There’s a little something for everyone in Hot Springs, Arkansas. This town in the Ouachita Mountains is surrounded by Hot Springs National Park and less than an hour from Little Rock. It’s not only a popular spa destination, but thanks to its location among mountains, pine trees, and lakes, there are lots of ways to enjoy the outdoors as well as tons of local shops and businesses to browse.
Take a walk down Central Avenue to be in the middle of it all. On one side, you’ll see the historic Bathhouse Row with eight architecturally unique bathhouses, two of which are still open with natural hot springs water that you can soak in. On the other side of Central Avenue are all of the downtown artisanal shops, art galleries, and restaurants in quaint old buildings.
You can visit the two bathhouses still in operation, the Buckstaff or the Quapaw, to soak in the natural thermal water the city has long been known for. The hot springs water has shown to have healing effects, particularly for joint and muscle pains. The thermal water is available to drink for free from several fountains in the downtown area as well.
The Fordyce was operated as a bathhouse from 1915 until 1962 when it closed because there was not enough business. By 1989 it was converted into a visitors center and it still remains open to the public to tour. On the second floor, you can see exhibits in one of the former dressing rooms and watch a 9-minute movie to learn more about the traditional bath routine.
Ozark Bathhouse was also closed in 1977 and later reopened as a cultural center. The center now displays artwork from the park’s Artist-in-Residence Program and other temporary exhibits. It’s open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons and admission is free.
Across from the bathhouses, Central Ave has an eclectic mix of local businesses. Shops, galleries, and restaurants line the main drag and many more can be found on the surrounding roads.
The local dining options have you covered whether you’re craving Mexican food, pizza, steak/seafood, or pancakes. Purple Cow is the place to go for burgers and hand-dipped milkshakes; Purple Vanilla is their signature flavor but they also offer flavors like chocolate, peanut butter, PB&J, and butterscotch, not to mention a list of adult shakes with booze added.
After you’ve grabbed a bite to eat, take some time to browse the local shops, boutiques, and flea markets across Hot Springs. You can find all sorts of unique treasures like antiques, clothing, and small gifts like handcrafted soaps.
You’ll find plenty of ways to get out for some fresh air whether you’re hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, or boating. Hot Springs National Park has several paths of varying lengths, including the scenic trail (or drive) up to Hot Springs Mountain Tower where you can get a sweeping view of the Arkansas countryside.
You can also find lots of ways to enjoy the outdoors a short drive away at Lake Catherine State Park. Spend a hot summer day on the thrilling roller coasters and water slides at Magic Springs. Find zen in the chaos of everyday life by going for a stroll along the wooded shoreline in Garvan Woodland Gardens.
If you have a creative side, you’ll also appreciate the vibrant music and arts scene in Hot Springs. The city hosts the annual Hot Springs Music Festival—which will be going on this year from June 3-16, 2018—the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, from October 19-27—and the annual Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival.
Central Avenue is also lined with several art galleries and performing arts theaters. Pop in Maxwell Blade’s Theater of Magic and Comedy for a night of family fun entertainment.
Where to stay in Hot Springs
Catherine’s Landing has both a convenient location and amenities that are second to none. This resort is a quick 10-15 minute drive from the historic downtown and spans over 400 acres with over a mile of waterfront on Lake Catherine. They offer pull-through RV sites with full hookups, tent sites, cozy cottages, and yurts available to rent. The sites are paved and spacious, and each one comes with a fire ring and picnic table.
The resort is a destination of its own with a heated saline pool, zipline, as well as pontoon boat and kayak rentals that you can take out on the lake. Laundry facilities, a camp store, pet area, playground, and fitness room are all available as well.