The town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, is known for the natural and therapeutic hot water springs that bubble to the surface all over the area.
For a hundred years, the town, nestled in the scenic Ouachita Mountains, has drawn visitors from all over the globe to sip and soak in the waters from the hot springs. Many are convinced the water’s soothing properties will heal their ailments.
Hot Springs has water to drink and soak in, but they also have so much more. You will find historical, cultural, and recreational activities in the town and nearby. It is a fantastic place to spend a weekend or a week vacationing.
Let’s look at some of our favorite activities and places to visit when in the Hot Springs area.
Hotel Hot Springs hosted us for our visit to Hot Springs. The Mid America Science Museum, Hot Springs Mountain Tower, and Garvan Woodland Gardens provided free admittance for our visit. All opinions are my own.
1. Visit Hot Springs National Park
You can’t visit Hot Springs without visiting the national park. It is a part of the town. As you walk down the street, one side is within Hot Springs National Park, and the other side is not.
The captivating hot springs are natural wonders that have been enjoyed since before colonial times. The area was given official protected status as a reservation in 1832 before there were national parks. A national park since 1921, this year, it’s celebrating its 100th-year park anniversary.
If this is your first visit, you will find Hot Springs National Park a bit different than other parks. The park consists of hiking trails, springs, and a row of bathhouses — two are still working, the others have been transformed into the visitor center, gift shops, and a brewery. Open year-round, it is busiest in the summer.
2. Walk Bathhouse Row
Once the main attraction in Hot Springs, Bathhouse Row is still a great place to visit today. As I mentioned above, only two of the bathhouses are still in operation, including one that dates back to the 1800s.
Bathhouse Row is the main stretch of road (Central Avenue) that makes up the national park. It is fun to walk along the Row, checking out the remarkable architecture and visiting the local boutiques and restaurants. There is a wide sidewalk, and everything is well-manicured along the Row.
3. Check Out The Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center
The Fordyce Bathhouse was once considered one of the most luxurious bathhouses on the Row. It has since been refurbished and currently functions as the national park’s visitor center and a museum.
It gives you a visual glimpse into the history of Hot Springs when it was the hot spot for gamblers and other activities. The museum offers exhibits, movies, and tours.
4. Enjoy A Thermal Bath
The thermal healing waters of Hot Springs are still available for a unique bathing experience. The Quapaw Bathhouse and the Buckstaff Bathhouse still offer unique bathing and spa-type experiences.
The Buckstaff Bathhouse, in continuous operation since 1912, offers a traditional bathing experience of yesteryear. They also provide modern services.
The Quapaw Bathhouse has been refurbished and provides a luxury experience. Immerse yourself in Hot Springs’ acclaimed thermal waters and indulge in luxurious modern spa services. The Quapaw also has a public hot pool where you can pay a fee to relax in the pool without any other services.
Note: Both require you to sign a health release form before using the facilities.
5. Drink The Water
The mineral-rich water is not only delightful to soak in but delicious to drink. Throughout the park and town are hot spring fountain spigots. You can fill your glass or jug with thermal water.
When I visited, a lady there had driven from Michigan with a car full of water jugs. She filled the jugs and loaded her car for the return trip. She said she makes the drive every couple of months to stock up. She believes the water is healing her from the inside out.
There are four spots to fill water jugs. The first is at the end of Fountain Street past The Arlington Hotel, and others are on Whittington Avenue, Central Avenue next to the visitor center, and Reserve Street at the end of the Historic Bathhouse Row.
6. Display Springs
If you walk behind the visitor center, there is a display spring where you can see the water coming out of the ground and a small waterfall coming down the mountain.
Note: Be careful — the water is hot.
7. Walk The Grand Promenade
After checking out the display spring, continue up the stairs, and you will reach the Grand Promenade. It is a charming walkway above the street and behind Bathhouse Row.
The Grand Promenade is where many of the area’s hikes begin.
8. Hike The Trails Around Town Or In Ouachita National Forest
Get out and exercise a bit by hiking throughout the park, around Hot Springs Mountain, or head a bit away from the beaten path and enjoy the Ouachita National Forest.
You will find some well-maintained easy-level nature trails and other challenging backcountry adventure trails.
