Tag Archives: hot springs

Hot Springs National Park

Overview

The hot springs that give this Arkansas town its name were the first site ever set aside by the federal government for protection way back in 1832.  That was forty years before Yellowstone National Park came into existence, and is the reason Hot Springs National Park was commemorated as the first minted of the America the Beautiful Coin Collection in 2010.  It is also the reason that Hot Springs is unlike any other National Park in the system, checking in at only 5,550 acres on either side of a bustling downtown lined with historic bathhouses.

Hot Springs National Park is not one of the 50 covered in great detail in our guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon), but as one of the 63 National Parks it is included with a photo.

Highlights

Fordyce Bathhouse, West Mountain Scenic Drive, Goat Rock, Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Balanced Rock

Must-Do Activity

When you visit, it is best to start at the National Park Service (NPS) museum within the former Fordyce Bathhouse, where you will learn that the water is heated not by volcanic activity but by gravitational compression.  Whether or not you pay to soak in the non-sulfurous waters at a privately-owned bathhouse, be sure to fill up a bottle at one of several mineral rich drinking fountains around town.  Then you too can “quaff the elixir” the same way tourists have been doing here for nearly 200 years.

Best Trail

There are several hiking options in the forested hills around the town, including the 17-mile long Sunset Trail that provides access to Balanced Rock.  The Gulpha Gorge Trail leaves from the NPS campground up to vistas at Goat Rock or you can also park at the top of North Mountain and hike down to it on the Goat Rock Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the men’s locker room, a beautiful stained glass ceiling lets in light on the sculpture of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto who came to the hot springs in 1541.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hosp/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None to visit the NPS museum in Fordyce Bathhouse, but there is a charge to climb Hot Springs Mountain Tower or visit one of the privately-owned bathhouses (like Buckstaff Baths or Quapaw Baths and Spa).

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there are some tight curves on the scenic drive up Hot Springs Mountain.

Camping

The NPS run Gulpha Gorge Campground offers sites with or without electrical and water hookups.

Related Sites

Chickasaw National Recreation Area (Oklahoma)

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Explore More – In the roaring 1920s, Hot Springs, Arkansas was like the original Las Vegas attracting athletes, politicians, and which famous mobsters?

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Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Overview

Archaeological evidence suggests indigenous farmers lived around the Gila River dating back thousands of years, but the cliff dwellings were only briefly inhabited between AD 1270 and 1300.  After their initial discovery by Anglo-American settlers in 1878 heavy looting occurred, prompting President Theodore Roosevelt to establish Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in 1907.  It is not an easy part of the country to access, but offers two incredibly scenic drives through the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico.  Plan to spend at least a couple days in the area, maybe hiking or backpacking to some hot springs.

Highlights

Museum, film, ruins, scenic views, hot springs in area

Must-Do Activity

The Gila Visitor Center is jointly managed for the 533-acre National Monument and 558,000-acre Gila Wilderness (which in 1924 became the world’s first designated Wilderness).  From the National Park Service (NPS) contact station located just down the road, a one-mile loop trail climbs 180 feet to a well-preserved collection of cliff dwellings.  If you find that you enjoy climbing ladders up to cliff dwellings, then check out Bandelier National Monument and Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park.

Best Trail

The trailhead also provides access to the Gila Wilderness, so watch for backpackers on the road and black bears along the West Fork Gila River.  Lightfeather Hot Springs is less than one mile from a different trailhead located closer to the Gila Visitor Center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are about 40 rooms in the cliff dwelling ruins, which housed approximately ten families.  The south-facing cliff dwellings received the sun in the winter and shade in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/gicl/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The access roads are paved, but narrow and curvy, especially Highway 15 that heads north from Silver City, New Mexico.

Camping

Upper and Lower Scorpion Campgrounds are located just outside the National Monument boundaries in Gila National Forest.  No permits are necessary to backpack in the Gila Wilderness.

Related Sites

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – The people who built the cliff dwellings were part of what culture, with pottery designs unique to the Tularosa phase (AD 1100 to 1300)?

Olympic National Park

Overview

Rising from the Pacific Ocean to 7,980-foot tall Mount Olympus, western Washington’s Olympic National Park is arguably the most diverse National Park in the entire country.  Originally named as a National Monument in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect his namesake Roosevelt elk, the area was almost named Elk National Park when upgraded in 1938. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Ruby Beach, Lake Quinault, Hoh Rainforest, Sol Duc Falls, Hurricane Ridge

Must-Do Activity

Visitors can explore tidepools at Ruby Beach (pictured in our logo below), soak at a hot springs resort after hiking around Sol Duc Falls, experience sweeping mountain vistas from Hurricane Ridge, and boat across picturesque Lake Crescent.

Best Trail

There are more than 600 miles of trails, but one of the quietest is on the north shore of Lake Quinault and leads to a huge, hollow western redcedar tree.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Discover the moss-draped Hoh Rainforest, which at 160 inches annually experiences the highest rainfall totals in the continental U.S.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but notably the road up to Hurricane Ridge is not open every day of the week in the offseason.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds and four lodges, plus the historic Lake Quinault Lodge built in 1926 (and technically outside of the park).

Related Sites

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

This design we created to celebrate Olympic National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Although they are shrinking, how many glaciers are found in the Olympic Mountains?

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Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Overview

In 1964, Lake Mead became the first National Recreation Area administered by the National Park Service (NPS).  It actually encompasses two reservoirs on the Colorado River: Lake Mead formed by Boulder Dam in 1936 and (further south) Lake Mohave formed by Davis Dam in 1951.  Boulder Dam was later renamed Hoover Dam and is one big reason this is among the busiest NPS sites with about 7-million annual visitors (also partly due to its proximity to Las Vegas, Nevada).

Highlights

Hoover Dam, Northshore Road, Redstone Trail, Arizona Hot Springs, boating

Must-Do Activity

The most fantastic destination in Lake Mead National Recreation Area is Arizona Hot Springs, where pools are formed by sandbags in a narrow canyon.  It is accessible from Liberty Bell Trailhead by a 6.5-mile roundtrip hike through a beautiful canyon down to the Colorado River.  The trail is closed during the hot summer months, but you can still access it by canoe or kayak from Willow Beach Marina or just downstream from the Hoover Dam (with a special permit). Downriver in Black Canyon, stop at Emerald Cove for incredible photographs.

Best Trail

Redstone Trail is a short loop hike through a fantastic red rock area found just off North Shore Drive.  It is similar to the photogenic Valley of Fire State Park located to the north.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The area around the Hoover Dam can get very crowded, as can the outstanding overlook on the 1,900-foot long Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (completed in 2010 to route Highway 93 traffic off the dam).  Standing 890-feet above the river below, it ranks as the second highest bridge in the United States behind Colorado’s Royal Gorge Bridge.  Be prepared to pass through a security screening if you park at the bridge or Hoover Dam.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/lake/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass to access Willow Beach Marina or Lake Mead itself.  At Hoover Dam there is free parking on the Arizona side, but fees for the museum and tours.

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, including the steep drive down to Willow Beach Marina, which also has a fish hatchery open to visitors.

Camping

There are multiple NPS campgrounds around the perimeter of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave.  Backcountry camping is allowed without a permit at Arizona Hot Springs, which is even more spectacular after dark.

Related Sites

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona-Utah)

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument (Nevada)

Explore More – Lake Mead is not often filled to capacity, so when was the last time its spillways were needed during a big snowmelt year?