Top 7 Best Hot Springs National Park Trails

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Hot Springs is not quite like other national parks; it offers a unique mix of urban, historical, and nature elements. It is mostly known for the Bathhouse Row, and the healing hot springs they provide. But, lesser known are all the best Hot Springs National Park trails for hiking.

Although Hot Springs is one of the smaller National Parks it still offers many miles of excellent hiking trails. This is because the park itself is nestled within the forested valley of the Ouachita Mountains and the smaller mountains that branch from it. 

For the most part there are three mountain areas where the trails originate from within the valley. The Hot Springs, North Mountains, and the West Mountains. Most of the hiking trails within the park are interconnected which makes it nice to navigate around Hot Springs.

In this article I am going to highlight the best Hot Springs National Park trails for hiking. Also, If you are planning a trip to the park, check out my entire Hot Springs Guide for more info. 

*Note: As always before embarking on any outdoor journey make sure to show good Trail etiquette and follow Leave No Trace to respect others and protect these beautiful natural areas

Best Hot Springs National Park Trails

As I mentioned earlier the hiking trails in Hot Springs Arkansas for the most part are located in three mountain areas. The Hot Springs, North Mountains, and the West Mountains. This means that the hiking trails are somewhat divided in three parts. So for this guide I’m going to divide the best hikes in Hot Springs National Park within the main mountain trail areas 

Hot Springs and North Mountain Trails

Overall, the Hot Springs and North Mountain trails see the most traffic. Mostly because this side of the park is the most accessible, has more trails, and the best views. A lot of our favorite trails in our list are from this side of Hot Springs National Park. 

Check the NPS for the most updated Hot Springs and North Mountain trail map.

Goat Rock Overlook

Goat Rock Trail 

  • Length: 2.4 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 380ft 
  • Route Type: Out & Back 
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash 

Out of our list of the top hikes in Hot Springs National Park this one is by far the most popular and our favorite. We took this trail starting from the Gulpha Gorge. It gradually goes up some switchbacks and then leads to a set of stone stairs that gradually Incline about 250ft to a beautiful lookout called Goat Rock.

The Goat Rock lookout  itself is made up of novaculite boulders, novaculite is a hard mineral unique to this area of Arkansas. At the top of Goat Rock overlook is a scenic look of forest and Indian Mountain. It is quite a sight especially during the sunrise and sunset times and it is well worth the effort.

Gulpha Gorge Trail 

  • Length: 1.2 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 383ft 
  • Route Type: Out & Back 
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash 

This trail is a fun short out and back. It starts at the Gulpha Gorge Campground. Head to the amphitheater and cross the walking stones. The trail starts to your left. A little bit on the trail and it begins to get a little steeper.

Eventually you’ll see a set of stone stairs. From here the trail gradually keeps going up following some switchback. This trail is a connector to many great other trails like Goat Rock, Oertel, and Hot Springs Mountain Trail. 

Hot Springs Mountain Trail

  • Length: 3.3 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 672ft 
  • Route Type: Loop 
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash

This is one of the more popular trails. The trail branches off of the Gulpha Gorge Trail and gradually inclines at the beginning. Following that there are gradual inclines and declines along the way and it features scenic views along the trail. There are a few scenic stops that overlook the Indian Mountain. The views are fairly good. I still think that the overlook at Goat Rock is by far the best in comparison. 

Oertel / Dead Chief Trail 

  • Length: 3.2 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 521ft 
  • Route Type: Out & Back 
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash

The Oertel Trail is a lightly trafficked trail that is a branch off of the Gulpha Gorge Trail. It has some moderate inclines but a lot of options for some nice views and a couple of overlooks. One nice thing about this trail is that if you are staying in the Gulpha Gorge Campground you can use it to get to the Grand Promenade Trail and back to the campground. 

Grand Promenade 

  • Length: .7 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 75ft 
  • Route Type: Out & Back 
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash

This trail is a short brick pathway that runs directly behind the bathhouse row. It is probably one of the most fun hikes for kids. It features many views of the park and the downtown side of Hot Springs. Grand Promenade is fairly flat and takes you across Arlington Lawn.

One of the highlights on the trail is the Hot Springs Cascade which allows you to have a feel for the hot water flowing through the rock. The Grand Promenade is one of the older trails in National Recreation since 1982 so it is a definite must do.

