Hot Springs, Arkansas might be one of the most unique towns in America and one that should be on your bucket list! In this guide, I will share all the fun things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas that are perfect for a first-time visit.
Made famous as a “spa town” for all the thermal hot springs in the region and America’s first resort town.
The main street in downtown Hot Springs is known as Bathhouse Row for a row of bathhouses or spas right over natural hot springs!
In fact, this portion of the town is part of Hot Springs National Park. It is unlike any National Park in the country making it a go-to destination when visiting Arkansas.
For those that enjoy a place with a fascinating history, keep reading and learn how this charming town was the vacation hot spot for gangsters and where baseball Spring Training originated back in the day!
Where Is Hot Springs Located?
Hot Springs is located in the southwest portion of the state of Arkansas and about an hour east of Little Rock.
Nestled in the lush Ouachita Mountains, the city of Hot Springs is unique for all of its natural hot springs hence its name.
Arkansas itself is located in the area of the United States known as the South and borders the Midwest portion of the country.
The state is bordered by Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi to the south, Tennessee to the east, Missouri to the north, and Oklahoma to the west.
Although Arkansas is a land-locked state, there are several lakes and rivers to enjoy.
Note: Find out the 15 Top Reasons To Visit Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas!
Directions To Hot Springs, Arkansas
Since so many states border Arkansas, there is a good chance that you are driving through from another state on a road trip. The estimated drive times from nearby major cities are:
Little Rock, AR: 55 miles
Memphis, TN: 188 miles
Shreveport, LA: 191 miles
Dallas, TX: 295 miles
Oklahoma City, OK: 310 miles
For those that are coming from a further distance or prefer to fly, the airports for the easiest convenience and best flight deals are from:
Hot Springs Memorial Field (HOT) – domestic airport located 3.5 miles from the town of Hot Springs
Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT) – Little Rock, AR
Memphis International Airport (MEM) – Memphis, TN
Best Hotels In Hot Springs, Arkansas
The nice appeal of visiting a small town is that it is very walkable and easy to get around. There are two areas where I recommend staying, one is in the heart of downtown and the other is a 10-15 minute drive closer to Lake Hamilton.
The Waters, A Hilton Property – Best location right across from Bathhouse Row in downtown Hot Springs.
Embassy Suites Hot Springs Hotel – A few blocks away from downtown Hot Springs.
The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa – This used to be the premier place to stay at the end of Bathhouse row but it appeared worn and needs a little love. The location can’t be beaten.
Courtyard by Marriott Hot Springs – Located about 10 minutes from the historic area downtown.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Hot Springs – Located about 13 minutes from downtown.
A Brief History Of Downtown Hot Springs
Beginning in 1832, bathhouses began popping up in Hot Springs, Arkansas due to the abundance of natural hot springs at the base of Hot Springs Mountain.
It was thought that the hot springs had healing properties and that by bathing in them, illnesses could be healed or prevented. And it was about rejuvenating the mind and spirit.
Over the years there have been many versions of bathhouses but the ones you see now were built between 1892 and 1923.
It was also around this time that Hot Springs became known as “America’s First Resort Town”. Soon hotels, bars, and restaurants began popping up making it a true vacation destination.
In the late 1800s, Hot Springs became the first location for what we now refer to as Spring Training!
Baseball players could come play ball and recuperate in the healing hot springs between practices.
Once modern medicine came into the picture, the springs seemed more about relaxation than about healing.
Between the 1960s and 1980s, the bathhouses began shutting down as there was a notable decline in visitors to Hot Springs.
Fortunately, bathhouses began reopening in 2004 and in return revitalizing this charming spa town.
Today you will notice several thermal springs, fountains, and water features giving a nod to how vital natural springs are to this community.
Note: Hot Springs, Arkansas is part of Hot Springs National Park. The eastern side of Central Ave where the bathhouses are located is part of the park. The other side of the street is not considered part of the national park.
Tip: No need to worry about potential sulfur-like smells, as the hot spring in Arkansas lack it!
