Hot Springs National Park is located in the historic city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, making it an urban park that blends activities like hiking and guided tours with modern city amenities like restaurants and shops.
At only 5,550 acres, Hot Springs also claims the title of the smallest national park, but don’t let its micro size fool you. With 47 natural hot springs and 26 miles of hiking trails in the Zig Zag Mountains rising above town, Hot Springs National Park offers plenty of activities for visitors during all seasons of the year. Start your day with a hike on one of the park’s many, forested singletrack trails and wind down with a soak in one the therapeutic and soothing spas in Bathhouse Row.
Hiking in Hot Springs takes place in the park’s two main hiking zones: the West Mountain area and the Hot Springs/North Mountain area, which are both characterized by thick stands of oak, hickory, and pine trees. Both areas offer short, easy-to-moderate hikes that can be connected together to make longer trips and loops that start and end in the town of Hot Springs. Pets are allowed in the national park so expect to see hikers with their dogs on Hot Springs trails. You might also catch a glimpse of wildlife, including chipmunks, White-tailed deer, coyotes, and black bears.
For a longer hike, try the Sunset Trail. This 10-mile one-way hike leaves town from West Mountain Summit and circles around to West Mountain, Music Mountain, and Sugarloaf Mountain before revisiting the city of Hot Springs by way of North Mountain and the Gulpha Gorge Campground. Or you can complete the hike in reverse by starting at the Gulpha Gorge Campground. You can also make the Sunset Trail a complete loop by tacking on trails that connect the Gulpha Gorge Campground to West Mountain Summit. View one example of a hike that closes the loop on the Sunset Trail for a 14.4-mile hike with 804-foot elevation gain.
The Sunset Trail ventures into the most remote area of the park so be sure to pay attention to signs and look for the orange blazes to avoid taking one of the many social trails that split from the main path, straying onto private property. The park website asks that hikers respect private property and avoid trespassing at all times.
No multi-day backpacking options exist in Hot Springs National Park, so plan on day trips only. In fact, all trails close at 10 pm.
The 47 hot springs at the park bubble out of the ground at an average temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit — too hot for bathing. The only safe place to soak is one of the two geothermal spas in the park’s Bathhouse Row. Housing the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center, Bathhouse Row historically maintained eight functional bathhouses. Today, only two of the bathhouses operate as spas open to the public: the Buckstaff Bathhouse and the Quapaw Bathhouse.
Open year-round, the Gulpha Gorge Campground is the only campground in the park. The campground accommodates both tents and RVs, with all sites providing electric, water and sewer connections. The campground has flush toilets but no showers. Learn more about Gulpha Gorge Campground here.
Hot Springs National Park maintains its status as a year-round destination, however, some seasons offer better weather for specific activities. Summer temperatures often reach triple digits, making the cooler seasons of spring and fall best for hiking while sometimes freezing, mid-winter temperatures make soaking in the hot springs more inviting. Spring is the park’s rainiest season, bringing wildflowers and blooming trees while fall sets off a colorful display of changing leaves.
No permits are required to enjoy day-hiking on the trails. Also, there are no park entrance fees, no fees to enter the historical museum, and no fees to take the guided tours in Hot Springs National Park.
Hot Springs National Park welcomes dogs on its trails but owners must keep pets on leash at all times.