Hot Springs, Arkansas is a small mountain town with a small national park. Hot Springs National Park is unique among the national parks as it is built within a city. Between the park and the city there are so many great things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas!
Hot Springs is a great place for a family get away as in addition to the park and the city it is surrounded by natural beauty including lakes and mountains.
Quick History of the Town of Hot Springs
The Indians used this area for thousands of years as a place for trading, relaxation, and healing. In other words, it has always been a touristy place!
In the past there were approximately 47 natural hot springs coming from the hillside in this area and running together at the bottom of the hill to form a creek.
When I say hot, I mean steaming! These springs come out of the ground at 147 degrees. The waters are not sulfuric and therefore have no smell or bad taste.
I love to imagine how this must have looked back before it was developed! I imagine it being both gorgeous and somewhat prehistoric in appearance!
By the early 1800’s a bustling town had sprung up around the springs in order to serve the people who were coming here to soak in the healing mineral springs. An entire bathing industry had begun.
In 1832 the Federal Government took over the area to manage and preserve. Because of this, some people claim that this was the first national park, predating Yellowstone by 40 years. However, the national parks system as we know it today didn’t actually exist at that time.
The bathhouses began as crude wooden huts built over the springs. Through the years the free flowing springs were capped for protection and the bathhouses became more elaborate. Most importantly they became more fireproof.
These grand brick and stucco buildings with marble walls, tiled floors, and stained glass windows still exist today.
Things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas
There are many fun things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas both in the park and in the surrounding areas! We also have a list of some great places to eat in Hot Springs.
Hot Springs National Park
This is one of the most unique national parks in all of America. It is the second smallest and is part of a historic downtown area. It is also free! The Hot Springs National park focuses more on history and culture than it does on nature.
You won’t find majestic vistas in this small national park. You will find an in-depth look at a fascinating historical time period. You will find geological curiosities, and beautiful scenery and a small town right next door.
As you are driving down the busy main street the park will be on one side and the town of Hot Springs on the other. As the two are so close together it can be hard to tell when the national park begins and the town ends or vice versa.
Have fun enjoying the whole experience that is Hot Springs, Arkansas.
If you only make one stop in Hot Springs this should be it. The National Park Visitors Center is located in the Fordyce Bathhouse and is a wonderful introduction to the park and the town.
The museum is free to enter and there are park rangers available to answer questions. You can learn about the history of the springs, the town, and the bathhouses on a self-guided tour of the building. It is truly fascinating!
Visit a Bath House on Bathhouse Row
In addition to visiting the Fordyce Bathhouse take a stroll down the lovely shaded bathhouse row and explore the offerings of the other bathhouses.
The bathhouse row that you see today consists of 8 bathhouse buildings. These were all constructed between 1892 and 1923.
The Lamar bathhouse contains offices, storage, the park archives, a small research library, and, best of all, the park store, Bathhouse Row Emporium. This store is located in the foyer/sunroom of the bathhouse which is pretty and bright. They have a good selection of nice items.
The Buckstaff is the only one of the bathhouses that never closed down. It has been in continuous operation since 1912. Because of this they still offer the traditional “bathing” experience. Check their website for offerings and prices.
The Ozark Bathhouse
The Ozark Bathhouse houses the the Hot Springs National Park Cultural Center. The center features gallery spaces for displaying artwork from the park’s Artist-in-Residence Program and other temporary exhibitions. The building is not open all the time and is run by volunteers so you will want to check before visiting.
The Quapaw Bathhouse
The Quapaw has a beautiful interior and offers modern day spa services in an historic atmosphere. You can soak in their thermal pools or choose from a variety of facials and massages. Check out their website for offerings and prices.
The Fordyce Bathhouse
The Fordyce as mentioned above functions as the park’s visitor center. It is a must stop!
THe Maurice Bathhouse
The Maurice Bathhouse is currently vacant. You can only view the structure from the outside.
The Hale Bathhouse
The Hale Bathhouse has been revived as a luxury hotel. There are 9 suites and each one has a bathtub that you can fill with the thermal mineral water from the springs! It is really a beautiful place and you can check out the prices and rooms at their website.
