Hot Springs, Arkansas is a charming city nestled in the Ouachita Mountains. It is known for its natural thermal springs and rich history. To help you plan your trip to this fascinating town we have created this ULTIMATE guide to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Hot Springs is one of America’s oldest and most famous spa destinations. It is also home to one of the smallest and quirkiest of the national parks in the US.
Hot Springs National Park is located right in the city of Hot Springs and features historic bathhouses with soothing (and some say healing) hot thermal waters.
Hot Springs also has a small, but vibrant downtown with museums, restaurants, shops, great hotels and so much more.
In addition, just a short way out of town are some amazing state parks, beautiful lakes, great hiking trails, crystal digging, and many more wonderful ways to experience nature.
Whether you’re seeking relaxation in the rejuvenating baths or embarking on an adventure through the Ouachita Mountains, this comprehensive guide is your key to unlocking the treasures of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Join us as we explore the experiences, hidden gems, and intriguing history that make this city a must-visit destination for those in search of tranquility, adventure, and a taste of the past.
Ultimate Guide to Hot Springs, Arkansas
Things to Know Before You Visit Hot Springs, Arkansas!
1. Location: Hot Springs is located in the southwest portion of Arkansas in Garland County.
It is only about an hour (50ish miles) from the Bill and Hilary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock. If you are flying commercial then this is definitely the most convenient airport to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
2. Transportation: You will want to have a car in the area. If you are flying into Little Rock you can rent a car at the airport. You will find that while none of the major Interstates go through Hot Springs, it is easily accessed.
If you are staying downtown you will discover that the main drag of the city (Central Avenue) is quite walkable with pedestrian access to the bathhouses as well as to restaurants, shops, and activities.
3. Climate: Summers all through Arkansas are hot and humid, with temperatures ranging from the high 80s well up into the 90’s and even higher. We have a post all about the best times to visit Arkansas!
Spring and fall offer milder weather, making them ideal for hiking and most outdoor activities. Winters are generally mild, but temperatures can drop below freezing. Hot Springs does receive occasional snowfall, but this is rare.
4. When is high season in Hot Springs? Most visitors come in the summer and that is considered the high season in Hot Springs. Early spring and fall are also fairly busy but are considered the shoulder season and the crowds will definitely be smaller. Winter is low season.
5. Best time to visit Hot Springs? It depends on what you want to do! If you are planning a lake vacation then you will want to visit in the summer. Fall and spring and for the most part winter are best for hiking, crystal digging, and other outdoor activities.
6. How much does it cost to visit the National Park? Nothing. The park is free.
7. Where can I soak in the waters? There are actually no outdoor spaces where you can experience a soak in the springs.
The springs have all been capped over the years and routed to the bathhouses and spas. In addition the water comes from the ground too hot for bathing. The bathhouses actually have to cool the water in order for patrons to bathe.
Places to Stay in Hot Springs
We will begin with some ideas of places to stay in Hot Springs. There are so many options!
Of course, you can choose city life by staying in one of the downtown hotels. There are also some adorable and renovated vintage road side motels in Hot Springs.
Or perhaps you would prefer to stay in a cabin in the woods, Fox Pass Cabins is one of our favorites for a cabin stay. They are one of the most unique accommodations in Hot Springs and have something for everyone.
Want to stay in a luxury treehouse? Hot Springs has that, too!
In the Trees Resort is one of the newest places to stay in Hot Springs. It only opened in August 2023. Although it is only about 15 minutes out of town you will feel as if you are a world away.
If you own a camping trailer or RV there are plenty of opportunities for camping near Hot Springs as well.
We have several different posts that will help you find the perfect place to stay in Hot Springs.
Hot Springs National Park
The Hot Springs National Park is a small, but interesting National Park. It is only 5,400 acres and was originally created to preserve the thermal waters.
In fact, it was federally preserved 40 years before Yellowstone! This little tidbit of information causes some people to say that this was the FIRST national park!
The main attractions are the historic bathhouses, but there are also several miles of hiking trails in the surrounding forests.
We suggest that you start your tour of the park with the Fordyce Bathhouse. This is now the park visitor center. It is here that you can take a ranger led tour and learn all about the bathhouses, the thermal waters and the way that they were used to help people to heal from their maladies.
Spas in Hot Springs
From the very beginning of history Hot Springs was a spa town. The Indians called it Valley of the Vapors and considered it to be a sacred place of healing.
There were settlers and guests coming as early as 1810. However, it became a true resort towards the end of the 1800’s. Doctors would even prescribe the thermal baths as treatment.
Today, two of the old bathhouses still operate as places to soak in the thermal waters. The Buckstaff Bathhouse is the more traditional of the two while the Quapaw Bathhouse has more modern spa treatments along with its soaking pools.
In addition to the bathhouses you can even stay at the Hale Hotel which was once the Hale bathhouse. It has been converted into 9 luxury suites. In these rooms you will have a large soaking tub that you can fill with the hot mineral water and steep to your heart’s content.
Besides the bathhouses the Arlington Resort hotel has a spa.
