National Parks Counter: 15
My girl dog Bella did so well on the road trip to Columbus and Providence Canyon, GA that I decided to take her on a much longer trip just a week later! I was going to drive to see my mother for Thanksgiving with Bella. We took a roundabout trip through AL, MS and into a national park in Arkansas called Hot Springs National Park. The drive was long enough that an overnight stop in Birmingham was in order before continuing on. And, in case anyone did not know, La Quinta Inns, while not the epitome of luxury, are pretty solid and are dog friendly, with a small fee depending on the location (this one and the one I used the next night were both free).
The drive the next morning to Hot Springs, AR was another 6 and half hours. I did break up that drive a little in Tupelo, MS where I just literally stumbled across a National Park Service Arrowhead sign for the Natchez Trace Trail, Mississippi. Bella and I did maybe a mile worth of hiking up and down the trail here but honestly, it wasn’t anything too interesting so we were soon on our way to Hot Springs National Park!
Bella and I were only here for about a 24 hour period, and that did feel like enough, though I could see how people might take longer for a visit. It was a very interesting, if short, visit. First of all, this is an old park. It is almost 100 years old. Secondly, whatever your idea of a National Park is, go ahead and throw it out for this one. I have seen people poo-paahing this one and I get it but this one is weird! Basically the park is in the town and any outdoor nature stuff revolves around that, but I daresay there are very few places in America that have 140 degree water just bubbling up out of the ground. The geology AND the history in this area are basically what made the government designate this as a National Park back in the day. This place is located in the Ouachita Mountains in Central Arkansas and was a very spiritual place to the natives living in that area. The hot water was very popular later on with the tourist industry, specifically, early spring training baseball and mobsters. Thats led to development into casinos and hotels. At that point the area was already notched as a National Park. The hot water that bubbles up out of the ground is not volcanic like you would find in Yellowstone or similar places, but it is something to do with how fast rainwater that goes into the ground comes back up from the depths. Because of this, this hot water is not mineral water. It is safe to drink, and it tastes and looks just like normal old water!
So anyway, we arrived and the rain had just stopped but it was cool and overcast, but it was passable. I really did not know what to expect. The park is really kinda 3 different spots. Spot one is on the road, the touristy district with the early 1900 bath houses, resorts, and hotels. This is at the base of spot 2 which is Hot Springs Mountain. Behind the bathhouses and sorta connecting one big hotel to another at each end of the bath house row is what is called the Grand Promenade. This in itself is a walkway that passes by some of the hot water fountains and can also lead to other trails going up the mountain. To drive up to the summit of the mountain you derive past all the bath houses to find the mountain road entrance. At this point if you do not go that way, but continue on you actually leave the park proper and enter into a more residential area of the town that is actually entirely enclosed by the park. And then it is through this area that you can access spot number 3, as I call it, the West Mountain. Honestly, this part is the most “parky” of the who park and does feature some nice hiking trails, including some decently lengthy ones. The trails on Hot Springs Mountain connecting to the bath houses are very popular but also short and easy and cross the road several times and you would never forget you were in a town.
Bella and I did the “drive and pull off at lookouts” thing for a bit while the weather was settling down. We stopped on Hot Springs mountain and did a little “get out the energy” hiking up the mountain (maybe an hour). We made our way to the West Mountain and did a little hiking along Sunset Trail, which is a very long trail that pretty much encapsulates the entire park. The weather was starting to cooperate so we explored the bath house area a bit. I did not really know what to expect, but the two bathhouses that are still operational, limited due to covid restrictions, are not free, and in fact are quite expensive, and have weird hours anyway. I was hoping to experience it, but it was not meant to be!
After a brief check in and unload at the hotel outside of town, we came back to get dinner. The Pizza Joint I checked out was called Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer Garden. DELICIOUS pizza. Great place with outdoor seating….it was very chilly but the dog was perfectly happy with it, but I had my pizza and a beer or two and was on my way. The next stop was a brewery! There is an actual brewery IN the national park, called Superior Bathhouse Brewery and it is set in one of the old bathhouses and uses the Hot Springs water for brewing purposes! How cool! According to them they are the only brewery allowed to operate within national park boundaries. Pretty cool! I did not have a beverage there as there was no outdoor seating, unfortunately, but I got a growler to go, which was actually DIRT cheap…it was a glass 32 ouncer and I think with the full fill it was 15 bucks. I came back the next day and got the full one, also glass, and with the fill was only 20 bucks I think! Crazy cheap, really! The beer was very good but definitely different! The one I got in the evening was the Beez Kneez, a Honey Basil Kolsch and that was my evening hotel beverage!
The next morning, before rolling out, Bella and I went up the Hot Springs Mountain to hike Goat Rock Trail. This trail was 2.5 miles out and back and passed a very easy to miss “Goat Rock.” This is a nice trail with about 400 feet of elevation change. After finishing that we took the elevator up to the top of the mountain tower viewing platform at the top of the mountain. Before calling it a trip I stopped at the brewery right at opening to pick up the big growler and also at the visitor center to buy a jug to fill with Hot Springs water!
Overall impressions: Pros: There are a variety of things to do depending on your tastes. Want a day of outside light hiking but want to stop and sit down for lunch? Check. Dip in the hot water in the baths? Check. Want to camp check. Though small, the nature is pretty and I bet is awesome at peak foliage. Also, this entire area of the country is pretty devoid of an easy to access national park, so this is good for them. The Hot Springs thing is definitely very neat. Everything seemed very dog friendly. Cons: This is not the national park for outdoor adventures. There is some hiking, but it is mainly limited to easy and simple trails. The park itself is very small and quite frankly, it is not on anyone’s travel list unless you are like me and trying to hit all the parks. The chances of you strolling through this one by accident is small and I do not think this is too much of a destination for anyone but those living within a few hours probably.
The Adventurer Final Word:
3 Stars! Cool little place that is worth a visit, but probably not going to far out of your way for! I will say it is a great place to take your dog!