The Ultimate Guide for Hot Springs National Park Trails and More
Updated: Mar 1
Visiting Hot Springs, Arkansas and Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is the smallest national park in the U.S. after Gateway Arch (but does that count?). It’s not well-known, which means it’s not very busy, and best of all it has free admission!
However, this lesser-known park still has so much to offer. The hiking at Hot Springs National Park is incredible, Gulpha Gorge Campground is a great place to stay, and the bathhouse row in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas, is a must-visit attraction.
If you’re interested in camping at Hot Springs National Park and hiking the best trails they have to offer, then look no further! This is one of our favorite national parks. It’s a hidden gem, in our opinion. And the best part? It's a super dog-friendly national park!
Read Also: Dog-Friendly East Coast Road Trip
Take a look at the 5 BEST hiking trails in Hot Springs National Park! These are hands down our favorites.
TOP 5 Hikes in Hot Springs National Park
Gulpha Gorge Trail
Hot Springs Mountain Trail
TIP: Do not forget to pack lots of water if you’re planning on hitting these trails. While some are quite short, you do not want to get dehydrated, especially in the summer. If you’re hiking Sunset Trail, bring an extra bottle, as it’s quite a trek.
These trails connect to one another at different points, so for some of them, you’ll have to hike a portion of another trail to get to the next. You can park at the Hot Springs Mountain Tower for access to some of these trails and at Gulpha Gorge Campground for access to the Gulpha Gorge Trail (which leads into several others).
The Best Hikes in Hot Springs National Park
1. Goat Rock Trail
This is a 2.4-mile out-and-back trail. It’s rated as moderately difficult; after hiking this trail, we would say it’s not hard if your knees and back are in good shape. But, it can get a little steep and slippery if it’s been raining. This trail also has a wonderful view of the national park!
2. Sunset Trail
Sunset trail is a 13-mile loop that winds all around Hot Springs National Park. Because this is the smallest national park (after Gateway Arch, if you can count it), you can actually hike around the entire park. This will likely take you most of the day, but if you’re a pro, you could maybe squeeze in another hike.
3. Gulpha Gorge Trail
This 1.2-mile out-and-back trail starts right from Gulpha Gorge Campground, so if you’re camping in Hot Springs National Park, this one's for you! It’s got beautiful scenery, from the lush forest to streams, and even a small rock cave.
4. Oertel Trail
Oertel Trail is a 3.2-mile out-and-back that has a few more challenging parts. It gets fairly steep at some points. It’s nothing crazy, more of a hill. This was one of the quietest trails we hiked, which is great if you're just wanting to be out in nature and clear your mind. Isn’t hiking perfect for that!?
5. Hot Springs Mountain Trail
You can’t miss this 3.3-mile loop trail which takes you past the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, an observation tower with amazing views of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Hot Springs National Park Camping
If you plan on camping in Hot Springs National Park, check out Gulpha Gorge Campground! This is the only campground located in the national park, and thankfully it's a great one.
We spent two nights in Gulpha Gorge Campground and loved it. We didn’t need to drive anywhere to get to trails; you can access most of them right from the campsite which is extremely convenient.
Be prepared to cross a small river to get to the trail heads from the campgrounds. There is a rock path for crossing, but when we visited it, the water was very high due to rain earlier that day, so we had to take our shoes off to avoid getting soaked.
Read Also: Camping Essentials Checklist
If you have hiking boots, you’ll be totally fine! And if it hasn’t rained recently, the water shouldn't be that high. By the next morning, the water was low enough to cross without getting wet.
Make sure you book in advance since this is the only campground in the park. If you’re going in April through September, chances are it will be quite busy as this is a very popular time to go camping.
With Hot Springs being located in the southern US, you can comfortably camp and hike here nearly any time of year. If you want to avoid crowds, I suggest visiting in March or October for pretty scenery, good temps, and few people.
There are full bathrooms available for guests but no showers. All the sites are fully equipped with electricity, water, and sewage. Some sites have fire pits, while others only have grills.
You can also just park your car at this campsite if you're heading here for a day's adventure! There are extra parking areas for hikers to access.
Read Also: The Complete Guide to Camping in Fall
Downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas
There is a lot more to do in the Hot Springs area besides hiking. We visited the Hot Springs Mountain Tower and Bathhouse Row, and we highly recommend them to you! There are also restaurants, cute stores, boutiques, etc. in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas.
You can't swim in the hot springs in this national park, which can be a bummer. But this is due to the temperature of the water being far too hot for people to soak in. However, you can wander down to one of the natural hot springs in downtown, located at the end of Bathhouse Row.
Here you can admire the hot spring pools and even feel the water. Or fill up your water bottle at one of the cold spring water fountains in downtown Hot Springs!
If you plan on visiting Hot Springs National Park, but don't want to go camping, check out this super cute Airbnb! It's located just outside downtown Hot Springs and is a short drive to the national park. Plus it has a hot tub!
Hot Springs Mountain Tower
Hot Springs Mountain Tower costs $11 for general admission or $9 with an America the Beautiful Pass, which we highly recommend investing in if you plan on visiting multiple national parks and monuments.
We ended up going to the top and did not regret it. The views here are spectacular, and you can read and learn about a lot of Hot Springs' history as well, from the national park itself, to the bathhouses, and more!
Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs Arkansas
We stopped at the bathhouse row on our way out and had a really great time. There are two main bathhouses you can visit in dowtown Hot Springs, AR, Quapaw and Buckstaff Baths. Here you can enjoy the water pumped straight from the hot springs, which is slightly cooled so it's the perfect temperature.
We visited Quapaw Baths, as their public pools are first come, first served. There are four pools with different temperatures of water to soak in and relax. They also have private baths and massages available, which you need reservations for. If you plan on visiting the public pools, make sure you arrive early, as it can get busy!
When we visited, you could bring your own flip-flops or sandals, but they also have them available to rent if you don't have any. Be aware that you are not allowed to walk around the pools barefoot.
Overall, Hot Springs National Park is definitely worth visiting. We loved our time here and really enjoyed hiking these trails. Gulpha Gorge Campground was perfect for our stay, and it’s close to the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, in case you need to buy anything.
We found Hot Springs to be a hidden gem of the south and want to share it with you so you, too, can enjoy it! Will you be checking off these Hot Springs National Park trails? What about a dip in the pools above?!