, making it not only unique in America but the rest of the world.
Dive into the past at the Ohio Club
If you are already ready for a drink and are looking for an amazing night to cap off a fun day, then head over to the Ohio Club. This experience will be appreciated even more by the history buffs in the group.
This club was opened in 1905, and ever since its first moments its been the scene for mobsters, gangsters, athletes, and celebrities. Ask your bartender to be regaled by the endless history seen inside those doors.
Things to do in winter
Bathe in hot springs water at Buckstaff Bathhouse
Some of the bathhouses along the row and sprinkled throughout Hot Springs National Park are still serviceable. These can be enjoyed as a day at the spa would be. Who would have thought that a visit to a National Park could be so relaxing?
At Buckstaff Bathhouse, there are traditional whirlpools that utilize the mineral waters from the hot springs. You can also opt-in for a variety of skin treatments and massages for additional fees.
Take a tour of historic Fordyce Bathhouse
The Fordyce Bathhouse has been renovated to be the Visitor Center for the National Park. It was, and still is to some degree, the most opulent of the bathhouses along the Row. Inside, it didn’t only play host to a hot springs spa but also had a bowling alley, rooms for massage, staterooms, and even a state-of-the-art gymnasium back in its time.
Today, the majority of this bathhouse has been turned into a sort of museum, lauding the history of the entire park. It is one of the best places, and family-friendly, to learn more about the park or talk to a Ranger about what to do inside.
Take in a sunset
Nearby to the National Park is the Ouachita National Forest. You can drive up to Mountain Drive Trail. At the end of this looped road, there is a pull-out. It is nearby to the Goat Rock Trailhead and gives you access to a plateau over the forests. Here you can watch a nature-filled sunset.
Don’t forget to bring your binoculars for the chance to see some of the local wildlife as it comes out for the evening.
Things to do in spring
Visit the Anthony Chapel
Since the area inside the National Park doesn’t cover a lot of ground, it can be well worth your while to visit some of the areas just outside its borders. The Anthony Chapel Complex makes up a portion of the beautiful Garvan Woodland Gardens. These are a 210-acre botanical garden belonging to the University of Arkansas.
The Anthony Chapel is constructed using wood from the surrounding forest and large panes of glass to give it the impression of being one with the forest instead of residing apart from it.
Start the day the right way at the Pancake Shop
Although it might be more common to start a day off with campfires or percolating coffee, in Hot Springs National Park, you should take advantage of the Pancake Shop. It is a hearty way to kickstart a thorough day to explore the park and the surrounding area. Get there early, though, since it often closes before 1pm.
They have a small menu here, but anyone from tourist to local agrees that it is worth it since they do everything just right. The interior is worth a look as well.
Treat yourself at the Bathhouse Row Emporium
Within the Lamar Bathhouse, there is the Bathhouse Row Emporium. It is the official park store. Purchases made here help to support the park and function as a souvenir of your time here.
Things you can buy include handmade soaps, jugs of spring water, and many other items that can be dedicated to a spa day back home.
Things to do with kids
Take in the view from Hot Springs Mountain Tower
At the top of Hot Springs Mountain, a tower offers the best view in the entire region. Getting to the top of it means being able to open up your camera bag and take in the 360º views of the area.
You need to hike up the mountain to reach it, or you can choose to drive. Soak up even more of the history of the place along the way to the observation deck via the historical exhibits and gift shops they have here.
Visit the Gangster Museum
Heading to a park-like this with your kids means fewer mountain hikes and s’mores, and more history and games. The Gangster Museum is one of the best ways to engage them with it. Back in the day, this area attracted all kinds of interesting people.
The Gangster Museum is one of those places dedicated to chronicling and regaling you and your family with the somewhat salacious history of the area’s mobsters. Some of these include Frank Costella, Lucky Luciano, Albert Anastasia, and more.
Become a Junior Ranger at the park
The National Park Service offers the chance to engage your kids even further with the park and the surrounding area. They can become a Junior Ranger, typically when they are between the ages of 5 and 13.
Kids that visit Hot Springs National park with their families can earn the badge of a Junior Ranger when they complete a specific number of activities. These are things they can do while they explore the park with you. Learn more about it and the tasks at the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center by picking up a booklet.
Equip them with hiking clothes appropriate to their newfound status here as well.
Amanda Williams is a writer, plant-nerd, and outdoor enthusiast. She has traveled extensively, around the U.S., throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Everywhere she treks, she takes time to enjoy the outdoors. John Muir is her hero. She aspires to inspire people to live better as he did.