It's no longer Gangster's Paradise — the mobs have been driven out — but the history remains with the race track that Al Capone funded still operating just down the street. The only mobs you'll find in the park these days are mobs of people coming to enjoy the bathhouses, the best water you've ever tasted straight from the ground, the hikes, and the views. Before you decide to relax and experience one of the bathhouses, take a secluded hike away from the crowds.
How to get to the hikes:
From the Visitor's Center, head south on Central Avenue and then turn right (west) onto Prosepect Avenue. Be on the lookout for West Mountain Drive and turn right. You can't miss it since there's a massive Hot Springs National Park sign. Next up is a fork in the road.
West Mountain Trail
Turn left at the fork and you'll head to the West Mountain Trail. Park at the first parking lot on your left to access this trail.
This is a loop trail that intersects with several other trails. The gravel path is popular among walkers, joggers, and hikers. Study the map at the trailhead and take a picture of it so you won't get lost. The 1.2 mile trail is well marked and will always point you in the right direction at trail intersections. It's a fairly easy hike with only a few switchbacks and gradual uphill ascents and downhill descents. Novice hikers will love this trail for its ease of navigation, simple terrain, and views through the trees.
From West Mountain Trail, drive to the second parking lot up the mountain to get direct access to the Sunset Trail.
This trail is a long, 8.7 mile one-way hike. It has great views, and experienced hikers will love it for its distance. Keep in mind that it's a one-way trail; if you don't have a pick-up car at the opposite trailhead, your 8.7 mile hike will turn into a 17.4 mile all day hiking excursion.
Back at the fork in the road near the Hot Springs National Park sign, go right and drive until you dead end into a parking lot.
At the parking lot you'll find the 1.2 mile loop Whittington Trail. It's an easy trail, like the West Mountain Trail, but all you have to do is stay on the trail. Only the Mountain Top Trail dead ends into the Whittington Trail, but it doesn't intersect, making this gravel trail super easy to navigate. What started out as a formal landscaped park that turned into a scene of summer concerts is now a great trail to get away from the crowds of downtown Hot Springs.
Mountain Top Trail
Near the parking lot for the Whittington Trail is the trailhead for the Mountain Top Trail.
This 1.5 mile linear hike is great for hikers looking for a workout. It meanders past the West Mountain Trail and intersects the Sunset Trail on the way down to Prospect Avenue. When you hit Prospect Avenue, turn around and get ready for another 1.5 mile hike back to the top. By the time you hit the scenic views at the parking lot, your quads will be burning and thanking you for the work out.
Find a spring fed water fountain in Hot Springs National Park to fill up your water before you set out on your hike(s). The Visitor's Center will be able to point you in the right direction.
Follow #TeamSierra blogger Justin Fricke and his brother as they spend 2016 traveling across the United States and living the van life. Check out their blog here.