Hot Springs National Park
Guide

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Introduction

Nestled right next to the quaint town of Hot Springs just southwest of Little Rock, is one of Arkansas’ best-kept secrets for the perfect getaway: Hot Springs National Park. Rooted in rich history, the therapeutic natural baths of Hot Springs National Park was a place of legend for local Native American tribes. The spring water around Hot Springs was rumored to hold magical medicinal properties for pioneers. With the freedom to travel your way in an RV, you can experience the power of these ancient healing waters for yourself.
Setting up with your rig near these mystical springs means you can pamper yourself with a spa day and explore the natural beauty of the Ouachita Mountains on the same trip. You might want to start your journey at Fordyce Bathhouse, an early 20th-century bath hall complete with a marble lobby and stained glass transoms, which now serves as the park’s Visitor Center. If you want to immerse yourself in the full bathhouse experience, you can stop at the Buckstaff Bathhouse, which has been comforting visitors in luxurious tranquility since 1912. You can also soak in serene pools or pamper yourself with a modern-day spa experience at the Quapaw Baths and Spa.
Once you’ve indulged in your spa day, you can park your camper and get out into the magnificent Arkansas countryside by hiking Hot Springs National Park’s 26 miles of scenic nature trails. The Hot Springs Mountain Trail will take you through lush, tranquil forests of sycamore, red maples, and southern red oak. You can take your leashed-dog through a serene hike on Sunset Trail, which is the longest trail in the park. For a quiet stroll, you can venture out on the paved Grand Promenade, which offers picturesque views of historic downtown Hot Springs and the Arlington Lawn. Hot Springs National Park is a prime destination for RVers all year round, thanks to its sunny summers and mild winters.

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RV Rentals in Hot Springs National Park

Transportation in Hot Springs National Park

Driving

Hot Springs National Park is conveniently located next to the downtown of Hot Springs, Arkansas, so it is easy to get to from both local highways and interstates, and either by RV or private vehicle. You can take a beautiful scenic drive through the park. There are several one-way paved roads to various trails, and although you can drive a larger RV, it is recommended to take a car instead. Use extra caution driving a large RV on some of the streets in the park, especially Hot Springs Mountain Drive and North Mountain Drive, which take you to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. These roads are windy, steep, and narrow. Vehicles over 30 feet are not permitted on Hot Springs Mountain.

Parking

Since Hot Springs National Park is located in an urban area, there is no park-owned parking. You can park in off-street parking downtown or several privately-owned parking lots nearby. Your best bet for RV parking is in the parking garage just one block west of Bathhouse Row, which features with first-come, first-served RV and bus parking. There is also parking available at the Hot Springs Mountain Tower for cars.

Public Transport

If you are looking to get to the park via public transportation from your RV, you have several options. One is Amtrak’s Texas Eagle route where you can take a shuttle to Hot Springs from Little Rock or Malvern. You can also travel to the area by Greyhound Bus. Once you’re in town, you can get around with the local bus service, Intracity Transit. Cycling is popular in the downtown area as well. Once you’re in the park, you can easily explore the area by good old-fashioned walking or hiking.

Campgrounds and parking in Hot Springs National Park

Campsites in Hot Springs National Park

Reservations camping

Little Rock North / Jct. I-40 KOA

Unwind in beautiful natural surroundings at the Little Rock-North/Jct.I-40 KOA. Take a dip in the pool and then enjoy a treat at the Double Trouble Ice Cream Parlor. There’s a fitness center on-site, along with a Swedish sauna, and even RV repair services are available. Amenities include laundry and restroom facilities, Wi-Fi, cable TV, and the campground features large pull-through sites for rigs up to 95 feet.

The Wild River Country water park is just minutes away, and this area is well-known for its local golf courses.

Rent a boat or go fishing on the nearby Arkansas River. Just a few minutes from the big-city offerings of historic Little Rock, Arkansas, including shopping, antiquing, and some of the best grub in the South, the Little Rock-North/Jct.I-40 KOA is comfortable and convenient.