Tours In Hot Springs, Arkansas
Canopy Zip Tour – Soar through the forest along Lake Catherine with 10 zip lines to experience!
Map Of Hot Springs Attractions
Fun Things To Do In Hot Springs, Arkansas
1. Wander Bathhouse Row
Bathhouse Row is the main street or heart of downtown Hot Springs and got its name back in 1832. Each of the bathhouses you see today was built directly over the hot springs for instant access to the healing waters.
The first bathhouses were not more than mere shacks but eventually, the beautiful and ornate bathhouses still standing today became the most luxurious in the United States.
Upon arriving in Hot Springs, the first thing that I recommend doing is to take a stroll along Bathhouse Row (Central Ave) and admire the quaint town.
The eight bathhouses on Bathhouse Row are Buckstaff, Fordyce, Hale, Lamar, Maurice, Ozark, Quapaw, and Superior.
The two that are still used as spas and bathhouses today are Buckstaff and Quapaw. Buckstaff is the only spa to stay open continuously since it opened its doors in 1912.
Fordyce is now open a visitor center and museum, Hale is a luxury hotel, Ozark is the Ozark Bathhouse Cultural Center, Lamar is the park store, and Maurice is waiting to be leased.
After walking along the bathhouses, cross the street and walk down the other side. On this side of the street, you will find a number of restaurants, bars, shops, and a hotel.
At the end of Bathhouse Row past Superior Bathhouse is Arlington Park. Directly across from the park is The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa which was the premier and most elegant place to stay in Hot Springs.
Its position on the corner of Central Ave and Fountain Street stands prominent as you can see it at most points along Bathhouse Row.
The hotel is a bit outdated but its location can’t be beaten. Hopefully, they fully restore it to its previous grandeur.
2. Fordyce Bathhouse
The Fordyce Bathhouse is in the middle of the row between Quapaw and Maurice bathhouses and was built in 1915. It continued to be a spa to the public until 1962.
Colonel Samuel Fordyce opened the bathhouse in the hope of celebrating the Golden Age of Bathing.
The architecture and design exude the elements that the best European bathhouses showcased.
It is no longer a spa for use but in 1989, the Fordyce Bathhouse was restored and opened as the Hot Springs National Park visitor center and museum.
But it is way more than a visitor center as you can take a self-tour of the bathhouse and see the various tubs, showers, vapor cabinets, and cooling room.
Take note to look up and admire the ornate and beautiful stained glass in the men’s bath hall. With images of dolphins, it gives the illusion that you are under the sea.
In addition to having a gym, a music room, and a rooftop garden it had a bowling alley. It was the only bathhouse on the row that had a place to bowl.
Out on the porch or inside you can find park rangers that are more than happy to answer any questions you might have.
Tip: There are sometimes ranger-led hikes or talks, so if you are interested inquire upon arrival.
3. Fill Up On Spring Water
In a town that is known for natural hot springs, it makes sense that there would be places around Bathhouse Row to fill up a bottle.
Of course, I couldn’t wait to fill up my reusable water bottle and taste the refreshing water straight from the source.
But although it is likely obvious to most, I overlooked the fact that the water is VERY HOT!
The temperature of the hot springs stays fairly constant at 143 F (62 C) so you can imagine the water needs time to cool off before drinking it.
There are filling stations where you will see locals filling up several jugs and it is completely free!
The main filling stations to fill up a bottle or jug of water in downtown Hot Springs are at:
The Hot Springs Visitor Center Parking Lot: 629 Central Avenue
The Shell Fountain: between Fordyce and Maurice Bathhouses
The Noble Fountain: South entrance to The Promenade on Reserve Street
National Park Service Admin Building (in front of): Reserve Street
The Dripping Spring: between Hale and Maurice Bathhouses
Bring an extra bottle to fill up and store at your hotel, then you can drink it after it has cooled!
4. Visit The Gangster Museum of America
The Gangster Museum of America is one of the best things to do in Hot Springs!