THe Superior Bathhouse
The Superior Bathhouse is now home to the only brewery in a United States National Park, and the only brewery in the world to utilize thermal spring water to make their beer. You will definitely want to stop by the Superior Bathhouse!
Enjoy the Waters
Touch the Hot Water
Most of the free flowing hot springs are capped but there are still two places in town that you can see and touch the springs. The first is the Hot Water Cascade which is located at the Arlington lawn. The water tumbles down the hill and into the pools below.
The second is the Display Spring which is located directly behind the Maurice Bathhouse.
Drink the waters
Yes the springs are pure and drinkable right from the ground. They are also tested regularly! The locals fill jugs with the water to take home and put in their refrigerator for drinking. You will find several fountains around the bathhouses and around town to fill your water bottle.
Soak in the waters
Sadly, there are no outdoor places to enjoy the springs. However you can soak in the waters at the Buckstaff Bathhouse or the Quapaw bathhouse. If you decide to stay at the Hale Hotel you can even enjoy the waters from the comfort of your own room!
Stroll the Grand Promenade
The Grand Promenade is a wide brick paved path located up the hill behind the bathhouses. It that runs parallel to bathhouse row for about 1/2 mile.
It is a beautiful shaded stroll with benches, picnic tables, and pretty views.
Climb the Hot Springs Mountain Tower
Way up the hill behind the bathhouses you will find the Hot Springs Mountain Tower.
You can hike up to it but do know that the hike is over a mile…all uphill. Or you might decide to take the very scenic drive.
There is a charge to go up in the tower but once at the top you will find panoramic views of the park, the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas and the gorgeous mountain countryside.
Do a Little Hiking
There are many great hiking trails in the area! In fact one of my favorite short hiking trails in the state is Falls Branch Trail which is located at nearby Lake Catherine state park.
Check out this list of other trails in the area from the National Park Service. This should be enough to get you started!
Visit Garvan Woodland Gardens
Just outside of Hot Springs you will find Garvan Woodland Gardens. This is a must visit any time of year but if you are visiting in the spring you will definitely want to stop by and see the tens of thousands of tulips!
At Garvan Gardens you will walk along shaded pathways bordered by botanical landscapes with flowering plants for each season.
There are miles of lake shoreline, streams, small waterfalls, and beautiful bridges.
You will even discover breathtaking architectural structures and fantastic photo opportunities at every turn. You will especially want to stop at the stunning Anthony Chapel.
Any time of year Garvan Woodland Gardens is a special place.
Learn About Gangsters at the Gangster Museum of America
You may be surprised to learn that Hot Springs was a favorite haunt of the gangsters of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. It was frequented by Al Capone and others.
People from all over the world were coming to Hot Springs, Arkansas during this time so gangsters followed in order to set up various gangster-type activities such as gambling and bootlegging.
You can learn all about the gangsters in Hot Springs at the Gangster Museum of America.
The Ohio Club was also a favorite haunt of the gangsters that you can still visit to have a bite to eat or a drink.
Find Your Inner Nerd at The Galaxy Connection
The Galaxy Connection is an interactive museum featuring Star Wars and superheroes. You will be able to interact with all the props and have a myriad of photo opportunities. You can put on a jedi robe and wield a light saber.
This is the personal collection of a superfan and the tour is semi-guided. It is a great place for Star Wars geeks of superhero fans of all ages.
Watch the Horses Run at Oaklawn Racing Casino
Oaklawn has horse racing, a casino, a hotel and spa, and restaurants and bars. It is so much fun to stand at the rail and watch the horses go thundering past. There are also some good restaurants at the race track.
Horse racing is not a year round activity so be sure and check the schedules before you go.
Maxwell Blade Theater of Magic
The Maxwell Blade show is located in the newly renovated historic Malco theatre in Hot Springs.
This is a joyful and family friendly show. You will experience magic, artistry, laughter, music, amazement, and wonder. This is really an excellent show that you will want to see on a visit to Hot Springs!
