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.
Situated in a valley in the Zig-Zag mountain range Hot Springs is surrounded by hills. The National Park begins in the center of the city and encompasses the mountains to the east and west. So only minutes from downtown Hot Springs you can be in the woods several hundred feet above all the hustle and bustle of the city.
Hot Springs became a center for physical therapy not only because of its abundant hot springs, but also because an extensive network of hiking trails were built in the hills surrounding the city to provide an exercise program to supplement the hot springs spa treatments. The trails vary from easy walking trails to more rugged to allow people to progress gradually to more strenuous exercise.
Hiking and Backpacking Trails
The primary trail network is on Hot Springs Mountain with downtown Hot Springs and Bathhouse Row anchoring the western foot of the mountain. The Gulpha Gorge park and campground anchors 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 trail heads sprinkled throughout the park. Here’s a list of the hiking and walking trails from the Park Website.
Bath House Row
The “Hot Springs” and the spa bath houses offer both a historical and medicinal attractions. The National Park Visitor Center is located in BathHouse Row – see more here within one of the historic bathhouses – The Fordyce. The Fordyce Bath House has been restored to be a museum of how it was in the hay day of the Bath Houses. Free self-guided tours are available as well as narrated tours and a film on the history of the bath houses. There are a few bath houses remaining in operation and others have been restored but re-purposed for other uses.
Gulpha Gorge Campground at Hot Springs National Park
When visiting Hot Springs, we generally stay at the Gulpha Gorge campground in Hot Springs National Park (learn more here). Located on the east side of Hot Springs Mountain, it is convenient to downtown Hot Springs, yet in a wooded setting, isolated from the urban area. It is an attractive campground among tall pine trees along Gulpha Creek. The drives in the park and the RV parking pads are paved. The RV sites have well engineered electric, water, and sewer stations and the tent sites can be either tent or RV use – dry camping. Only thing missing making this a five star National Forest campground are showers in the washrooms but otherwise they are modern and kept well-maintained.
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
Restaurant Review: Steinhaus Keller
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 our 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 Wienerschnitzel – 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 give the current iteration under a new name a strong recommendation.
- See our post on BathHouse Row of Hot Springs National Park
- Camping at Hot Springs National Park
- Hot Springs National Park Website
- St. Patrick’s Day Parade – World’s Shortest St. Patty’s Day Parade
We like them for their experienced installation and service of furnaces, heat pumps, and air conditioners.