12 Things To Do With Family In Hot Springs, Arkansas

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Emily Johnson


Hot Springs, Arkansas is a charming city nestled in the Ouachita Mountains known for its natural hot springs and rich history. With scenic mountain views, lush forests, and a vibrant downtown, Hot Springs offers plenty of family-friendly things to see and do.

From exploring outdoor activities to learning about culture and heritage, families visiting Hot Springs will make special memories.


When determining the top attractions and activities for families, key factors included interactive experiences, educational opportunities, budget-friendliness, and age-appropriateness. This guide features the 12 best things to do with kids of all ages in the Hot Springs area.

Soak in the Healing Waters

As the name suggests, Hot Springs is most famous for its natural mineral hot springs that have been attracting visitors for centuries. Families can soak in these healing thermal waters at two historic bathhouse rows located on Bathhouse Row along picturesque Central Avenue. Here kids can get a firsthand look at what made the city so iconic.

The Buckstaff Bathhouse, built in 1912, offers traditional bathing experiences where families can soak together in a rejuvenating thermal mineral whirlpool bath. Kids will find it interesting to learn how the 143-degree spring water cools as it travels through the pipes into the tubs. The Buckstaff is one of the few remaining bathhouses from Hot Springs’ heyday that is still operating as an actual bathhouse.

At the Quapaw Baths, families can experience state-of-the-art spa services and therapeutic pools in a historic bathhouse originally constructed in 1922. Kids can enjoy playing Marco Polo with siblings in the communal pool filled with natural thermal spring water while parents unwind in a private bath. Trying different spa services like gentle Vichy showers and earth clay wraps makes the experience even more memorable.

In addition to bathhouse row, families can drive about 20 minutes north of downtown to Gulpha Gorge Campground and soak in the creek warmed by natural hot springs. Let the kids splash around as the steam rises while enjoying the beautiful wooded setting. There’s no fee to access the creek, making it a budget-friendly option.

Marvel at Waterfalls and Hiking Trails


With the Ouachita National Forest as its backyard playground, Hot Springs offers plenty of picturesque hiking trails and waterfalls perfect for families who love the outdoors. The scenic beauty of the dense Ozark Mountains mixed with the sound of rushing water make for magical memories.

One top pick is the Gulpha Gorge trail which winds behind the campground of the same name. Families can hike down about 150 stairs to the creek below where kids will love playing in the rapids formed by a cascading waterfall rushing over boulders and rock ledges. There’s also an upper trail overlooking the gorge area that’s more accessible. Let the kids burn off some energy while parents snap photos capturing the beauty.

Another local favorite is the Sunset Trail featuring a one-mile paved loop trail leading down to a pretty waterfall overlooking Lake Hamilton. Kids can safely bike or walk the trail while parents admire the lush wildflowers and rock formations along the path. Watching the waterfall splash into the azure blue waters of the lake below is an unforgettable sight.

Just 25 minutes west of town lies Lake Ouachita, the largest lake in Arkansas known for its pristine beauty. At Lake Ouachita State Park families can enjoy hiking trails along the shoreline and to the summit of Point Lookout Mountain which rewards hikers with panoramic lake views from an open rock ledge. Let the kids look through binoculars to spot sailboats on the sparkling waters below. With kayak rentals available, paddling together as a family to one of several rocky cliffs or pocket beaches dotted along the interior of the park makes for quality time.

Learn Local History


In addition to natural beauty, Hot Springs overflows with unique history perfect for sparking kids’ imaginations. A top pick for some family edutainment is a visit to the Gangster Museum of America displaying intriguing Prohibition-era artifacts telling real stories about mobsters who made Hot Springs their hideout nearly a century ago. From gambling equipment to moonshine stills and historic photos, this collection of mob memorabilia brings history to life for school-aged kids in an engaging way. Parents may want to brush up beforehand on the key figures like “Machine Gun” Kelly, Frank Costello and Owney “The Killer” Madden whose influence left a lasting mark shaping the city visitors see today.

No family visit is complete without checking out the hilltop Hot Springs National Park overlooking the city. This petite national park centered around one of the natural hot springs provides the perfect introductory national park experience for little ones. Families can tour the elegantly restored Fordyce Bathhouse which now serves as the park’s visitor center and museum. The park’s overview film helps kids understand Hot Springs’ unique landscape and geology in an age-appropriate way. Be sure to fill water bottles at the public drinking fountain outside, just as visitors to “the American spa” have done for nearly 200 years. Pay a visit to the actual hot spring itself which feeds the public fountains where kids can feel the 143-degree water and see how it cools in the public system while learning about the park’s protection efforts.