Across the street from Bath House Row and throughout Hot Springs you will find a collection of interesting art galleries.
In fact Hot Springs has been noted as one of the top art towns in the US.
Here are some of our favorite art Galleries in Hot Springs:
- Gallery Central
- Whittington Gallery
- American Art Gallery and Gifts
- Artists Workshop Gallery
- Dryden Pottery
- Legacy Fine Art Gallery
- Riley Art Glass Studio
- Justus Fine Art Gallery
Learn About Mountain Valley Spring Water
Pop into the Mountain Valley Spring Water museum visitor’s center and museum for a look at the history of some of the best bottled water in the world.
Mountain Valley has been bottling the spring water for 150 years! The water is naturally mineral-rich, pure, crisp, healthy and delicious. They don’t mess with it or add anything to it.
Best of all Mountain Valley Spring Water still comes in glass bottles!
Dig For Crystals in Hot Springs
The unique geology of the Ouachita Mountains has created some of the finest deposits of quartz crystals in the world. The largest clusters are found in the mountains surrounding Hot Springs.
At the Ron Coleman mines just about 30 minutes outside of town you can dig for your own quartz crystals. You can even take a tour of the commercial mines, the digging areas, and see museum quality pieces that have been unearthed.
Take a National Park Duck Boat Tour
What is a duck boat? It is a vehicle that can run on both the street and the water.
On the unique duck boat tour you will climb aboard this interesting open-air vehicle and embark on an informative and funny tour of Hot Springs. After learning how this city became a hangout for gangsters you will go to Lake Hamilton and enter the water for a ride around St. John’s Island.
Shopping in Hot Springs, Arkansas
There are some fun little boutiques sprinkled in the downtown area of Hot Springs. You will find Christmas decorations, antiques, women’s clothing, gifts, soaps, and so much more.
Here are some of our favorites:
- The Savory Pantry
- Petals, Purses, Etc.
- Bathhouse Row Emporium
- All Things Arkansas
- Bathhouse Soapery
- Historic District Antiques
- Kringles in the Park
- Toy Chest
Mid-America Science Museum
The award winning Mid-America Science Museum sits on 21 wooded acres near Hot Springs National Park. It has over 100 hands-on exhibits both permanent and traveling.
The museum is sprawling, well maintained, and pretty. You won’t feel as confined as you do at some children’s museums. The cavern exhibit is always a big hit. This is an excellent place for family fun.
Lakes Near Hot Springs
When summer temperatures soar in Arkansas there is nothing better to do than go to a lake! Several of the best lakes in the state are near Hot Springs.
- Lake Catherine is best known for fishing. The lake is rich in bass, crappie, catfish, walleye and bream. Below the dam, there is great rainbow trout fishing.
- Lake Ouachita is absolutely stunning and known for being one of the cleanest lakes in the US. It is also the largest lake in Arkansas. Boating, Sailing, and Water sports are the popular activities here.
- Lake Hamilton is one of the most popular lakes in the state. It allows resorts, condos, and homes to be built around it so it can be quite busy.
Lake Catherine State Park
Lake Catherine State Park has some nice hiking trails including one of our favorites, the Falls Branch Trail, which leads to a scenic waterfall. There is a full service marina at the park and boat rentals are available.
There are 20 cabins and 70 camping sites many of which are on the lake shore. This is one of the busiest of the Arkansas State Parks so you will definitely want to reserve in advance.
Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo
Yes, there is an alligator farm in Arkansas. There are alligators in the southern part of the state. The alligator farm is also one of Hot Springs oldest attractions.
Want to feed a baby alligator meat on a stick? This is the place to do that!
Hope you find this list of things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas helpful and that you enjoy your visit to the “spa city.”
If you are visiting Arkansas in the summer here is a post with a list of the best summer activities in the state.
If you are visiting Arkansas in the fall here is a post with a list of the best places to see fall color in the state.
We also have a list of fun and interesting facts about Arkansas.
Thanks for stopping by.