It made my entire trip as I learned so much about the history of the town and the infamous stories and accounts of the most notorious gangsters.
The only way to experience the museum is on a guided tour and it is well worth it. You will find yourself laughing and in shock at the activities that went on in this charming town over the years.
The tour lasts about one hour and takes you back to the late 1880s up to the 1960s when the toughest and slightly scary mobsters came to Hot Springs for some fun and relaxation.
There was an agreement between all the gangsters that no violence or crime would be committed in the town of Hot Springs.
Once they were back in their own territories of Chicago and New York, well that was a different story! I guess even gangsters need a vacation once in a while too, right?
The most famous gangsters that sought a good time in Hot Springs, were Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Bugs Moran, and Owney “The Killer” Madden just to name a few.
A highlight of the tour is getting to see one of three “death masks” made of John Dillinger.
I won’t give away more so that you can learn all about this fascinating history for yourself!
Hours: Open Sunday – Thursday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm or on Saturday & Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Fun Fact: The former President Bill Clinton and the actor Billy Bob Thornton are originally from Hot Springs, Arkansas.
5. Walk The Grand Promenade
One of the most relaxing (besides getting a spa treatment) things to do in Hot Springs is to walk along the Grand Promenade.
The Grand Promenade is a 0.5-mile brick-paved walkway that runs parallel behind Bathhouse Row.
It is elevated so that you can enjoy the view of the bathhouses (backside) and the historic town below. Even though it isn’t far off from the main area, you will feel the serenity as you make your way down the path.
The walkway is lined with grassy areas, many lush trees, and benches to sit back to enjoy a quiet moment. There are even a table and chairs designed for playing a game of chess!
In the town’s heyday, patrons visiting the bathhouses would take a leisurely walk up on the promenade for some fresh air and exercise.
At the northern end of the walkway near Arlington Park, walk down the steps to see the Hot Water Cascade.
The Hot Water Cascade is the largest and most accessible hot spring in town. It is quite beautiful as the steaming hot water cascades down a mossy rockface and into a small pool.
You can dip your hand into the water pouring down but do remember that it is hot around 143 F (62 C).
It is amazing to see the natural hot spring water coming straight out of the ground for use!
Note: The design inspiration for the Grand Promenade was after the Prado in Havana, Cuba.
6. Superior Bathhouse Brewery
Superior Bathhouse is the most northern bathhouse on Bathhouse Row near Arlington Park and is now home to a brewery since 2014!
The Superior Bathhouse Brewery is the only brewery in a U.S. National Park! So, for that alone, it is hard to pass up visiting.
And it is the only brewery in the world to use natural thermal spring water in making of the beer. I guess some might say the beer here is healthier? 😊
When you walk inside, you get that bathhouse vibe with the tiles and décor reminiscent of when it was a spa.
You can order from 18 craft beers on tap and from a delicious assortment of elevated pub fare.
Order from soft Bavarian pretzels, beer cheese dip, and salads, to killer sandwiches and burgers. I had the Tap House Burger and it did not disappoint!
Hours: Open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm. On Friday – Saturday from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm and closed on Tuesday.
7. Hot Springs Mountain Tower
At the top of Hot Springs Mountain behind Bathhouse Row is the Hot Springs Mountain Tower.
Going up the 216-foot tower is one of the top Hot Springs attractions to experience on two levels of observation decks.
From the observation decks, you get a 360-degree panoramic view of the town of Hot Springs and the surrounding Ouachita Mountains and Diamond Lakes.
The views are spectacular and there are signs letting you know what you are looking at or the history of Hot Springs. Up on the top deck, it is open whereas the lower deck is enclosed and air-conditioned.
There are two ways to get up to the top of Hot Springs Mountain, drive or hike it. By car, drive up the mountain in a curving one-way road to the free parking lot up top.
Or if you want to get a workout in, you can hike up the steep Peak Trail (0.6-mile) or Short Cut Trail (0.2-miles) both of which begin off of the Grand Promenade.
Tip: If you have an America The Beautiful Pass (National Park Pass), you get a few dollar discount off admission to go up the tower.
