We were really not sure what to expect during our visit to Hot Springs, or really Arkansas in general, but we were blown away with the unexpected scenery and unique setting of the national park and the surrounding area.
In typical fashion, we did most of our research after we booked our weeklong stay, only to find out that the hot springs to the bath houses and fountains for filling were closed for maintenance for the duration of our stay. You better believe that an appointment at one of the bath houses is at the top of my list of must-dos the next time we come through this area! While it was a bummer to learn we could not really experience the hot springs during our visit, we found some amazing hiking trails in the park.
We stayed only about 10 minutes from the park, which sits in the middle of downtown Hot Springs. It felt a little strange preparing for a hike while standing in a parking garage, but that just added to the excitement and anticipation. We had scoped out the trails, but we had no idea what kind of scenery we would encounter or if we would be hiking through town.
Our first stop was at the visitor’s center, which was also closed, but they had information and maps out front along with the stamp for Little Bird’s National Parks passport. We got our stamp and map and selected the route we wanted to take.
As we made our way to the trailhead, we found a small hot spring pond and were able to dip our hands in and feel the water. Unfortunately, the trails were not initially well marked, but we finally found our way to the trail we wanted to start on.
It was at the start of the trail that we learned about the “terrain cure.” The terrain cure was a program implemented in many European spas and subsequently adopted at Hot Springs in the early 1900s. It promotes the goal of health through exercise. The regimen includes graduated levels of hiking and climbing, and roads were constructed up Hot Springs mountain at 4 levels of difficulty. Naturally, the trail we started on was the most strenuous of the trails that were part of the initial system, and it did not disappoint. The so-called “short cut” was perhaps shorter in distance than the alternative switchbacks, but it sure was a steep bugger. We definitely felt the immediate effects of the terrain cure (and we may be adopting this phrase for all future hiking adventures).
After the initial 0.25-mile hike straight uphill, the trail evened out and was absolutely delightful. We made our way around much of the mountain, taking in the beautiful views of the valley below and catching glimpses of the observation tower at the peak of the mountain.
The trail was in really good condition and we encountered very few people, and after a brief stop for a snack, we felt comfortable getting Bird out of the backpack and letting her run along the trail for a little ways. Her appreciation for the world as she experiences it continually impresses me, and she picked up rocks and sticks and even stopped to smell some tall grasses along the way.
The fact that we went from the town to the trail and woods within minutes boggled our minds through much of the hike, especially when we reached a flight of stairs and ended up standing on a road with motels to our right and shops to our left.
We ended our hike at one of the cold springs fountains situated around the park. The water from the springs has a pH similar to orange juice and many would claim it has tremendous health benefits. Naturally, we had to fill up our water bottles and give it a try. While it has a slightly different taste than your typical filtered water, I cannot say it was better or worse or had any immediate impact on my overall wellbeing. It was nice and cold, and a much needed refreshment after the hike, but that is about all I can say. We did stop and fill up our water bottles again during our stay, mostly because we could.
The day following our hike, I returned to the park and was able to explore the shops and town a little more. The area of the mountain we hiked is fully accessible by car, so I took the truck up the mountain and had a nice solo lunch and took a call for work. It was a treat to go from our campsite to the beautiful seclusion of the mountain in 15 minutes.
Our time in Hot Springs surprised us in so many ways, and I know we will be back (this is the first place we have seriously thought about extending our stay and changing all of our upcoming plans). I think we will make sure the hot springs are open for our next visit, as I am fairly certain the terrain cure is more effective with a nice, hot soaking bath.