Where is Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is located in central Arkansas within the state’s Garland County. The national park is located adjacent to the actual city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, and some of the park’s buildings and museums lie within the city. The ‘hot springs’ that provide the park with its name flow from the Ouachita Mountain range and are preserved by the park in a number of bathhouses. These bathhouses, a series of hiking trails, and a campground makeup the main attractions of Hot Springs National Park. Because a large portion of downtown Hot Springs is operated by the National Park System, Hot Springs US National Park is known as one of the most accessible national parks in the United States. Looking at a map, visitors planning their trip to Hot Springs National Park will find that the park is located about an hour drive southwest from Little Rock, four hours and forty-five minutes northeast of Dallas, Texas. The park is also about five hours and thirty minutes southeast of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
How Large is Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is the smallest national park in the United States. The national park only covers a total area of about 5,550 acres. These acres are separated into two main sections: the woodland and downtown sections. The ‘woodland’ section of the park contains a number of hiking trails and a campground that has a number of campsites situated around a creek with various rapids. This woodland section of the park is largely made up of a mixed deciduous forest containing hardwood species such as oaks and hickories. The downtown section of the park includes bathhouse row and a number of historical bathhouses, museums, and other buildings owned by the national park service. These two sections of the park are linked via several hiking trails. The visitor center of Hot Springs National Park is located along bathhouse row in the middle of downtown Hot Springs.
Hot Springs National Park Weather
The climate of Hot Springs National Park has been defined as a humid subtropical climate by the Koppen Climate Classification system. Locations with these climates experience warm to hot summers and cool winters. The average summer temperature at Hot Springs National Park fluctuates between the 80’s and 90’s, whereas winter temperatures in the park meander between 40- and 50-degrees Fahrenheit. On average, the park experiences about 50 to 60 inches of precipitation per year. Most of this precipitation is the result of summer thunderstorms or rain spells that frequently appear throughout the season. Occasionally, Hot Springs National Park will receive mild snowfall. However, snowfall is normally never severe and hardly a yearly occurrence in the park.
When did Hot Springs Become a National Park
Hot Springs National Park first received its designation to be a national park in 1921. At this point, the park’s name was changed from the Hot Springs Reservation to Hot Springs National Park by an act of congress. The federal government also secured more land in the surrounding area including acres that contained Hot Springs Mountain, North Mountain, West Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Whittington Lake Park. Later the park would receive more land and reach its current size of 5,550 acres. Over the years, the park service has provided major renovations to the park’s bath houses and historic buildings while still maintaining their original history and architecture. Before the park was even a thought, the land around Hot Springs was occupied by several native American tribes including the Caddo, the Quapaw, the Choctaw, and the Cherokee.
Things to do in Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is different from most other national park sites in the sense that a large majority of it is located within the downtown section of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Below, our National Park Visitors Guide highlights the main attractions of bathhouse row and the woodland section of the park.
Visit the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center
Every visit to Hot Springs National Park is better suited with a preliminary visit to the park’s visitor center. At the visitor center you will not only be able to become oriented with the park and its layout, but you will also be able to explore the various exhibits and displays to learn more about the park’s history, ecology, and geology. Park staff working in the visitor center are also available to answer specific questions or provide directions towards any of the park’s attractions. Occasionally, the visitor center offers a number of interpretive programs that touch upon specific topics related to the park.
Experience the Water
The water of Hot Springs National Park is by far the park’s main attraction. There are several ways for you to explore this water, which is believed by many to have medicinal healing properties. Visitors of Hot Springs National Park can soak in the springs within several park operated bath houses; drink water collected from the thermal spring fountains located throughout the city, or gather water from the two cold water springs. The two bath houses that offer visitors the opportunity to soak in the springs are the The Buckstaff Bathhouse and The Quapaw Bathhouse.
Embark on a Hike on One of the Many Hiking Trails
Hot Springs National Park contains a wide array of hiking trails within its woodland portions. A few of these hiking trails connect the downtown areas of the park to the woodland portions, while others take visitors around West Mountain and North Mountain. One of the longest trails in Hot Springs National Park is the Sunset Trail. This trail crosses various types of terrain and extends for 15-17 miles depending on which loop you hike. On this trail, hikers will explore the most remote sections of Hot Springs National Park.