Hours: Open daily from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm.
8. Soak In A Thermal Bath
If you have ever wanted to dip into a thermal bath and soak your aching muscles, you can!
There are two active bathhouses in downtown Hot Springs that have baths and spa treatments for you to relax and rejuvenate your body.
The Buckstaff Bathhouse and Quapaw Bathhouse are the only bathhouses still in use today.
Both use the thermal hot spring water straight from the ground as it is pumped in for use in the baths and treatments.
At Buckstaff Bathhouse, you will have a traditional bathhouse experience almost identical to that of the 1930s!
All of the bathtubs, showers, and other features are original and have been in use since 1912.
And like bathhouses of Europe, you are required to be nude so keep that in mind when booking if you are shy.
On the other hand, Quapaw Bathhouse has been renovated so it has more of a modern-day spa feel than one from the early 1900s.
In addition to soaking in the baths, you can add on a massage, facial, or the steam cave.
Note: Both of these bathhouses book up quickly, so if you know there is a particular day you want to visit schedule ahead of time.
* stay tuned as I will be writing an in-depth post about visiting these two bathhouses.
9. Garvan Woodland Gardens
Garvan Woodland Gardens is a botanical garden a few minutes from downtown and owned by the University of Arkansas.
The lovely gardens cover 210-acres on a peninsula along Lake Hamilton with spectacular views, trails, gardens, architecture, and a peaceful setting.
I recommend exploring all of the gardens but a few of my favorite areas are the Japanese garden, Perry Wildflower Overlook, Evans Tree House, and the Anthony Chapel.
The two architectural marvels are the Evans Tree House and the Anthony Chapel which should not be missed!
Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Note: Explore an in-depth guide on visiting the gardens, 15 Top Reasons To Visit Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas!
10. Mountain Valley Water
The Mountain Valley Spring Water company has a store and museum located in a historic building in a Classical Revival architectural style.
The tall white pillars with the dark green Mountain Valley Water greet you as you enter the store.
You might be thinking what is the big deal about a water bottling company? Well, they have a very long and fascinating history.
Mountain Valley has been bottling pure and clean water straight from a natural spring source in the local Ouachitas Mountains since 1871.
The water is sodium-free and rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium all perfectly pH balanced (alkaline) for you to drink.
In fact, Mountain Valley Water is the first bottled water in the entire United States. During the 1920s and 1930s, it was served as far as the U.S. Senate to the east and California to the west.
For any company to stay in business for over 150 years is quite impressive!
Multiple Presidents, baseball players, singers such as Elvis and Sinatra to the infamous mobsters like Al Capone have all enjoyed drinking Mountain Valley Water over the years.
You can browse the gift store, purchase your own bottles of water, and read about the history of this long-standing company.
Hours: Open Monday – Saturday from 9:00 to 5:00 pm. On Sunday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
11. Find Cool Street Art
Hot Springs might not be the first city you think of when you imagine cool art murals but surprisingly there are some gems to see!
There is a growing art scene in downtown Hot Springs and with most cities, a great way to express artistic talent is through art murals.
The first one to spot if you are exiting out of the Public Parking Deck off of Central Ave is “Quapaw” by the artist Pepe Gaka. You can’t miss it against a bright yellow background.
Walking north along Central you will see “Verna’s Dream” also by the artist Pepe Gaka a few blocks up. The vibrant colors create a whimsical scene.
With such a strong baseball history, it only makes sense that there would be a baseball mural. The mural “Playing Cards” by the artist Eyecon Studios displays baseball legends.
You can find this mural at 204 Malvern Ave just a block off of Central Ave’s southern end of town.
There are a few more in the downtown area so have fun mural hunting!
12. Hot Springs Baseball Trail
There is a rich baseball history in Hot Springs as it is the birthplace of Spring Training and the temporary home of some of the best players to ever play.
Fans of baseball will enjoy following the trail to track various points in history important to both baseball and the town of Hot Springs.
