Hot Springs is a kooky, wellness city located in Arkansas’ beautiful Ouachita Mountains, around 55 miles away from Little Rock.
The spa city shares its name with the Hot Springs National Park and the 5,500-acre park serves as the of the main attraction in Hot Springs.
Hot Springs is best known for its thermal waters, historic spas and outdoor activities. There are lots of Hot Springs attractions downtown and in the surrounding area to keep you entertained.
Awesome Hot Springs attractions
Planning a Hot Springs vacation
It’s popular with both outdoor enthusiasts and spa lovers, who come to experience the region’s naturally heated spring waters, at the iconic ‘Bathhouse Row’.
Hot Springs might not be at the top of your USA travel list but is definitely worth consideration on an Arkansas road trip.
It has many delightful quirks and attractions, including charming spas, boutique stores and scenic hikes to be discovered. It’s a small city in the US that will certainly surprise you. Planning a Hot Springs vacation will require a little research, planning and budget setting as there is so much to do in this fabulous spa city.
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Check out my guide to awesome Hot Springs attractions and get inspired for your next Arkansas vacation.
Visit Hot springs Bathhouse Row
Immerse yourself in Hot Springs’ thermal waters and indulge in a range of spa treatments at the historic Bathhouse row.
The bathhouses are probably one of the most popular attractions in Hot Springs due to their history and spa treatments.
If you stroll down Bathhouse Row, you’ll see a gorgeous collection of eight bathhouse buildings owned by the National Park Service.
These magnificent buildings were constructed between 1892 and 1923 to capitalise on the growing ‘spa movement‘ in the USA at the time.
The 8 Bathhouse on this row are:
Bathhouse spa treatments Hot Springs
Several of the bathhouses are still in use today providing wellness and spa services
Some of the bathhouses have been repurposed into other venues since their initial construction. Fordyce bathhouse is now a visitor centre and Superior bathhouse is now a hip brewery and bar.
Buckstaff bathhouse is the only bathhouse in Hot Springs that has been in constant operation since it first opened back in 1912. You can still spoil yourself with the full thermal treatment there today.
I would really recommend a pamper session at the luxurious Quapaw bathhouse. Here you’ll find thermal pools, private baths, a steam room and a range of massages.
We opted to treat ourselves to a ‘private couple bath’ at the Quapaw spa. It’s a slightly surreal experience to sit in a light-up bath, that’s not yours, completely naked.
The private bath comes with the service of a bath attendant who even draws your bath for you. Don’t worry, they leave before you disrobe.
I was terribly British about the whole thing as you might imagine. I wildly veered between thanking the bath attendant and apologising to them for having to fill my bath.
Once I was in the bath however it was totally relaxing, I can totally understand the appeal.
Explore the Diamond Lakes
Three of the five-diamond lakes in Hot Springs (Lake Hamilton, Lake Ouachita and Lake Catherine), are within a 20-minute drive from the downtown area.
This Makes the lakes an ideal day trip from Hot Springs, especially if you love the outdoors.
Each lake has a range of exciting watersports and boating activities to be enjoyed.
Come to these pristine lakes to swim, fish, sail or cruise on a party barge. You could also just kick back with a picnic and admire the views. It’s a fabulous place to watch the sun go down as well.
Bubba Brews on Lake Hamilton
If you are looking for a relaxing time at the lake, I recommend grabbing a few beers and a bite to eat at dockside bar, Bubba Brews, located on Lake Hamilton.
Sit outside on a balmy night and watch the barges and boats drift in and out as the sun sets over the lake.
This chilled-out bar offers a range of tasty bar dishes including Stuffed Shrimp, Kung Pow sliders and prime rib sandwiches.
Go hiking in Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs is the smallest and oldest of the parks in the National Park System. It was designated as a national park to protect the 47 naturally flowing thermal springs.
One of the main draws for visitors to the park is the natural thermal springs that can still be seen today. Along with several historical features that are dotted around the park and the city.
