Top 11 Things to do at Hot Springs National Park
Lining Central Avenue, eight bathhouses each offer a different architectural style. Some have been adapted into new businesses while others are in the restoration process.
The Bathhouses are central to the Hot Springs National Park. Though visitors can hike and camp through the 5,550 acres of the park that rings the historic part of Hot Springs.
Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center
As the visitor center, the Fordyce Bathhouse is a great first stop at Hot Springs National Park. It is the most elaborate and best preserved of the bathhouses, completed in 1915.
It offers maps to the area along with NPS Junior Ranger booklets. Visitors can inquire if Ranger-led tours are available.
The museum at the Fordyce Bathhouse offers new exhibits along with its restored displays. Visitors can see how patients used thermal mineral waters over 100 years ago. Back in those days, mineral baths were used medicinally, and not for relaxation.
The facilities were divided for women and men with the men’s facilities more elaborate than the women’s. The men’s gathering area featured a Tiffany-style skylight. The entire facility features marble surfaces and mosaic tile floors.
Spread over several floors, the facilities at the Fordyce Bathhouse included staterooms to be used before or after the bathhouse’s services. The upper floor offers an elegant space that is reminiscent of a grand hotel and features a grand piano.
Additionally, athletes could use the gymnasium. Before 1947, baseball players from the major leagues visited Hot Springs for Spring Training.
Paralyzed patients, like polio sufferers and veterans, used therapeutic mineral baths. The Fordyce Bathhouse offered a special tub for their treatments complete with a ceiling rail that helped move patients around.
Of the eight remaining bathhouses, two offer the opportunity for a mineral bath—the Quapaw Bathhouse (1922) and the Buckstaff Bathhouse (1912). The Hale Bathhouse (1892) is a boutique hotel and the Superior Bathhouse (1916) is a brewery. All are open.
The Ozark Bathhouse (1922) is a cultural center and open for exhibitions only. It features a Spanish Colonial Style.
The Maurice Bathhouse (1912) is almost as ornate as the Fordyce Bathhouse. It is vacant and will be available for lease soon. The basement offered a pool, the only one in the Bathhouses.
The Lamar Bathhouse (1923) features Spanish motifs and is open daily. Visitors can explore the first floor store, the Bathhouse Row Emporium which sells bath products along with souvenirs and books.
Built in 1911, the Buckstaff Bathhouse remains the only bathhouse to remain operating as a bathhouse since its opening. The Roman Gothic building offers many of its original details and bathing equipment, like jetted tubs.
The services are separated from the men’s area on the first floor with the women’s locker rooms and treatment space on the second. With an emphasis on the original bathhouse experience, bathers will soak in the original tubs and use the original steam boxes. The services offered operate in a therapeutic circuit.
Located at 509 Central Ave. Reservations are not accepted and it is first-come, first-serve. The traditional bathing package is $89 and includes a 20-minute massage. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
My Experience at the Buckstaff Bathhouse
During my latest visit to Hot Springs, I experienced the mineral baths. As a spa treatment devotee, I was interested to experience the Buckstaff Bathhouse.
After checking in at the front desk and waiting in the queue, I rode the antique elevator to the second floor and waited for my bath attendant. She guides several bathers through the circuit at the same time.
My locker was a high-school-style locker with a key on a chain that I wore. Each dressing area featured a curtain. Bathing suits are allowed and might be preferred since bathers will be moving around an open area.
My bath attendant wrapped me in a white towel and I walked over to my individual tub area. Behind a curtain, my original tub experience awaited. With warm water up to my neck, the attendant ensured I was comfortable then turned on a vintage machine that circulated the water.
After soaking for about 15 minutes, the bathing attendant wrapped me in my sheet and I moved to a Spitz Tub, a short tub filled with warm mineral water covering my lower back and abdomen.
After the Spitz Tub, I moved to the Steam Box, an original stainless steel box filled with steam with a hole at the top for my head. I sat in this for about 10 minutes and it is similar to a stream room in a modern spa.
Afterward, I sat on a nearby table and my bath attendant laid several hot towels across my body as I waited for a masseuse. The massage was brief but thorough and covered both my back, legs, arms and upper body.
Note: Children are allowed and receive the same treatments as adults. Not all bathers wear swimsuits so sensitive children might feel uncomfortable.
Hotel Hale in The Hale Bathhouse
Hot Springs National Park features a boutique hotel in one of its original bathhouses along Bathhouse Row. The Hale Bathhouse was built in 1892 and has been completely renovated.
Each of its rooms is individually designed and decorated. Each of the bathrooms offers the legendary mineral water piped into the tub.
Eden at Hotel Hale is located under a large skylight and features a living wall. It offers a weekend brunch along with an upscale dinner menu.
Located at 341 Central Avenue. Reservations are recommended for Eden.
Scenic Drives in Hot Springs
One of the best ways to see Hot Springs is along its scenic drives. The Hot Springs Mountain Scenic Drive is an original carriage road.
The Hot Springs Mountain Lookout Point features a 1911 pagoda. Drivers can continue along this route to reach the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, a 216-foot-tall metal tower. Goat Rock Overlook is at the top of North Mountain and overlooks the surrounding area.
West Mountain Scenic Drive offers several overlooks like West Mountain Lower Overlook, West Mountain Lower Overlook, and West Mountain Loop Overlook.
Hiking in Hot Springs
With 26 miles of trails, the hiking at Hot Springs National Park can be found in two different areas, the North Mountain Trails and West Mountain Trails.
To reach the North Mountain area, head up the Stephen’s Balustrade, or the Grand Staircase, next to the Fordyce Bath House. The Grand Promenade is an original feature and a pleasant paved walk overlooking Central Ave. This area offers several other trails of differing lengths.
West Mountain Area offers more solitude and chances to see wildlife. Visitors can use Whittington Park to access the trails in this area.
Sunset Trail is a 15 to 17-mile loop that can be hiked in sections and travels through the majority of the park.
Biking in Hot Springs National Park
Cyclists can use the paved roads in the park. Biking (along with skateboards and scooters) is not allowed on the sidewalk in front of Bathhouse Row.
The Pullman Trail is a multi-use trail and is open to e-bikes.
What to do with Kids and Pets in the Park
The Junior Ranger program guides families through the park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the patches the Park Rangers present after completing their booklets. Head to a visitor center for more information and a booklet.
Hot Springs National Park welcomes pets as long as they practice the principles of the BARK program.
B–Bag waste and dispose of it in the trash
A–Always leash your dog for their safety and others
K–Know where you can go
Birding in Hot Springs National Park
In might be in the center of town, though birding is popular in Hot Springs National Park. Along the Grand Promenade, visitors can enjoy the outdoors along with the birds that frequent the trees that line the walk.
Popular bird species include swallows, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, owls, plovers and geese. During the spring and fall migration, more birds can be spotted in the Hot Springs National Park.
Popular Photography Spots in Hot Springs National Park
Photographers can snap an excellent image while in the park. Popular spots are located throughout the park.
- Bathhouse Row
- Balanced Rock
- Goat Rock
- Scenic Overlooks
- Grand Promenade
- Hot Springs Mountain Tower
Fall Color in Hot Springs
With its selection of deciduous trees, autumn is an excellent time to visit Hot Springs National Park. Trees include several types of oaks along with birch, elm and popular. There are even a free Silver Maple in the area and all change colors for a brilliant fall display.
For the best fall color, head to Arkansas in late October and into November.
History of Hot Springs National Park
Evidence of the paleo-indians has been recorded in the Ouachita Mountains 12,000 to 10,000 years ago. They used this area to quarry novaculite for weapons.
In 1803, this area was acquired by the Louisiana Purchase and President Jefferson dispatched many expeditions to chart the new territory. The Hunter-Dunbar team explores the area.
Soon after in the 1820s, the Arkansas Territory decides it needs help protecting the hot springs bubbling to the surface. In 1832 the hot springs became a reservation and were protected by President Andrew Jackson. Notably, this area was preserved before Yellowstone National Park.
Established in 1849, the Department of the Interior managed Hot Springs Reservation. In 1877, the superintendent regulated the area and the first official bathhouses were built.
At first, people dug holes to collect the water into pools and makeshift camps popped up in the area. In 1877, the Free Government Bathhouse opened, then the Army and Navy General Hospital opened ten years later.
The Hale Bathhouse dawned a new era when it opened in 1892. Built out of masonry, it outshined the wooden Victorian bathhouses.
In 1901, the springs are enclosed to protect them and the water was collected and funneled through a distribution system. Ten years later, the Department of the Interior required the masonry structures to improve sanitation.
The masonry bathhouses added a bit of glamour to the area starting in 1912. The Buckstaff Bathhouse and the Maurice Bathhouse opened that year.
In 1921, the reservation became a national park.
Where to Eat in Hot Springs National Park
Picnickers will find tables along West Mountain Summit Drive, near Short Cut Trail and the Gulpha Gorge Picnic Area.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery
At one end of Bathhouse Row, Superior Bathhouse is now a woman-owned restaurant and brewery. Built in 1916, Superior Bathhouse was the smallest and least expensive of the bathhouses at the time.
After sitting vacant for 30 years, Rose Schweikhart pulled together a business plan to open a brewery. The space opened in 2013 as the only brewery in a national park.
Its beer uses the mineral water, piped into the building from underground. Its extensive menu offers seasonal flavors and the only place to get the beer is in its location.
Additionally, Superior Bathhouse Brewery offers a menu with salads, sandwiches and burgers. Its appetizers make a great accompaniment to a flight of beer, especially the Bavarian Pretzels.
Kids can sip its house-made root beer. There’s a patio next to the building, perfect for traveling pups and there is a special menu as well.
Located at 329 Central Ave. Open Wednesday to Monday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Closed Tuesday.
Hot Springs Mountain Tower
With vistas overlooking the area, visitors can take an elevator to an open or enclosed observation area. At the top of the 216-foot tower, guests can see the Ouachita Mountains and the Diamond Lakes area. It is one of the top things to do in Hot Springs National Park.
Located at 401 Hot Springs Mountain Rd. Adult admission is $13, kids (5-11) are $9 and those 4 and under are free. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer season with shorter seasonal hours during the rest of the year.
Camping at Hot Springs National Park
Gulpha Gorge Campground
- Reservations required
- 40 sites with 30/50 amp service
- Potable water and flush toilets
- No Showers
- Dump Station
- No pull-through sites though some sites can accommodate RVs over 50 feet
The nightly camping fee is $34.
How to Visit Hot Springs National Park
The Visitor Center is located at 369 Central Avenue in the restored Fordyce Bathhouse and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park is open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. It is free to enter.