Why Hot Springs National Park is a great destination for families
Honestly, when I thought of national parks I wanted to visit with our kids, Hot Springs wasn’t very high on my list. But it should have been! There are so many fun things to do in Hot Springs National Park with kids!
I would even say that a lot of kids would find it more fun than the traditional Yellowstone or Grand Canyon visits, for example. That’s because instead of just incredible nature, there really are a ton of family-friendly attractions in Hot Springs, Arkansas!
Let’s get into our recommendations of 25+ fun things to do in Hot Springs National Park with kids, plus family-friendly places to eat!
Exploring the wonders of Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs Visitor Center & Fordyce Bathhouse
The first thing I would recommend doing when arriving at Hot Springs National Park is going to the Visitor Center to learn about Hot Springs and the area.
There is a small visitor center just a block from Bathhouse Row, but the Fordyce Bathhouse also serves as a Visitor Center. The Fordyce is the largest bathhouse on Bathhouse Row and is a beautiful building. It also serves as a historically furnished museum.
Pick up a map of the building at the desk, and take a tour to look at all the different bath and cooling areas. Today, Fordyce Bathhouse doesn’t offer baths to visitors.
Bathhouse Row, along Central Avenue, is the main draw of Hot Springs National Park. It houses 8 bathhouses, built from 1892 to 1923.
Today, only 2 of the original bathhouses offer visitors a soak in the thermal hot springs – Buckstaff Bathhouse and Quapaw Bathhouse. Buckstaff is the only one offering the full traditional bathhouse experience.
If you have teens, this would be a fun activity! Younger kids are allowed, but they have to go through the bath process alone and sit in the tub unsupervised. I wouldn’t really recommend that!
Display Spring & Hot Water Cascade
Want to touch the thermal water? There are a couple of places you can do this.
Behind the Maurice Bathhouse is the Display Spring. This spring runs out of the hillside into a small pool. The water comes out at 147 degrees, but by the time it reaches the pool, it’s cooled down enough to touch.
The Hot Water Cascade is on the Arlington Lawn and is the largest visible spring in the park. The water comes from the hillside near the Grand Promenade and flows down a cliff into 2 pools.
Libbey Thermal Water Jug Fountain
What about drinking some of that thermal water? You can do that too! The Libbey Thermal Fountain is one of the places you are welcome to bring a jug to fill. It’s located on Reserve Street, in front of the Libbey Memorial Physical Medicine Center.
Family-friendly activities in Hot Springs National Park
As I mentioned, there are so many family-friendly activities in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Here are some of the options:
Garvan Woodland Gardens – Children’s Garden Treehouse
About 6 miles from Hot Springs National Park, Garvan Woodland Gardens is a 210-acre botanical garden.
What makes this so family-friendly is that inside the gardens is the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden. Within that area is an epic treehouse, The Bob and Sunny Evans Tree House with 4 levels for kids and adults to explore.
We didn’t have time to visit this attraction, but it is basically the sole reason I plan to be back!
Hot Springs Family Fun Park
This little amusement park has attractions the kids are sure to love. There are bumper cars, go-karts, adult and kids zipline courses, and a giant beanstalk to climb!
Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
Pirate’s Cove is open from mid-February to Thanksgiving, and offers several different mini golf courses, all pirate-themed, of course!
Rocket Fizz Candy Shop
After walking Bathhouse Row, wander down Central Avenue to Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop for “the largest selection of candy and soda ever found in one store!” There are over 80 flavors of saltwater taffy, as well as nostalgic candies, and more! Your kids will love it!
Mid-America Science Museum
The Mid-America Science Museum is one of the best attractions in Hot Springs, Arkansas. See and learn about dinosaurs at DinoTrek – a permanent outdoor dinosaur exhibit with interactive displays.
Explore over 100 hands-on exhibits in the Hall of Wonder in the museum and surrounding woods.
Cross the Light Bridge, explore the Motion Gallery, and get a new perspective from the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk.
Take the most fun and unique tour of Hot Springs on the National Park Duck Tours.
The 75-minute tour will take you aboard an amphibious World War II DUKW. Learn about the history of Hot Springs National Park while riding along Bathhouse Row. The tour then moves on to Lake Hamilton, and into the water, where you will take a trip around St. John’s Island.
Magic Springs Theme & Water Park
One of the most fun things to do around Hot Springs National Park for kids is the Magic Springs Theme and Water Park.
