Hot Springs National Park – Camping, Hiking, and Scenic Drives
Located near the southern end of Arkansas Scenic Highway 7, Hot Springs National Park is located in the center of the city of Hot Springs while also set in the mountains surrounding the town. The “Hot Springs” and the spa bath houses offer both a historical and medicinal attractions. We also like its Gulpha Gorge campground because it is convenient to downtown Hot Springs, yet has the feel of being miles out in the country. Hot Springs National Park also offers an extensive network of hiking and walking trails.
Gulpha Gorge Campground. Located on the east side of Hot Springs Mountain. Convenient to downtown Hot Springs, yet in a wooded setting, isolated from the urban area. Gulpha creek runs through the camp ground with several camp sites adjacent to the creek. Very clean and well-maintained park. Roads fully paved, paved parking pads. 44 sites, 30 with full-hookups. All sites have level or close to level paved parking pads. Each site has a concrete picnic table and elevated BBQ grill. Sites w/o hookups have level space on grass for tents. Adequate space between sites. Tall trees provide good shade for most sites. Modern washrooms, cleaned daily, but no showers. Animal proof waste disposal bins. Campground host. RV dump station. Day use picnic area. Amphitheatre with sturdy bench seating. Direct access to the extensive network of hiking trails on Hot Springs Mountain.
Hiking and Backpacking Trails
An extensive trail network connects downtown Hot Springs and Bathhouse Row, located at the western foot of Hot Springs Mountain, with the Gulpha Gorge park and campground located at the eastern foot of the mountain. In all there are 23 trails but since many intersect with one another there are many more route options than 23. The Hot Springs Mountain trails in turn link to other trails on adjacent mountains and hillsides: North Mountain, West Mountain, Music Mountain, and Sugarloaf Mountain. The only campground in the park is at Gulpha Gorge so overnight backpackers would simply plan a route that would return them to Gulpha Gorge by the end of the day. Day hikers have the choice of several trailheads sprinkled throughout the park. Here’s a list of the hiking and walking trails from the Park Website.
Scenic Mountain Drives
Non-hikers can drive to the top of Hot Springs and West Mountain summits. There are several scenic lookouts along the drives as well as some picnic areas. At the top of Hot Springs Mountain is the 10 story Hot Springs Tower with an observation deck at the top. The Tower is a commercial operation that charges a fee to visit the observation deck. Another scenic drive is south of Hot Springs to the top of Jack Mountain. West of Hot Springs is the Quachita Mountains and Lake Quachita. A nice day trip is a scenic 80 mile loop around Lake Quachita out to Mt. Ida and back to Hot Springs.
Dining and Entertainment
Hot Springs National Park is quite large – 5500 acres – and almost completely surrounded by the city of Hot Springs. The centerpiece of the park – Bathhouse Row – stretches along the south side of Central Avenue. Across the street from Bathhouse Row, on the north side, is the center of the dining and entertainment district of downtown Hot Springs. Down the street a little west of Bathhouse Row is one of favorite Hot Springs restaurants and pubs. Formerly known as the Brau Haus which closed sometime in 2013, it has been re-opened at the same location as Steinhaus Keller. It is located in the lower level of a three or four story atrium in an area called Spencer’s Corner. Being below street level, it is not easily seen from the sidewalk. Above Steinhaus Keller and more prominently signed and easily noticed is Brick House Grill, known locally as offering the best burgers in town. Next time we are in town we’ll have to try them out.
But on our most recent visit in late March 2014, we had our palates set for some good german food. I had their Sauerbraten and Jo had the Weinschitzel – both excellent meals, including our side dishes. The wait service was attentive, friendly, and professional. They offered a very good selection of beers from Germany, Austria, and eastern Europe. Jo had a black lager and I had an Oktoberfest. We noticed that the guy behind the bar was the same as when we ate there a few years ago and then it seemed he had an ownership interest in it. Don’t know the history on why the Brau Haus closed, but based on this recent visit we’d give it a strong recommendation.
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