12 Attractions in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains of central Arkansas, Hot Springs is a charming city with a rich history as a popular resort destination because of its thermal mineral springs. For centuries, people have been drawn to the area to “take the waters,” believing the springs to have healing properties.

Beyond the bathhouses along Bathhouse Row, Hot Springs offers many unique attractions and beautiful natural scenery that make it a great place to visit year-round. From museums and historical sites to zip lines and outdoor recreation, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Here are 12 of the top attractions that should not be missed when visiting Hot Springs, Arkansas.

1. Bathhouse Row

The heart of downtown Hot Springs is Bathhouse Row, consisting of eight well-preserved 19th and early 20th century bathhouses and other related buildings along Central Avenue built on the site where natural hot springs emerge from the ground. This National Historic Landmark District allows visitors to soak in the history and culture behind Hot Springs as America’s first resort.

The grandest bathhouse of all is the Buckstaff Bathhouse, which has been in continuous operation since 1912. They still offer traditional thermal baths in marble surroundings. The Quapaw Bathhouse now serves as the visitor center, with exhibits on the history and geology of the springs. Four of the bathhouses offer guided tours for you to admire their ornate tiled floors and vaulted ceilings without having to actually bathe.

2. Hot Springs National Park

Encompassing much of downtown Hot Springs, the smallest and oldest park maintained by the National Park Service protects 47 natural hot springs along the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain. Within the park, visitors can sample the 143-degree spring water at the Grand Promenade fountain or take a short walk on the Grand Promenade trail for spectacular views of the city below.

The park also contains Gulpha Gorge campground and hiking trails winding through the forested mountains surrounding the city. A visit to the park visitor center in the Lamar Bathhouse provides background on the interesting cultural history that earned Hot Springs its nickname “The American Spa.”

3. Garvan Woodland Gardens

One of Hot Spring’s most cherished gems, Garvan Woodland Gardens is a gorgeous 210-acre botanical garden nested on a peninsula along Lake Hamilton. Open year-round, it is meticulously landscaped and features themed garden areas showcasing plant varieties that thrive in the natural woodland setting.

From March to November, more than 150,000 tulips, daffodils, and other bulbs burst into bloom on the Garden of the Pine Wind cove. Other highlights include the verdant Fern Glade, Evans Celebration Garden overlooking the lake, one of the nation’s largest wisteria arbors, and an architectural highlight – the striking Anthony Chapel complex with walls of windows framing the surrounding forest.

4. Magic Springs Theme and Water Park

On a hot summer day, nothing beats the excitement of speeding down wild water slides or splashing in a wave pool. Open from May to September, Magic Springs Theme and Water Park packs plenty of thrill rides, family attractions, shows, games, dining, and of course water rides ranging from mild to daring.

Popular water rides include the Americana Rapids, Splash Island Treehouse, Lotus Flower Rafts, and Bonzai Pipelines. Rollercoasters like the Gauntlet, a triple loop coaster, get the adrenaline pumping while tamer rides entertain small children. When getting pruney in the water or tired from walking, take a break while being entertained at one of the shows or live music performances around the park.

5. Belle of Hot Springs Riverboat Cruise

One of the best ways to relax while seeing the sights is aboard the Belle of Hot Springs paddlewheel riverboat. While cruising along Lake Hamilton with views of the Ouachita Mountains, experienced guides narrate the history of the lake and interesting sights along its shores ranging from custom lakeside homes to curious rock formations exposed by the lake’s construction in the early 1900s.

Daily sightseeing cruises last about an hour while numerous specialty cruises are available including dinner cruises and themed cruises occurring around holidays. Back on land, you can feed the fish around the dock and kids love scrambling around the Arkansas Kids’ Jungle Treehouse next to the ticket office.

6. Gangster Museum of America

In the 1920s and 30s, Hot Springs illegal gambling scene drew infamous gangsters like Al Capone, Frank Costello, and Bugs Moran to vacation and conduct business in the city. This intriguing history is showcased at the Gangster Museum of America featuring displays of weapons and gear used by different crime organizations along with photos and stories documenting famous mobsters and events that occurred in Hot Springs.

