Discover all the best activities in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Between the natural springs, hikes in the national and state parks, historic bathhouses and more, there is something for everyone. With all the Southern charm you could want, Hot Springs National Park is the place to be this season.
Arkansas wasn’t at the top of my list when my husband and I were deciding on a vacation this year. That all changed when I realized one of the most unique national parks–Hot Springs National Park–was located in the middle of the natural state.
Let me give you a little background. AJ (my husband) and I love, love, love the outdoors. We love exploring new places, hiking, and staying in cabins in secluded, scenic areas when traveling. Just last year we eloped in Rocky Mountain National Park and honeymooned for a week in Estes Park. It was perfect.
While we have collectively been to a handful of national parks here in the states, we made a goal to visit all of the national parks in the U.S. together eventually.
When we were thinking of which one to visit next, we decided it’d be smart to travel somewhere closer to where we live, near Kansas City, Missouri.
We’ve decided to save the bigger trips for later when we can afford to take more time off and rent a car for a couple of weeks.
We considered the Badlands and even thought about the Great Smoky Mountains. Ultimately, we agreed upon Hot Springs. We were watching YouTube videos of the best National Parks and were so intrigued when we discovered Hot Springs, Arkansas has one of the most unique, albeit strangest, national parks.
What is Hot Springs National Park?
Hot Springs National Park is situated in the Ouachita Mountains in central Arkansas and is home to 47 natural hot springs.
What makes Hot Springs National Park so different from the other national parks is that it is situated in the middle of a town. It is the smallest national park and includes not only the historic downtown area, but also more scenic surrounding areas, too.
Hot Springs is known for their thermal natural springs that, historically, have been used medicinally by Native Americans. Later, they were used in natural spas and bathhouses as remedies for common ailments. Doctors even prescribed spring water for treating anything from skin diseases to muscular issues.
Hot Springs is now considered a “spa town,” a getaway for those seeking relaxation and adventure. It truly is a glorious place to visit away from the city.
That being said, there is so much to do in this little gem of a town.
Why is Hot Springs, Arkansas the place to visit?
Hot Springs, Arkansas is a sight to see because it’s quiet and rejuvenating, yet there is still plenty to do. From outdoor adventures to relaxing in a private thermal bath and exploring the historic district in town, there is something for everyone.
It is not only perfect for a romantic getaway, but is also a family-friendly town. There are a plethora of different cuisines to enjoy, a brewery to sample 18 taps, a botanical garden, and many hiking trails located in the forests and around the lakes. Perfect for adventure seekers, there is so much to see and do.
Stepping into this town is like stepping back in time. So quaint, so personable. This trip really did reignite the passion in my soul and help me reconnect with my partner and nature again.
Things To Do in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
Bathhouse Row was one of the first places I discovered when I started researching Hot Springs, Arkansas. From touring the antique bathhouse buildings, which there are eight of, to perusing antique shops, there’s so much to see on this street.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I love browsing antique stores. Even if buying isn’t in my budget for the week, I love getting inspiration from antique pieces. Old-fashioned, one-of-a-kind pieces inspire me to perfectly curate each room in my home. They help me gauge the style direction I want to go in or inspire me to DIY something similar at a later date. I am always carrying my creative soul with me wherever I go.
Bathhouse Row Antiques did not disappoint! Although they have since moved to another location, there is still all the charm and so much potential with the different pieces they carry. I ended up buying two different antique shoe stretchers and a small china saucer. These will both come in handy when decorating the cottage. I had so much fun just looking around. Believe me, I wanted to purchase a couple of pieces of furniture, too, but these originals were far out of my price range.
We also toured several historic bathhouses, my favorite being Fordyce Bathhouse. The architecture and interior design blew me away and made me giddy inside. There were three floors to tour, so there is plenty to see inside. The hexagonal tiles were a work of art. I’m fond of the European-inspired Renaissance Revival interiors, so I was in heaven! The high ceilings were so intricate, many made of stained glass. We perused the old-fashioned gym, changing rooms, and bathing rooms with their original integrity. It all felt very pristine and lavish.
Garvan Woodland Gardens is a charming botanical garden full of breathtaking landscapes.
This marvelous walking garden tour is full of fauna and flora, highlighting the woodland gardens and thriving ecosystem within. With caves, waterfalls, and Asian gardens in the top five best in North America, it’s no surprise how popular this site is.
