7 Best Hikes in Hot Springs National Park

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Hot Springs is not quite like other national parks; it is one of the few parks that 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 hikes in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Although Hot Springs is one of the smallest National Parks it still offers many miles of excellent hiking trails. This is because the park itself is nestled within the Ouachita National Forest in 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 the entire park. In this article I am going to cover the best trails in hot springs.

7 Best Hikes in Hot Springs National Park

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 best hikes in Hot Springs Arkansas 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 made of 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.

Goat Rock Overlook

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 which is the main campground in the park. 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. 

Gulpha Gorge Staircase

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 and leads up to the hot springs mountain tower. 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. 

Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Oertel Trail/Dead Chief trail

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

The Oertel Trail or Dead Chief 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. 

Oertel Trail

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.

Grand Promenade

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. 

Sunset Trail 

  • Length: 13 – 17 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 2372ft 
  • Route Type: Loop 
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash

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. 

Stone Bridge Area on Sunset Trail

Tips for Visiting Hot Springs, Arkansas

  1. Visitor Center: Start your visit at the Fordyce bathhouse visitor center to gather maps, information, and any updates about park activities or closures.
  2. Weather: Be prepared for varying weather conditions, as the climate can change throughout the year. Dress appropriately for the season and bring water, sunscreen, and other essentials.
  3. Park Hours: The park is generally open year-round, but specific hours for facilities, visitor centers, and services may vary. Check the official park website for the most up-to-date information.
  4. Reservations: If you plan to stay at campgrounds or participate in certain activities, check if reservations are required or recommended in advance.

Remember that Hot Springs National Park is a unique destination known for its natural thermal springs and historic features. Enjoy the beauty of the park while respecting its natural environment and following park rules and regulations.

Best Time to Visit Hot Springs, Arkansas 

For the most part the park is great to visit all year round. Weather stays fairly mild all year round and there is usually something to do all year. We recommend going in the fall when the weather is cooler, and the leaves start to change.

Fall (September to November): This is one of our favorite times to check out some of the hikes in Hot Springs Arkansas because of cooler weather. Also, during this time of year the leaves begin to change colors from green to a golden orange, yellow, and reddish hue.

Winter (December to February) In the winter the park is covered with lights and there are usually frequent holiday events. The weather is colder usually in the 20s – 40s. This cooler weather makes for a great time to relax and take a dip in the indoor hot springs. 

Spring (March to May) As the weather begins to transition from winter the weather begins to gradually warm up. Springtime is also a great time to go for blooming wildflowers and foliage. Mild rain showers are often more frequent, especially around March through April. 

Summer (June to August): This time of the year is the warmest which makes it usually the most popular time of year. Temperatures like to hang around the 70s-90s and can get a little humid. 

Buckstaff Hot Springs

Getting Here and Around Hot Springs National Park 

Getting to and around Hot Springs National Park involves a few transportation options, depending on your preferences and circumstances. Here’s a general list:

Getting to Hot Springs National Park:

1. By Air: The nearest major airport to Hot Springs National Park is the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT) in Little Rock, Arkansas. From there, you can rent a car or use other transportation methods to reach the park.

2. By Car: Hot Springs National Park is located in central Arkansas and is easily accessible by car. Interstate 30 and US Route 70 are the main highways that lead to Hot Springs.

Getting Around Hot Springs National Park:

1. Car: The most convenient way to get around the area is by car. There are various parking options available in and around Hot Springs. Keep in mind that the park area is relatively small, so you won’t need to drive long distances within the park itself.

2. Hiking: Explore the hikes in Hot Springs Arkansas. The park offers several hiking trails that allow you to view the natural beauty of the area. These trails vary in length and difficulty, so you can choose a route that suits your preferences and fitness level.

3. Biking: Biking is allowed on most roads within the park. There are also designated mountain biking trails for those looking for more adventurous routes.

4. Shuttle Services: Hot Springs offers shuttle services that can take you around the park and its various attractions. These shuttles are particularly useful for visitors who prefer not to drive or want to focus on the scenery rather than navigating.

5. Bathhouse Row: The historic Bathhouse Row area is within walking distance from downtown Hot Springs and offers a glimpse into the park’s history. You can stroll along the row and visit the bathhouses that date back to the early 20th century.

6. Trolley Tours: Hot Springs offers trolley tours that provide guided experiences around the park and the city. These tours are a great way to learn about the area’s history and attractions.

Camping In Hot Springs National Park 

Camping can be a wonderful way to experience the park’s natural beauty and immerse yourself in its surroundings. The park offers both traditional camping and more rustic camping options. Here’s what you need to know:

Campgrounds in Hot Springs National Park:

Gulpha Gorge Campground: This is the primary campground within the park and is located near the Gulpha Gorge Picnic Area. It offers 40 sites for tents, trailers, and RVs up to 30 feet in length. Amenities include restrooms with hot showers, water hookups, and picnic tables. Reservations are recommended during peak seasons.

Overall, camping in Hot Springs National Park is a wonderful way to connect with nature and experience the stunning beauty of the area. With some careful planning and preparation, you can have a safe and enjoyable trip.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you hike in Hot Springs National Park? The park has multiple trails that run through the park. The longest trail is the sunset trail which loops all the way around the park.

Are there mountains in hot springs Arkansas? Yes, there are quite a few mountains the park itself is nestled within the Quachita Mountains.

Can you soak in the hot springs in Arkansas? Yes, you can soak in the springs that are located within the bathhouse row in downtown hot springs.

Summary of Best Hikes in Hot Springs Arkansas

  1. Goat Rock Trail
  2. Gulpha Gorge Trail
  3. Hot Springs Mountain Trail
  4. Oertel Trail/Dead Chief Trail
  5. Grand Promenade
  6. West mountain trail
  7. Sunset Trail

Final Thoughts

Hot Springs, Arkansas, offers a range of captivating hikes for nature enthusiasts. From the serene trails to the rugged beauty of Ouachita National Forest, there’s something for everyone. Immerse yourself in amazing views, rejuvenating springs and private baths, and rich history on these unforgettable trails.

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

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