There are rollercoasters, kid’s rides, family rides, and water slides. In other words, the kids are going to love it! This attraction, like most theme parks, is a little more spendy. But if you’re planning a full-on vacation to Hot Springs, consider factoring in a day just for this!
Hot Springs Bicycle Touring Company
See Hot Springs by bike! Hot Springs Bicycle Touring Company offers bike tours as well as rentals. Rent a hybrid cruiser to explore downtown, or a mountain bike to take to the trails.
Adventure Works Ziplines
For the adventurous families, try a zipline tour to see Hot Springs from above! Their signature zipline tour is available year-round. Children do need to be 8+ years old and accompanied by an adult!
Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo
Your little animal lovers will enjoy holding a baby gator, watching a feeding, and having the opportunity to pet and feed several other animals! They can even purchase a ticket to feed the alligators!
Ron Coleman Mining
Dig your own quartz crystals at family-owned Ron Coleman Mining. They claim that you are certain to find your digging fees worth of crystals to take home!
Other than digging, you can take a tour of the mine, or zipline over it!
Gangster Museum of America
Older kids might enjoy the Gangster Museum of America. It’s located on Central Avenue, so squeeze it into your day spent along Bathhouse Row.
Scenic spots and hiking trails in Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs Mountain Tower
At Hot Springs Mountain Tower, you will be transported up 216 feet by elevator to the observation deck. Take in the views of the Ouachita Mountains and look out over 140 square miles!
There is a gift shop at the base of the tower, exhibits on the lower level, and hiking trails surrounding it.
Running behind the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row, the Grand Promenade is a half-mile, brick trail. It’s a nice, scenic walk, and goes by the Display Spring and Hot Water Cascade, mentioned above. Even when Bathhouse Row is crowded, the Grand Promenade feels a lot more calm.
This short trail is what leads to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. It’s a 0.6-mile trail that is partly paved, partly gravel. The trailhead starts off the Grand Promenade.
Tufa Terrace Trail
This paved trail can be accessed from the Grand Promenade or Arlington Lawn. It’s a short 0.3-mile walk that should take only 15-30 minutes.
Sunset Trail in the Ouachita National Forest
This trail covers 8.3 miles and is the most diverse trail in Hot Springs National Park. There are several scenic overlooks and you’re likely to see wildlife such as deer and turkey.
Be aware that this is an “intermediate to difficult” rated trail. However, if you want to do only a portion of it, consider the Stonebridge Section which is only 2 miles. Park at the Gulpa Gorge Campground and head north.
There will be a climb at the beginning, but the trail will level out. You will pass the remains of an old mill, as well as a scenic pond. This section of the trail ends at the junction of Sunset Trail, so you can turn around there (or at the pond) and head back toward your vehicle.
Upper Dogwood Trail
This trail is 1 mile, with easy terrain for kids. It should take 25-35 minutes to complete. The trailhead starts just below the North Mountain Overlook.
If you’re spending multiple days in Hot Springs, Arkansas, consider a day relaxing at the clearest lake in Arkansas – Lake Ouachita. Activities include boating, kayaking, fishing, and swimming.
Lake Catherine State Park
Another beautiful place to spend the day is at Lake Catherine State Park. Go kayaking or fishing, take a hike across a swinging wooden bridge, or take the 2-mile hike to Falls Creek Falls on the Falls Branch Trail.
Family-friendly places to eat in Hot Springs National Park
Sweets and Treats:
- Fat Bottomed Girls Cupcake Shoppe
- Golden Raised Donuts
- Will’s Cinnamon Shop
- The Pancake Shop
- Deluca’s Pizzeria
- Mama Vee’s Southern Homestyle Cuisine
- Bubbalu’s (for burgers and classic American food)
- Fisherman’s Wharf Steak and Seafood
Although Hot Springs isn’t the most talked about, or the most visited of the US National Parks, it’s definitely worth a visit with your family! I hope our list of things to do in Hot Springs National Park with kids has moved up on your family travel bucket list!
Let us know – have you been or do you plan to go to Hot Springs, Arkansas?
What to read next:
- The Ultimate Guide to National Parks for Families
- Tour the St. Louis Gateway Arch National Park
- Complete List of Essential Road Trip Items for Families
- One Day at Mammoth Cave National Park
Sharing is caring: