12 Things To Do in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, Hot Springs is a charming city with a rich history as a popular resort town. Known for its natural hot springs and bathhouses, Hot Springs attracts visitors looking to relax, restore, and explore the area’s natural beauty.

From hiking through the verdant forests to touring the art deco-style bathhouses along Bathhouse Row to sampling the local food scene, there is something for every type of traveler. The temperate climate also makes Hot Springs a great year-round destination.

This article will highlight 12 of the top things to do in Hot Springs to help you make the most of your visit to this unique Arkansas town.

Take a Dip in the Thermal Waters

No trip to Hot Springs is complete without taking a soothing soak in the healing thermal waters the town is famous for. For thousands of years, the natural hot springs have attracted people looking to bathe in the mineral-rich waters long believed to have therapeutic benefits.

While you can no longer access the springs themselves, which are now within Hot Springs National Park, several bathhouses along the grand Bathhouse Row allow visitors to soak in thermal waters piped from the springs. Each bathhouse has its own unique history and character, like the elegant Buckstaff Bathhouse operating since 1912 or Quapaw Baths & Spa, one of the most modern spa-like bathhouses.

Soak in a private thermal bath, get a relaxing massage, or simply relax in one of the bathhouses’ thermal pools for an indulgent and therapeutic experience unique to Hot Springs.

Tour the Elegant Bathhouses along Bathhouse Row

One of Hot Springs’ most iconic sites is Bathhouse Row, which lines Central Avenue downtown with eight perfectly preserved bathhouses exemplifying art deco architecture and design. Bathhouse Row lies within Hot Springs National Park and contains Fordyce Bathhouse, now home to the park’s visitor center and museum.

Join a free tour led by knowledgeable park rangers to explore the history of individual bathhouses like the Lamar Bathhouse, Buckstaff Bathhouse, the Maurice Bathhouse, and others along the row. You’ll also learn about the architecture and engineering feats required to build upon the natural hot springs.

Many of the bathhouses now contain shops, art galleries, and hotels, but their stunning facades remain untouched, transporting visitors back to Hot Springs’ heyday as America’s premier resort in the early 1900s. Strolling along Bathhouse Row under the twinkling lights at dusk makes for a beautiful sight.

Hike through Hot Springs National Park

With 2600 acres of forested mountains, lakes, and streams crisscrossed by over 20 miles of trails, Hot Springs National Park provides plenty of natural beauty to explore just minutes from downtown.

Challenge yourself on the steep Gorge Trail for gorgeous views down into the Gulpha Gorge canyon formed by Gulpha Creek. The 1.7-mile Sunset Trail rewards hikers with panoramic views over the city from atop West Mountain. For an easier hike, stick to the shady 1.2-mile trail around picturesque Lake Hamilton.

Be sure to stop by the Grand Promenade, the park’s elegantly landscaped main plaza behind Bathhouse Row. Stroll along withits flowering plants, fountains, and arching footbridge over a thermal creek flowing from the springs.

With everything from easy nature walks to heart-pumping climbs, Hot Springs National Park has a trail suited for every ability to immerse yourself among the area’s natural splendor.

Marvel at 200-Year-Old Trees at Northwoods Forest Preserve

Just north of Hot Springs lies a more secluded forest gem – the Northwoods Forest Preserve. Containing some of the last old-growth oaks, hickories, and shortleaf pines in Arkansas, this quiet 589-acre nature sanctuary lets you experience the lush mountain forests as early settlers and Native Americans did centuries ago.

Walk the preserve’s three miles of trails shaded beneath 200 to 300-year old oak and pine trees, some reaching over 100 feet tall. Listen for birds and keep an eye out for deer, squirrels, and turkeys also calling this rare, protected forest home.

With no crowds, surfaced trails, or modern developments, Northwoods presents a special opportunity to connect with nature surrounded by some of the state’s most ancient trees.