Hot Springs National Park KOA

At the Hot Springs National Park KOA, be shuttled downtown by your hosts to visit the latest or oldest local attractions to give those tired muscles relief in the thermal waters on Bathhouse Row.
Tour the magnificent sites and scenery of Hot Springs National Park, just minutes away from this peaceful KOA. Sites can accommodate rigs of up to 70 feet and offer up to 50-amp electrical service.
On-site, you’ll find a snack bar and mini-golf, and propane and firewood are available for purchase. Water lovers take note of the seasonal swimming pool. Anglers, you won't want to miss the local fishing spots.
Between the Wi-Fi, cable TV, Kamping Kitchen, and pavilion, you’ll feel right at home at the Hot Springs National Park KOA.

First-come first-served

Gulpha Gorge Campground

Gulpha Gorge Campground is the only campground at Hot Springs National Park. The pet-friendly campground features tent and RV sites. The RV sites are back-in spaces with full hookups, and each site has a grill and a picnic table. The campground has a dump station and restrooms with flushing toilets. There are no showers in this campground. Although all of the sites have electricity, if you must use a generator, you are permitted to run it on a limited basis between the hours of 9 AM and 8 PM.

Alternate camping

Private Campgrounds

There are numerous private campgrounds and RV parks in the Hot Springs area from five minutes to thirty minutes away. Many feature modern amenities including wireless internet, pools, and full hookups. Private campgrounds offer the convenience of privacy and high-class amenities while being a stone’s throw away from the natural beauty of Hot Springs National Park.

Seasonal activities in Hot Springs National Park

Spring

Buckstaff Bathhouse

The Buckstaff Bathhouse is one of the remaining operational bathhouses on Bathhouse Row. The Bathhouse still offers the traditional bathing routine where bathers have the opportunity to inhale healing vapors, soak in the mineral waters, and scrub their bodies with natural luffa brushes. The bathhouse uses the thermal mineral water that flows from the ancient springs, providing all soakers with a healing and calming bath experience. The Buckstaff Bathhouse is a popular destination for tourists and locals. The facility operates like a traditional spa, so it's best to make your soaking reservations well in advance of your trip to Hot Springs National Park. Weary RVers, don't miss your opportunity to heal your travel-sore bodies, contact the Buckstaff Bathhouse, and secure your soak today.

Picnic at Gulpha Gorge

If you want to experience a relaxing afternoon during your RV trip to Hot Springs, take a stroll on the Gulpha Gorge Trail and enjoy a quiet picnic near the campground. This short and shady trail is a perfect spot for taking in views of lush forest and beautiful wildflowers. You can unwind with a bite to eat in the tranquility of nature at picnic tables nearby, or if you don't have a lunch with you, stop by one of the local eateries across the street from Bathhouse Row, and order takeout to bring with you on your picnic near the Gulpha Gorge Trail.

The Stonebridge Area

The Stonebridge Area is one of the most beautiful spots in the entire park, showcasing a historic stone bridge over Lillian Lake. The land features portions of the old Fordyce-Ricks estate and a thickly-forested landscape. The Stonebridge Area, once owned by Samuel W. Fordyce, remained in the family until John Fordyce, Samuel's son, sold a portion of the land to the park service, and then eventually sold the remaining property to private owners. Today, the house and 17 acres of land sit on the hillside, overlooking the stone bridge and Lillian Lake. Visitors to this location have to opportunity to learn more about the history of the Fordyce family while spending time in one of the park's more scenic areas.

Hike Sunset Trail

Sunset Trail is a popular destination for avid hikers since it’s the longest and one of the most beautiful routes in the park. Once you park the RV and head out on this 10-mile trek, you’ll traverse through blooming spring wildflowers, gorgeous views of Lake Hamilton, a charming waterfall, and hardwood forest. You’ll want to bring your camera for some breathtaking views of the city and surrounding hillsides. Use caution on some of the steeper parts of the path to avoid becoming injured.

Become a Junior Ranger

If you are traveling with kids, a must-do activity is to help your little ones become a Junior Ranger. When you get to Hot Springs National Park, stop by the Visitor Center and ask for a free Junior Ranger booklet. The booklet contains activities and tasks for kids to complete during their stay. Once several tasks are completed, bring the booklet back to the Visitor Center and present the book to a ranger. After a quick conversation, kids who've successfully completed the tasks can be sworn in as a Junior Ranger, and they'll leave with their own Junior Ranger badge.