West Mountain Trails

This side of Hot Springs National Park is usually not nearly as busy. So the trails tend to be a bit more relaxing. The highlight of this portion of the park really is the West Mountain Trail and the portion of the Sunset Trail. Both of those trails have some pretty views and are worth while if you get the chance to do them.

Check the NPS site for the most updated West Mountain trail map.

West Mountain Trail 

  • Length: 2.4 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 521ft 
  • Route Type: Loop 
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash

I would rank West Mountain Trail easily in the top 3. It is a beautiful trail that is fairly easy to complete. It takes you up the West Mountain, gradual inclines are present in this trail but are overall not too bad to climb. The trail takes you by the West Mountain Shelter House which is one of the oldest shelters in the park built in 1924. Overall, the hike is beautiful and has great scenic views which makes it worthwhile. 

Stonebridge Area

Sunset Trail 

  • Length: 13 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 2372ft 
  • Route Type: Loop 
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash

Check the NPS site for the Sunset Trail map

Sunset Trail is a massive trail loop that covers all of the park. It can be connected to the Hot Springs Mountain trails, North Mountain trails, and West Mountain trails which makes for a good  long 15-17-mile loop hike. 

The Sunset trail is one of the harder trails around the park. One of my favorite highlights of the trail is Rick’s Pond, also known as the Stonebridge Area. The Stonebridge property was originally owned in 1879 by Samuel W. Fordyce.

In 1909, Fordyce had a cabin built to store his weapons and trophies from his hunts. Later on, his son John Fordyce inherited the property in which he added the stone bridge, boathouse, and created the dam for Lillian pond in honor of his wife. The pond was later named Rick’s pond.

From the Stonebridge area the Sunset Trail takes you around sugarloaf mountain. In this part of the trail there is a cool feature called, Balanced Rock. Which is a huge chunk of novaculite on balanced on top of a smaller chunk. After that the loop takes you to the West mountain area. 

Overall, this was our 2nd favorite hike and if you wanted to break it up and do one portion. Then, I would highly recommend hiking to the Stonebridge area. It was our favorite part of the Sunset Trail and a great spot for having a picnic. 

What To Wear Hiking In Hot Springs

The weather is fairly mild at least for 3 out of the 4 seasons late November -February tend to be fairly cold. Spring and early Fall are our favorite times to go. This is what I would recommend to wear in the 3 warmer seasons, not winter. 

Hiking Bottoms

Overall, this is kind of your preference. My legs tend to not get too cold so I lean towards shorts most times but it just depends. For pants I usually wear Columbia Flex Roc Pants or something similar.

For women Prana Halle pants are great due to their lightweight and ability to stretch. When we wear shorts Lissy likes Eddie Bauer guide pro shorts and I usually just wear a pair of trail running shorts like these from New Balance. Overall, it really depends on what you like and the season.

Hiking Tops 

For tops it just depends on the time and season again. However, I like to generally layer up a bit because you can always take off a layer or add it back on. I usually go with a tank or short sleeve shirt. I always like to wear some type of dry fit or merino wool product to help wick sweat off.

If I know it’s going to be cooler I might opt for a long sleeve shirt in addition to a short sleeve shirt.Most hikes in Hot Springs Arkansas have a fair bit of shade. In the summer the humidity is a big thing. For the shoulder seasons I really like to layer with the Columbia Watertight windbreaker 

Hiking Shoes 

I like to use both hiking shoes and hiking boots. Most of the time we opt for shoes, my go to shoe is the Hoka Speed Goat trail runners; they are lightweight and more comfortable. You can read more about our 5  favorite shoes in this article. If I am going to be hiking in more wet conditions and I need some more water resistance. Then a more sturdy boot like the Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX works really well or Columbia Newton Ridge.

Hiking Socks

Arguably the most important piece of clothing you can wear. My favorite sock is the hiking crew from Darn Tough, they really live up to the name. If you want to check out some other good socks to wear, view this article we wrote about our top favorite socks. For further help on what to pack checkout our hiking 10 essentials post to get a good foundation and build from there.

Last Thoughts

If you’re thinking about checking out Hot Springs National park use this list to check out the best hiking trails at Hot Springs National Park. Explore Goat Rock and view an amazing overlook. Then relax in one of the awesome bathhouses to soothe those muscles! Feel free to leave a comment or question down below. Also, don’t forget to pack those essentials for camping and hiking!

Editor note: This post was originally published December 9, 2021 and has been updated for more accuracy and comprehensiveness

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