Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park

Located in Arkansas, Hot Springs National Park is one of the few dog-friendly National Parks in the United States. It is a unique mixture of city streets and hiking trails that was built around its main feature – hot springs. The hot springs have been a main attraction for hundreds of years. One of the earliest reports is from 1541 when it is believed that Native Americans led Hernanado de Soto to “Valley of the Vapors.” The first true log bathhouse was built in 1830. Shortly after, in 1832, President Andrew Jackson gave the hot springs federal protection as a reservation. This makes Hot Springs 40 years older than Yellowstone, the world’s first national park. Hot Springs acquired National Park status in 1921.

Dog-Friendly Activities

Hot Springs is the smallest national park, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do with your pup in tow. In fact, all 26 miles of Hot Springs’ trail system are open for use with your furry friends. The only regulation is that they are kept on a leash no more than six feet in length at all times. And they are not allowed in the visitor center or other park buildings.

The trails are overall very well maintained with a mix of easy and moderate trails. The longest trail is Sunset Trail. This trail is over 10 miles in length, but if making a complete loop, plan on 14-15 miles total. This trail takes you through varied terrain and past some scenic overlooks. If you are up for it, this trail is a must-do activity. Be aware that there is a small section that walks along highway 7 – which is a busy road. Watch closely for traffic.

Hot Springs National Park overlook.
The view from an overlook parking lot accessible from Sunset Trail.

When we walked Sunset Trail we took took the trail from Gulpha Gorge campground up to High Mountain trail and then to Shortcut Trail into the city of Hot Springs. After spending a few minutes on the Grand Promenade trail near Bathhouse Row, we then meandered through the city (on Prospect Road) to a small trail head that brought us up to Sunset trail. We took a short detour to get a wonderful view of the valley at the parking lot of West Mountain Summit drive., then proceeded along Sunset trail for 12+ miles (totaling well over 14 miles during the entire hike).

There are many other trails that leave from the campground. Most of these connect to Bathhouse Row – the main attraction of Hot Springs National Park. Or, if you prefer scenic views to town streets, you can hike up to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower for some views of the surrounding valley. (Note that the tower itself requires a fee to climb).

Gulpha Gorge Campground Trailhead
Here Glia poses on the river crossing at the trailhead from Gulpha Gorge Campground.

And don’t forget to head down to Bathhouse Row and walk the Grand Promenade – a paved path behind the bathhouses. We took the Dead Chief trail from the campground to the Grand Promenade, which was a lovely connection and made a nice roughly 5 mile total out and back hike/walk.

The Grand Promenade behind Bathhouse Row.
The Grand Promenade behind Bathhouse Row.

Besides the park buildings themselves, the city portion of Hot Springs is relatively dog friendly also. Some shops even have water bowls out for the dogs and the burger joint, Bubbalous, (at the time of writing this post) allowed dogs to sit inside the restaurant at their front table. This is the only restaurant that we ate at during our stay in Hot Springs, but if you know of other dog-friendly restaurants in the area, please let us know in the comments below.

Camping

The campground at Hot Springs National Park has full hook-ups (water, electricity, and sewer) and, at the time of this post, cost $30/night. It is a first come, first served campground, so arrive early during the busy season. The campground is fairly spacious with lots of green grass and sits on the edge of a small river.

We fit our 29 foot RV in with no problems, but did have to do a bit of leveling for our site. The dogs had ample space to move around on the grass and each site came complete with either a fire-pit or raised picnic-style grill.

Cooling off in the river by the campground.

Activities in the Surrounding Areas

Hot Springs National Park is adjacent to Ouchita National Forest, which was beautiful to drive through. If you have the time, it looks like a wonderful National Forest to explore. We traveled down from Minnesota, so took advantage of a few stops north of Hot Springs and Ouchita National Forest.

Wallace State Park in Missouri was our first overnight stop. This was a lovely State Park campground with clean bathrooms and great showers. The hiking trails were nice, moderate, and dog-friendly. (See pictures below)

We spent our second night in Ozark National Forest at Shores Lake Campground (in the Boston Mountains area). The roads were narrow and winding heading in to this remote campground, but our RV made it. The campground itself was lovely with only a handful of campers in the entire campsite (midweek in late April). A 14 mile loop trail left from the campground. We only hiked 2-3 miles of this trail, but it was beautiful with mountain streams. It would be a lovely place to go back and visit. (See pictures below)

To learn more about our National Parks adventure, check out our main National Parks page. Or if you are curious about general pet regulations at the various National Parks, check out this summary.

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