Just four and a half hours east of Dallas is one of the most unique national parks we have visited – Hot Springs National Park. This national park is tucked in the quaint town of Hot Springs, Arkansas (Bill Clinton’s hometown!) and it is a perfect one or two day visit.
Now, I will start off by saying that ideally you’ll visit Hot Springs sans children so you can experience one of the iconic bathhouses, but if kids are in tow there is still plenty to do and I promise you’ll have a grand time even if you do have to skip the spa experience. Just prepare yourself – or switch on and off with another adult – both Buckstaff and Quapaw require kids to be 10 and 14 years of respectively to participate in the soaking sessions.
Unlike most national parks, Hot Springs National Park is located in the middle of a town. It’s an urban park! There is a parking garage, paved sidewalks, family-friendly hiking trails, and a lovely visitor center all within walking distance.
We started our day at a ranger-led talk that taught us all about the discovery, growth, and development of the hot springs made famous by the area’s thermal water. The kids were amazed at how warm the water was (yes, you can touch it!) and at the end of our Hot Springs lesson we even got to sample the water. In fact, Hot Springs has a number of water spigots where you can fill up your own jugs of water to take home. For free! Bring appropriate containers or plan to buy a souvenir one.
After our ranger program and the completion of our Junior Ranger booklets we wandered the Promenade and had lunch at Superior Bathhouse Brewery. It’s the only brewery inside a national park and they definitely live up to their fun status. The food and drinks were delicious! We shared a seasonal burger, fell in love with the fries, and ended up ordering a second big pretzel because we couldn’t stop at just one. Cheers to the beer and hard cider too!
We only had one day planned in Hot Springs so our hiking was limited but the route we did was fantastic >>> from Bathhouse Row we hiked the .3 mile Tufa Terrace Trail which connects to the .6 mile Peak Trail. It’s steep, but all the kids managed without issue. The best part of this trail was the end – it leads to Hot Springs Mountain Tower. You can also drive to the tower if you’re crunched for time. There is a fee to go up in the tower, but it gives a fantastic overlook of the town, mountain, and woods. Ya’ll, Arkansas is beautiful! And, if you have a 4th grader, their national park pass gives them a free elevator ride up to the top. Jemma and Max represented our group up top and I love that they snapped photos at the top so we could all see the view.
We explored more of Bathhouse Row … the architecture is amazing and as always, the national parks have created beautiful displays to preserve the special history. Then, we had dinner at Grateful Head Pizza. It too, was wonderful! Hot Springs sure delivered in the food department!
We stayed just one night in Hot Springs (at The Waters which was super close and charming and because Dominic had Hilton points) and that day and a half we had to explore was sufficient. More time would have been needed had we been able to experience a bathhouse, but we did all the things and even fit in a stop at Mid-America Science Museum while we were in the area.
So, the burning questions in your mind … should you visit Hot Springs National Park with your kids? YES! Absolutely yes! It’s such a little, hidden gem! My only regret is that we didn’t have more time to explore more of Arkansas!
I’ll end by saying that our visit was in late October. I hear the weather can be a bear in the summer. October though? It was PERFECT! If I was to visit Arkansas again – and I hope I do – I’ll definitely plan a fall trip. I don’t think any of us would have enjoyed Hot Springs as much as we did if the heat and humidity were at their peak.
Want more “been there, done that” national park reviews?
- Yellowstone National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Big Bend National Park – coming soon!
- Arches National Park – coming soon!
- Canyonlands National Park – coming soon!
- Olympic National Park – coming soon!
- Rocky Mountain National Park – coming soon!