Prior to our Gulf Coast trip, we spent a few days exploring the Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. This was our first major destination since moving back into Wander Bus, after three months at my parents, and there was a lot of excitement and anticipation as we made our way south. Perhaps you caught our Facebook Live video as we prepared to head out? If not, you can watch all our silliness here.
I remember the drive to Hot Springs being a bit of a nail bitter, at least the first night anyway. After a late start, we headed for the Ozarks with the intention of stopping for the night on the Missouri/Arkansas border. We were pulling our van behind Bussie, and let’s just say the Ozarks, at night, in a bus, pulling a Chrysler Town & Country doesn’t exactly make for smooth travel. It was stressful, and not because anything was “wrong” so much as we were doing 25 MPH up hills that would give roller coasters a run for their money. If you’ve never driven through the Ozarks, just know, these “hills” should be called mini mountains.
Our first night we pulled in late, it was probably close to 10 PM, at Ozark View Campground. This is a Passport America campground with an advertised rate of $18 for the night. Unknown to us, however, they charge $2 per person over 2 people. We are a family of 5. So, what we thought was going to be around $20 become around $26 dollars for the night, and that’s fine, but this information is not displayed on Passport America, nor is it clearly spelled out on their website. Lesson learned, and we haven’t made that mistake twice.
The following day we opted to not pull the van. Smart move. As we progressed into Arkansas we encountered more mountainous roads, and as I was in the van with the kids, I soon discovered motion sickness runs in the family. Thankfully, there was no physical confirmation of this, but it did require a few stops for fresh air and steady ground.
The drive, despite the few challenges, was stunning and our spirits continued to be lifted as we took in the sites during a rendezvous lunch stop with Jason and Wander Bus.
I have to say, it’s really nice to have your kitchen travel with you. No worrying about finding some place to eat, no concerns that you won’t have everything you need on hand, or that you didn’t pack enough. It’s all right there in your tiny house on wheels.
We didn’t have far to wander after lunch and eventually found our way to Treasure Isle RV Park, located in Lake Hamilton, AR. A short distance from the Hot Springs, Treasure Isle served as home base for the next three nights. This was another Passport America campground at $15 a night with no “hidden” fees. Great deal. Nice spot, decent bathrooms and a lot of pollen. A LOT of pollen. We cleaned a healthy layer of the yellow stuff off our outdoor items daily. There is a small lake and a boat dock on site, and a pool, however, the pool wasn’t open during our stay. Spaces are really close to one another, so if you’re looking to connect with the great outdoors, this isn’t the place, on the other hand, if you are looking for a decent rate and close proximity to the Hot Springs National Park, Treasure Isle is worth checking out.
We didn’t waste much time hanging at camp, and the next day we headed to Hot Springs. Now, I don’t know what I was expecting from Hot Spring National Park, but it wasn’t what I laid eyes on when we first arrived.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit, you should put Hot Springs on your must-do list. Bathhouse Row is an architectural feast with large porches and rockers that just beckon you to sit, relax and take in the people watching. To walk down the street and see the variety of establishments that would have been available to those seeking better health 100 years ago was an adventure in itself. Plus, we were gifted with gorgeous weather our entire trip. Blue skies made for a perfect photo backdrop.
The visitors center, housed in the Fordyce Bathhouse, has a really fascinating self-guided tour that gives you a visual look into the life of an early bathhouse and the kind of amenities and equipment used to treat and pamper guests. Jack wasn’t a fan of the still working elevator.
The boys participated in the Junior Ranger program, and I’m going to say this might have been my favorite program of the whole six-week journey. I found the entire history of Bathhouse Row really fascinating and, while at times it does feel like herding cats to get the booklets done, especially with each kid in a different age bracket, the boys seemed to really enjoy themselves and I was impressed with how much they retained and the variety of age appropriate challenges in the booklet.
This trip was also the first of many where Jason and I had to find the right balance between work and play. Despite the vacation looking feel of these pictures, Jason and I are never on vacation. We are fortunate to have jobs that we can take with us, but if a time-sensitive press release hits the inbox one of us drops everything and deals with it. It’s a balance we still struggling with. Often one of us is sitting in a cafe, or staying put in the bus while the rest of the family explores, or our days start late, and we spend the mornings working. This is all a blog for another day, though.
In addition to the indoor tour and junior ranger badges, there are several hikes and leisurely strolls around Hot Springs, much of which we were unable to take advantage of in the three short days we were there, however I can highly recommend the short walk along the grand promenade, a beautiful stretch of land that looks down on Bathhouse Row, as well as the drive up to Hot Spring Mountain Tower. We choose not to pay to go into the tower, however, the picnic area has a few lookout points offering breathtaking views of the city below and the wide open land that surrounds Hot Springs, AR. You’ll also find several spots behind the visitors center where you can get up close and personal with the 140-degree water flowing from the surrounding hillside, or you could visit Whittington Park and walk their easy loop trail.
We also took advantage of the water filling stations located at the south end of Bathhouse Row and filled our bottles with the natural spring water. I wasn’t a fan of the taste, everyone else thought it tasted fine. And of course, we picked up a couple of souvenir items. An NPS Hot Springs magnet to join our growing collection at the front of Wander Bus and a pretty awesome decal, just in case anyone was wondering where our allegiance lies.
Looking back, this was a great start to our trip south and if I have one regret it’s that I didn’t take advantage of the spa offerings, which includes a traditional thermal bath at the Buckstaff Bathhouse, or a more modern spa experience at Quapaw Baths and Spa, both of which are still open to the public.
As first stops go, this one taught us a few things and set us up nicely to continue the journey south towards New Orleans, the first stop on our Gulf Coast tour and definitely our most flavorful food wise. You can read all about our adventures in the Big Easy here as well as part two and three of the trip along the Gulf Shores.
You can learn more about Hot Springs National Park here.
Till next time Fellow Wanderers, be well.