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A three day itinerary for Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park may be one of the most underrated National Parks to visit. I was asked multiple times why I was going to Arkansas before my recent trip to Hot Springs. Besides my quest to visit all 50 states, I wanted to experience Hot Springs National Park. The more I read about it, the more excited I was for my 3-day weekend getaway to Hot Springs

Hot Springs National Park entrance sign

National Parks have gained more and more attention and for good reason. They are some of the most incredible places to visit in the world. There are currently 63 National Parks in the United States. Hot Springs Reservations first became protected land in 1832, later receiving the national park designation in 1921. Last year the park was visited by approximately 1.3 million people. During my visit in 2021, the park was celebrating 100 years as a national park. 

How do I get to Hot Springs National Park?

Little Rock, Arkansas is the closest nearby major city. Hot Springs, Arkansas is about a 1-hour drive from Little Rock. After researching my options, I found flying into the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport and renting a car the easiest ways to get to the park.

If you are traveling from the Florida panhandle, the drive from Pensacola to Hot Springs National Park is approximately 9 hours, but that may not be a realistic drive for a 3-day weekend depending on the person.

Where should I stay?

When I am traveling, I love staying in AirBnB’s if I can find one in the area I am traveling for a reasonable price. We booked this house for our 3-day weekend and it was perfect. The Airbnb was extremely clean, had everything we needed, and was decorated nicely. The drive into the park and downtown Hot Springs was only about 5 minutes and we were able to easily find street parking or a spot in the free garage.

Red carriage house

If you prefer to say within the National Park boundaries Hotel Hale is a historic bathhouse that has been converted into lodging. There are only 9 individual suites so if you’d like to experience this you likely need to book your stay very early.

Another option within the park if you prefer to camp is the Gulpha Gorge campground.

One last highly recommended hotel to consider is the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa.  There is almost 500 rooms making it the largest hotel in Arkansas. 

When should I visit?

While there is something to do year-round in Hot Springs, the spring and fall tend to be the most popular times for optimal temperatures. I visited in late September and the weather was perfect. My only other recommendation is to consider waiting just a little later in the year if you want to see peak fall leaves. Even in late September there was still some beautiful leaf-peeping to see.  

Green and orange colored leaves

How many days should I spend in Hot Springs National Park?

I thought 3 days was the perfect amount of time to spend in Hot Springs, but it’s definitely worth a visit even if you have less time. Several of the highlights could be seen even with a day trip if you live within driving distance or are passing through on a road trip. I also think you could spend a few more days especially if you want to explore more of the hiking trails or experience both bathhouses.

What is there to do in Hot Springs National Park?

There is truly so much to do in Hot Springs and one of the best parts is everything is located very close to each other. The park is described as an urban national park which means there is plenty of dining and shopping within the park boundaries, but there is also a lot to do outdoors. One important thing to note is you can’t swim outside in the Hot Springs. If you want to experience the hot springs water I definitely recommend visiting one of the bathhouses. Below are some of the highlights of our visit.

Hiking

For those of you that typically visit national parks to go hiking, there is plenty of hiking with 26 miles of trails. There are many short, interconnected trails throughout the park with two main access areas, Hot Springs/North Mountain Trails and West Mountain Trails. There are multiple places to access the trails and various parking areas throughout the park. Additionally, the Sunset Trail is the longest trail in the park (approximately 10-miles one way) or it can be hiked connecting with other trails from Hot Springs/North Mountain and West Mountain sections for a 15 to 17-mile loop.

A picture of me hiking in Hot Springs National Park

We hiked in the Hot Springs/North Mountain trail district and connected to several different trails. First, we accessed Peak Trail from the Grand Promenade and hiked to Hot Springs Mountain Tower. Next, we continued from the tower to Gulpha Gorge Trail and eventually connected back to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower to Honey Suckle Trail and finally finished the hike Tufa Terrace Trail.  

One of the best views during this hike was from Hot Springs Mountain Tower.

View of Arkansas from the Hot Springs Mountain Tower entrance

Additionally, I highly recommend you walk the Grand Promenade at some point during your visit. The brick path is charming and it overlooks bathhouse row.

Entrance to Grand Promenade at Hot Springs National Park

Because there are so many interconnecting trails you can make the hike any distance you’d like. Ensure you bring plenty of water as well as snacks. I recommend bringing a map as well as utilizing All Trails to keep track of which trail you are following.

Popular Trails

  • Grand Promenade (0.5 miles, one way)
  • Hot Springs Mountain Trail (1.7 miles, one way)
  • Goat Rock Trail (1.1 miles, one way)
  • Gulpha Gorge Trail (0.6 miles, one way)

Additionally, more information can be found on the trails here.

Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Hot Springs Mountain Tower is one of the top attractions in the area. You can ride to the top of the 216-foot tower by the elevator and see for 140 miles on clear days. The tower also includes a gift shop at the base.

You have two options to access Hot Springs Mountain Tower. You can hike the trail leading up to the tower or you can follow the scenic drive and park near the base of the tower.

Hot Springs Mountain Tower

The hours of operation vary slightly depending on the time of year. The tower closes 30 minutes prior to the store closing, so don’t arrive too late!

