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 a little bit, head further outside town to Ouachita National Forest. There 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.