As I am sure you know, Hot Springs Arkansas is home to Hot Springs National Park. What you might not know, is that it is also home to the Mid America Science Museum. Both of these destinations are incredibly fun to explore with kids.
Great Things For Families About Hot Springs National Park
There are several great things for families about this national park that you might not expect. Some of these features include:
- Free Parking
- Junior Ranger Program
- Great View
- Spring Water
Hot Springs National Park is one of the more touristy of the National Parks. With it’s bath houses, brewery’s, and spa’s, it might not seem like a great place to take the kids. However, if you don’t mind missing the bath house’s, it can be a wonderful place to visit.
Yes, you read that right, free parking is available. This is a big deal when you consider the location of this park. It is an easy walk from the parking garage to the visitors center. All you have to do is exit the parking area, walk across the street, and you’re there. For families, (especially ones on a budget) the convenient, free parking is awesome.
Participate in the Junior Ranger Program
Every National Park has a Junior Ranger Program. Just ask for the book at the front desk in the visitors center. The book contains activities that will help enhance your child’s experience. By working on the book individually or together as a family, you can learn so much about the park you are visiting.
For Hot Springs National Park your child will have to explore the visitors center, walk along bath house row, watch the video or participate in the tour. There are many activities to choose from and they all help to reinforce why it is such a unique place to visit.
Once they finish their books take them back to a ranger at the front desk. The ranger will check the book, ask them questions, and issue them a badge upon completion. Some parks give things in addition to a badge. Here my children received some trading cards which was fun.
Explore the Hot Springs Visitors Center/ Museum
Hot Springs Arkansas has so much history and much of it revolves around the hot springs. This area was actually the first place to ever be put under protection by the federal government. In a sense, this makes it the first national park.
It is the only bath house on Bath House Row that you can go inside to explore for free. Park rangers regularly give free tours of the building too. The kids will enjoy hearing about how they used some of the strange looking equipment.
The national park service has done a great job of maintaining the historic feel of the building. As you explore I am sure you will get a wonderful sense of what it might have been like to come for medical treatment to this healing place.
Each display is recreated to give you an idea of what it was like here in the early to late 1800’s. The first floor was for the medical treatments and bath’s, while the second floor was for relaxing. If you go to the basement you will even get to see the spring that the water came from.
Take your time to explore the building, it doesn’t take long to see it all. By going slow you will get a better understanding of the importance this place had in peoples lives. If you have time watch the short video too.
Take a Hike For a Better View
The main focus of this national park is the bath house, but there is more to it if you care to explore. Behind the visitors center you will find the promenade. This is a beautiful walkway along the back of the park. It is an easy path that gives you a feel of being away from the busy main street.
If you enjoy the outdoors and want something a bit more challenging than the promenade, there are a few trails that lead further up the mountain. These trails vary in difficulty, but all are somewhat steep as they go up the mountain. However, our three children were able to make it to the observation tower and back.
These trails have always been a part of the healing process for the hot springs visitors. Even in those days they realized how important it is to get outside. Being in the fresh air, near trees, flowers, and hearing the flow of the springs is very relaxing.
Check out How to Get the Great View
If you’re up for the challenge, hike all the way to the top. It is worth the great view. For those who are not up for the hike, you can also drive up. The road is windy so take it slow. Once you reach the top you will have two viewing options available.
The first option is the observation tower. From hear you can go up 1,256 feet above sea level to get an amazing view of Arkansas. This option does cost money and they do not accept national park passes of any kind. Last I checked the price was $8 for an adult and $4.50 for children five and up.
Perhaps, like my family, you are on a budget. Don’t worry because option number two doesn’t cost anything. You can get a free view from the gazebo. It’s an old Civilian Conservation Corp building. This overlook might not provide you quite as grand a view, but we enjoyed it.
Try the Hot Springs Water
Kids and adults alike will enjoy getting a chance to try the spring water. Bring a container or two to bring some home in. The water is free and there are a few places in the park to fill up at. If you don’t bring a container, don’t worry, you can still try some. Just ask for a cup at the visitors center and you’re all set.
They will provide you a single use paper cup, so you can at least have a taste. This is hot springs, keep in mind the water does come out hot. It tastes great though and it’s fun for kids to get a chance to try water from a natural spring.
And That’s Not All
Did you know there’s more to Hot Springs Arkansas than just the national park? You might be wondering what other family friendly attractions this city has to offer. Well, to tell you the truth, there are many options to choose from, but I am going to tell you about just one.
