TOP 10 Things To Do in Hot Springs National Park [For Families]

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If you’re headed to Hot Springs National Park, get ready for a family adventure that blends history, nature, and vibrant city life in the heart of Arkansas.

Hot Springs National Park, nestled in the Ouachita Mountains, is a hidden gem! This urban park is right in the middle of the charming town of Hot Springs.

This unique destination is known for its famous Bathhouse Row, a lineup of beautifully preserved structures from the early 1900s that once welcomed visitors seeking the healing powers of thermal waters.

This national park may one of the smallest in the United States, but it holds a significant place in history. Hot Springs National Park boasts a legacy that dates back to the time when Native Americans came to its thermal spring water for its therapeutic benefits.

things to do in Hot Springs National Park: three children next to Hot Springs National Park sign in ArkansasPin
my kids at the entrance sign for Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas

Fast forward to the early 1900s, and the area was transformed into a haven for nature lovers and spa enthusiasts alike. Today, some of these bathhouses, like Buckstaff, still offer traditional thermal bathing experiences

And if you ever decide to explore beyond the park, the state’s capital, Little Rock, is just a stone’s throw away (around 60 miles).

So, whether you’re a family of history enthusiasts, nature lovers, or are just looking for a relaxing getaway, Hot Springs National Park is a great place to soak in warm thermal waters, hike on scenic trails, and connect with history.

Now let’s check out some of the fun things to do in Hot Springs National Park!

1. Check out Bathhouse Row

Bathhouse Row is a lineup of time-traveling beauties. Here you’ll find grand architecture with intricate details and a touch of old-world glamour.

Walking along Bathhouse Row is like strolling through the pages of history. The cobblestone streets and vintage charm make you feel like you’ve entered a different era.

Back in the day, people flocked to Hot Springs for the healing powers of the natural hot springs. Bathhouse Row became the hub of thermal bathing culture, attracting visitors seeking both relaxation and a bit of glam.

NPS map of Hot Springs National Park in ArkansasPin
NPS map of Hot Springs National Park

Fordyce Bathhouse is the star of the show, showing off the elegance of the early 20th century. This beauty was the crème de la crème, offering everything from massages to electric baths. Today, it stands as a museum, letting you peek into the past and feel the vibes of the roaring ’20s.

Check out the gift shop in Fordyce Bathhouse, too, for unique items related to the history and culture of the bathhouses and the park.

In addition to Fordyce Bathhouse, check out some of the others:

  • Quapaw Bathhouse: This bathhouse is still in operation as a modern spa. It offers a range of spa services, including thermal bathing in the historic pools.
  • Buckstaff Bathhouse: Buckstaff is one of the bathhouses that still provides traditional bathing services. You can experience thermal bathing and other spa treatments here.
  • Lamar Bathhouse: No longer in operation, Lamar Bathhouse is a bit different, offering a stroll into simplicity. It’s not as fancy as the others, but it has its own charm.
  • Hale Bathhouse: Also not a functioning spa today, Hale Bathhouse brings nostalgia and historic vibes. While it’s not as grand as some, it’s a bit like a time capsule, preserving the feel of days past.

2. Bathe in the Hot Springs

Just like people used to bathe in the warm waters of the thermal springs in the bathhouses, your family can take a dip in the warm water throughout the park.

Here are some of the best hot springs to check out while you’re in Hot Springs NP:

NPS historical information sign at Hot Springs National Park, ArkansasPin
Bathhouse Row historical sign

Happy Hollow Spring

  • Location: Near the Grand Promenade.
  • Unique Feature: This spot is like a cozy nook in nature. The temperature is moderate, making it perfect for families with little ones. It’s like a warm, natural kiddie pool!

Fountain of Youth

  • Location: Along the Grand Promenade.
  • Unique Feature: The water here is believed to have healing properties. It’s like a refreshing sip of nature’s magic.

Quapaw Plunge

  • Location: In the area around Quapaw Baths and Spa.
  • Unique Feature: The Quapaw Plunge has different pools with varying temperatures, so you can find the one that suits your family’s preference.

Gulpha Gorge Springs

  • Location: Near the campground and Gulpha Gorge.
  • Unique Feature: Surrounded by nature, this spot is like a hidden gem. The setting is more rugged for a wilder hot springs experience.