Take a Bike Ride
Bike riding is another popular outdoor activity practiced within Hot Springs National Park. Bikers visiting the national park can either bike along any of the park’s paved roads or utilize the Pullman Trail which has been authorized for bicycle use.
Setup Camp at the Gulpha Gorge Campground
The Gulpha Gorge Campground is the only campground managed and maintained by Hot Springs National Park. The campground contains a number of campsites suited for recreational vehicles and tent campers. A number of these campsites are located along Gulpha Creek. Visitors wishing to stay overnight in the campground will need to arrive at the campground early to ensure they obtain a campsite. All of the campsites contained within Gulpha Gorge Campground are offered on a first come, first serve basis. These campsites require a nightly fee of $30. Payments will need to be made by credit or debit card. The automated pay station does not accept cash or check.
Wildlife Viewing in the National Park
While much of Hot Springs National Park is located within the downtown area of the city, the woodland portion of the park still provides a home to a wide variety of woodland species. White-tailed deer, squirrels, racoons, rabbits, woodland songbirds, and a variety of other species are commonly spotted throughout the park. The more remote sections of the park, specifically along the Sunset Trail, are a visitor’s best bet to spot wildlife.
When to Visit Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is open throughout the entire year. Therefore, visitors can plan their trip to the park throughout every season of the year. However, the late spring or early summer is the best time to visit Hot Springs National Park. During these two seasons, temperatures in the park are the most conducive to outdoor recreation. Wildlife in the park is most active during the spring. Crowds in the park are the largest during the summer. Campers looking to visit the park during the summer should be sure to arrive at the campground early in the day to obtain a campsite.
Must Have Items to Bring to Hot Springs National Park
Like all trips to a national park, planning a trip to Hot Springs National Park will require visitors to bring a series of supplies and equipment with them to the park. List of Parks discusses the items below that you should consider bringing on your trip to Hot Springs.
Water and Snacks
While Hot Springs National Park is the most accessible national park because of its relation to Hot Springs, Arkansas, if you are camping you will still want to bring supplies of water and snacks. These supplies can be purchased and restocked with visits to the downtown area of Hot Springs.
Visitors exploring Hot Springs National Park will most likely want to bring both a pair of walking shoes and a pair of hiking boots with them to the park. These two pairs of footwear will provide visitors with support and comfort when hiking and walking throughout the downtown section of the park.
Light Rain Jacket
Bringing a lightweight rain jacket along with you to Hot Springs National Park is a good idea to combat the likelihood of rain showers and afternoon thunderstorms. These rain showers are more prevalent during the summer months.
Remembering all the equipment you will need or want on your camping trip can be challenging to say the least. The easiest way to keep track of all of this equipment is to utilize a camping checklist when packing and again before leaving for the park.
Field Guides & Binoculars
Wildlife enthusiasts visiting Hot Springs National Park will want to make sure they remember to bring their field guides and binoculars with them to the park. These field guides and binoculars will aid in species identification.
Where to Stay in Hot Springs National Park
Visitors planning their trip to Hot Springs National Park can decide between camping in the park and staying in one of the many lodges located in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Gulpha Gorge Campground is the only campground managed by the national park. All campsites in this campground are offered on a first come, first serve basis. Visitors wishing to stay in one of the lodges near the park can either stay in the Historic Hale Hotel or one of the other hotels outside of the park.
Food Near Hot Springs National Park
The closest food to Hot Springs National Park is located close by in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas. The city contains a number of restaurants, taprooms, and bars where visitors can obtain meals and drinks. Downtown Hot Springs also contains a few convenience stores where visitors can obtain snacks and other supplies for camping.
Airports Near Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs, Arkansas contains a small regional airport which is located about fifteen minutes away from the park. However, Little Rock, Arkansas also contains a larger national airport. The Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport is located about 55 miles away from the national park.