When I think about national parks, I always envision a place located somewhere in the mountains. I never imagined finding a national park in the middle of a bustling city. If you’re looking for a place near the city where history and nature meets, look no further than Hot Springs National Park.
Hot Springs National Park has been capturing the hearts of various individuals since time immemorial. From its beauty and history to its seemingly healing waters, people from all walks of life have been coming to the park to enjoy everything that it has to offer. Read the entirety of this article to know more about, “The American Spa”.
Why you should visit the park
Even before the concept of national parks existed and a good 84 years before the National Park Service was even created, the land where Hot Springs National Park now stands has been reserved and protected for future recreation by the federal government. If you’re planning on visiting all of the national parks all over the country, why not begin your journey with the oldest one?
Unlike most national parks that are stationed away from civilization, this park thrives hand in hand with the city that has been established around it. The city of Hot Springs is a spa town that caters to the needs of the visitors of its neighboring national park. A few of the famous personalities that have been enamored by the park’s beauty include John F. Kennedy, Helen Keller, and Al Capone, the famous mobster.
History, culture, and nature are the major attractions that Hot Springs National Park has to offer. It has everything that a typical national park has, like amazing sights, hiking trails, wildlife sightings, and a space to camp for the night. Aside from these, you can also enjoy culture and history a few steps away in the city built around the park.
Hot Springs National Park has a unique charm that has been captivating the hearts of the public long before it was established as a national park. It has a great blend of both city and mountainscapes coupled with a rich culture and history that will surely leave you wanting more.
Things to do in Hot Springs National Park
Despite Hot Spring National Park’s small size in comparison with other national parks, every nook and cranny of this place is filled with amazing activities and attractions to check out. Take a written tour with me from the mountains that are filled with springs to the city that is rich in culture and history.
If it still isn’t clear by now, the main attractions of Hot Springs National Park are the 47 natural hot springs that are located all over the park. These springs have been enjoyed by indigenous peoples for thousands of years before European Americans even knew of their existence. The spring waters are believed to have healing properties and have been used to treat ailments such as rheumatism for hundreds of years. There is no actual scientific proof that the water actually has healing properties but soaking in a pool of warm and fresh mountain water is an amazing experience that you should not miss.
Other ways to enjoy the park’s breathtaking mountain scenery is by going on a hike, going birding, and wildlife viewing. Take a hike along the Sunset Trail, the longest and most popular hike in Hot Springs National Park. This trail crosses all types of terrain and visits the most remote areas of the park, making it a good activity for those who want to explore the park in its entirety. If walking is not your thing, you can also explore the park by biking or going on a scenic drive.
After a nature experience, it’s time to explore Hot Springs National Park’s architecture, history, and culture. Begin your trip at Bathhouse Row. Once lined with massive structures made for bathing and relaxation, Bathhouse Row now houses eight preserved and maintained bathhouses that are home to various establishments such as a visitor center, a museum, and even a brewery. If you want to experience a traditional bathhouse experience, head over to the Buckstaff Bathhouse and enjoy the various services that they offer.
If you’re looking for a more educational exploration, you can opt to go on a guided tour. There are a total of three tours available for visitors: The Fordyce Tours, Outdoor Tours, and a self-guided Cell Phone Tour.
Where to stay in Hot Springs National Park
Choosing where you would stay for the night during your visit to Hot Springs National Park is quite easy. There is only one available campground in the park and if camping is not your thing, there are hotels in the downtown area of the city of Hot Springs that are only a few steps away.
Fees and Passes
Entrance fees are non-existent in Hot Springs National Park. The same goes if you’re visiting the Fordyce Museum and if you’re going on a guided tour.
Hot Springs National Park generally experiences mild weather throughout the year. This means that you can visit during any season with minimal preparations for the weather.
The average temperature in the park ranges from about 90°F (32°C) to less than 27°F (-2.7°C). Expect rain during spring and fall. Summer days can be hot and humid. Winters can be windy, which can make the temperatures feel much colder than they actually are. Keep these in mind and dress appropriately for your visits.
Permits and reservations
Hot Springs National Park allows its guests to have special events and celebrations on park property as long as they secure the proper permits and reservations. If you’re planning on celebrating a special day in the park, here is the list of permits that they provide:
- Special Park Use Permits
This kind of permit is issued to those who plan on holding activities such as weddings, sporting events, public assemblies, religious ceremonies, and commercial filming and photography.
- Research Permits
Research and collection activities within Hot Springs National Park are managed to prevent damage to the resources, to coordinate research activities, and to assist in the application of science to the management of the park.
- Commercial Use Authorization
Commercial activities within the park are limited but some are permitted.
Hot Springs National Park ensures that children, youth, and adults of all abilities are fully included in the park’s recreation programs and facilities.
For the Mobility Impaired
- Most park buildings and bathrooms have functional ramps. Gulpha Gorge Campground is also wheelchair accessible.
- The park has two wheelchairs available to loan free of charge for use in the Fordyce Bathhouse.
For the Visually Impaired
- There is a touchable model of Bathhouse Row near the theater of the Fordyce Visitor Center and Museum.
- Self-guided tour books in Braille are available for visitors to borrow at the Fordyce Visitor Center.
- Audio descriptions are available for the park’s film.
For the Hearing Impaired
- Closed captioning is available for both of the park’s films as well as the short film, “Taking the Baths”.
- ASL interpreters are available for guided tours. A request for a translator must be submitted two weeks in advance.
Pets in Hot Springs National Park
Pets are very much welcome in Hot Springs National Park. If you want to go on a hike with your furry companion, this is the place to be because all 26 miles of the hiking trails in the park can be accessed by dogs.
To keep the national park pet friendly, remember and follow the B.A.R.K. Ranger principles:
- Bag your pets waste
- Always keep your pet on a leash
- Respect wildlife
- Know where you can go
As long as you follow these guidelines, I’m sure that both you and your pet will have an amazing time at Hot Springs National Park.
How to get there
You can travel to Hot Springs National Park via private car, air travel, commercial bus, or passenger train. Visit this page for more information.
If you’re planning a camping trip or a visit to a national park for the first time, I suggest that you travel to Hot Springs National Park. Its location makes it perfect for beginners because you won’t be far away from a city but you will still be able to enjoy the mountain scenery. Plus, hot springs are a rare sight that you won’t find in any other national park.
Hot Springs National Park is definitely a worthy destination. From all of the activities that you can do to the amazing culture and history that you can enjoy, you won’t regret spending a day or two here. Besides, where else will you find a national park in the middle of a city?