What can we say, we work hard and play harder! That's why we are sharing our most recent trip with you. We loved venturing all around Hot Springs, Arkansas in the parks and the historic district downtown.
Being one of the oldest recognized and protected nature areas in the nation, Hot Springs has so much to offer no matter what you're looking for! I recommend 10 out of 10... which is why I'm writing about our experience now.
Where We Stayed
If you haven't picked up on this by now, Grant and I live and travel full-time in our fifth-wheel (the Black Widow). That gives us the chance to very easily explore different areas of the country more frequently.
We got lucky and stayed in the Hot Springs National Park. I say lucky because they operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. We strategically planned our travel day to be Labor Day so that most visitors would be leaving after their long weekend stay in the park. And it worked! We got a great spot right on the river.
Staying at Hot Springs National Park
I have to say, we were a bit nervous checking out the park to see if there was a space available because that meant hauling our monstrous, 42' camper through the park to scout out a spot. Very often the biggest spots are taken first and obviously we cannot squeeze into a small spot.
If you're feeling my anxiety, first off thank you! I was sweating. However, the park is laid out so well, we had no issues pulling our house on wheels around the park. They even block off the RV park entrance (which is not far into the park) if there are no spots available. That way you won't be disappointed and can skip the stress of scouting out a spot with your rig in tow.
Hot Springs National Park is the best kept National Park we have ever stayed in. Grant and I were very impressed with how clean it was and the set up was great in the campsites. The camp hosts were friendly and helpful with anything we needed.
The river runs through the RV park where you can cool off your feet after a long hike and search for minerals and crystals. Fun, right? We thought so. You can also walk to a trailhead that splits off to 2 different trails with easy access to pick up other trails.
I bet you're wondering, how much does this cost and how long can you stay. A logical question! It is $30 per night to stay in the park (with an RV or tent camping) and you can stay up to 14 consecutive days in the park. This is pretty common for most National Parks. If you're wanting to tent camp instead of going in an RV, know that their bathrooms do have modern toilets, but no showers.
Entrance to the park is free which we found to be true throughout the state no matter what park you want to explore. Great, right? Especially since visiting other National Parks can have expensive day passes.
Where Else To Stay
If you aren't lucky enough to grab a spot at the National Park, have no fear, Black Widow Adventures has you covered!
We did venture to 2 other great locations you can potentially stay. Both were on the water and had their own hiking trails and things to do. Their prices to stay are a bit more than Hot Springs National Park, but these are good backup plans. Plus you can make reservations in advance unlike in the National Park.
Lake Ouachita State Park
We found Lake Ouachita State Park on our 4th day in Hot Springs, AR because we basically ran out of trails we wanted to hike in the National Park.
The lake itself is breathtaking! You can rent a kayak, a boat (check their rules, we were too young and didn't have a boaters safety card), explore their hiking trails, swim in their designated swimming areas or check out the natural springs. The Three Sisters Spring was particularly interesting!
You can check prices and availability to the park here if you're interested in staying in the park.
Lake Catherine State Park
This was the next park we explored outside of Hot Springs National Park. The Falls Branch Trail was what initially attracted up to visit Lake Catherine State Park. You can take a 2-mile hike with some elevation change to a breathtaking waterfall. Pack in your swimsuit and lunch and stay for a nice dip in the waterfall.
There are a few other trails you can explore within the state park as well as the lake itself. But really, who can pass up a hike to a beautiful waterfall? We sure couldn't.
You can check out prices and availability to the park here if you're interested in staying in the park.
Where To Play
Grant and I are all about outdoor activities! We love hiking, kayaking, and anything else that gets us into nature. So when we plan a trip, this is one of the things we look at most when considering a destination.
To us, Hot Springs, AR gave us a great variety of things to do that will keep us outside as well as offering so much history in the town. Who doesn't love visiting the same places some of the most famous gangsters and presidents have visited?
We came for the National Park, but we were impressed with the surrounding State Parks as well. There was only one area that we were not too impressed with but we will get to that! The good comes first in our book.
Goat Rock Trail: This is located in Hot Springs National Park on the North Mountain side of the park. You can also get to it from the Gulpa Gorge Trail which is what we did. We left from our RV spot and hiked up Gulpa Gorge, switching to the Goat Rock Trail a little over halfway through the Gulpa Gorge Trail. After a moderate to challenging trail (due to steep inclines), you'll find yourself at a beautiful overlook of all of Hot Springs, AR. We hung out there for a while taking in all the views before our descent back down the hill.
Falls Branch Trail: This is located at Lake Catherine State Park. It's a 2-mile hike (one way), with some steep inclines, mostly along a flowing stream that takes you to a gorgeous waterfall. Many people come to take a dip in the pool there and hang out in the cool water after the hike. We took advantage of this and so did Willie!
The Dogwood Trail: This is located at Lake Ouachita State Park. This trail will make you feel like you're in a fairytale forest where deer will walk up to you and birds will sing songs with you. It's a short (.5 mile loop) and easy hike through the trees but you could spend hours there looking for wildlife or at all the different plants, trees, and even mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms! But they're not your ordinary mushroom. They're the pretty red ones. Just don't eat them! I'm sure they're not as friendly as they look.
