15 Best Things to Do in Hot Springs National Park, AR
Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, was established in 1832 and officially designated as a national park in 1921.
Considered an icon for healing and a tribute to the modern American spa, it's home to thermal springs, scenic hiking trails, and relaxing nature views.
A perfect combination of relaxing and thrilling activities await visitors here.
Here are the best things to do in Hot Springs National Park in Garland County, Arkansas:
Soak in the Bathhouse Row Waters
Dive right into the beauty of Hot Springs National Park with a visit to its Bathhouse Row on Central Avenue.
This cluster of buildings with striking architecture comprises eight bathhouses built between 1892 and 1923.
Two of these bathhouses offer visitors the chance to soak in the thermal water, with one—the Buckstaff Bathhouse—dating back to 1912.
The Quapaw Bathhouse on Bathhouse Row is the more contemporary alternative, as it features modern-day spa services with facilities like a steam cave, private baths, and thermal pools.
The thermal water of the local hot springs is piped directly into both of these bathhouses, thus providing an authentic experience for visitors.
Fetch Drinking Water from the Park’s Jug Fountains
Since the opening of the Hot Springs National Park in the early 1830s, many of its visitors have taken home water from its springs, believing it has medicinal properties.
Today, the park features several jug fountains where visitors can draw bottles of thermal water or drink from for free.
For bottle containers, you can buy Souvenir Hot Springs National Park jugs at the Visitor Center at the Fordyce Bathhouse on Central Avenue.
You can find a jug fountain between the Maurice and Hale Bathhouses.
Three others are located on Reserve Street—one across the National Park Service Administration Building and another near the Libbey Memorial Physical Medicine Center.
You can also get spring water from Reserve Street’s Noble Fountain at the south entrance to the Grand Promenade.
The spring water quality is monitored for conformance to U.S. standards for safe drinking water, and its high temperature eliminates most harmful bacteria.
See the Thermal Springs
Much of the thermal waters that drove the popularity of Hot Springs flows underground along a fault line from the slopes of Hot Springs Mountain.
There are two spots, however, where the springs are visible aboveground, one of which is the Hot Water Cascade.
This local point of interest is located on the Arlington Lawn on Crescent Avenue and is the park’s largest visible thermal spring.
The Cascade’s hot water emerges from the hillside near the paved path Grand Promenade and settles into two pools below a steep cliff.
The thermal water’s temperature is 147°F flowing out of the ground, but it's cool enough for you to touch.
The same experience can be enjoyed at the Display Spring directly east of the Maurice bathhouse on Central Avenue.
Fissures on a hillside unlock the waters of this spring under tree canopies and are surrounded by blue-green algae and carpets of mosses.
With its shallow pool and quiet environment, Display Spring resembles a Japanese garden where you can relax while listening to the sound of flowing water.
Bike on the Pullman Trail
This trail opened in 2020, enabling cyclists and hikers to access the roads up the West and North Mountains.
The Pullman Trail runs 0.65-mile from Downtown Hot Springs to the Northwoods Trails via a section of Hot Springs National Park.
Bikers are advised to be cautious as the mountain roads have a progressive incline.
A crew from the Mountain Bicycling Association constructed the Pullman Trail, making it well-suited for cyclists.
Riders of e-bikes can also use the Pullman Trail, but horse riders can’t.
Enjoy a Stroll on the Grand Promenade
The Grand Promenade, a National Recreation Trail, is one of the must-visits in Hot Springs National Park.
This scenic, paved pathway stretches for about a half-mile and runs parallel east of Bathhouse Row on Centennial Road.
Paved entirely with brick tiles, the Promenade was inspired by the design of the Prado, a pedestrian walkway in Cuba’s capital Havana.
You can have a picnic along the Hot Springs National Park’s promenade with its benches and tables, with one designed for chess players.
Downtown Hot Springs, which offers a wide selection of coffee shops and restaurants, is also directly west of the Grand Promenade.
Pick from Three Hiking Trails
Nestled amid Ouachita Mountains, the Hot Springs National Park has several hiking trails along its ridges and woodlands.
The North Mountain and Hot Springs trails are popular among hikers, as these two are scenic and easily accessible.
These trails can be accessed from Hot Springs Mountain Drive or the Gulpha Gorge Campground on Gorge Road.
The two trails are interconnected and can be explored from the trailhead on Stephen’s Balustrade near the Fordyce Bathhouse.
Another hiking option is the West Mountain Trails, accessible via Whittington Park on Whittington Avenue and the Canyon Trailhead.
With fewer visitors, this trail offers more opportunities for frequent wildlife sightings.
If you want longer treks, try the Sunset Trail, which stretches about 10 miles one way and 15 to 17 miles for its whole loop.
Camp at Gulpha Gorge
Tent campers and those in trailers or RVs visiting the Hot Springs National Park can camp at the Gulpha Gorge Campground.
Accessible via Gorge Road, the campsites have a water supply, a pedestal grill, and a picnic table.
The size of each campsite varies, and the maximum total vehicle length allowed is 60 feet.
Gulpha Gorge Campground provides full hook-ups for water, electricity, and waste.
It also features an amphitheater with a group fire ring.
Campfires are only allowed on designated fire rings on the campground.
