one of my goals is to visit a new national park each year, and this year felt like the perfect year to go to hot springs national park. as luck would have it maggie was home in little rock and was up for an adventure, so we decided to head over there together.
our first stop was the gift shop to pick up a map and get a few tips on trails, and we very serendipitously ran into a park ranger at the base of the mountain who told us about her favorite trails and helped us map out our route. the trails in hot springs national park criss-cross each other multiple times, so while it is is easy to navigate from one trail to the next it is also easy to go in the wrong direction without realizing it. thanks to ashley’s help, we knew what to look out for and set off on our way.
from the promenade we took the peak trail to the observation tower, then walked on the hot springs mountain trail before switching to gulpha gorge which led us to the goat rock mountain trail. goat rock had some great views and was very serene, and it looped us back around to the hot springs mountain trail which then looped us back down to the peak trail.
all told we walked just under 5 miles through the park, talking and laughing and enjoying the views and taking lots of silly pictures. we didn’t pay to go to the top of the observation tower, but we got some pretty great views along the trails.
after a very delicious lunch, we then made our way over to garvan gardens, a beautiful botanic garden about 15 minutes from downtown hot springs. maggie’s dad had suggested it to us, and i’m so glad he did. garvan gardens has a little something for everyone, from a nature preserve and a beautiful treehouse to a wildflower garden, a koi pond, and some beautiful bridges. we walked 3.5 miles in the gardens and still didn’t see everything there is to see, but we did make it over to anthony chapel, the famous church surrounded by nature that is booked for years to come. they were about to close it to visitors to prepare for a wedding, but luckily we were able to sneak in for a few minutes to appreciate its beauty.
over the course of the day we clocked 10.6 miles and 25,000+ steps, and it was absolutely worth the sore muscles and the exhaustion. it was so nice to have a day in nature, and it was especially great to have a full maggie-veena day. i love my national park adventures, and i love them even more when i get to share them with best friends.
tips for hot springs national park:
- hot springs national park is in the heart of downtown hot springs. there is a free parking garage on exchange st downtown, so if you time it right you can snag a spot in there; if not there is paid street parking in and around downtown
- one side of the downtown strip are all the old bathhouses that made hot springs famous. one is now the visitors’ center, one is a gift shop, one – quapaw – is still an active bathhouse, and i’ll be honest and say i don’t know what the others are but i feel like one might have a café?
- when we visited in may 2021 the visitors’ center was closed, but we were able to pick up maps in the gift shop.
- if you see a park ranger, ask them for trail tips! we loved the trails ashley suggested for us, and we wouldn’t have had such a great hike without her recommendations
- if you want to climb to the top of the observation tower, it’s $10 per person
- there are a few hidden spots where you can see the hot springs for which the town is famous
- the trails are really well marked with different colored blazes and there is good signage throughout, but still make sure you have a map so you know which blazes you’re following and to know where to switch if you’re planning on doing so
- make sure you carry water with you! and sunscreen and bug spray
tips for garvan gardens:
- the admission price to enter the gardens is $15 per person; final admission is 5.30pm
- give yourself a minimum of 2-3 hours to wander the entire place
- make sure you grab a map at the ticket booth so you can keep your bearings
- most of the gardens are ada accessible, but there are a few spots that are not; the signage is pretty clear
- if you visit over the weekend, you might hear party boats out on lake hamilton
- make sure you save time to get over to the chapel before it closes for weddings
- there are a few drinking fountains throughout, but i would still suggest carrying a refillable water bottle with you
this was the perfect getaway and i’m so glad it worked out so well.
some pictures are mine and some are maggie’s!