We visited during the Tulips Extravaganza and boy was it a sight. With over 150,000 blooming tulips it felt like stepping into a completely different world. Enchanting and magical, this self-guided tour was a great way to stay active and immerse ourselves into nature. There is even a dedicated children’s garden that is fun for everyone of all ages.
Garvan Woodland Gardens even offers guided tours by golf cart for $15 extra per person. Great for accessibility if you have any concerns about getting around.
I would strongly recommend visiting this location if you’re traveling to Hot Springs.
You can’t visit Hot Springs, Arkansas without visiting The Grand Promenade. It’s a brick-paved trail that runs behind all the historic bathhouses. I loved that it was so accessible and provided so many quiet views. There are multiple sites for filling your jugs and bottles with spring water. Additionally, there are a few waterfalls and open hot springs. A very inviting view for taking perfect photographs.
Hot Water Cascade is the largest visible spring in the park. Located at Arlington Lawn, near one end of Bathhouse Row, it has scenic views of cascading waterfalls that will warm anyone’s heart. This was one of my favorite sights to see inside the entire park.
Thermal Spring Fountains
Luckily, you can drink the spring water. As mentioned, there are thermal water fountains where you can fill a jug and experience the high-quality natural spring water that is both safe to drink and reportedly healing.
There are seven thermal spring fountains in town, and two cold spring fountains that flow directly from the nearby mountains. This is something I wanted to experience on day one of our trip and I was so tickled by it. As someone who at times has been called a health nut, this fresh, pure water was much appreciated.
This bathhouse-spa is one of two that are still open for bathing. Quapaw Baths has a public pool and private thermal pools for enjoyment. We personally booked ahead of time, so we could get a private bath in our own room. It was timed for 20 minutes, which is really all you need at those hot temperatures. Then, afterward, you can cool down and sip cool cucumber water and wrap a cold, peppermint-scented towel around your neck before heading back out.
The public pool usually has a long line and is first come, first served. But it is cheaper than a private bath and you can stay as long as you want. Their spa offers massages and many different packages for relaxation, but we stayed only for the thermal bath and were on our way. I would recommend reserving a spot in a private bath for the most luxurious experience.
Food & drink
I had heard so many wonderful things about a few restaurants in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The foodie in me couldn’t wait to try out all the food.
I especially wanted to try Superior Bathhouse Brewery. It used to be a bathhouse and was later turned into a full-on brewery that uses thermal spring water to make their tap beer. They have 18 different taps, and you can sample every last one of them with their biggest flight being “The Beer Bath.” Or you can get a standard flight and pick four. They have some delicious vegetarian food and lots of other diner type food (burgers, appetizers, salads). It was so good that we ate here twice during our stay.
Another one I was very excited for was Diablos Tacos. They offer a margarita flight which I was stoked for. We tried the peach, mango, strawberry, and tropical margaritas and loved every last one. I love Mexican food in general, so this was an obvious choice.
Hot Springs Mountain Trails & Tower
Ancient thermal springs, geologic rock formations, mountain views, what is there not to love about the trails in and near Hot Springs National Park?
We loved exploring the different trails on Hot Springs Mountain. We weren’t able to make it to the very top since it started pouring rain, but we did enjoy the adventure. Since it was rainy we pretty much had the trails to ourselves. Surrounded by pine trees on all sides, with some views of Bathhouse Row down below, this hike was very satisfying and worthwhile.
This mountain also has a 3.5 mile loop that tourists can drive, with the Hot Springs Mountain Tower located at the summit. For $11 visitors can see the views from the very windy top and look at all the surrounding areas from every side. Both the mountains and the town below are a sight to see. This was more fun than I expected.
The Cabin on the Lake
Our cabin on the lake was in an amazing location. It is one of 20 cabins within Lake Catherine State Park. We felt so lucky to rent this property, as we had stunning views and a huge deck to chill on. This was great for relaxing in the early mornings and late evenings. We were even lucky enough to catch some really cool thunderstorms during our stay.
This historic cabin had been renovated a bit in recent years and had a huge wrap-around porch. Right on the lake, it had stunning views of wildlife and nature. We sat up on a little hill overlooking the water, and it was so refreshing to wake up to each morning.