There are a total of 32 stops on the Hot Springs Baseball Trail with about 20 along the main drag along Central Ave.
The rest of the stops are along Whittington Ave up to 1.3-miles from Bathhouse Row. For most of these, you can walk or drive the further points of interest.
It was in 1886 that Cap Anson decided to bring his Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs) to train for spring training in Hot Springs.
For several years, around 250 baseball players would come to spring training in Hot Springs.
Many of the top baseball legends you are likely familiar with even if you are not a baseball fan played in Hot Springs.
The most notable are Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and Cy Young to name a few!
You can take a self-tour and learn about baseball’s influence on the town by downloading the Hot Springs Baseball Trail App.
Once you have the app, each time you come to a point of interest, scan the QR code and learn about it.
Each stop on the trail might be a plaque, a historic building, a field they played on, or a place they would frequently hang out at.
Tip: Or if you just want to view a map of where each stop is located, go to the Hot Springs Baseball Trail website.
13. Grab A Drink At The Ohio Club
The Ohio Club has quite a reputation and fascinating history since opening its doors in 1905. It is the oldest bar in Hot Springs and in all of Arkansas!
As you can imagine there must be the most scandalous stories as it is a place where Al Capone and other mobsters hung out at.
The Ohio Club started out as a bar and a casino where mobsters, baseball players, and celebrities all came for some entertainment.
Al Capone, Bugsy Segel, Bugs Moran, and Lucky Luciano are just a few of the top gangsters to frequent.
Its high-profile guests eventually drew well-known singers to perform such as Mae West.
During the prohibition period (the 1920s), the bar became an illegal speakeasy and became a cigar store.
Well at least up front… In the back, the bar and gambling still prevailed. Most of the town and the authorities knew what was going on but conveniently looked the other way.
Today you can visit, grab a drink, food, and listen to live music!
Hours: Open Sunday and Monday from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm. On Thursday from 11:00 am to Midnight and on Friday & Saturday from 11:00 am to 1:00 am. Closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
14. Go For A Hike
There are forests and lush areas surrounding the town of Hot Springs with several trails to hop on.
Many of the trails lead up to the top of Hot Springs Mountain with the reward of a spectacular view at the top.
As previously mentioned, you can take Peak Trail (1.2-miles) or Short Cut Trail (0.4-miles) up to the Mountain Tower. Both start from the Grand Promenade.
Goat Rock Trail
It is a 2.2-mile hike up on Hot Springs Mountain where you can see various rock formations and be treated to an incredible view of the Ouachita Mountains.
You might even see some hot springs flowing. You can park at the North Mountain overlook or start from the Grand Promenade and make it an even longer hike!
This 3.2-mile hike also starts off from the Grand Promenade and takes you up Hot Springs Mountain.
Once you reach the end of the trail you have the option to keep going and add on Goat Rock Trail to make it 5.4-miles. From Oertel Trail, hop onto Gulpha Gorge Trail until it branches off onto Goat Rock Trail.
West Mountain Trail
On the opposite side of downtown Hot Springs is the 2.4-mile West Mountain Trail which is moderate. You can add on some of the smaller trails that branch off for a longer hike.
Note: The distances listed are round trip, out and back.
15. Dine At Diablos Tacos & Mezcal
Sit back and relax on the outdoor patio of Diablos Tacos & Mezcal for what they call an experience and order delicious food and cocktails.
Located along Bathhouse Row (Central Ave) and across from Buckstaff Bathhouse, dining on the patio offers great people-watching opportunities.
The bright-colored décor, art, and Day of the Dead decorations make it a fun place to unwind after a day exploring Hot Springs.
The restaurant primarily serves tacos and you will find a wide assortment of tasty tacos to bite into.
And pair your tacos with your favorite beer, margarita, or cocktails mixed with mezcal of course!
Hours: Open daily from 11:00 am to 10:00 pm.
16. Enjoy A Drink At Vault
Don’t miss out on grabbing a drink before or after dinner at VAULT. Its name gives a hint as to the cool and unique setting it is located in.