Summer

The Lamar Bathhouse

You can beat the summer heat with a visit to the historic Lamar Bathhouse. During the late 1800s, Lamar Bathhouse was once a bathhouse and gymnasium. Today, the bathhouse is home to the park’s library, archives, and museum collection. It is here that park guests can chat with a ranger and get their Hot Springs National Park passport stamps. If you want to pick up some souvenirs, you won’t want to miss a stop at the park’s gift shop, the Bathhouse Row Emporium, which is also located in the Lamar Bathhouse. Don't forget, while you are at Lamar Bathhouse, purchase a glass growler. The water in Hot Springs is some of the most delicious water in the country, and there are several sites in Hot Springs to fill your souvenir jugs for free.

The City's Old-School Gangster Connection

Hot Springs, Arkansas used to be the home away from home for many notorious members of the organized crime community. The city's casinos attracted mobsters like Al Capone, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, and Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and other celebrities with ties to the mob, like baseball legend Babe Ruth, who also considered the city a favorite vacation location, even when spring training wasn't in season. Because Hot Springs National Park is located along one side of the city street, Central Avenue, the opposite side of the road is just as famous for tourists. While you are visiting the national park, walk across the street, and tour some of the shops and historical sites that have mobster memorabilia. For some visitors, the history of Hot Springs is almost as exciting as the springs themselves.

Natural Spring Water

The city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, is appropriately named because the city sits over a natural hot spring source that spouts some of the smoothest and purest from-the-source water in the country. The water in Hot Springs, Arkansas and Hot Springs National Park is safe to drink; in fact, in 1822, Congress protected these precious springs, with the intent that people would drink the water. Today, the water is available at several jug-filling stations on both the national park side of the street as well as within the city limits. While it might seem odd to bring multiple water jugs with you to the fill sites, it's not strange at all. Where do you think the Hot Springs residents fill their water containers? We recommend bringing several fillable jugs with you in your RV. The water is so tasty, you won't want to share your water with anyone else, so it's best to bring a jug for everyone. If you forget to bring a container with you, or you want to take a souvenir home with you, stop by the Visitor Center to purchase a souvenir glass water growlers.

Hot Springs Mountain Tower

If you are looking for the best spot in town for panoramic views, you’ll need to get to the top of the 216-foot observation deck at Hot Springs Mountain Tower. The tower is located at the summit of Hot Springs Mountain, and it stands at 1,256 feet above sea level. The observation tower has an open-air deck, and it is here where guests will find the best views of the Ouachita Mountains and the Diamond Lakes region. After you descend, head to the base of the tower to the air-conditioned lower observation deck to learn about the history of the area. Make sure you bring some money with you because this gift shop is the perfect place to buy your souvenirs.

Ranger-Led Tour

During the summer season, you can get out of the RV and take a ranger-guided tour of the park. You’ll begin at Fordyce Bathhouse and stroll down the historic Grand Promenade and Bathhouse Row. Along this great tour, you can learn from the experts all about the amazing story of the park’s magical hot springs as well as the exciting history of the area's early bathhouses. Because the National Park follows a city street, you might have the opportunity to learn more about the history of the entire area, and not just the side of the road operated by Hot Springs National Park.

Fall

Discover the Hot Springs

There are over 40 thermal springs dotted all over Hot Springs National Park. The springs emerge between gaps in the mountains when underground hot water mixes with cold groundwater to create the thermal spring. If you want to go on an adventure during your RV trip, explore this idyllic national park, and see how many mystical natural springs you can find.

Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center and Museum

An RV getaway to Hot Springs National Park wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center and Museum. Here, you can step back in time to the early 1900s when the building operated as a functional bathhouse. While visiting the museum, you will learn what it was like for guests who came to this bathhouse in search of the city's tranquil healing waters. After an orientation video, you can roam through the marble bath halls, massage rooms, music room, gymnasium, and bowling alley. Guided tours are also regularly available. While you are planning your visit, be sure to consult the museum's website for hours of operation and associated fees for tours and special events.

