Before arriving in Hot Springs, Arkansas, we didn’t do much research on the National Park or the town. We were surprised to learn that there are really no open-air springs anymore. They are all capped off to eliminate contamination. The water is then piped into water fountains and other water sources in the area, as well as the bathhouses. (You can read about our experiences on Bathhouse Row here.)
Running parallel behind Bathhouse Row there is half-mile Grand Promenade that offers views of downtown Hot Springs. At the end of the Grande Promenade, northwest of the Superior Bathhouse, you will find a hot springs cascade. It was really pretty to see the water rolling down the rocks and the steam in the air. I think we expected to see more free-flowing water like this in a town called Hot Springs.
Although, we were a bit disappointed by the hot springs, or lack there of, views in the National Park did not disappoint. On our first day there, we stopped in the Visitor’s Center in Fordyce Bathhouse and grabbed a map of the park. (At all the other National Park run places we have visited, the staff has been super friendly. Unfortunately, we could not say the same here. As we walked in the doors, the people working behind the counter just stared at us with not so much as a hello.)
One of our first objectives was to drive around and get a lay of the land. We drove to Mountain Tower at the top of Hot Springs Mountain and paid six dollars to go up. Unfortunately, they were having a wasp problem that day, so we couldn’t go all the way up to the open-air top deck, but we could go just under that to an enclosed lookout. Inside the lookout point, there was a small museum about the history of Hot Springs and, of course, sprawling views.
Next, we drove over to West Mountain, stopping at overlooks to take in the views. Above is one such view. You can see the Mountain Tower in the left.
We couldn’t leave the National Park without taking a hike, and the Saturday before we left was the perfect day to do so. Before we left the RV, Mike looked over the map and scouted us out a route, which started at Gulpha Gorge Trail.
It was perfect hiking weather, sunny with a slight brisk breeze. We had a great time on the trails.
Mike choose our path wisely, putting the steep, more difficult part of the route first as we hiked up to the point shown above. As we went on, the hike got less steep and a little easier. We probably hiked about 3.5 or 4 miles, taking our time enjoying the weather, the views, and each other’s company.
Final thoughts on Hot Springs National Park: The trails are great. There are many trails and paths for all levels. The scenic views are amazing. I think the fall was the perfect time to be there. The town of Hot Springs, however, was kind of take in or leave it. The bathhouses are an interesting part of the town’s history, but the experience we had with the staff in visitor’s center was disappointing. As was the the fact that the springs are not in their natural open-air state. National Parks are always worth visiting, but I don’t think this one will be at the top of our list when it is all said and done.