In addition to the spas named above, you will find many other amazing spas in town. Hot Springs really does deserve its nickname of Spa City. Click the button below to learn more about our favorite spas in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Best Restaurants to Try in Hot Springs
Although it is a small town Hot Springs is definitely a foodie paradise. You will have so many great choices here from a fine steak dinner, to an iconic barbecue restaurant, to the best pizza this side of New York City.
Seriously, there is good food in this town.
One of our favorite places to recommend is DeLuca’s Pizzeria. It is my favorite pizza in the state. If you do go to DeLuca’s you will want to call in advance to reserve your pizza crust. They are that good and busy.
Don’s Southern Social is one of the newest places in town. (as of August 2023) and it is a delight. This is a restaurant with the vibe of a hidden speakeasy. We love it!
We have a list of all of our favorite restaurants in Hot Springs. Be sure and check it out by clicking the button below!
Where to Have a Drink in Hot Springs
If you look into the history of Hot Springs you will discover that it was once a gambling and drinking town frequented by high profile gangsters. During prohibition illegal speakeasies proliferated and illegal moonshine continued to be produced and sold.
These days there is still gambling and drinking in Hot Springs…legal gambling and drinking.
You might want to have a drink at the Ohio Club which is the oldest continually open bar in Arkansas. Yes, it never closed, even during prohibition. You have to got to stop in and see their gorgeous bar!
Or you can go to the Oaklawn Casino Racing Resort and have a drink at one of several bars.
My favorite is the Superior Bathhouse Brewery which also happens to be the ONLY brewery in the US that is situated in a National Park.
There are several more places in town to have a beer or a nice cocktail. Check out this list of our favorites!
Things to do in Hot Springs
There are so many things to do in Hot Springs. We have already mentioned that you can visit the Hot Springs National Park.
If you want to get an overall view of the area check out the Hot Springs Mountain tower. where you can see the entire city of Hot Springs and the surrounding Ouachita mountains from the observation deck.
But there is more! Hot Springs is a bustling little city with shops, museums, and attractions right across the street from bathhouse row.
Be sure and check out our post that has a list of ALL the great things to do in the town of Hot Springs!
Spending Time in the Great Outdoors
We talked about all the fun things to do in town, but Hot Springs is located in the beautiful Ouachita Mountains and there are also so many opportunities for outdoor activities and adventure!
First, let’s talk about the hiking! The national park also has miles of hiking trials including the Grand Promenade which is a lovely shaded trail up the hill behind the bathhouses.
You can pick up a brochure about the trails at the Fordyce bathhouse, but here is a link to them as well.
Many people come to the area to enjoy one of the amazing lakes that are near Hot Springs. There are 5 lakes in the area called the Diamond Lakes.
Some are perfect for water sports while others are known for fishing. Lake Hamilton is an urban lake right in town while Lake Ouachita is the largest lake in the state surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest.
Check out our post about all of these lakes . This may help you discover the perfect lake for you!
There are SO many opportunities for camping in and around Hot Springs.
You can camp at the state parks in the area or there are plenty of Corps of Engineer campgrounds on the nearby lakes as well as a plethora of RV campsites!
Gulpha Gorge is a wonderful campground and the only one that is actually in the state park.
State Parks Near Hot Springs
Lake Ouachita State Park is located on the largest, cleanest, and, in my opinion the most beautiful of all of the Arkansas lakes.
DeGray Lake Resort State Park is the only resort state park in Arkansas. It has a nice lodge as well as a championship golf course and SO many amenities.
Go Digging For Quartz
The Ouachita mountains surrounding Hot Springs are home to some of the largest and finest deposits of quartz crystals in the world! There are several locations around Hot Springs, especially in the small town of Mt. Ida, where you can actually dig for your own crystals.
The Ron Coleman mine is a favorite as is the Wegner Quartz Crystal mine. Be sure and check the websites before you go as some require you to bring your own digging equipment and others have specific times to take you to the fields.
Garvan Woodland Gardens
Garvan Gardens are gorgeous year round.
However, this botanical garden is never more incredible than in the spring when tens of thousands of tulips are blooming. They also have an incredible light display in December.
If you visit Garvan Gardens be sure and also go to Anthony Chapel which is on the property.
History of Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs has a history that is both fascinating and sordid. What started as a sacred place for the American Indians became a hot bed for gambling and gangsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano.
After this era, the town later fell into disrepair and disregard and then came back to life.
You can learn more about the gangster history of Hot Springs at the Gangster Museum of America. This is a small museum but SO interesting and will give you a better understanding of this fascinating time period in Hot Springs.
We also have an entire post about the history of Hot Springs where you can learn even more about it!
Gambling in Hot Springs, Arkansas
As you just read, Hot Springs has a long history of illegal gambling. You can still gamble in town today…but…legally!
The Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort not only is a great place to stay, but it also offers casino gambling, horse racing during the season, as well as great bars and delicious restaurants.
Casino gambling is available year round but check the schedule for horse racing.
I hope that you will find this guide to Hot Springs, Arkansas helpful. The city of Hot Springs is a quirky and interesting place! One of our favorite things about this area is the natural beauty and the abundance of things to do.
There is something for everyone in Hot Springs!
Thanks for stopping by!