Hot Springs Mountain Trail

If you want to get out of your rig and escape into the natural beauty that surrounds Hot Springs, Arkansas, consider taking a hike along the 1.7-mile Hot Springs Mountain Trail. This trail is an excellent choice for hikers who are looking for a leisurely walk with plenty of scenic overlooks. This easy-rated trail traverses the top of a small mountain, but the incline and decent are minimal. The fall is a perfect time of year to venture out on this trek since you’ll hike along the shade-lined path of the colorful forest. If you want to take your pooch with you on this walk, make sure you keep your furry friend on a leash at all times.

Bird Watching

Autumn is an excellent time of year to catch a glimpse of the native birds that call Hot Springs National Park home. The changing leaves help to create a picturesque fall backdrop, perfect for bird photography. Patient birders who are searching for species like the northern mockingbird, Nashville warbler, or a great blue heron might have luck with a keen eye or a set of powerful binoculars. You won't want to head out on this adventure without your camera and a naturalist or bird-identification guide, so you can identify and record the birds you discover on your quest to find hard-to-spot species.

Whittington Park

If you want to walk along history’s tracks in a tranquil setting, Whittington Park is a prime location for a stroll. This gorgeous tree-lined greenway dates back to the late 1800s when it was once a place for Hot Springs' citizens to get outside and stretch their legs. Whittington Park used to have two lakes, a tennis court, picnic pavilions, and a physical fitness trail. As much as the city hoped to develop the area for more recreation, problems with infrastructure prohibited further growth. Today, the recreational features are gone, but the park continues to be a scenic oasis where people go to relax. RV road trippers who are looking for a place to get out of their rig and stretch their legs will find that Whittington Park is an excellent option off the main drag.

Winter

Quapaw Baths and Spa

A winter RV getaway to Hot Springs National Park is the perfect chance to pamper yourself at the Quapaw Baths and Spa. The spa was built in the 1920s on top of the city's natural thermal spring, and today, this full-service spa allows you to get a taste of the traditional bathhouse experience with all the modern amenities. You can soak in the area’s magical thermal waters with a private mineral or aromatherapy bath or sit in the serenity of the steam cave.

Carriage Road

Although Carriage Road is a very short trail, it’s a great pit stop for history buffs. You can check out interpretive displays that detail the heritage of this interesting spot.
This gravel path is where carriage parties trekked from the nearby Army-Navy Hospital to the top of Hot Springs Mountain at one time. You’ll be staring down the roads of history starting at the unique Army-Navy cast-iron gate.
When you visit the park during the winter months, dress in layers to ward off any chill. Dogs are permitted on Carriage Road but must remain leashed at all times. Be sure to carry cleanup bags with you, so you can clean up and properly dispose of your dog's waste.

Hike Peak Trail

If you want to take a quick hike on a warmer winter day, Peak Trail is an excellent route. Take this short trek up the mountain and discover the spring water collection boxes that are dotted along the trail. If you venture out of your camper to take this rewarding hike, you’ll end up at the top of the mountain where you can have a relaxing picnic or enjoy striking views of the city below. During the winter, the humid air might feel colder than it actually is, so bring a warm jacket, a hat, and gloves with you so that you can spend more time outside hiking.

Superior Bathhouse Brewery

If you've ever wondered if a national park has an onsite brewery, wonder no more. Superior Bathhouse Brewery is the first brewery at a US National Park. The brewery is more than your average run-of-the-mill pub because the beer contains the park's thermal spring water as its main ingredient, and the facility was once home to the Superior Bathhouse, a functioning spa on Bathhouse Row. Don't let the name fool you. The Superior Bathhouse Brewery has more than thermal water-brewed beer. The Superior Bathhouse Brewery is a full-service, family-friendly restaurant with some of the best table-front views on the street.

Take a Bus Tour

If you want to see all of Hot Springs National Park once you park your RV, you can hire a private company to take a bus tour through the beautiful park and the historic downtown. You’ll learn all about the heritage of the wondrous hot springs from an expert guide and get some great views of the lush forest and beautiful waterways through this idyllic setting. If you need help choosing the best tour for your interests, consult with park officials for recommended guides, prices, and schedules.

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