Spring Break Road Trip from Chicago to Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Why Hot Springs?
#1 The eponymous geo-thermal hot springs.
#2 Fantastic mountain biking and hiking destination nestled in the panoramic Ouachita Mountains.
#3 Perfect spring break destination for Mid-westerners thanks to mild temperatures during end of March.
#4 Touristy downtown perfect for leisurely walks

How to Plan your visit?

•  For accommodation, an independent house with Airbnb or Vrbo is always more enjoyable rather than the bland hotels.
Tip: Go for a lake facing cottage with amenities like kayak/boats.

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An evening view from our cottage at Hot Springs

• Run through the emergency checklist.

• Run though the tech essentials to turbo-charge your road trips.

•  Please plan a natural hot water bath experience at one of the bath houses in the Hot Springs downtown, some of them have been around for decades and are worth every penny.

•  Some other recommendations:

Talimena Scenic Drive – Nestled at Arkansas and Oklahoma border, this scenic drive offers a plethora of scenic vistas with many overlooks on the way for the breathtaking photo-ops. We did some amateur rock climbing at Grand Vista and also hiked across the Lovers Leap Trail.

– Walk around the Grand Promenade at Hot Springs downtown in the evening.

– Climb the Hot Springs Mountain Tower and enjoy near-by treks. We did the easy Goat Rock trail with the scenic overlook.

– Pick the choose the amenities at Ouachita National Forest: Ziplining, Hiking, Biking and Waterfalls. We thoroughly enjoyed the waterfall bathing at Winding Stairs Trail.

Our Trip Details from Naperville

Dates
Spring break of 2021 and 2016

Road Trip
Naperville to Hot Springs Village, AR.
670 miles, took around 11.5 hours with multiple breaks.

Stay
Vrbo
350$ per night, all inclusive.

Travel Photolog

The Drive and the Cottage

The drive from Naperville is pretty mundane. You cross St Louis on the way so you can make a pit-stop on your way back.

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We stayed at different places every time.
#1 Cottage at Lake Hamilton

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#2 Extremely calm and serene vacation home around Lake Balboa. 

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Next morning at the cottage

Thanks to an expansive pier accessible from our cottage backyard, the early birds were treated to some breathtaking views.

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_MG_9246Courtesy: Milind Waghmare

Hot Springs Mountain Tower 

The ascend to the tower was marked by winding roads accentuated by the spring mist.

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We took advantage of the gorgeous views at the base of the tower.

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And reached the top finally. Thanks to a hazy day, the views were a bit muzzled. It gets very windy and little cold up top so keep a light jacket handy. You can take the stairs too, if you trust your legs.

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Goat Rock Trail

The trailhead is at close proximity from the tower and is about a mile-long. It gave us a good glimpse of the flora on offer.

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The undergrowth seem to fight against the winter and spread out, every way it could.

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And there were some creepy all-natural sights as well.

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A panoramic view from the overlook.

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Here are some of the other trails you could take around the Hot Springs Mountain (courtesy NPS).

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Lake Catherine State Park

This is a super equipped state park with all amenities like picnic tables, pavilion, marked trail to a waterfall. You can find more details here.

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The Trek to the waterfall

The trek was well-marked and easy for the little kids as well. It meandered besides a river and had some spots to sit and soak in the serene views.

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The waterfall itself did not disappoint. We could access the plunge pool by walking besides the rocks and get our dose of fresh waterfall bathing.

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We did a short ascend to the mouth of the waterfall to discover this sublime view. And a million family portraits were taken.

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Talimena National Scenic Byway

We crossed Mena, the last town at Arkansas side before embarking on the scenic highway. Here’s what to set on your GPS. There are several marked overlooks on the way so plan a few hours. The highway goes all the way to Oklahoma, we went up around 20 miles before coming back.

We reached Queen Wilhelmina State Park which houses the trailhead for Lovers Leap Trail.

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The trail was rocky at times, would call it moderate.

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There was ample solitude on offer, we didn’t see a soul during our hike.

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The view from the scenic overlook on the trail.

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On our way back, we stopped at Rich Mountain lookout tower, which was closed.

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Enroute to Hot Springs, we stopped at a fancy coffee-cum-beer joint at Mena, The Ouachitas.

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The Ziplining

We booked Canopy tours ziplining offered by AdventureWorks. It had 10 ziplines and a very friendly staff who helped many first-timers in our group, and thanks to their expertise, patience and safety measures, everyone enjoyed this experience to the hilt.

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The Last Day

The kiddos were up early too for a change and soaked in the morning vistas before we headed out.

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Other places to visit not covered by us

•  Garvan Woodland Gardens.

•  Anthony Chapel for its unique looks and photo-ops.

That’s it.


Loved Hot Springs? Share your ideas and experiences via the comments.

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