Whittington Spring

  • Location: Adjacent to Whittington Park.
  • Unique Feature: This one is like a nature retreat. The setting is peaceful, and the water is known for its soothing properties.

Hot Springs Tips for Families

  • Check Hours in Advance: Many of the hot springs only allow children during certain times of the day/week. Some don’t allow kids at all, so do your research before you arrive!
  • Make Reservations if Possible: We realized when we got there that it wasn’t possible to simply walk-in to most of these spas without a reservation, and some are first-come, first-serve…so if you show up without reservations/prior planning, you may walk away without having a great experience.
  • Explore Them All: Each hot spring has its own vibe. Try a few and find your family’s favorite!
  • Bring Essentials: Be sure to bring swimsuits, towels, and water shoes. The rocks underneath can be a bit slippery, so water shoes for the kiddos might save you from some slippery situations.
  • Check Temperatures: Some springs are warmer than others. Check with the staff about water temperatures, especially if you have tiny tots.
  • Pack a Picnic: Why not turn it into a day out? Pack snacks and drinks for a family picnic by the springs.

Are Hot Springs Clean?

Nature does its job here. The hot springs are like a giant, warm bath without any added chemicals.

It’s as natural as it gets, making it safe for the whole family.

3. Hit the Trails

Hot Springs National Park isn’t just about soothing soaks – it’s a hiking haven too. Lace up those sneakers, gather the kiddos, and let’s hit the trails!

NPS map of Hot Springs National Park in ArkansasPin
NPS map of Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas

Hiking Trail Recommendations by Age Group

  • 0-3 years: Grand Promenade, Balancing Rock Trail, Tufa Terrace Trail
  • 4-7 years: Floral Trail, Grand Promenade, Balancing Rock Trail
  • 8-12 years: Peak Trail, Goat Rock Trail, Tufa Terrace Trail
  • 13 years and up: Sunset Trail, Hot Springs Mountain Trail

Grand Promenade

  • Length: 0.75 miles
  • Where: Find this paved gem near Bathhouse Row. It’s an easy stroll suitable for strollers and little legs.
  • What to See: Check out the historic bathhouses and lush greenery.

Goat Rock Trail

  • Length: 1.2 miles
  • Where: Start at the Gulpha Gorge campground. It’s a bit more challenging but totally doable for the family.
  • What to See: Admire scenic views of the valley and catch glimpses of songbirds and curious deer.

Peak Trail

  • Length: 0.5 miles
  • Where: Kick off at the Hot Springs Mountain Tower base. Short but sweet, perfect for families with little explorers.
  • What to See: Reach the top for panoramic views of the park. Butterflies love this trail!

Sunset Trail

  • Length: 10 miles (for the very adventurous!)
  • Where: Access from the West Mountain Summit. A longer hike, so it’s better for older kids and parents who are up for a challenge.
  • What to See: Be sure to catch a sunset at the overlooks. Wildlife enthusiasts, keep your eyes peeled for turtles and maybe a snake or two.

Balancing Rock Trail

  • Length: 0.3 miles
  • Where: Begin at the North Mountain Overlook. A short trail perfect for little ones.
  • What to See: The iconic balancing rock! It’s a balancing act of nature you won’t want to miss.

Floral Trail

  • Length: 0.6 miles
  • Where: Access from the West Mountain Summit. Easy for families with kids of all ages.
  • What to See: Bursting with wildflowers in spring and summer. Butterfly lovers, this one’s for you!

Tufa Terrace Trail

  • Length: 0.5 miles
  • Where: Starts near the Grand Promenade. An easy loop with unique geological features.
  • What to See: Marvel at the Tufa terrace formations. Great for a quick nature fix with the family.

Hot Springs Mountain Trail

  • Length: 5.6 miles
  • Where: Access from the Hot Springs Mountain Tower base. Best for families with older kids who are up for a moderate challenge.
  • What to See: Keep an eye out for woodpeckers and maybe a rabbit or two.

4. Learning Opportunities in Hot Springs National Park

Now let’s talk about the cool educational stuff waiting for your family at Hot Springs National Park!

Ranger-Led Programs

Check the website for the most up-to-date information on current guided tours and ranger programming.

