The Best Camping Near Hot Springs National Park

Posted by
Sarah Boles
November 02, 2023
Updated November 03, 2023

Photo: Sarah Boles

As the nation’s second-smallest national park, adventurers often overlook Hot Springs. But the park and surrounding area have so much to offer those in search of miles of trails and waterways to explore.

I have so many fond memories from visiting Hot Springs, from my first dip in a cold-spring-fed creek to my son’s first mountain biking trail to our first stay in a tree house. Add in all the nights sleeping under Hot Spring’s star-filled skies and days spent gawking at gorgeous fall colors on trails, and this area has long been one of my favorite getaways.  

We usually head to Hot Springs to extend our camping season when nighttime temps begin dropping below 40 degree Fahrenheit in the mountains of Northwest Arkansas. Spring camping in Hot Springs means rushing waterfalls. Fall camping means waking up surrounded by forests glowing yellow, orange, and red. Expect heat and humidity here in the summer months, but  cabins in Hot Springs are available all year long. Luckily, cold springs feed most of the rivers, creeks, and lakes, which makes them crystal clear and ice cold – perfect for cooling off in the hotter months. 

Everything in Hot Springs revolves around water, even beyond the springs themselves. Most of the campgrounds in the area sit on lakeshores or have a creek running through them. The national park itself sits in the middle of the city of Hot Springs with one campground within its boundaries. But, strategic damming of the nearby Ouachita River has created lakes, and there are many campgrounds surrounding these pop-up bodies of water.

Hot Springs National Park has campgrounds nearby for all types of campers, from rugged to RV, and from remote to in the middle of town. Here are the 6 best campgrounds near Hot Springs National Park.


Gulpha Gorge Campground

Creek at the Gulpha Gorge campground
Creek at the Gulpha Gorge campground – Photo: Sarah Boles

Why you should go: Location – the only campground within the national park 

  • Reservations accepted: yes
  • Best Season: Year-round 
  • Number of sites: 40
  • Campsite type: tent, RV (max. combined length 60 feet)
  • RV hookups: 30/50 amp, water, sewer


Tucked into the side of North Mountain alongside its namesake creek, Gulpha Gorge Campground offers a shady, fully accessible camping experience in Hot Springs National Park. Staying here puts you a short drive from Bathhouse Row and the Hot Springs Fire Tower. Most importantly, you don’t have to leave the campground to access trailheads for classic Hot Springs hikes like Goat Rock Trail, Sunset Trail, and Hot Springs Mountain Trail. 

Plan to spend time enjoying the cold spring-fed creek. Access it behind the amphitheater for everything from natural rock slides to waterfalls. It’s very kid-friendly. Make your way towards the bridge to wade through deeper waters. To enjoy the creek to its fullest, reserve our favorite sites: 42-43. These back up to a rushing (even in the summer) waterfall along the creek, which provides perfect white noise as you sleep. 


People often think that to properly visit the national park they need to stay within its boundaries. As the only campground in the park, Gulpha Gorge fills up quickly, especially on the weekends. If you have options, then avoid sites 3-7 if you don’t like traffic noise, as these back up to Scenic Highway 7. Also, while site 44 backs up to the aforementioned waterfall, it also has the bathroom as a close neighbor, making it less than ideal.

Location: 305 Gulpha Gorge Road, Hot Springs, AR 71901, (501) 620-6715


Lake Ouachita State Park Campground

Why you should go: Home to freshwater (non-stinging) jellyfish

  • Reservations accepted: yes 
  • Best Season: Year-round
  • Number of sites: 93
  • Campsite type: tent, RV (max. combined length 50 feet)
  • RV hookups: 20/30/50 amp, water, sewer


Located northwest of Hot Springs National Park, on the east side of the lake, the Lake Ouachita State Park Campground 

The largest campground on the lake has a variety of tent and RV-friendly sites, as well as a dozen walk-in tenting sites. Camping here allows you to experience the crystal clear, cold spring-fed waters of Lake Ouachita and increases your odds of seeing the freshwater jellyfish that famously inhabit the waters. 

Lake Ouachita is also a great place for boating, fishing, paddling, scuba diving, and swimming. We enjoy camping and recreating here because it’s less crowded than nearby Lake Hamilton, and still a short drive to all the excitement found downtown Hot Springs. 


Overall, Lake Ouachita is an average state park campground. You will not find over-the-top extravagant amenities or idyllic, secluded campsites here. However, it has clean bathrooms, well-maintained sites, and a great location, which often is all we need after a long day of adventuring. 

Location: 5451 Mountain Pine Road, Mountain Pine, AR 71956, (501) 767-9366


Lake Catherine State Park Campground

camper at lake catherine campsite
camper at lake Catherine campsite – Photo: Sarah Boles

Why you should go: Roll out of your tent and hike to Falls Creek Falls, the best waterfall in Hot Springs

  • Reservations accepted: yes 
  • Best Season: Year-round
  • Number of sites: 70
  • Campsite type: tent, yurt, RV (max. combined length 50 feet)
  • RV hookups: 30/50 amp with water & sewer; 30 amp with water


One of our favorite hikes in Hot Springs runs right through the campground at Lake Catherine State Park. Dam Mountain Trail leads you on a peaceful hike along the shore and through the woods to Falls Creek Falls. Admire the falls and swim in the pool at their base. My kids love to dance on the old wobbly bridge toward the beginning of the trail.

