Hot Springs, Arkansas

In an effort to embrace spontaneity and break out of routine, Steve and I decided to go camping in Hot Spring, Arkansas. We needed a break, something to prevent burn out, and decided a new experience would do the trick.

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As we drove through the “Natural State”, it rained. The whole way. We ate dinner in Little Rock, Arkansas at a place called Taqueria El Palenque. With bellies full of quesadillas, we finished the drive to Lake Catherine State Park where we’d pitch a tent and sleep. The big trees that hung over our campsite dripped water onto us as we pitched the tent. We wiped out the inside of the tent, threw our belongings in, and wrapped ourselves in blankets. Throughout the night, we’d both wake up to whisper, “Hey, are you still there?” or “What was that noise?”

We woke the next morning excited to hike. We drove to the city of Hot Springs which has clearly marked free public parking and is super navigable. I needed coffee, so, we walked down the main street called “Bathhouse Row” where eight bathhouse buildings offer mineral baths and spa services. There are several gift shops, soap shops, breweries, and restaurants placed along the row. With coffee in hand, we stopped in at the National Park Visitor Center and got maps of the trails. With the park ranger’s advice, we set off on our hike.

Hot Springs National Park has many trails. We opted for a 6 mile hike that combined a few of them. We started with the Dead Chief Trail which was a bit of a steep uphill start. Then, we got onto the Gulpha Gorge Trail. We climbed up to the shortest, but by far most beautiful Goat Rock Trail. Seriously, whatever trails you do, make sure you end up at the top of the Goat Rock Trail. Best. Views.

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Then, we took the Dogwood Trail (upper loop) to the Dogwood Trail (lower loop). The lower loop leads to the Arlington Trail where you can walk through the Arlington Hotel. On the fourth floor is Al Capone’s suite. It’s said that Hot Spring, Arkansas was a secluded place for Al Capone, Frank Costello, Bugs Moran, and Lucky Luciano to hide out. Gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging were apparently popular in the 1800s and 1900s in Hot Springs, Arkansas. This explains why there is a Gangster Museum in the town.

After our hike, I was trying to think of exit strategies because there was no way I was going to be able to sleep smelling the way I did. We stopped by the visitors center again to turn in our hiking log. Since we hiked for 5 hours, we received free Hot Springs water bottles as souvenirs. We walked a little more around the town, but ultimately headed to Dulce Gelato for some…gelato!

There is something in Hot Springs, Arkansas called Garvan Woodland Gardens. It’s a 210 acre garden and chapel that the University of Arkansas architecture program designed. We wanted to see the Anthony Chapel, which looks absolutely incredible. Understandably, it was closed for a wedding.

We drove back to Lake Catherine State Park to think about taking a nap and figure out a way to rinse off. The sound of splashing and children laughing led us to the swimming beach. Perfect. We swam around, trying to soak off the hike with the water.

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Lake Catherine State Park also had a super friendly visitor center where we purchased supplies to make s’mores! Steve managed to ignite a fire on soggy wood. We toasted marshmallows and hoped it didn’t attract any hungry animals. We watched fireflies light up just beyond our tent as we fell asleep.

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We slept in our little tent and it actually got cold that night. When we woke up, we ate Goldfish and applesauce (like true campers) while watching nearby deer creep out of the woods. A park ranger approached them and fed about 8 deer that seemed totally unafraid of him.

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Arkansas was everything I thought it would be; there is an appreciation for the outdoors, mineral baths, an interesting history, and views of the mountains. Everyone we met was friendly. It was the perfect mini-vacation for us before the fall semester.

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