9. See The View From Hot Springs Mountain Tower
You can see Hot Springs Mountain Tower from the town sitting atop the mountain. You can drive to it or hike.
If hiking, start behind the National Park Visitor Center and take the Peak Trail for a little over half a mile (all uphill) to get to the tower.
The tower offers a 360-degree view of the town and surrounding forest through large wrap-around windows.
The ground level houses a gift shop and visitor center. There is a cost to go up to the observation deck.
If you can visit on a clear day, you will have an outstanding unobstructed view. It was rainy when we visited, but the view was still spectacular.
Note: This tower has an accessible elevator for those who can’t or don’t wish to climb the stairs.
10. Tour The Gangster Museum
In the early years, the town was a magnet for high-rollers and gangsters. The Gangster Museum of American features exhibits about illegal gambling, bootlegging, and other notorious crimes that are a part of the town’s history from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s.
The museum is across the street from the national park. While you are there, you will also have an opportunity to play in an antique casino.
11. Stroll Through Garvan Woodland Gardens
When visiting Hot Springs, take a short drive (10 miles) out of town to Garvan Woodland Gardens.
Stroll through the lush 200-acre botanical garden that blends wildflowers and natural beauty with man-made landscape creations for an authentic one-of-a-kind experience.
The professionally managed grounds are cared for by the University of Arkansas. The garden has accessible trails, and many are paved.
Note: They are closed the month of January and on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.
12. Climb A Four-Story Treehouse
When visiting Garvan Woodland Gardens, be sure to check out the huge four-story Bob and Sunny Evans Tree House. From the four-story structure, you can look out over the gardens and the children’s area.
Note: There are steps inside the treehouse.
13. Find Serenity At Anthony Chapel Complex
Near Garvan Woodland Gardens, but separate (no admittance fee), the Anthony Chapel complex is a beautiful site used for concerts, weddings, christenings, and memorial services.
Nestled among the pine and oak trees, it invites you to enjoy nature from the inside. It boasts an open beam structure made of wood with glass floor-to-ceiling walls. Skylights provide shimmering light throughout the chapel.
The chapel is open to the public unless rented for an event.
14. Learn At The Mid-America Science Museum
This science museum is as much for adults as it is for kids. When we visited, we thought an hour or two would be more than enough time to enjoy the museum, but we ended up spending four hours there and could have stayed longer.
The Mid-America Science Museum teaches physics, anatomy, natural history, and more through interactive exhibits and unique workshops.
My favorite exhibits were the Fluid Motion Top and the 3D Mapping Table in the Arkansas Underfoot section of the museum.
Note: There is considerable walking, but everything is paved and wheelchair accessible.
15. See The Tesla Coil
While you are at the Mid America Science Museum, take in the electrifying science show about the world’s most powerful conical Tesla Coil. The show gives you a historical perspective of how they harnessed electricity. It features 1.5 million volts of electricity sparking from the coil. The Tesla is recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Note: You sit on bleachers to watch the show.
16. Grab A Brew At Superior Bathhouse Brewery And Distillery
The Superior Bathhouse was empty for 30 years until an entrepreneur decided to revitalize the dormant structure into a brewery and tap house. The Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery is the first to use the famous 144-degree thermal spring water as its primary ingredient. You grab a brew, or try a variety in the tasting room, or enjoy dinner in the restaurant located on Bathhouse Row.
17. Dig For Diamonds
If you are in the area for several days, don’t miss the opportunity to dig in the dirt for diamonds. Crater of Diamonds State Park is just a little over an hour away from Hot Springs by car. We spent half a day there having a delightful time digging for diamonds.
Pro Tip: Where To Stay
Hotel Hot Springs is centrally located and a short walk from Hot Springs’ downtown. It is a lovely place to stay with large contemporary rooms. Located next to the convention center, it has an onsite restaurant. This is where we stayed when we visited Hot Springs, and I highly recommend it.
The Waters Hot Springs is another excellent hotel option located across the street from Bathhouse Row. They also have an outstanding dining option on the roof that allows you to eat while you enjoy a beautiful view of Bathhouse Row.
Editor’s Note: For more on hot springs in Arkansas and beyond, consider another take on The Best Things To Do In Hot Springs, AR, 9 Best Natural Hot Springs Around The World, and The 11 Best Hot Springs In The U.S.