Unique exhibits let you sneak into a police lineup, “ride” with gangsters shooting tommy guns, or try to crack a safe. It may not seem like the most family-friendly attraction, but older kids fascinated by history often enjoy learning the city’s criminal past.

7. Mid-America Science Museum

Located right along Bathhouse Row, the Mid-America Science Museum offers hands-on educational fun for kids of all ages. More than 100 interactive exhibits demonstrate scientific principles in areas like biology, physics, technology, earth science, optics, and health sciences.

Kids can make giant bubbles in the Bubble Factory, get dizzy in Disorientation Station, build structures on the bed of nails, or get creative in the Innovation Station. Active inquisitive minds could easily spend hours exploring everything this museum has to offer ranging from live animals and science demonstrations to outdoor science-themed playgrounds. A great indoor activity for families when needing a break from the heat or rain.

8. Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort

Nicknamed “The Racing Capital of the South,” Hot Springs has a long history with thoroughbred racing dating back to 1904. Today Oaklawn is among the country’s top racetracks attracting champions to compete for an impressive purse structure peaking in April with the prestigious $1 million Arkansas Derby that kicks off the Triple Crown series.

From January through May each year, visitors can watch live racing from the grandstands while also enjoying good food, specialty drinks, and exciting gaming at the onsite casino open year-round. With its blend of entertainment, Oaklawn captures the adventurous vacation spirit of Hot Springs for visitors and locals alike.

9. Hot Springs Mountain Tower

For spectacular panoramic views above downtown Hot Springs and the surrounding Ouachita Mountain landscape, take a drive up Hot Springs Mountain to the 216-foot Hot Springs Mountain Tower overlook.

At the top, information boards detail notable landmarks visible in the distance along with some history behind the mountain’s role in the area’s past as a forest reserve providing lumber and preserving land above the springs. The tower offers breathtaking views day or night, but is particularly popular at sunset and after dark when the lights come on to illuminate Hot Springs and Lake Hamilton below.

10. Historic baseball sites

Baseball fans will appreciate that Hot Springs likes to celebrate its rich baseball legacy connected to past spring training endeavors. Many MLB teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and others spent spring training time practicing in the warm weather around Hot Springs from 1886 to the 1940s. Two key sites downtown preserve this history.

At Whittington Park, visitors can see where Babe Ruth hit a 573-foot homerun out of the park onto Whittington Avenue during a spring training game in 1918. A couple blocks away lies Major League Baseball Spring Training Ballpark & Museum at 841 Reserve Street showcasing touching stories and artifacts from the many Hall of Famers that once played baseball in Hot Springs.

11. Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo

A unique family attraction found near Hot Springs called the Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo is a rescue sanctuary for alligators, crocodiles, snakes, turtles, monkeys, lemurs and other interesting critters. Educational presentations occur daily allowing visitors to watch staff interact with the gators and learn cool facts about the different species in their care. brave guests can even hold small alligators!

Other hands-on experiences possible include feeding turtles and gators, petting rabbits in the critter kennel, encountering monkeys on Monkey Island, or strolling through Land of the Little Dragons to see cute baby Asian Water monitors. Definitely a memorable wildlife adventure guaranteed to entertain kids and adults.

12. Hot Springs Zipline & Canopy Tours

Thrill seekers will find excitement zipping over the treetops at Hot Springs Zipline & Canopy Tours located a short drive north of town. Certified guides lead guests on a series of 11 zip lines criss-crossing a scenic valley along the Ouachita River. Soaring on lines up to 1400 feet long while suspended up to 200 feet in the air is an awesome adrenaline rush and great way to admire the pretty forest scenery around Lake Ouachita.

The Little Leap tour specially designed for kids as young as 5 allows them to enjoy their own thrilling guided woodland adventure including zip lines, sky bridges and rappelling. With the breathtaking views and variety of ziplines to master, this aerial adventure makes for an unforgettable experience.

Conclusion

With America’s first national park at its heart to eclectic attractions and outdoor adventures set amongst beautiful scenery, Hot Springs appeals to all interests and ages.

The thermal waters may have first put it on the map as a place for rest and relaxation, but visitors soon discover a vibrant city overflowing with things to do.

When planning your visit, make sure to include several of these top 12 attractions to fully soak in the unique culture and history that has made Hot Springs, Arkansas such an endearing tourist destination for well over a century.

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