Hike Hot Springs National Park

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It’s been over a month since we’ve been off the Appalachian Trail (read about our thru-hike here).  We have the itch to travel again.  This time we’re taking a road trip to explore Arkansas, Kentucky, and Ohio.  Along the way, we’ll visit some parks we’ve not been to before.  Our first stop will be to hike Hot Springs National Park. Road trips are best when you take the country way.  We take a north-east route through small-town Texas, eventually passing through Texarkana into Arkansas: the natural state.  A few hours later, after taking in small-town Arkansas, we arrive in Hot Springs.  Our first stop is the Ouachita Outdoor Outfitters– a gear shop with a friendly staff and everything a hiker needs. If you haven’t been to Hot Springs before, be prepared for the zoo.  Like most national parks, it’s busy.  This park is different from most others though in that it is more of a historic site than a wilderness destination.  The visitor center is the Fordyce Bathhouse, which is right in the heart of chaos.

Fordyce Bathhouse

Hot Springs National Park visitor center is on Central Avenue in the heart of tourist hell.  If you like shops and restaurants, this is the place for you.  There is a free parking garage across the street from the center.  You can also park along the street if you can score a spot.
Despite the chaos, the Fordyce Bathhouse is worth checking out.  The architecture on bathhouse row is admirable and unique, especially at the Fordyce.  It is the crown jewel of them all.  Inside you can take a complimentary, self-guided tour, which brings to life the golden age of the health spa.
The male and female bath halls contain beautiful stained-glass windows and patterned tile.  The museum showcases some oddities to the modern eye, such as an array of electrical massage equipment for electrotherapy.  We enjoyed seeing early versions of commercial fitness equipment and a Gymnasium complete with wooden dumbbells.

Hike the Hill

The hiking trails in Hot Springs National Park are metro trails.  In other words, you are in a green space within the city.  You can hear city sounds, and the hiking path continually crosses the scenic byway.  This is not a park for hiking but is more for those who enjoy experiencing a historic area for an afternoon.
Although Hot Springs is not a hiking destination, the trails here are pleasant.  They are well maintained and wide.  We are experienced hikers and, to us, these trails were simply a nice walk.  They are not strenuous unless you aren’t used to hiking.  There is a scenic viewpoint as well as an observation tower with a gift shop at the top of the mountain.  You can travel up the tower for a fee.

Hot Springs Mountain

Hot Springs National Park offers overnight sites at the Gulpha Gorge Campground.  They were full the night we were there, so we went to the nearby, less expensive KOA.  The KOA includes showers and has wifi. Once at the KOA, we began setting up our Tarptent, which requires the use of my trek poles as the tent poles.  I hadn’t opened my trek poles since finishing our Appalachian Trail thru-hike, over a month ago.  The poles were completely seized up and wouldn’t budge.  So here we are after a long day of driving, unable to pitch our tent.  Luckily, we found Michael’s close by where we purchased some wooden dowels and bacon-themed duct tape.  We fashioned some tent poles out of these and viola. The next morning, we parked our car at the trailhead in the Gulpha Gorge Campground.  From there we hiked up the Gulpha Gorge Trail, turned left onto the Hot Springs Mountain Trail, and took the Peak Trail up to the viewpoint and observation tower.  The path is a pleasant walk in the woods.  After checking out the view, we followed the Peak Trail down the mountain to Bathhouse Row.

Have a Bath

Of course, when in Rome…you need to have a bath.  We decided to take a private soak at the Quapaw Baths & Spa.  The price is $45 for 20 minutes.  It was relaxing, and we were spoiled by our attendant.  There are several options along bathhouse row, and they all offer the works.  It just all depends on how much you want to spend.
After our relaxing bath, we hiked back over the mountain to our car.  This time, we traveled the beautiful promenade northward to the Floral Trail.  This trail intersects the Hot Springs Mountain Trail leading back down the Gulpha Gorge to our car.  The hiking trails here are short and lovely, especially if you like wooded hikes. Hot Springs National Park is a haven for those who enjoy tourist shops and restaurants.  The historic Bathhouse Row showcases unique architecture and is worth visiting.  Also, there are several thermal water jug fountains if you want to take some water with you.  Don’t forget to tour the complimentary Fordyce Bathhouse. If you have any questions or suggestions, please reach out to us in the comments.  We would love to hear from you.  To explore other parks, visit our Road Trips page here.  

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