The Complete Guide to Camping In and Near Hot Springs National Park

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Historical interest and natural beauty strike a perfect balance in Hot Springs National Park.

This little gem is the oldest managed by the National Park System, but its storied past extends thousands of years beyond that as a sacred place for numerous Indigenous Peoples. 

Visitors today can enjoy peaceful Hot Springs National Park camping, hiking trails, grandiose bathhouses, and endless recreational activities in the park and the nearby city of Hot Springs.

In our guide to camping near Hot Springs, Arkansas, we’ll cover:

  • The incredible activities on offer
  • Tips for a successful camping check
  • Places to pitch your tent

And plenty more!

Those looking to make the most of their escape to nature will have their pick from a wealth of excellent camping options in the area. Whether you’re looking for a deluxe glamping experience or free dispersed camping, we’ve got you covered!

Gulpha Creek in the fall.
You can camp year-round in and near Hot Springs National Park. Photo courtesy of NPS/Mitch Smith.

Table of Contents

Camping in Hot Springs National Park

Given the relatively small size of the park and its urban surroundings, camping options are limited inside Hot Springs National Park. Backcountry and dispersed camping are not permitted anywhere inside the park. The only place you can camp within Hot Springs National Park is at the Gulpha Gorge Campground, but fortunately, this is an excellent option.

With a shady and idyllic location on the banks of Gulpha Creek, Gulpha Gorge Campground accommodates both tents and RVs and gives campers easy proximity to trails, bathhouses, the Visitor Center, and other attractions. It is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis.

An RV parked by the stream at Gulpha Gorge Campground.
Many of the sites at Gulpha Gorge Campground are located right along Gulpha Creek. Photo courtesy of NPS/Mitch Smith.

What to bring on your Hot Springs National Park Camping trip

Preparing for your Hot Springs National Park camping trip involves more than deciding which campground best fits your needs. There is also the important job of making sure you have all the right gear you’ll need to ensure a great trip.

We’re sure you’ll already have the essentials like a great tentsleeping bags, and camp chairs, but below are some of our favorite items specifically for camping in Hot Springs National Park:

Gulpha Gorge Campground

# of Sites: 40

Type: Tent, RV

Fees: $30/night (credit or debit only)

Amenities:

  • Flush toilets
  • Potable water
  • Electric, water, and sewer hookups
  • Dump station
  • Trash/recycling
  • Picnic tables
  • Grills

Pets: Pets are allowed in the campground and on all of the trails in Hot Springs National Park. Dogs must be kept on a 6′ leash.

Fires: Grills are provided at all campsites. Ground fires are only permitted in designated fire rings at the campground.

Reservations: It is not possible to reserve a spot at Gulpha Gorge Campground. All sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. It is important to register before setting up camp and you can only pay with a credit or debit card.

Wildlife: Hot Springs National Park is home to thousands of species, including black bears, white tailed deer, coyotes, and bats. Although it’s unlikely that you’ll see a bear at the campground, be sure to secure all of your food items in a car or bear canister. The most common animal you’ll encounter in the summertime is the mosquito, so pack the bug spray!

Website: Gulpha Gorge Campground

A white tailed deer, seen while camping at Hot Springs National Park.
White tailed deer are common in Hot Springs National Park. Photo courtesy of NPS/Mitch Smith.

Campgrounds Near Hot Springs National Park

From rustic to resort-like, there are plenty of great camping options near Hot Springs National Park to suit every style and budget. In this section, you’ll find our recommendations for the best campgrounds within a 35-minute drive from the National Park.

Hot Springs KOA

# of sites: 70

Type: RV, Tent, Cabins

Fees: $30/night (Tent), $40-$75/night (RV), $75-$140/night (Cabin)

Distance to Hot Springs National Park: 4 miles ( 7-minute drive)

Amenities:

  • Toilets/Showers
  • Communal kitchen
  • Laundry
  • Water/Electric hookups (50 amp max)
  • WiFi
  • Pool
  • Snack bar
  • Games
  • Shuttle to Hot Springs National Park

Pets: Yes, must be kept on leash.

Fires: Permitted in designated fire pits. Firewood is available for purchase at the campground.

Reservations: Recommended. Reservations can be made HERE.

