Nestled amidst the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, Hot Springs is a lovely resort city. It’s most known for its naturally heated waters and the grand and elegant bathhouses that sprung up in the early twentieth century. Aside from soaking in the hot springs and taking in the refined architecture of the town, visitors can enjoy all kinds of epic outdoor activities. There are scenic forests, lakes and mountains surrounding the city.
With interesting museums, architectural marvels and amusement parks, alongside great restaurants and shops; there is always a whole bunch of thing to do in Hot Springs for everyone to enjoy.
In this post, we'll cover:
15. Ouachita National Forest
Home to stunning landscapes, scenery and nature, Ouachita National Forest sprawls across a huge part of the west of the state. Outdoor lovers can hike, bike and horseback ride in the woodlands and gorgeous mountain ranges. You can also fish and kayak in the rivers and lakes or camp overnight at one of its cozy campsites.
As vast swathes of pristine wilderness are literally on the city’s doorstep, both locals and tourists in Hot Springs love exploring the great outdoors. Some head for the national forest’s rugged and rolling mountains and drive about their winding roads. Others, instead, raft along the Ouachita River’s rapids or sunbathe, swim and sail at the large lake of the same name.
14. Magic Springs Theme and Water Park
If you want to splash about and have some fun, look no further than the wild and wet Magic Springs Theme and Water Park. Home to almost forty thrilling rides and roller coasters for all ages and adrenaline levels, it lies on the northern outskirts of town.
Since opening in 1977, the massive amusement park has been a firm favorite with families due to its numerous pools, play zones and rides. As well as the exhilarating Arkansas Twister and daunting Plummet Summit, there are also calmer sections for kids with classic bumper cars, carousels and carnival games. Besides shooting down slides and riding exciting roller coasters, guests can watch shows and concerts at its Timberwood Amphitheater.
13. Gangster Museum of America
While the Natural State is renowned for its scenic splendor, there once was a time when Arkansas, and Hot Springs particularly, were famous for bank robbers, bootleggers and gamblers. At the entertaining yet informative Gangster Museum of America in the city center, guests can learn all about the action-packed era. Notorious criminals used to flock to the spa town to relax, gamble and do business.
From the roaring twenties right up until the end of the forties, legendary mobsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano holidayed in Hot Springs. Gambling and bootlegging proliferated alongside its bathhouses. In the museum, you can peruse authentic old guns, cars and gambling tables. Photos and film clips also document various crime factions and criminals’ involvement with the city.
12. Adventureworks Hot Springs
Yet another exciting and adrenaline-filled attraction to hit up is Adventureworks Hot Springs, just a short drive to the southeast of the center. Amidst its lush woodlands, you can zipline at great speeds through the dense canopy. There is also some excellent hiking, camping and obstacle courses on offer.
Since 1987, its aerial adventures have evolved considerably with swaying bridges, platforms and of course ziplines all strung up amidst the forest’s ancient trees. The staggering views and scenery on show from its twelve ziplines, Sky Bridge and Observation Deck are certain to appeal to anyone who has a head for heights.
11. Grand Promenade
Peaceful and picturesque to wander along, Grand Promenade winds its way behind Bathhouse Row. Magnificent mountains rise behind both it and the historic buildings down below. As it passes sizzling hot springs and some fine viewpoints, the paved pathway is a treat to explore with benches, flowerbeds and informative plaques lining its route.
Work on the promenade began in the 1930s. Stretching a half-mile in length, the hillside trail takes you from one end of the iconic row to the other. Well-maintained and accessible to all, its design was inspired by the Prado pedestrian walkway in Havana, Cuba. As you stroll along you can snap photos of all the amazing architecture of Central Avenue, and the fantastic nature, mountains and hot springs all around.
10. Mid-America Science Museum
Home to more than a hundred hands-on exhibits, the Mid-America Science Museum is a fascinating place to visit with lots to see and do. Located ten minutes drive west of downtown, it looks at everything from dinosaurs and geology to lights, motion and the senses. A humongous indoor cave and large outdoor nature areas are also part of the sprawling site.
Now the largest science museum in the state, it was first opened to the public in 1979. Award-winning installations, such as its striking Skywalk structure and Point of View gallery, can be explored alongside its fun and experimental workshop. Life-size mastodon skeletons and fabulous flying machines are on show next to climbing frames and virtual reality simulators.
9. Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
If you’re after another interactive experience then you may want to play some games or watch a thrilling race at the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. Lying just south of the center along Central Avenue, it has fun table games and slot machines. Its thoroughbred racetrack is one of the best in the States.
While horse racing has been held at Oaklawn since 1904, its state-of-the-art casino was only opened a couple of years ago. Blackjack, craps and live music are all on offer. In addition to watching races and betting on sporting spectacles, there is also a luxury hotel, spa and numerous trendy bars and restaurants to enjoy.