For music history buffs, the Arkansas Musical Instrument Heritage Foundation Museum makes for an interesting pit stop. With five stories of exhibits, families can wander at their own pace while kids discover unusual instruments like Theremins and glass harmonicas demonstrating cool sound vibrations. Trying out instruments like tubas, triangles, and glockenspiels makes lessons come alive.

Shop for Local Crafts and Antiques


Downtown Hot Springs around historic Bathhouse Row overflows with locally-owned gift shops and galleries tempting families to bring home special mementos. The Hot Springs Arts & Garden District proves particularly fruitful for scoring crafts and antiques in quaint renovated buildings just beckoning to be explored.

Kids will delight rummaging through wares at Crow Creek North featuring unusual Ozark Mountain-inspired gifts like artisan candles, mood rings, nature drawings and turkey calls hand-crafted by Arkansas artisans. Meanwhile parents can scout out rare vintage wares next door at Mason’s Antiques or peruse the beautiful handmade pottery at Blue Moon Gallery – perfect for selecting a special holiday gift.

Just down the street lies Emerald Rain, a whimsical family-run shop brimming with all things fairy-and-gnome-themed to stir imaginations. From colorful books on mythical creatures to sparkling pendants for kids to wear home, it’s a magical emporium families won’t soon forget. Right next door at Fox Pass Pottery families watch pottery artisans giving demos at their wheels while kids select their own clay pots to paint with bright glazes in the paint-your-own-pottery studio – perfect for rainy days. Piece together a memorable puzzle or play a round of checkers at The Gryphon gaming pub and treehouse toy store nearby.

Save room in the suitcase to cart home crunchy brittle popcorn and giant round lollipops from Papa’s Sweet Shop on Central Avenue. Just down the block sits Arlington Emporium, Hot Springs’ oldest gift shop operating since 1939 where kids delight seeing walls filled floor to ceiling with all kinds of toys, games and souvenirs while parents admire the gorgeous Arlington Hotel china patterns.

From downtown to the surrounding arts district, Hot Springs offers no shortage of treasures for families in search of local crafts and antiques providing lasting memories.

Take in Picturesque Views from Mountain Towers


For families seeking bird’s eye views around Hot Springs, three downtown observation towers fit the bill. Kids and parents can climb to the top together taking in panoramic vistas of the lakes, mountains and cityscape surroundings from these lofty lookouts.

The 216-foot Hot Springs Mountain Tower built in 1983 in the Hot Springs National Park treats families to stunning 360-degree views of downtown Hot Springs and the Ouachita Mountains. Walk or drive to the parking lot at the top to access the enclosed glass and metal observation deck.

Glimpses of historic Bathhouse Row with mountains as backdrop make iconic photo ops with the whole family. 360-degree orientation tables help decode scenic points of interest stretching to the horizon.

On the opposite side of town lies the 150-foot Mid-America Science Museum tower observatory – the tallest open-air observation deck in Arkansas. Families access the elevator ride to the open rooftop viewpoint showcasing scenic vistas across Lake Hamilton. Built as an educational science museum with lots of hands-on exhibits for kids, families can easily pair a visit to this tower with interactive indoor learning. The wraparound deck gives prime elevated views over downtown toward West Mountain framed by the picturesque lake below – perfect for golden hour family photos.

Last but not least, families can ride the aircraft-style elevator up Hot Springs Mountain’s 216-foot Arlington Lighthouse tower rewarding those who climb the stairs to the top with sweeping vistas of Lake Hamilton through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Built in 1993 atop a hillside resort, this navigational lighthouse proving decorative lighting visible for 20 miles continues welcoming visitors to take in panoramas of Hot Springs bathed in golden light at dusk. Let kids’ imaginations run wild while parents soak in stunning elevated views of the sprawling lake ringed by the lush green Ouachita Mountains.

Splash the Day Away at Water Parks


When families visit Hot Springs, temperatures climbing into the 90s means it’s time to cool off Arkansas-style at one of several family-friendly water parks. Conveniently located just five miles north of downtown lies Wild River Country water park, entertaining kids with action-packed waterslides, rides and pools amid lush wooded hillsides.