Drive the Scenic Byway Highways

Exploring Hot Springs National Park trails shows you some beautiful Arkansas scenery, but heading out along one of the national scenic byways reveals even more stunning vistas of the Ouachita Mountains.

The Talimena Drive is one of the Southeast’s top scenic drives, stretching 56 miles along the crest of Rich Mountain showcasing endless views over the Ouachita Mountains into Oklahoma. Stop at designated overlooks for photo ops and maybe even glimpse a black bear or wild turkey.

Running north from Hot Springs, Highway 7 North passes through classic Ouachita Mountains terrain, where you can stop to hike waterfalls like Tismal Falls. The curvy Scenic 7 Byway towards Jasper also dazzles with non-stop views through the Ouachita National Forest dotted with trails, campgrounds, and glistening lakes.

Discover swimming holes, roadside fruit stands, and so much quintessential natural Arkansas beauty along these exceptional drives.

Eat Your Way through Hot Springs’ Food Scene

Between all the walking and hiking, you’ll work up quite an appetite! Luckily, Hot Springs’ downtown streets like Central Avenue and Bathhouse Row hide plenty of restaurants to please every palate.

The Ohio Club has dished up hearty burgers and club sandwiches on Central Avenue since opening in 1905, hosting famous visitors from Babe Ruth to President Bill Clinton. For fine dining, try the cozy Arlington Hotel’s Arlington Room overlooking Bathhouse Row, serving expertly prepared steaks and seafood since 1924, or the romantic old-world Victorian charm of Belle Arti Ristorante Italiano.

The Superior Bathhouse Brewery & Distillery is America’s only brewery located inside a national park, pairing tasty craft beer and cocktails with live music and excellent pub fare. Or for a sweet treat, stop by legendary Leiva’s Coffee downtown for empanadas, tres leches cake and café con leche since 1941.

With this diversity of dining options, you’ll find Hot Springs perfect for a tasty food adventure between nature excursions.

Attend a Festival

Hot Springs loves hosting celebrations, from small street fairs to huge outdoor music events, giving visitors even more ways to experience local culture.

In April, the Hot Springs Music Festival fills downtown with three weeks of live classical, jazz, blues and bluegrass performances played by acclaimed musicians. September’s International World Bread Day draws master bakers competing to create inventive bread masterpieces, along with tastings for guests.

One of Hot Springs’ biggest festivals is the Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival held downtown every September. The multi-day event presents over 100 indie/alternative bands across four outdoor stages, attracting music fans nationwide.

Or for a quirky annual happening, don’t miss the Running of the Tubs costume race held every August. Contestants zip down Bathhouse Row and Central Avenue dressed in wacky bathtub-themed outfits and contraptions vying for best costume prizes.

Time your visit to catch one of these lively festivals to meet locals and feel Hot Springs’ fun spirit.

Step Back in Time at the Gangster Museum of America

Hot Springs’ legacy as a hideaway for 1920s mobsters, gamblers and gangsters earned it the nickname “the Sin City of the South.” This intriguing era now comes to life at the Gangster Museum of America on Central Avenue.

Through artifacts, news clippings and captivating stories, the museum illuminates Hot Springs’ history as an illegal gambling paradise attracting prominent crime bosses. See vintage slot machines actually used in Hot Springs casinos and even the historic low-profile Cadillac Al Capone drove to secretly visit town.

Costumed guides add a fun, theatrical element to your tour with tales about mobster visitors like “Lucky” Luciano, Frank Costello and “Bugsy” Siegel operating in Hot Springs. It’s a fascinating look at the city’s notorious past now immortalized at this one-of-a-kind museum.

Check Out the Art Galleries

Hot Springs has a vibrant arts scene thanks to its natural beauty and historic architecture that have long inspired artists. As a result, the city contains a high concentration of galleries filled with diverse works from regional talent.