This cozy restaurant and bar is in an old and historic 1890s Bank Building. You will quickly feel like you are stepping back into a time of pure elegance.
The main part of the restaurant is located on the first floor. Private dining or events are held in the beautifully preserved bank vault.
For those that are looking for a unique place to stay in Hot Springs, you can choose to book a night at one of The Lofts on the upper floors of the Bank Building.
Hours: Open Tuesday – Thursday from 4:30 pm to 9:00 pm, Friday & Saturday from 4:30 pm to 10:00 pm, and closed on Sunday and Monday.
17. Indulge In A Cupcake
If you have a sweet tooth craving make a point to stop by Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe.
The name alone is cute and makes one curious to see how good these cupcakes are! They even sell ice cream and other sweets you might enjoy.
These cupcakes have even been featured on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars so you know they have to be good.
The cupcakes look more like mini pieces of art compared to regular cupcakes. There is an eclectic assortment of flavors to choose from.
Some of the popular flavors are Red Velvet, Salted Caramel, Lemon Lavender, and Crème Brulee.
I really enjoyed the Red Velvet and Salted Caramel but overall, I thought the icing could be sweeter. For most, the sweetness will probably be just right.
Hours: Open Sunday – Thursday from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm and Friday – Saturday from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm.
Additional Best Places To Eat In Hot Springs
- Grateful Head – great pizza
- 420 Eats – an outdoor food truck court plus outdoor games
- Kollective Coffee & Tea – healthy breakfasts and coffee
- Red Light Roastery – coffee shop
Tips For Visiting Hot Springs, Arkansas
- Stay hydrated with a reusable water bottle or a filtered water bottle.
- Bring an extra jug or bottle to fill up water from the natural hot spring fountains in town.
- If you want a bathhouse experience, book your spa time in advance as spaces fill up quickly.
- In case it is mosquito season, carry this awesome mosquito spray or wipes.
- Comfortable walking shoes to explore the town of Hot Springs!
- Have a travel umbrella or rain jacket with you just in case it rains.
- If you are heading out on a hike, have a packable hat, sunglasses, and reef-safe sunscreen handy.
- Looking for a backpack that can carry all your items and camera gear for the day?
- Always keep your phone charged with a portable power bank.
- Most restaurants and businesses tend to be closed on Sunday and Monday, so check ahead.
FAQ On Visiting Hot Springs, Arkansas
Is Hot Springs, Arkansas Worth Visiting?
Yes! Hot Springs, Arkansas is such a unique town known for its famous Bathhouse Row with natural thermal waters, the birthplace of baseball Spring Training, the vacation spot for gangsters back in the day, and home to Hot Springs National Park.
When Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit Hot Springs?
The best time to visit Hot Springs, Arkansas is during the months of March – April and the months between August – October.
The summer months of May, June, and July are great too but the temperatures can get hot ranging from 80 F to 95 F in addition to a good amount of humidity.
What Is Hot Springs Best Known For?
Hot Springs, Arkansas is best known for its natural hot springs that are abundant throughout the town.
It became famous as a spa or bath town where celebrities, athletes, and mobsters used to frequent.
And a portion of the town is part of Hot Springs National Park!
How Hot Is The Spring Water?
The natural hot springs average 143 F (62 C), so the water is pretty hot!
Can You Swim In The Hot Springs?
No, and you wouldn’t want to as they are too hot! But you can take a bath in the thermal waters at either Buckstaff Bathhouse or Quapaw Bathhouse.
Where Can I Park In Downtown Hot Springs?
The best place to park is at the Exchange Street Parking Garage. You are steps from all the Hot Springs attractions along Bathhouse Row.
The address is 128 Exchange Street, Hot Springs, AR.
Is Hot Springs Safe For Solo Travelers?
Yes! I traveled alone and never once felt unsafe. It is a very friendly town that welcomes visitors.
That said, don’t go out alone at night but that is my recommendation in any city you are not familiar with.
Have fun exploring the best things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas!
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