Website: Hot Springs National Park KOA

Lake Ouachita State Park

# of sites: 93

Type: Walk-in tent, Tent, RV, Cabin

Fees: $14/night (Tent), $36/night (RV w/hookups), $200-$250 (Cabin)

Distance to Hot Springs National Park: 15 miles (25-minute drive)

Amenities:

  • Toilets/Showers
  • Potable water
  • Water/sewer/electric (50 amp) hookups (Class AAA sites)
  • Picnic tables
  • Barbeques
  • Gift shop in Visitor’s Center
  • Boat rentals

Pets: Yes, must be kept on leash.

Fires: Yes, in designated areas.

Reservations: Recommended. There is a two-night minimum for weekend reservations and a three-night minimum for holidays. Reservations can be made HERE.

Website: Lake Ouachita State Park

Charlton Recreation Area

# of sites: 52

Type: Tent, RV, Group

Fees: $15/night (tent sites), $25/night (Single RV sites w/hookups), $40/night (Double RV sites w/hookups), $40/night (Group tent site)

Distance to Hot Springs National Park: 22 miles (35-minute drive)

Amenities:

  • Flush toilets/Showers
  • Potable water
  • Picnic tables
  • Barbeques and fire pits
  • Tent/trailer pad
  • Swimming area
  • Water/Electric hookups (Loops B & C)
  • Dump Station

Pets: Yes, must be kept on leash.

Fires: Yes, in designated areas.

Reservations: N/A. All sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Website: Charlton Recreation Area

Lake Catherine State Park

# of sites: 76

Type: Tent, RV, Yurt, Cabins

Fees: $13/night (primitive tent sites), $23/night (Class B sites), $36/night (class AAA sites), $58/night (yurt), $100/night (cabins)

Distance to Hot Springs National Park: 13 miles (20-minute drive)

Amenities:

  • Flush toilets/Showers
  • Potable water
  • Picnic tables
  • Barbeques and fire pits
  • Tent/trailer pad
  • Marina/Boat Rentals
  • Water/Electric hookups

Pets: Yes, must be kept on leash.

Fires: Yes, in designated areas.

Reservations: Highly recommended. Reservations can be made HERE.

Website: Lake Catherine State Park

RV Camping near Hot Springs National Park
There are plenty of great options for both RV and tent camping near Hot Springs National Park.

Dispersed Camping Near Hot Springs National Park

The hands-down best place for dispersed camping near Hot Springs National Park is in Ouachita National Forest. This incredible wilderness area encompasses 1.8 million acres and includes Arkansas’ largest lake, Lake Ouachita.

The Forest Service offers this advice about camping in Ouachita National Forest:

“…[P]rimitive camping is allowed almost anywhere in the Ouachita National Forest unless there is a sign stating otherwise, or it is a wildlife food plot. Located throughout the Forests are areas that have been campsites for many years. These are located along roadsides, trails, mountain tops, or near streams.”

For easy access to Hot Springs National Park, camp in the southeastern part of Ouachita National Forest. The Jessieville-Winona-Fourche Ranger District and Caddo/Womble Ranger District are both good options. If you are feeling adventurous, head towards Ouachita via US-270W or AR-298W, and choose a series of dirt roads to follow to seek out a camp spot once inside the forest.

Those looking for a little more guidance can check out the recommendations on this website.

Always follow National Forest Guidelines and Leave No Trace Practices when dispersed camping.

Dispersed Camping near Hot Springs National Park
Dispersed camping near Hot Springs National Park is a peaceful and free option.

Ouachita National Forest

# of Sites: Varies

Type: Primitive (some spaces can accommodate RVs, but no hookups)

Fees: Free

Distance to Hot Springs National Park: Varies (likely about an hour+ drive)

Amenities:

  • None
  • Water should be filtered before drinking from lakes or streams.
  • There may be a recreation area nearby with water/bathrooms, and necessities are available in some towns within 30-minutes’ drive.

Pets: Yes

Fires: Yes

Reservations: N/A

Website: Ouachita National Forest

Tent Camping Hot Springs National Park

Activities at Hot Springs National Park

The Hot Springs National Park is home to great adventures and sightseeing, so come Indulge, unwind, and enjoy the simple pleasures that camping near Hot Springs, Arkansas has to offer. 