  • November through January: 9 AM to 5 PM
  • February: 9 AM to 6 PM
  • March to May 21st: 9 AM to 7 PM
  • May 22nd to September 6th: 9 AM to 8 PM
  • September 7th through October: 9 AM to 6:30 PM

Admission for the tower

  • Adults (12 to 54 years): $10
    • A $2 discount applies to military, police, fireman, first responders, and golden/park pass holders
  • Senior citizens (55+ years): $8
  • Youth: (5-11 years): $6
  • Children: (4 years and under): Free

Bathhouses

Another highlight of the park is to visit the bathhouses and soak in the water from the hot springs. There are two currently operating bathhouses that allow you to bathe in the hot springs water.

  • Quapaw Bath & Spa
    • More modern spa experience
    • Originally opened in 1922, closing in 1984
    • Reopened in 2008
Quapaw bathhouse in Hot Springs National Park
  • Buckstaff Bathouse
    • Traditional bathhouse experience
    • Continuous operation since first opening in 1912
Buckstaff Bathouse in Hot Springs National Park

We made reservations at the Quapaw Bath & Spa and chose to do a private bath and 50-minute Swedish massage. Reservations are necessary for all spa services and prices vary based on service.

Private bath at Quapaw Bath & Spa

If you just want to experience the waters you can also use the public pool at Quapaw which is filled with the hot spring water. Capacity is limited for the public pool and there was already a long line when we arrived first thing in the morning around 9:30 AM. Quapaw opens at 10 AM.

Additionally, many of the bathouses are open to the public and serve other purposes today. Make sure you stop by Lamar Bathhouse gift shop and the National Park visitor center which is also inside a bathhouse.

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Our last destination, Garvan Woodland Gardens, was outside of the park boundaries. It was a 15-minute drive from the park and well worth the visit.

Waterfall at Garvan Woodland Gardens

The gardens are beautiful and there is so much to see. I recommend wearing comfortable shoes and planning at least 1 to 2 hours or longer if you want to see everything in the gardens.

We easily spent 2-3 hours walking through the garden and we still did not see everything.

Two of the highlights were the Bob and Sunny Evans Treehouse and Anthony Chapel.

Treehouse at Garvan Woodland Gardens

If you are able to save the gardens until a weekday I would recommend doing so. Anthony Chapel is one of the most beautiful chapels I have ever seen, but the area is often closed on the weekend for weddings.

Anthony Chapel

Where should I eat and drink in Hot Springs?

Breakfast was one of my favorite meals to eat in Hot Springs. Although everything we ate while we were in Hot Springs was phenomenal, I had five favorite spots.

The Pancake House and Colonial Pancake & Waffle House: both of these diners were a breakfast lovers dream. They had generous portions, a little bit of everything on the menu, and the meals were delicious. Eating a big breakfast kept us fueled for long days of exploring.

Smash Wine Bar: I can’t recommend this place enough! We spent several hours relaxing on the back patio and enjoyed wine, a charcuterie board, and live music!

Charcuterie board at Smash Wine Bar

Superior Bathhouse Brewery: What made this brewery so unique is not only do they have 18 beers to chose from, but you can actually try all 18. Order the “beer bath” and split it with your friends. It was so much fun trying all the different types of beers.

Beer bath flight

Some of my favorite beers

  • Basic Peach (Peach Sour)
  • Orange you Glad (Belgian Saison)
  • The Bees Kneez (Blonde Ale)
  • Oktubafest (Traditional Marzen)
  • Goat Rock (Bock)
Two hands holding up one beer flight glass against the window

The Ohio Club: This is the oldest bar in Arkansas and a must see. This place has a great atmosphere and used to be an old gangster hangout. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the gangsters in Hot Springs you can also visit the Gangster Museum.

The Ohio Club Sign

Three-day itinerary for Hot Springs National Park

Here is a list of everything we did in Hot Springs National Park. We flew into Little Rock, Arkansas Friday night, rented a car, and drove 1 hour to Hot Springs, Arkansas so we were ready to start exploring first thing Saturday morning.

Day 1:

  • Breakfast at Pancake House
  • Hike to Hot Springs Mountain Tower
  • Grab a post hike beverage at Grateful Head Pizza & Brewery
  • Lunch at The Trough – we caught the end of the Arkansas Hogs football game there
  • Relax at airbnb
  • Dinner on the patio at Smash Wine Bar
Me in a bathtub outside at Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Day 2: 

  • Quick breakfast at Kollective Coffee
  • Spa day at Quapaw Baths & Spa
  • Lunch and beer “bath” at Superior Bathhouse Brewery
  • Explore downtown and check out the gift shops
  • Dinner at SBQX Pizza
  • Drinks at the Ohio Club 
Me walking down the street next to a boutique in Hot Springs National Park

Day 3: 

  • Breakfast at Colonial Pancake & Waffle House
  • Spend the afternoon at the Botanical Gardens 
  • Drive back to Little Rock
  • Grab a beer and lunch at Lost Forty Brewing in Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Flight back home
Inside Anthony Chapel

That’s it! I hope this post inspires you to explore all Hot Springs National Park! If you’ve already visited Hot Springs, let me know in the comments below if there’s anything I missed!

Information above was accurate at the time of publishing to best of author’s knowledge.

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