These were our 3 favorite hikes we took while visiting the Hot Springs area and we recommend them! We weren't disappointed and we know you won't be either. But I did mention one hike that we were disappointed with and now is the time to talk about that...
What trail was it?
It was the Hot Springs Mountain Trail located on the Hot Springs Mountain side of the National Park. We hiked about a mile into the trail and decided it was one of the most boring trails we have ever been on. We decided to not complete the trail and to find something more our style because life is short and why waste your time hiking a boring trail?
I do recommend driving up to the tower (close to the Hot Springs Mountain Trail trailhead) and if you don't have a dog (we did) go up to the top of it. We sat at the overlook outside of the tower entrance for a while taking in the views. You can see for miles! It's totally worth the windy and slightly sketchy road you drive up to get to the tower.
Historic Hot Springs
I'm not 100% sure if it's because this was our first venture into a town since lockdown or if the town itself was really that adorable, but we loved walking around Hot Spring's historic district! Apart from the shops, some of the National Park is in the district. You can stroll along bathhouse row, visit little shops, eat a delicious ice cream cone or find a cool spot to chill and have a beer.
There are also a couple of very cool and very cheesy museums you can visit along the main drive which we indulged in as well.
Yes, there is a row of bathhouses where you can take a dip in the natural hot springs and chill... This is a thing!
These days it's just something cool to do because who doesn't want to say they have gone to a fancy bathhouse to chill in naturally hot water? But back in the day, it was a thing of status. Think about it, back then sometimes people would only bathe once a week. But showing your face in a bathhouse meant you were the bees-knees!
I know... only bathing once a week. Grossssssss! But that's what happened. I, for one, am very glad that is a thing of the past!
Unfortunately, due to COVID, we were unable to enter the bathhouses. Yes, we had to suffice with our modernish shower in our RV. I know... It was awful!
There were 3 museums that stuck out to us in Hot Springs and if you're a museum-goer (or just like corny things), you should check them out!
Josephine TussaudsWax Museum: Yes, the corniest of corny. But we loved it! We had a blast wandering around the weirdness and seeing how alike (or not) the waxed figures were to the real people they were portraying. If you want a good laugh, check this place out.
Gangster Museum of America: Where are my true-crime enthusiast at?! I've talked about how Hot Springs, AR has a long history with gangsters. This is the museum to go to if organized crime is something that fascinates you!
Mid-America Science Museum: No matter if you've got kids or you're just a big kid yourself, this science museum is a cool place to hang out for a day! There are so many things to play with and learn along the way.
Who doesn't love a good adult beverage after a long day in the woods or strolling through town? Pre-COVID, our favorite thing after a good hike was to hit up a local brewery. This was the first time since March that we were able to do this and we were thrilled!
We went to 3 different locations (all very different) that we loved for one reason or another.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery: Located right on bathhouse row... hence the name. This is a tasty brewery that has a great variety of types of brews, food and some even wine. We loved sitting in the window people-watching as we sipped on some quality beer.
The Bourbon Bar: Attached to 501 Prime is the Bourbon Bar. You can get your bougie on and drink a delicious craft cocktail and enjoy a great steak. The drink prices were not bad, especially considering the quality you're getting, however, I can see how you can rack up a $100+ bill if you dine there. Still worth a stop in for a cocktail in our option!
The Ohio Club: Located across the street from bathhouse row is a very old, and very cool bar where many famous gangsters, presidents, and celebrities have been know to visit. We stopped in because of the bar's history and were not disappointed. The bar itself was one of the coolest bars I've seen and I recommend you check it out!
Because we were ballin' on a budget and we care more about local brews than local eats, we only went out to eat twice but we love both places we visited. Both were a bit on the cheaper side since we love us some local pizza and burgers, but none the less, we enjoyed our experiences.
Grateful Head: Holy cow this was some of the best pizza I've had in a good while! If you've ever had BeauJo's Pizza (my favorite pizza ever), this is a close second to them. Unfortunely, they were only open for "food truck-like" services due to COVID, but we still loved our experience. We sat on their patio, ate our pizza with a view of the town, and enjoyed a nice beer.
BubbaLu's: Located in the historic district, if you're in the mood for a good, greasy burger, this is the place for you! Their dinner will take you back to the good old days and their food was great and quick! We loved it for a quick dinner at the end of our trip.
If you can't tell by how much I wrote about our Hot Springs trip, we loved all of our experiences. Grant even went as far to say he wouldn't mind setting down in Arkansas. Shocking! I know. But don't worry, we don't plan on giving up our RV life any time soon! We actually plan on downsizing to a smaller camper in a couple of years. But that's another story for another time.
From the hiking trails to the small town vibes, Hot Springs Arkansas was a very pleasant to visit. We give the entire town a 10 out of 10 and hope that you are able to plan your own Arkansas adventure soon! No matter if you take your adventure in an RV or a good old-fashioned road trip, we know you'll have the time of your life.
If you do, leave pictures of your trip in the comments. For real. I would do my best happy dance!