Families float together lazily around Adventure River’s currents or face thrills tackling steep drops down slides like Black Hole, Pipeline, and Cyclone. Little ones delight splashing on kiddie slides and mini rafts at Splash Island while teens plunge down steep free-fall slides King Kong and Gorilla.

Wave pools and activity lagoons ensure all ages stay cool while playing volleyball, swinging from ropes, or dancing in sprayground fountains. Parents can take turns watching the kiddos while sampling one of the swim-up pool bars or riding a few favorite slides solo. With covered cabanas and dining available, families easily spend a full day of play here floating the heat away.

Just across Lake Hamilton lies Hurricane Creek water park at Magic SpringsTheme and Water Park, delighting families with roller coasters coupled with cooling waterslides and pools. Families shriek riding the Gauntlet coaster barreling along at 50 miles an hour before unwinding on the lazy river or whirling down slides like Tornado Alley together. Little ones adore mini slides like Pint Size Pipeline scaled just for them.

Teens gravitate toward heart-pounding slides like Vanish Point featuring a trap door plunge in free-fall fashion. With two parks in one, families come for the day making vivid memories to last long after leaving.

Between these two stellar waterparks, families can make an epic splash cooling off in Hot Springs no matter how high the mercury climbs. Accommodating all ages and thrill levels, water parks like these prove the perfect place for families to retreat on the hottest of Arkansas days.

Witness Wonders at a Science Museum


In addition to water play, families visiting Hot Springsbetween May and August can duck inside for interactive learning adventures at two science museum gems – perfect for those rainy days or scorching mid-day heat.

The Mid-America Science Museum delights kids with three floors of hands-on educational exhibits focused on innovations in technology, energy and sound. Families can experiment together in the giant Newton’s Ball play structure see-sawing through three stories high or manipulate laser beams in the optics maze.

Kids learn basics of coding, robotics, and circuitry at the Tinkering Space before watching extreme weather simulations in the Disaster Arena. With daily science demonstrations, this museum easily captures kids’ attention for hours of edutainment.

Just three miles down the road lies the Diamond Lakes Regional Visitors Center featuring the Bailey STEAM Innovation Center perfect for sparking kids’ curiosity through science. This free center features interactive exhibits like a scaled solar system walk and augmented reality sandbox simulating topography and water flow principles through hands-on play.

Kids can engineer structures on the earthquake shake table before walking through a giant kaleidoscope hallway leaving them dizzily delighted. With adjacent hiking trails and lake activities, families easily pair outdoor adventures with some indoor STEAM learning while visiting.

Attend a Family Concert Performance


During certain summer months, families visiting Hot Springs can enjoy free live concerts perfect for music lovers of all ages. On select Sunday evenings from May through October, the Hot Springs Music Festival hosts Levitt Amp free family-friendly concerts outdoors on the Arkansas Arboretum lawn downtown.

Pack a picnic blanket or set up lawn chairs while enjoying upbeat tunes from talented emerging artists spanning a variety of genres from rock, soul and country to indie folk and pop. Kids often dance their hearts out in front while parents nod along to the beat. Gorgeous views of Lake Hamilton visible behind the stage make a magical outdoor music experience the whole family can appreciate.

On Tuesday evenings between June and August, families can head indoors escaping the summer heat to enjoy Air conditioned Arkansas Symphony Orchestra chamber ensemble performances in the iconic Malco Theater downtown.

Listen to professional musicians masterfully perform short pieces optimally held to an hour in length – perfect for younger attention spans. Lighter classics by greats like Mozart, Vivaldi, and Tchaikovsky as well as recognizable movie scores entertain all ages. Experience world-class musicianship right from plush red velvet seats!

Tour a Diamond Mine


Just 15 minutes west of downtown Hot Springs lies the world’s only diamond-bearing site open to the public known as Crater of Diamonds State Park. Families can try their luck hunting for real diamonds, amethysts, quartz crystals, and other semi-precious gems scattered across this 37-acre plowed field containing an ancient volcanic pipe mine.

Buy bags of soil to sift through at the park’s sluicing troughs for a chance to discover glittering buried treasure – over 75,000 diamonds have been found here since the first ones surfaced in 1906! Staff provide handy tips while kids gleefully gather their glittery finds into loot bags by the creek before having their diamond finds certified in the visitor center. Rinse discoveries back home for sparkly souvenirs guaranteed to inspire memorable tales of striking it rich as a family.