Below is a list of my favorite activities to do when visiting the Hot Springs National Park. 

Hiking

The Hot Springs National Park is full of beautiful trails and hikes that are sure to keep you and your fellow campers busy! Trails range from 2-20 km in length, and there are options for all ages and fitness levels. 

The well-paved tracks will lead you to some of the most magnificent views. So be prepared to be amazed at the scenery that Hot Springs National Park can offer you. 

Top three hikes to do at the Hot Springs National Park:

Grand Promenade

  • Length: .7 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 75ft 
  • Route Type: Out & Back 
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash

This is a perfect trail for kids and families to complete! It features many views of the park and the downtown side of the Hot springs. The hike is mostly flat and is one of the oldest hiking trails that Hot Springs National Park has. 

Sunset Trail

  • Length: 15-17 mile loop.
  • Elevation Gain: 2234ft
  • Route Type: loop track. However, there is an option to do only sections of the hike. 
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash

This is the longest maintained trail in the Hot Springs National Park and is divided into three sections, which allows hikers to not have to complete the whole circuit. This hike is recommended for experienced hikers with higher levels of fitness. 

Hot Springs Mountain Trail Loop to Gulpha Gorge and Goat Rock.

  • Length: 4.5 miles.
  • Elevation Gain: 1043ft
  • Route Type: loop track. 
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on a leash.

This hike is considered moderately challenging and usually takes 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete. This is a popular trail which is open all year round. 

Birdwatching

According to the Bird Watching Academy, The Grand Promenade behind the Bathhouse Row is one of the best places for birdwatching.

Many bird species nest in both the deciduous and evergreen shrubs and bushes. Another way to bird watch is by hiking down the West Mountain trails in the early mornings.

Picnicking

Grab your family and friends and set up a wholesome picnic in the Hot Springs National Park!

It’s the perfect place to spend quality time with your loved ones whilst being in nature; you will be amazed at how great you feel after!  

Scenic drives

Enjoy all the beautiful views surrounding the Hot Springs National Park by car. This is especially great if you have younger kids or are injured and cannot walk the tracks. 

Relaxing in hot springs

Hot Springs National Park is home to 47 natural hot spring pools. These springs maintain a temperature of 143F and are a real draw for visitors to the area. 

The springs are easily accessible from the park’s main scenic road, making them easy to find. 

Photography

Get out in nature and capture the beauty of the Hot Springs National Park through your lens. 

Camping

Relax and unwind at one of the campsites around the Hot Springs National Park camping site. Don’t worry about being in a rush! Instead, take your time enjoying all the beauty the park has to offer. 

Tips for Successful Camping in Hot Springs National Park

We all want to have the best experience we can on our Hot Springs National Park camping trip. No matter how experienced you might be with camping in national parks, it is important to remember that every park is different. 

To help you out, I have gathered five hot tips to help you have a successful camping trip:

Plan ahead

Make sure you do your research and plan your trip ahead of time. Some campsites sell out well in advance, so to ensure you get one, make sure you get onto it earlier rather than later! 

Check weather forecasts

Conditions can change quickly in a National Park known for its severe weather any time of year. 

Sometimes, sunny mornings can abruptly change to a stormy afternoon and evening! Heavy rain and lightning are common, so make sure you bring the correct gear to stay safe. 

Set up camp before dark

Avoid getting tangled up in the dark and instead, give yourself time to set up your campsite before it gets dark. No one wants to be sorting out their campsite with a flashlight!

Follow campfire rules

Make sure you are up to date on all fire rules and regulations before you decide to start a fire to keep warm or roast your marshmallows. Remember that the rules are put in place for a reason, so respect them and respect the Park. 

Dispose of trash properly

Be a tidy human and remember that what you bring in with you, you must then also bring out!

Conclusion

Whether you’re enjoying the modern comforts of an RV Resort or adventuring into the wilderness to find that perfect dispersed campsite, you’ll be well-situated to make the most of all that Hot Springs National Park has to offer. We hope this guide helps you spend less time planning and more time in the great outdoors. Got any questions or tips to share? Leave them in the comments below.

Happy Camping!

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