If you want to stay closest to the trails at Lake Catherine, check out sites numbered in the 60s (we love sites 68 and 70). Even-numbered sites 44-70 sit along the lakeshore, and some have their own fishing piers. The website has great descriptions of each site and lets you know if your site has a “lakeview” or “wooded-view” from your site, which comes in handy for first-time visitors. We love Lake Catherine because it feels less developed than other lakes in Hot Springs, which makes it worth driving a little further from downtown.


Lake Catherine State Park Campground sits 13 miles from downtown Hot Springs, making it a 20-30 minute drive from the national park. It’s a gorgeous drive (especially in late fall), but if the focus of your trip centers on Bathhouse Row and the hot springs, or you only have a short trip planned, you may want to look for a closer campsite.

Location: 1200 Catherine Park Road, Hot Springs, AR 71913, (501) 844-4176


Charlton Recreation Area Campground

swimming hole at Charlton campground
swimming hole at Charlton campground – Photo: Sarah Boles

Why you should go: Best swimming hole in Hot Springs

  • Reservations accepted: yes 
  • Best Season: open May through early November
  • Number of sites: 46
  • Campsite type: tent, RV (max. combined length 50 feet)
  • RV hookups: 30/50 amp with water, some sites have sewer connections


Our favorite swimming hole in Hot Springs sits right off the highway at Charlton Recreation Area, 20 miles west of downtown. Even if we don’t camp here, we make a point to stop and splash around in the cold, spring-fed waters of Walnut Creek that run through the campground. Cannonball off the diving platform, paddle around the creek, walk along the dam, or search for crawdads. Entrance is included in your camping reservation, while non campers pay $5 per vehicle. 

Downstream from the diving platform and dam, sit three loops of campsites. The C Loop is our preferred area to camp at Charlton. Sites C1-2 put you closest to the trail that runs along the creek, making these the best sites for traveling between camp and the swimming hole. Also worth noting, C20 backs up to a flat grassy area perfect for kicking a ball around or playing tag – perfect for kids waiting for the adults to fix dinner or set up camp. 


The campground at Charlton Recreation Area opens in May, partially because this area is highly susceptible to spring flooding. While this is common for areas near creeks and rivers in Arkansas if you find the threat of flash flooding unnerving, stick to the A and B loops at Charlton, as entering the C loop requires a low-water bridge crossing, and this area sits the lowest and farthest from the highway. Additionally, Charlton has notoriously poor cell service, so keep this in mind when planning your adventure.

Location: 11500 Albert Pike Road, Royal, AR 71968, (870) 867-2101 


Crystal Springs Campground

A campsite at crystal springs campground
A campsite at crystal springs campground – Photo: Sarah Boles

Why you should go: Smaller campground on Lake Ouachita with beaches, less crowds

  • Reservations accepted: yes 
  • Best Season: Year-round
  • Number of sites: 68
  • Campsite type: tent, RV (max. combined length 50 feet)
  • RV hookups: 30/50 amp & water


Crystal Springs Campground is our favorite place to camp for lake life in Hot Springs. It’s a reasonable size, mostly wooded and set right on the banks of Lake Ouachita. The campground has a sandy beach, and a playground, and is just hilly enough to keep your kids entertained on their bikes. Many sites back up to the water allowing you to park your watercraft on the shore along your site. 

We love site 18 for multifamily or multiple couple camping trips because it has decks built into the banks of the river and it sits right on the water, slightly tucked into a cove. Other favorite sites include 41 for its extra gorgeous views, as well as sites 52-53 for parking your boat onto shore but off the main channel, and its gorgeous views of the woods and surrounding water. 


Crystal Springs sits about a 15-20 minute drive from the excitement of downtown. The campground has the perfect site for every season, which means if you don’t do a little research, you may end up with a site not ideal for the time of year. For example, sites 38-39 face east with full sun. Camping there will result in early, sweaty mornings in the summer months. 

Location: 1330 North Crystal Springs Road, Royal, AR 71968, (501) 767-2101 


Hot Springs National Park KOA

Why you should go: Most RV-friendly campground, lots of amenities

  • Reservations accepted: yes 
  • Best Season: Year-round
  • Number of sites: 103
  • Campsite type: tent/RV (max. combined length 80 feet)
  • RV hookups: up to 50 amp (sites vary)


If you’re looking for a spot to park your RV while you adventure, consider the Hot Springs National Park KOA. Located right along the interstate, the KOA gives you easy access to downtown, as well as the neighboring Magic Springs amusement park. 

The Hot Springs KOA offers a wide variety of site options, from tents to RVs of all sizes to cabins, and has more amenities than you will find a use for including an arcade, mini golf, fishing pond, playground, and swimming pool. They also offer shuttles to downtown Hot Springs, for a fee.


If you’re looking for an idyllic camping spot tucked in the trees, the KOA is not for you. If you do find yourself needing to tent camp here, book a site on row L. These sites back up to the water and put the most space between you and incessant generator noise. 

Location: 838 McClendon Road, Hot Springs, AR 71901, (501) 624-5912 


Explore More in the Ozarks

Get epic travel ideas delivered to your inbox with Weekend Wanderer, our newsletter inspiring thousands of readers every week.

Seen in: Arkansas, Camping, Where to Stay in Arkansas

Find your next adventure

Sign up for Weekend Wanderer and join thousands of readers getting epic travel ideas weekly.

Related Posts