  • Geology Gems: Rangers spill the secrets of the park’s rocks. Kids get to touch real rocks and learn how the hot springs make magic happen underground. It’s like a mini science adventure!
  • Wildlife Wonders: Discover the furry and feathered residents of the park. Rangers share tales about the animals, and kids can use binoculars for some wildlife spotting. Nature detective mode: activated!
  • Time Travelers: Dive into the history of Hot Springs. Rangers take you back in time to when the park was a hot spot for bathhouse fun. It’s like a time-traveling history lesson – pretty awesome!

Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center

You can spot this gem right along Bathhouse Row.

One of our favorite exhibits was “Bathing in the Past.” This exhibit is like stepping into the olden days of bathhouse glamour. Kids can see what bathing was like for folks in the 20th century.

There are even replica bathrobes and hats for the kiddos to try on. It’s like a costume party with a dash of history.

Gulpha Gorge Visitor Center

Head to Gulpha Gorge Campground, and you’ll find this center waiting for you.

We loved the “Discovering the Springs” exhibit for learning about the park’s natural wonders. There’s even a touch table where kids can feel different rocks and fossils, see how springs work, and even try their hand at a mini geology experiment.

5. Camp Out in the Park

To truly connect with nature, consider camping in the park! Hot Springs National Park offers various campgrounds, each with its own features:

Gulpha Gorge Campground

Gulpha Gorge campground (run by the NPS) provides a classic camping experience in proximity to the hot springs, making it convenient for relaxation after a day of activities.

  • Location: Situated near Gulpha Gorge amidst tall trees.
  • Amenities: Basic facilities like restrooms and water are available, providing a simple camping experience.

Catherine’s Landing

This privately owned campground combines a resort-like feel with nature, situated by the lake and providing modern amenities for families looking for a mix of comfort and outdoor living.

  • Location: Located by Lake Catherine for the perfect waterside experience.
  • Amenities: Provides modern conveniences such as full hookups, Wi-Fi, and a camp store for a more comfortable camping experience.

Iron Mountain Campground

This one is ideal for those families who want peaceful immersion in nature. This is a rustic camping experience within the forest, and can be booked via recreation.gov.

  • Location: Tucked deep within the Ouachita National Forest, providing a secluded setting.
  • Amenities: Amenities include electricity at each site, showers, flush toilets, a beach for swimming, and a boat launch.

6. Check out Superior Bathhouse Brewery

Housed in a historic bathhouse, this brewery is the perfect play to enjoy craft beers amidst architectural charm and a touch of the past. It stands out as the only brewery located in a national park, making your visit a truly unique one.

From hoppy IPAs to smooth ales, the brewery caters to beer lovers with a variety of flavorful options. Try a tasting flight to sample different brews and find your personal favorite. Even better, the brewery has a commitment to using locally sourced ingredients, so you’re sure to get a taste of Arkansas.

Beyond the beers, the food is great too, and made with local ingredients. You’ll find artisanal pizzas, hearty sandwiches, and so much more!

And don’t worry- it’s family-friendly, so it’s a great spot for parents to enjoy a drink while the kids enjoy tasty bites.

7. Go to the Gangster Museum of America

This museum takes you back to a time when gangsters were a big deal, and it’s a bit like stepping into a history book, but way more fun.

When you walk in, you’ll find relics from the days when infamous gangsters, including the legendary Al Capone, frequented Hot Springs.

The museum shows off artifacts and pictures that unveil the stories of these shady characters and the intriguing happenings during the Prohibition era. It’s like a sneak peek into a time when things were a bit wild and secret meetings were happening.

The place itself has a cool old-timey feel, sort of like you’ve stepped back into the past. The museum shows you how regular-looking places back then were actually hiding secret gangster activities. You get to learn about the sneaky side of Hot Springs that you wouldn’t normally hear about.

What’s great about this museum is that it’s not boring history. It’s made for everyone, so even the kids will find it interesting. You can learn about gangsters, the people trying to catch them, and all the wild stuff that happened. It’s history, but it feels like a story you can really get into.

8. Explore Central Avenue

Central Avenue is like the main street that brings Hot Springs to life, full of history, fun things to do, and a modern feel.