8. Hot Springs Mountain Tower
Boasting unrivaled panoramas of the city and its surroundings, the massive Hot Springs Mountain Tower rises dramatically to the north of town. From its lofty observation decks, visitors can bask in breathtaking views of the incredible Ouachita Mountains and their vast forests. The Diamond Lakes area can also be spied twinkling in the distance.
The third such structure to be set in the same spot, the lattice steel observatory was erected in 1983 and towers a huge 216 feet in total. Ride its elevator to the very top, enjoy the view and take some photos of Hot Springs far below. Make sure to stop by its lovely little museum and factor in some time for exploring the terrific trails and nature spots at its foot.
7. Lake Catherine State Park
Sure to delight nature lovers and outdoor aficionados alike, the beautiful Lake Catherine State Park lies just twenty minutes drive southeast of the center. As well as relaxing along the scenic shores of its large lake, the park has plenty of pretty pools, waterfalls and nature trails to discover in its verdant woods.
Scattered about are numerous campsites and cabins with some wood and stone structures built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. You can rent a boat at its marina, sunbathe or swim at the lake’s pristine beaches. You can also hike or horseback ride along its leafy trails and visit some of its wonderful waterfalls.
6. Lake Ouachita
Protected as a state park, the enormous Lake Ouachita was formed in 1952 by the damming of the meandering river of the same name. While countless trails and campgrounds line its shores, the lake’s reflective waters offer all kinds of awesome outdoor activities. Swimming, kayaking and sailing are particularly popular.
As the reservoir’s almost endless waters dominate the area directly west of Hot Springs, locals and tourists alike come here to relax, unwind and enjoy recreational activities. In addition to hiking and cycling, you can picnic and camp while taking in its fabulous views. Fishing and even scuba diving are on offer. On top of all this, the park also has guided hikes, kayak tours and sightseeing cruises for visitors to enjoy.
5. Bathhouse Row
Home to atmospheric old buildings, attractive architecture and enticing hot springs, Bathhouse Row has been synonymous with the city for well over a century. Situated alongside Central Avenue are a string of eight historic bathhouses with majestic mountains rising steeply all around them.
Aside from simply enjoying the eclectic array of architectural styles, you can also head inside the Buckstaff to soak in the soothing springs until your heart’s content. The only other bathhouse open to the public is the Fordyce, which now acts as a visitor center. It really is a must-visit for its opulent interior and interactive exhibits on the history and heritage of Bathhouse Row.
4. Anthony Chapel
Perched on a hillside overlooking Lake Hamilton is one of Hot Springs’ most unique attractions: the exquisite Anthony Chapel. Made out of a mix of native wood, metal and glass, the serene sanctuary lies amidst the gorgeous Garvan Woodland Gardens. Its floor-to-ceiling windows and soaring columns really make you feel like you’re outside amongst the pines.
Erected in 2006, it stands 57-feet tall. An intricate system of cross-beams and colossal wooden columns hold up its vaulted glass ceiling, and the massive windows reveal the sky and trees above. Thanks to its delightful design and the natural beauty all around it, the charming chapel really is unforgettable.
3. Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center
The aforementioned Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center is the only other bathhouse you can enter besides the Buckstaff, which has impressively been in continuous operation since 1912. At the center’s museum, you can learn about Bathhouse Row’s interesting past and its famous former clients. Go for a tour around its extraordinary interior and see original tiles, tubs and tools.
Considered to be the most elegant on the row when it was completed in 1915, the Fordyce was then renovated in 1989 to receive another kind of guest entirely. Nowadays, visitors can peruse exhibits and watch an orientation film on the area before exploring the massage rooms, gymnasium and pools. All of these perfectly highlight the bath houses’ former splendor; statues and stained glass windows lie next to murals, marble-clad pools and mosaics.
2. Garvan Woodland Gardens
While the ethereal Anthony Chapel is undoubtedly its standout sight, the Garvan Woodland Gardens has plenty of other scenic parts for you to explore. Due to its proximity to the city center, locals and tourists come here to immerse themselves in nature. The peninsula’s woods and waterfalls lie surrounded by the shimmering waters of Lake Hamilton.
Owned and operated by the University of Arkansas, its idyllic gardens contain all kinds of colorful plants, flowers, trees and shrubs. Streams and trails meander their way here and there. Aside from strolling along the lakeshore and taking in its sublime views, you can check out its lovely little model train garden and an outdoor amphitheater. Pavilions, playgrounds and a nature reserve are also dotted about.
1. Hot Springs National Park
If you are after the unique combination of hiking and historic bathhouses, then Hot Springs National Park is certainly the place to go. As well as encompassing both Bathhouse Row and the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, its lush woods are home to local fauna and flora. Hiking trails, camping areas and a couple of hot springs are also scattered about.
Mostly mountainous, it was initially established in 1832 and remarkably both one of the smallest and most accessible national parks in the country. After having seen its atmospheric old bathhouses and several hot springs, it is well worth continuing up into the Ouachita Mountains to explore the magnificent scenery.