Mid-America Science Museum
So here’s the thing, kids like science. They also like places that have lots of hands on activities. That’s why we loved exploring the Mid-America Science Museum. It’s full of great opportunities to learn and have fun.
A Large Variety of Exhibits
You will discover some really cool things inside and outside at this museum. Some of these things include:
- Tinkering studio
- Physics and motion
- Light bridge
- Creations from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
- Underground Cave
- Outdoor skywalk
- Tinkering and Motion
Who doesn’t love tinkering. The tinkering studio provides kids with an opportunity to create something out of simple materials. They have different projects all the time. We got to make airplanes out of strips of paper, tape, and a straw. You might also like to add some rubber bands to the giant rubber band ball in progress.
I’m sure you know how much kids can learn by getting hands on experience, but as adults we can learn this way too. Not to mention it’s fun! Try out the spinning disc, put a wheel on and see how long you can get it to stay up. Or try making a cool design by putting sand in the pendulum and giving it push.
Try making a short movie at the stop animation station. Kids love watching their own creations on the screen. Or make some music with their different sound stations. The spinning cylinder with the pegs you can move to make songs is pretty fun.
As you walk across this bridge stop to explore the displays that focus on light. Look through the colored panes out the window to see a different spectrum. Check out the video that let’s you watch a quick version of the changing seasons.
We don’t often think about light and how we see things. Kids and adults alike can learn more by checking out these exhibits as you cross the bridge. When you get to the other side stop and play with the water shooter. It is two levels, so send someone down and send ball back and forth using water.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Movie Creations
Imagine what it would be like to be on the set of the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Well, this movie is pretty old, but here at the Mid-America Science Museum you can get a chance to see some of the props from the movie.
Yes, that’s right, creations that were actually in the movie. Rowland Emett created many of the wacky inventions from the movie. Some of these are on display at the museum. Included in the exhbit are:
- A rocking chair
- The vacuum
And not from the movie, but possibly the coolest:
- Featherstone-Kite Openwork Basketweave Mark Two Gentleman’s Flying Machine
Believe me you will not want to miss your chance to see these amazing creations.
There’s More to it Than What You See
Tucked away in the back corner of the museum you will find the Arkansas Underfoot Gallery. Here may be where you will find the kids exploring again and again. It’s not always just about what you can see, sometimes there’s more to it. You just have to explore further.
Arkansas isn’t just above ground there’s a lot going on underneath too. This exhibit will let you explore things like stones, fossils, and caves. Seeing some of the variety of rocks and stones that come from Arkansas is pretty cool. And what kid doesn’t like checking out fossils?
However, believe it or not, kids really (and I mean really), like exploring caves. Their favorite by far was the underground cave climbing structure. OK so it wasn’t actually underground or a real cave, but it was awesome.
It was built to look like a cave, they even made it dark! It has tunnels, slides and a blacklight section too. The kids feel like they are in a real cave, but you can watch them on a video screen from outside. Once you get inside it is like a maze. Climb around and have fun being a cave explorer.
Don’t Miss the Sky-walk
Want to know my favorite thing about family friendly locations? Well, they are family friendly of course, but what I really love is places that let you bring your own food. This helps us budget minded families to save money so that we can explore more.
So I was excited that Mid-America Science Museum had such a great outdoor picnic area. It was great we could have our hydration packs with us. If you don’t have a hydration pack I highly recommend getting one. They come in handy in so many places and situations, like bringing lunch to the museum.
The coolest part, though, about the out door section, is the sky-walk. This climbing tower has several features that you will enjoy. There is a bench that when touching each other and the metal arms at the same time it makes music. Down below is a fossil dig site.
When you get to the top walk out onto the circular rope. This will suspend you high above the ground with nothing but a thick rope to hold you up. If you have a fear of heights, like my husband, it might be terrifying for you. The kids will love running around up here though. There are also a couple of other rope climbing things, it is all fun and very exciting.
You’ve Got to Go
Personally I wasn’t sure we would enjoy Hot Springs National Park with kids as much as some of the other national parks we have been to. When we learned that kids had to be over a certain age to get in the bath’s we considered skipping it, but I am glad we didn’t.
It was such a great experience visiting both the national park and the museum that I am sure you would enjoy it too. There are so many things to see and do here that you’ve got to go. We enjoyed our experience here, do you have a great unexpected adventure you’d like to share. Leave us a comment.