Just a quick walk along tree-lined Central Avenue takes you by excellent galleries like Gallery Seven26 showcasing vibrant paintings, sculptures and glasswork and Addison Craft, a cooperatively run gallery and gift shop brimming with jewelry, pottery, textiles and fine art prints from Arkansas artists.

Stop by fine art photography gallery P.A.T.H., which stands for Place of Artistic Transformation Happening, housed inside a historic Baptist church on Malvern Avenue. Just Behind the Mountain on Whittington Avenue sells unique Ozark Mountain-themed folk art, quilts, jewelry and more handcrafted regional finds.

With this abundance of galleries dotted downtown, you can easily fill an afternoon browsing Hot Springs’ thriving creative scene.

Play a Round at One of the Famous Golf Courses

It turns out Hot Springs’ beautiful natural landscape lends itself perfectly to world-class golf courses, too. In fact, Golf Digest named Hot Springs one of America’s “Top 75 Golf Destinations” for its collection of acclaimed courses catering to all skill levels.

Test your game at Hot Springs Country Club’s Clyde E. Palmer designed course that has hosted champions like Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer over its 100-year history. Kids of all ages will love Putt-Putt Fun Center’s mini golf courses, which include a mineshaft-themed layout and flashy Cosmic course glowing with neon lights.

Or book a tee time at the Hot Springs Municipal Golf Course, considered Arkansas’ best bargain course, offering challenging play across grassy hills with stellar mountain vistas. Just 15 miles away lies Hot Springs Village, Arkansas’ largest gated community boasting seven pristine championship golf courses stretching across 11,700 acres.

With this range of courses minutes from downtown Hot Springs, you have endless options to work on your swing with a view.

Visit Magic Springs Theme and Water Park

When you need a thrill beyond Hot Springs’ natural attractions, this beloved theme park promises an afternoon of family fun. Located just above downtown, Magic Springs Theme and Water Park packs plenty of rides, slides and shows into its lush park along Lake Hamilton’s shore.

Thrill seekers will love zooming down Arkansas Twister, one of the country’s tallest, fastest wooden roller coasters, or facing four loops while riding the Gauntlet. Splash down nine swirling waterslides like the Paradise Plunge, soak up the summer sun in Sugarloaf Bay water play area, or laugh at the resident circus performers’ hilarious stunts and magic tricks.

Little ones adore dedicated kids’ areas like Lil’ Leapers Frog Pond playground and Tiny Town. With affordable tickets including unlimited rides and entertainment all day, Magic Springs provides hours of excitement for visitors of all ages.

See the Town’s Kitschier Side at Coin Madrid

And for something completely unexpected in this mountain town, just follow Highway 70 east to Coin Madrid, dubbed Arkansas’ “other village.” Once an isolated roadside campground, eccentric artist Thomas Madrid transformed the property into an eye-popping folk art environment covered in fantastical murals, a quirky haunted house ride and yard filled with everything from a submarine and giant insects to slot machines and carousel animals.

Wander this whimsical wonderland while learning about its origins from Thomas’ wife Gina, or come on evenings or weekends when you can browse Thomas’ museum showcasing his paintings and sculptures. With interactive art pieces around every corner, Coin Madrid promises you’ll leave as entertained as you’ll be mystified you found this totally unique Arkansas attraction.

Conclusion

This list covers just a small sampling of the many attractions and activities you can enjoy while visiting Hot Springs, Arkansas. The variety of options available, from bathtub soaks to forest hikes to theme park rides, makes Hot Springs perfect for all types of travelers – families, couples, outdoor adventurers, foodies, history buffs and more.

With a charming and walkable downtown offering great shopping and dining, intriguing historical sites that capture the city’s past as a glamorous resort town, and magnificent mountainous parks and forests in which to get back to nature, Hot Springs truly has something for everyone.

So the next time you’re thinking of a relaxing but exciting getaway destination, consider all that’s waiting for you in the one-of-a-kind town of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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