Hot Springs Arkansas turned out to be so much more than we expected, especially since neither one of us had spent much time in the state. After spending six months in the desert, the lush, green, rolling hills were a welcome sight, but we were immediately assaulted by the humidity. It felt like we were swimming anytime we stepped outside, but that didn’t stop us from exploring as much as we could.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Gulpha Gorge Campground in Hot Springs National Park since we wanted to be in the park, but still be close to the town. The campground is one of the best that we’ve stayed in and we are glad that we spent the entire 14 days that we could here. Check out our in-depth blog detailing all of the amenities available there and what we think about the park.
Where we ate
There is nothing like pulling up Happy Cow to search for vegan options in the area you are in and getting the response “0 results found.” Luckily we ended up coming across a place called Tosha Kitchen which had some vegan options for us. You can learn more about what we ate there in our full review.
What we did
Staying in the National Park, we had access to the trails almost directly from our campsite. We spent two good days exploring the woods nearby and the hikes were fun and somewhat challenging.
Gulpha Gorge Trail -> Dead Chief Trail- We started doing this hike because Aaron had read that this would take us to the hot springs, which it did, just not in the way we expected. Shortly after crossing the creek, you immediately begin hiking up to an elevation change of about 200 feet, give or take. After that, it’s a relatively smooth hike and was rather enjoyable. However, it does not take you to any of the hot springs (which we never found), but instead, it takes you to the back side of bathhouse row. One thing to watch out for, if you get down to bathhouse row, you have to hike back up the hill which is about 300-400 feet in elevation change. Our total hike was 4.6 miles over 2:23:49.
Gulpha Gorge Trail -> Hot Springs Mountain Trail -> Goat Rock Trail -> Back to camp- Aaron really wanted to do this series of hikes not only because it covered the majority of the rest of the trails, but also the hiking guide stated there were some great views. Unfortunately, there were only two total locations where we had any sort of real view, the rest was in the same thick forest as the previous hike. Complaints aside, it still was a beautiful hike which ended up running about 4.61 miles over 2:03:26.
We planned on taking the blow up kayak that Hayden’s parents had given us out to the lake and were going to rent a stand-up paddleboard. We decided to look for a dry bag to put our keys, phones, extra GoPro batteries, etc… into while we were on the water. As we were looking through the ads, we came across a screaming good deal on a kayak, so we decided we would go take a look. We ended up purchasing a brand new kayak and dry bag, picked up the rental stand-up paddleboard and hit the water. The problem was since it was Memorial Day weekend, there were a lot of boats out on the water which made this a stressful adventure. We found ourself in a little cove where we could be more relaxed and at this point, Aaron decided he was going to take a crack at the stand-up paddleboard, and, well… we’ll let you see how that went.
After Aaron’s mastery of the paddleboard, we decided that this was not for us, and decided to return it and go back and purchase a second kayak. We did not want to go back to the lake with all the boats and asked around to find out that we were only about a half hour or so from Lake Ouachita State Park. So we drove up there and launched our kayaks onto the lake from the shore. There was much less boat traffic and with us both in kayaks, we were able to cruise around the water and really enjoy ourselves. We found a spot that we could come back to and camp out for awhile so we made plans to come back the next day.
The next morning, we loaded up the grill, some food, some beers, the dog, and all three kayaks and headed back up to the lake. We aired up the blow-up kayak and loaded it up with the grill, our tools, our cooler bag, and everything else that wasn’t us or the dog. Aaron attached it to the back of his kayak and Hayden loaded up Lulu into hers before we set off across the lake. Everything went perfectly and we arrived on the other side of the lake to our own private beach where we setup shop for the day. We cooked up some vegan kielbasas on the grill and had a beer or two before getting back into our kayaks and cruising around the lake again. We repeated this throughout the day, spending several hours on the lake before finally returning back to camp.
Hot Springs is known for their row of bathhouses and we knew we were going to to be hitting at least one of them up, so Hayden started calling around to make an appointment. We were told that for $20 per person, we could do a 20 minute soak in the public tubs and for $45 for the two of us, we could have our own private bath. Seems like a no brainer right? Well apparently that’s false and for the $20 per person, we could have spent as much time as we wanted in the public baths. Oh well, we ended up getting to just relax in our own private tub without having to deal with people. We added Juniper salts to the bath, which was supposed to help heal your muscles and we can say we felt pretty healed after we got out of there. It’s like being in a hot tub, so after a few minutes, you start sweating and getting hot, but it’s absolutely worth it. Even Aaron walked out of there saying “I think I could be a spa guy.”
Running of the Tubs
We found out about the Running of the Tubs when we were at the Ohio Club one night having some appetizers and a drink. It’s an annual event where people decorate actual bathtubs, put wheels on them and race them down the main street of town. The event was to be held over two days, Friday night would be the displaying and judging of the tubs and then Saturday would be the parade and actual races. What a funny and cool thing to have experienced! We showed up Friday night after we got off work and got to witness the actual judging of the tubs. It’s a whole big charade where the judges are offered bribes in the form of snacks and cupcakes in order to receive better scores. The whole thing ends up being a fundraiser for whatever charity or group has been selected for the year.
The next day, the whole town converges on Central Ave, which is completely closed down for the races. They parade all of the tubs down the street in which the spectators are encouraged to throw water balloons or spray them with water guns as they pass by. Once they’ve made it down to the starting line, they get lined up in their heats and await the starting shot. The tubs are actual physical bathtubs and are filled with water before the start of the race and there are different stations that they have to stop and perform different tasks. There are also uniform requirements that need to be met in order to finish the race. The entire time this is happening, everyone is pelting the racers with water balloons and squirt guns. It was one of the funniest things we’ve seen in quite some time and unfortunately, we could not stay for the entire race as we had to get back to camp, pack up, and head off to Kentucky.