Soak Up Majestic Views at Hot Springs Mountain Tower
Operated as a park concession, the Hot Springs Mountain Tower stands 1,156 feet tall overlooking 140 square miles of its surrounding countryside.
The tower opened in 1983 and features an open-air observation deck where you can see the entire Hot Springs National Park and part of the Ouachita Mountains.
Hot Springs Mountain Tower also has a lower, enclosed observation deck and an air-conditioned area where you’ll find displays about the park and the local history.
Collectible items are also available at the tower's gift shop on the ground level.
Park visitors can access the tower through a scenic drive on Hot Springs Mountain Drive or a 1.5-mile trail accessible from Fountain Street.
Discover a Secret Cave
Fearless Hot Springs visitors will love a hike to Secret Cave, a local destination unlisted in tourism websites or brochures.
This cave can be accessed from Hot Springs’ Desoto Park, located on Stonebridge Road.
The trail to the Secret Cave is largely undeveloped and steep, so be prepared for an arduous trek.
It’s advisable to wear hiking shoes with good traction and to bring bottled water on your hike.
The trek to the Secret Cave extends about seven miles with an elevation gain of 1,070 feet, which could take more than three hours going out and back.
The Desoto Park provides facilities for visitors and hikers, including parking, a pavilion, restrooms, water, and picnic tables.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Explore the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum
This attraction in Downtown Hot Springs is the one and only wax museum in Arkansas.
The Central Avenue location of Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum is directly across the vintage Arlington Hotel, just steps away from the Hot Springs National Park.
The museum opened in 1967 and was moved to the historic building of Southern Club in 1971.
The museum includes over 100 life-size wax figures of American celebrities and fictional characters.
Over 30 scenes and gambling paraphernalia are likewise displayed in Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum.
You can also enjoy a seated 4-D VR ride and buy souvenir items at the museum’s gift shop.
The museum’s building, constructed in 1893 and listed on the National Register of Public Places, is an attraction by itself.
Its architecture features a Romanesque Revival style, with much of the building’s original décor, lighting, and wallpaper still intact.
Pick a Course at Hot Springs Country Club
Established in 1898, the semi-private Hot Springs Country Club offers two 18-hole courses for visiting golfers.
The Arlington course offers a par-74 play on Bentgrass greens and measures over 6,713 yards from the longest tees.
Its sister layout, the Park course, offers a challenging par-72 round over 6,852 yards.
Located off Country Club Drive, both courses flaunt lush fairways, complex water challenges, and breathtaking views of surrounding mountains and lakes.
Other Hot Springs Country Club facilities include a driving range, tennis courts, and a clubhouse with a dining venue.
Have a Massage at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa
Established in 1875, this hotel on Central Avenue is Arkansas’ largest, boasting over 500 rooms and suites.
The historic Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa takes pride in its award-winning Hot Springs Spa and Salon.
Besides traditional spa services, it also offers a variety of body and skin treatments ranging from full body wraps to facials.
In addition, Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa boasts a thermal bathhouse where you can soak in the famed thermal waters from the Hot Springs National Park.
Other hotel facilities include an elegant dining venue, a popular bar, and a grand lobby.
Visit the Mid-America Science Museum
This museum was established in 1979 on 21 acres of woodlands on Mid-America Boulevard.
The Mid-America Science Museum stimulates public interest in science through its permanent and traveling hands-on exhibits.
It features over 100 interactive displays, which serve as valuable resources for STEM education.
These exhibits include several kinetic sculptures by Rowland Emmett, which have been in the museum since its opening.
The Tesla coil that can generate 1.5 million volts of electricity is another popular piece in Mid-America Science Museum.
Visit the Gangster Museum of America
This museum is located on Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs.
The historical exhibits in the Gangster Museum of America provide an entertaining insight into some of America’s notorious outlaws.
The museum features perpetrators and items about illegal gambling, bootlegging, and other outlawed activities from the 1920s to the 1940s.
Guided video tours are available in the seven galleries of Gangster Museum of America.
You can also play in the antique casino in the museum’s gambling gallery.
Moreover, you can explore the escape tunnel that the gangsters used to evade raiding police authorities.
Play Disc Golf at Cedar Glades Park
The hilly woodlands of Cedar Glades Park on Wildcat Road are the perfect setting for a disc golf course.
Regulation play on this 18-hole layout is par 59 over 5,084 to 6,076 feet, with lots of elevation amid gorgeous surroundings.
There are more things to do in the 432 acres of Cedar Glades Park, which is just a few minutes away from Downtown Hot Springs.
Owned and managed by Garland County, the park boasts popular biking and hiking trails extending over 15 miles.
This park also features two pavilions, a playground, and restrooms.
It also has a three-story tree house, an outdoor amphitheater, a 35-foot climbing wall, an R/C airfield, and a car track.
Hot Springs National Park has become a popular destination for its many natural wonders.
Besides outdoor and natural attractions, though, the park and its nearby areas offer other interesting destinations worth checking out.
Experience a delightful combination of rustic activities and creature comforts at one of the country's famous parks.
With our guide on the best things to do in Hot Springs Natural Park in Arkansas, you'll discover plenty of other fun things to do on your vacation.