In the 19th century, healing baths were all the rage. Visitors flocked to areas known for their warm, therapeutic waters. One popular destination was the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, named for its natural thermal baths. While hot springs may not attract quite the same crowds they once did, modern visitors still rave about the charms of this small southern town. You'll find natural wonders, contemporary entertainment, and relaxing spas among the diverse mix of things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Bathhouse Row was once the main attraction at Hot Springs, and it's still worth a visit today. Take a dip at one of the eight real bathhouses scattered along the street, including historic ones that date back to the 1800s. If you don't feel like a soak, you'll still find plenty to do amidst the eye-catching architecture, local boutiques, and unique restaurants.
The natural wonders of Hot Springs National Park have captivated Americans since before colonial times, and this unique piece of land was even given an official protected status before the concept of national parks existed. Take a tour of the historic bathhouse that is still maintained like it was in the 19th century, then explore the hiking trails winding around Hot Springs Mountain. Choose a natural hot springs site to ease your feet after your hike. The park is located right outside of the town for easy access.
If you prefer to get off the beaten path, head further outside town to Ouachita National Forest. You'll find more than 1.8 million acres to explore by foot, horseback, mountain bike, or ATV. Bring your canoe or kayak and paddle down one of the many rivers that cross through the forest, but be prepared for some significant rapids. Whether you want an easy hike on a well-maintained nature trail or a challenging backcountry adventure, you'll find it in Ouachita National Forest.
Looking for scenic lake fun? Look no further than Catherine State Park. Located in the Ouachita Mountains, this park offers year-round boat rentals, a launch ramp, a pavilion, picnic areas, and playgrounds. Get cozy at one of 20 equipped cabins tucked along the shoreline, complete with kitchens and fireplaces. Then enjoy the beautiful Arkansas landscape as you explore the nature center or hike one of the four trails. Don't miss Falls Branch Trail, a two-mile loop featuring a seasonal waterfall and suspension bridge.
Spas and shootouts may seem like an odd mix, but the town of Hot Springs was once frequented by some of the most famous criminals in U.S. history, along with its more genteel patrons. To commemorate this, the city founded the Gangster Museum of America. The museum features exhibits about the bootlegging, illegal gambling, and other notorious criminal activities that once went on here, as well as profiles of the lives and times of famous gangsters.
The Anthony Chapel, part of Garvan Woodland Gardens, gives the feeling of being outdoors with its open-beam structure and great pine columns. Tucked in a wooded landscape of giant pines and oak trees, it's a gorgeous destination for weddings, concerts, memorials, and christening services. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls showcase the impressive gardens surrounding the chapel. Numerous skylights provide dappling light throughout the structure. The chapel is open during regular business hours unless rented for a private wedding or event.
While you're at Hot Springs National Park, be sure to stop and take in the splendor of the Garvan Woodland Gardens. This lush botanical garden features 15 connected sites that seamlessly blend wild, natural beauty with beautiful man-made landscapes for a one-of-a-kind experience. Stroll through fields of wildflowers and along flowing mountain streams, then stop and meditate at the peaceful Pine Wind Japanese Garden.
The Superior Bathhouse remained empty for 30 years until an enterprising entrepreneur began plans to revitalize the dormant structure into a brewery and tap house in 2013. Using the famous 144-degree spring water, the brewery is the first to use thermal spring water as its main ingredient. Now it is a brewery, craft beer tasting room, and full-service restaurant. With 18 original brews on tap, there's bound to be a beer you love.
One of the major employers in Hot Springs is Mountain Valley Spring Water, a popular bottled water company founded in 1871 in an effort to bottle the supposed healing powers of the area's natural springs. The factory's history is closely tied with that of the town. The Mountain Valley Spring Water Visitor Center takes you on a tour of this unique intertwined history, which precedes an exploration of the modern bottling plant to see how things have changed.
While many attractions in Hot Springs are focused on the past, you can still experience some modern-day learning at the Mid-America Science Museum. This fun museum features interactive exhibits that help kids and adults alike learn about physics, anatomy, natural history, and more. Check the schedule before you go, as sometimes unique workshops and other activities are available for a little extra fun.
Hiking and visiting museums are great, but sometimes you just want to get your adrenaline going. If that's the case, head over to the Magic Springs Water and Theme Park. This quirky local park features one-of-a-kind rides and attractions, including everything from thrilling rollercoasters to more sedate fun suitable for young children. Be sure to bring your swimsuit on hot days to take advantage of the water rides.
A unique, family-friendly venue, the Galaxy Connection is a Star Wars and Superhero personal collection. Visitors can walk through and interact with the props and memorabilia. Choose between regular admission with a 45-minute guided tour and photos or an in-depth 90-minute tour that includes high-grade props and a commemorative mini-poster.
Hot Springs offers a variety of entertainment options, but one of the most popular is the Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic and Comedy. The family-friendly shows feature a seamless blend of illusion, sleight of hand, and comedy that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Plan a little extra time before or after the show to explore the attached Oddity and Curiosity Museum, which highlights objects of magic and mystery from around the world.
At the very top of Hot Springs Mountain, a futuristic-looking building peeks out from over the tops of the trees. Large windows wrap around the domed design to offer 360-degree views of the forest and town. On the lower level, you'll find a visitor's center that offers plenty of information about the major sights, so consider exploring that before you head to the viewing platform. This tower does have an accessible elevator for those who can't climb stairs, but you may have to wait a bit on busy days. Try to plan your trip for a clear day, as sometimes low-lying clouds can obscure the view during inclement weather.
The Hot Springs National Park Grand Promenade runs along behind Bath House Row, a half-mile long, with fantastic views of downtown Hot Springs. From Reserve Street to Fountain Street, the paved trail will take visitors along sites such as the Arlington Lawn, quartz veins in the sandstone, and tufa cliffs. Visitors won't want to miss the hot springs cascade as it surges from the mountain. This historic brick promenade was a project funded by the PWA in 1933.
The farm is home to a whole lot of critters — turtles, wolves, lemurs, peacocks, and yes — alligators. As the name suggests, you're allowed to pet some of the more harmless animals, which will surely make you feel like a kid again. You even get to feed the alligators at certain times of the year. This fun farm will make for a wonderful day for both yourself and your kids, so make sure you put it on top of your list!
This delightful tiny town is made entirely from handy materials like paperclips, matches, and toothpicks. The creator, Frank Moshinskie, started his project as a teenager in the 1930s and expanded it for years until it was large enough to fill an entire exhibition room. Nowadays, his son gives the guests humorous tours of all the different locations within the mini-city: an interactive railroad, a moving Ferris wheel, roaming deer, and so many more. For just $8 per ticket, it's a steal!
Modeled after its better-known LA counterpart, the Arkansas Walk of Fame celebrates the state's famous past residents. President Bill Clinton, musician Johnny Cash, and poetess Maya Angelou are some of the people of note commemorated here. Familiarize yourself with the state's colorful history and enjoy some time outdoors at this small but fascinating attraction.
While it may go under the radar for many visitors, the Blakely Mountain Dam is the perfect destination for a sunny day. If you enjoy fishing, you can try your best to catch the largemouth bass the region is famous for. If that doesn't work out, you may still be able to catch some trout or striper! There are also several diving sites and great visibility, so devoted scuba divers often come for a visit — would you try it out yourself?
Enjoy a day of adventure for the whole family at this super-fun zip line park. The lines vary in height and length, so you'll be sure to find one you enjoy, whether you're a thrill-seeker or a more laid-back tourist. For the bravest visitors, the park offers the Haunted Forest nighttime tours.