Hot Springs, Arkansas: The Complete Guide

Arkansas, Hot Springs
Steam rises from a hot spring at Arlington Lawn in Hot Springs National Park. Richard Rasmussen / Getty Images

The historic Arkansas town of Hot Springs, just 55 miles from Little Rock, is a prime weekend getaway destination for families, couples, or single travelers and offers a variety of great eats, local treats, and, of course, hot springs. There's something for everyone in this town—the nature lover will find hours of outdoor enjoyment, as will the history buffs, antique shoppers, and shopaholics. 

Most of the attractions can be found right on Central Avenue in Hot Springs' historic district. In this central area, you can find hiking trails leading you up the mountain, art events like the documentary film festival, shopping, visitor information centers, and what the town is most famous ​for—the bathhouses.

There is no need to leave the main street if you are just coming on a day trip, but there are also a number of things to do around the area if you have a few more days to spend exploring. 

Tourists at the entrance of Visitor Center in Hot Springs National Park
aimintang / Getty Images

The Hot Springs

Naturally heated thermal springs can be found all over the city—and while most of them have been covered due to development, there are still a few active springs that travelers can visit. Even in 50-degree weather, you can feel (and see) the heat they give off.

These springs are a natural wonder, but they also produce very good drinking water, dispensed from spigots found on the city's streets. The spring water that comes out of these spigots is warm (on a cold day, it's just lukewarm), and people line up to get a taste. The water is so popular that it isn't uncommon to see people haul gallon containers to fill up and take home with them.

If you're interested in the history of the hot springs and their uses, head over to Bathhouse Row, where historic bathhouse buildings line the main avenue. Today, most of the old buildings serve other functions, such as visitor's centers and information buildings, and are no longer used for baths.

In fact, there are only two buildings that are still operating as bathhouses—Buckstaff, which is open year-round and offers thermal baths and massages for a relatively low price, and Quapaw, which offers thermal baths, massages, and even has a beauty bar for hair care and makeup.

After your thermal bath, you can walk around downtown and check out the many little shops and boutiques. You can shop for antiques, toys, and apparel in unique and historic buildings.

Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, United States

 SaraDGarland / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

What To Do

Hot Springs, Arkansas, has been around for a while, and because it has always been a tourist destination, there are lots of quirky roadside-type attractions to discover on the main strip.

One popular attraction is The Gangster Museum of America. It's small but has some original artifacts from some infamous mobsters and is owned and operated by friendly and informative people. The tour might be a little boring for kids because it's very structured and scripted. However, it provides insight into a different part of Hot Springs' famous past, including gambling and other illicit activities.

If you're a fan of horse racing, Oaklawn is the home of horse racing in Arkansas. The track gained fame by producing a number of Kentucky Derby championship horses throughout the years. Open from January to late April or early May, Oaklawn offers an array of live, simulcast, and instant horse racing (historical race wagering).

Outside of downtown Hot Springs, you'll find one of Arkansas' best botanical gardens, Garvan Woodland Gardens, located on a 210-acre peninsula on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs National Park. Strolling through the gardens and taking photos is a relaxing way to spend the day.

Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa
Chris Light [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons 

Hot Springs is a great destination for families as it has many family-friendly attractions. In the warmer months, many families make a stop at the Magic Springs Theme and Water Park. However, even in the cooler months, there are many things to see that will keep kids occupied.

The Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum, The Maxwell Blade Theater of Magic, and Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf are all popular family attractions on Central Avenue, along with the Mid-America Science Museum, one of the best "hands-on" museums in the United States.

Tiny Town is a family-run attraction consisting of a series of handmade miniature villages and an interactive model railroad. It claims to have "the oldest kid-size village and railroad in the U.S." Tiny Town is a bit away from Central Avenue but not that hard to find.

A trip to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, which takes you 180 feet above the mountain, will give you an idea of the grandeur of the city and its park. The mountain tower is just about five minutes away from Central Avenue, and the energetic can hike up to the tower from Central Avenue on one of the many hiking trails.

Gauntlet coaster at Magic Springs amusement park
Magic Springs

Where To Stay

The town's hotels offer many amenities, but most have the best thermal spas in the region, drawing visitors from around the world to this small Arkansas town.

The historic Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa opened in 1924 and was the biggest hotel in the state at the time. Presidents, celebrities, sports stars, and even Al Capone (he liked room 442 because it overlooked the Southern Club) have slept there.

Another popular hotel in Hot Springs is the historic Park Hotel, which was completed in 1929. This gorgeous hotel building is a great example of Spanish Revival architecture.

The Pancake Shop
 Amy the Nurse/Flickr CC 2.0 

What to Eat and Drink

Visitors hoping to experience the rich food culture in this Arkansas town can start their day off with a trip to the famous Pancake Shop, which features one of the top breakfast menus in the state. Alternatively, visitors can check out Bleu Monkey Grill, a newer establishment great for some bistro-style American food.

Rolando's is a great spot for lunch, with a menu of tasty Mexican food. For vegetarians, try Cafe 1217 and sample their fresh sandwiches, salads, and soups, as well as a number of quick yet creative options that are mostly vegetarian-friendly.

Later in the day, try McClard's BBQ, one of Bill Clinton's favorites. It's been ranked among the best in the state by multiple publications over the years.