Hot Springs National Park stands out from other national parks in that you are only steps from being completely surrounded by nature without stepping outside the city. Well, when you hike in Hot Springs National Park, you are technically stepping outside the city limits, but the town of Hot Springs still surrounds you. However, once you climb onto the mountains protected by the park, you forget you are within a city. My favorite hike in Hot Springs National Park is the Goat Rock Trail.
Finding the trailhead
You can access the Goat Rock Trail from a few trailheads within the national park. However, I like to loop it with the Gulpha Gorge, Upper Dogwood, and Hot Springs Mountain Trails. This creates a 3.3 lollipop loop around North Mountain. For a map of the North Mountain trails click here.
In order to hike this loop, you begin and end your hike at Gulpha Gorge Campground, just behind the amphitheater. You start by crossing Gulpha Creek along the stone footpath.
Gulpha Gorge Trail
Once you cross the creek, the trail will split, going left or right. You want to go left, here. The trail to the right is the Sunset Trail, the park’s longest trail. The Gulpha Gorge Trail follows the creek for a short distance before it begins to climb steeply. There are steps, and the trail is strenuous here. After about 0.2 miles, you come to an intersection with the Oertel Trail (formerly the Dead Chief Trail). You want to go right and continue climbing uphill.
At about 0.4 miles, the Gulpha Gorge Trail intersects with the Goat Rock Trail. And here you will want to keep to the right. This is the end of the “stick” of the lollipop loop, so it really doesn’t matter which way you go, because you will come back to this point. However, I always go to the right because the Goat Rock overlook is not too far from this point.
Goat Rock Trail
The actual Goat Rock Trail begins here. The Goat Rock Trail is 1.1 miles and snakes around North Mountain before it ends at the North Mountain Loop scenic drive. The Goat Rock Trail is my favorite portion of this loop and the reason why this particular loop is my favorite in Hot Springs National Park.
You continue on your hike for about another 0.2 miles and at mile 0.6, you come to the spur that takes you to the Goat Rock Overlook. This is an outcropping of novaculite that provides you with sweeping views of Gulpha Gorge and part of the City of Hot Springs. And here you can rest from the steep climb up from Gulpha Gorge.
From the Goat Rock Overlook, you retrace your steps back to the Goat Rock Trail and continue northeast along North Mountain. This part of the trail takes you through novaculite with short trees and grassy glades. This scene is something that is kind of unique to this region, and one reason why I prefer the Ouachita Mountains over the Ozark Mountains.
Upper Dogwood Trail
Around mile 1.35 the Goat Rock Trail intersects with the Upper Dogwood Trail. Here you will want to keep to your right to complete the loop. If you go straight, it will take you to the North Mountain Loop Scenic Drive. The Upper Dogwood Trail heads southwest through open and beautiful woods. The trail is level and easy walking.
Around mile 2, the Upper Dogwood Trail intersects with the Lower Dogwood Trail. If you would like to add another 0.7 miles to this loop, you can include the Lower Dogwood Trail. However, I usually continue on the Upper Dogwood Trail.
In about 0.1 miles more, you come to another intersection, and again this is the Lower Dogwood Trail, just the other end. You want to continue straight along the Upper Dogwood Loop here.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail
At mile 2.4, you come to the intersection with the Hot Springs Mountain Trail. This is the end of the Upper Dogwood Trail. Here you want to continue straight, or to the left, depending on how you look at it. At mile 2.5 you come to the North Mountain Loop Scenic Drive.
You will continue directly across the road and then straight (or behind the shelter) to finish out the loop on the Gulpha Gorge Trail.
Finish out the Goat Rock Trail Loop
After you cross the road, you follow the Gulpha Gorge Trail down the mountain, and at mile 2.9, you come back to the “stick” portion of the lollipop loop. From here you retrace your steps back to Gulpha Gorge.
Once back to Gulpha Gorge, give yourself a high five, because the Goat Rock Trail is strenuous. It is also a great trail to help you get in shape for other harder trails.
Skip the climb on the Goat Rock Trail
But if you don’t feel like the climb to Goat Rock, you can also begin the Goat Rock Trail at its main trailhead on North Mountain Loop. By hiking it this way, you drive to the top of North Mountain and don’t have to hike up it.
To find this trailhead, drive the North Mountain Loop until you get to the lookout with parking spaces. This is where the Goat Rock Trail officially begins.
- 3.3 miles round trip
- Elevation gain and loss 619 feet
- Dogs allowed
- Camping not allowed