See Wildlife Up Close


Between lakes, mountains, forests, and streams Hot Springs provides fertile grounds for spotting ducks, deer, owls, eagles, otters, and other wildlife. For guaranteed animal encounters, families can visit the Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo just five miles north of downtown along Scenic Highway 7.

This quirky family attraction started in 1902 features 200 adult alligators kids can safely view snapping their sharp jaws during feeding time. Friendlier critters kids delight petting in the indoor and outdoor zoo areas include baby alligators, spotted leopard cubs, miniature donkeys, potbelly pigs, parrots, and kangaroos. It’s an oasis of animal fun!

Gulpha Gorge Campground


Gulpha Gorge Campground is a peaceful wooded spot located off the Gorge Road scenic route, just northeast of Hot Springs National Park. The campground contains over 40 individual campsites plus three pavilions that can be reserved for group gatherings. Each campsite has a picnic table, fire ring, and lantern pole. Free hot showers are offered at the on-site bath house.

A camp store sells supplies like ice, firewood, charcoal and limited grocery items. The scenic Gulpha Creek runs along the park perimeter, accessible from short trails leading from some of the campsites. You’ll enjoy shady relaxation along the creek or while picnicking at one of the three pavilions that can accommodate over 100 people each.

Two short but spectacular hiking trails start from Gulpha Gorge campground. The Gorge trail follows Gulpha Creek downstream into the deep river valley. Rock formations tower over 100 feet tall in spots, with rocky cliffs and lush vegetation hugging the trail. The Benefield Loop trail climbs high above the opposite side of the gorge, offering excellent views across Hot Springs National Park.

Gulpha Gorge Campground has served as the base camp for the Arkansas State Boy’s Basketball Championship for over 30 years and also hosts car shows, music festivals, company picnics, and other regional events. Campers looking for a peaceful wooded retreat close to Hot Springs will appreciate his hidden gem of a campground with its exceptional hiking trails showcasing the Ouachita forest scenery.

Hurricane Lake Park


Twenty-five miles south of Hot Springs off Highway 7 lies Hurricane Lake Park, a lesser-visited yet supremely scenic spot operated by Hot Springs National Park. Encompassing a small lake formed by Hurricane Creek plus the surrounding forested slopes, Hurricane Lake Park spans 120 acres tucked inside a steep river valley. Outdoors enthusiasts will appreciate this natural retreat offering lakeside relaxation, fishing access and great hiking trails just a short drive from downtown Hot Springs.

The Civilian Conservation Corps built facilities here in the 1930s, with many amenities still welcoming modern visitors. Park at the picnic area atop the steep hill then descend almost 500 feet down steps to reach Hurricane Lake. The cool blue lake stays stocked with catfish, bream and bass, with old stone boathouse ruins and fishing pier jutting out into the water. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy lakeside at a shady picnic table.

When you’re ready to work off lunch, embark onto the park’s exceptional hiking trail network. The Lake Trail loops the lake and creek, while the 2.2 mile Cedar Creek Trail climbs steeply up the opposite shoreline with gorgeous scenes looking down across the narrow lake framed by tall pines. Linking trails traverse between Hurricane Lake area over to Hot Springs’ northern park boundary. With variable trail difficulties and terrain, Hurricane Lake Park offers something for novice walkers or veteran hikers.

Don’t let its remote location deter you — Hurricane Lake Park delivers supremely serene lake vistas coupled with excellent hiking trail infrastructure, all managed under the Hot Springs National Park umbrella. Pencil in half a day here to soak up scenic views far from city crowds.

Conclusion


With healing waters, outdoor pursuits, cultural attractions, delectable treats, and no shortage of family entertainment, Hot Springs provides the ingredients for an unforgettable family vacation rich in adventure. Where kids soak up new experiences through interactive learning and play while parents relax and reconnect over stunning scenery, fabulous finds, or live music, Hot Springs hits all the right notes for families seeking to bond while making lasting memories together.

Visitors leave feeling refreshed, enriched, and already eager to return. From water play and wildlife encounters to elevated mountain views and hands-on history lessons, Hot Springs serves up southern hospitality catering to curious minds and playful spirits of all ages. When it’s time to reconnect and unwind as a family, Hot Springs naturally overflows with scenic charm and adventure promising parents and kids alike plenty to appreciate across the generations.

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