It goes on for about 5 miles and runs right through downtown Hot Springs, near Bathhouse Row.

downtown Hot Springs Arkansas at sunsetPin
downtown Hot Springs Arkansas

While you’re there, check out these spots:

  • Bathhouse Row: This is where you can see those old-timey bathhouses from a long time ago, like Fordyce Bathhouse. It’s like a living museum right on the street.
  • Grand Promenade: This is a walkway near Central Avenue where you can see Bathhouse Row and the city. It’s a good place to take a nice walk.
  • Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center: Right on Central Avenue, this is where you can get info about the national park. They have maps and can tell you cool stuff about the area.
  • Shops and Places to Eat: There are lots of cool shops and places to grab a bite to eat along Central Avenue. You can find unique stuff in the little shops and enjoy good food at the cafes.

9. Visit Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens is a must-see spot! Located just a short drive from Hot Springs National Park, this place has acres of vibrant flowers, unique plants, and enchanting landscapes. Every turn is a burst of color, perfect for family photos!

What to see while you’re there:

  • The Evans Children’s Adventure Garden: A nature playground designed for kids, with interactive exhibits, a treehouse, and fun learning experiences. It’s a hands-on adventure for the little ones.
  • The Great Lawn: Spread a blanket on the great lawn, and enjoy a family picnic surrounded by nature. It’s your own green paradise for a day.
  • The Anthony Chapel: The Anthony Chapel is a peaceful chapel surrounded by towering pines. It’s perfect for a quiet moment or reflection amidst nature.
  • The Garvan Pavilion: The pavilion hosts events and concerts. Check out their events page for family-friendly activities.
Garvan Woodland Gardens Arkansas trailPin
a waterside trail in Garvan Woodland Gardens

10. Take a Scenic Drive

If you want to take in all the scenery of the area but you have little ones with tired feet, consider going for a scenic drive! These routes will give you a front-row seat to the nature, allowing you to soak in the beauty from the comfort of your car.

Ouachita Mountains Arkansas Talimena DrivePin
Ouachita Mountains Arkansas along Talimena Drive

West Mountain Drive

  • Length: Approximately 6 miles.
  • Where: Beginning near the park’s Visitor Center.
  • What You’ll See: Panoramic views of the city and Bathhouse Row.

Hot Springs Mountain Drive

  • Length: Around 5 miles.
  • Where: Starts at the north end of Bathhouse Row.
  • What You’ll See: Ascend to Hot Springs Mountain Tower for stunning views of the Ouachita Mountains and glimpses of downtown Hot Springs.

Scenic Byway 7

  • Length: Over 300 miles, passing through the Ouachita National Forest.
  • Where: Accessible from Hot Springs.
  • What You’ll See: Towering pines, peaceful lakes, and the beautiful Ouachita Mountains. Don’t miss the pull-off at Lake Ouachita Vista Point for a breathtaking lake view.

Highway 270 Scenic Byway

  • Length: About 70 miles.
  • Where: Connects Hot Springs to Mount Ida.
  • What You’ll See: Rolling hills, forested landscapes, and the shimmering waters of Lake Hamilton. Stop at Carpenter Dam for a picturesque spot along the way.


Get ready for a family adventure like no other in Hot Springs National Park.

Hot Springs isn’t just a place to learn about history, but it’s also a great place for dipping into warm thermal waters, exploring scenic trails perfect for all ages, and joining fun ranger-led programs.

Whether you’re camping under the stars, sipping local brews at Superior Bathhouse Brewery, or uncovering the secrets of the Gangster Museum of America, Hot Springs promises a trip full of unforgettable experiences.

family at the Hot Springs National Park entrance sign, ArkansasPin

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Headed to Arkansas? Here are the TOP 10 things to do in Hot Springs National Park for families! Enjoy this one-of-a-kind park & don't miss these activities! #hotspringsnationalpark #familytravelPin
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About Heather Thibodeau

Heather Thibodeau is the founder and mom behind nationalparksmom.com.

She and her husband Dave (AKA Tib) are on a mission to travel to as many US national parks with their three kids in tow as they possibly can, doing their best to keep the little ones out in nature and off of screens in an increasingly digital world.

Heather has earned degrees in biology & chemistry from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies), and holds master's and doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Duke University (Go Blue Devils).

Heather is also the creative force behind The Heathered Nest where she shares her love of all things DIY and home decor.

Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, This Old House, Today.com, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and more.

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