The majority of the hiking trails are concentrated between the Hot Springs and North Mountain trails.
The Hot Springs and North Mountain hiking trails are popular with visitors as they are super scenic, interconnected trails that are easy to reach. Many of the trails are great for novice hikers and day walkers.
You can easily access these trails from Stephen’s Balustrade Hot Springs Mountain Drive, and the Gulpha Gorge Campground.
For serious hikers, there is the more challenging ‘Sunset Trail’ that is a 17-mile loop through the more remote areas of the park.
Walking the beautiful trails is definitely one of the best free things to do in Hot Springs for sure.
Learn mob history at the Gangster Museum of America
The Gangster Museum of America is a rather retro museum that documents the lifestyles of the mobsters and criminals that put Hot Springs on the map.
Take a tour of the museum and learn more about how the healing waters of Hot Springs attracted both professional sports stars and Gangsters in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s.
Admittedly, some of the exhibits and rooms are a little tired looking and dated, especially in the age of more modern museums and touch screen galleries.
Thankfully our tour guide, Rober Raines, [executive director of the museum], was what one might reasonably call, ‘a character’.
Through his extensive knowledge and enthusiasm, he brought the stories of gambling, bootlegging and gangster activity in this spa town to life, in a most entertaining fashion.
Visit beautiful Garvan Gardens
We had a delightfully bourgeois day at Garvan Woodland Gardens, the University of Arkansas’ botanical garden.
Spend a day here admiring woodlands, flowers, quirky sculptures and surprising architecture.
The Garvan Woodland Gardens is over 250 acres of impressive natural and man-made attractions, including a cutesy tooth fairy village.
I would really recommend taking the Golf Cart tour whilst visiting to learn more about this unique green space. It’s an informative and scenic ride around the gardens that’s for sure.
Anthony Chapel Complex
Make sure to visit the Anthony Chapel Complex in the gardens. This glorious structure in particular appeals to architecture enthusiasts with its awe-inspiring latticework of wood and glass. It’s definitely one of the more unique attractions in Hot Springs.
Probably my favourite thing in the gardens aside from the chapel was the incredible treehouse that seemingly floats in the surrounding woods.
This is primarily an interactive educational experience for visiting kids to get them back in the woods.
As there was no clear ‘children only’ sign, I took that as an invitation to go and explore the treehouse and release my inner kid. I highly recommend every adult do once in a while.
Drink craft beer at Superior Bathhouse brewery
Superior Bathhouse Brewery is a repurposed bathhouse in Hot Springs that has been turned into a hipster brewery.
This unique brewery is a great place to have a tasty lunch after a spa treatment at the nearby Quapaw, or Buckstaff Bath Houses.
Superior boasts the unique title of being the only brewery in the world within the confines of a national park and the only brewery to use thermal spring water to brew craft beers!
The beer selection here is pretty vast and helpful staff are on hand to offer guidance and suggest tastings.
Definitely make time to eat here as well. You’ll need a big lunch to soak up all that ale right?
The menu here is what I call ‘fun bar food, with a range of high-quality bar classics with a twist.
Typical offerings include a pulled pork sandwich, fried cheese curls, wings, nachos and hummus wrap.
Learn science at Mid-America Science Museum
The Mid-America Science Museum is fun for all the family with a range of quirky and informative exhibits.
Release your inner kid and discover dinosaurs, a skywalk, and interactive exhibits that make science fun!
Inside the museum, you can play, learn and discover on a huge range of science-based exhibits.
Our favourite was totally the massive Tesla coil, husband Luke even got to be a part of the science show. Which he of course loved.
This is a great museum to kill a few hours on a rainy day in Hot Springs. The museum is reasonably priced for what you get at around $10 per adult and $8 per child.
Climb Hot Springs Mountain Tower
If you are a fan of travel photography, I would recommend going to the top of the Hot Springs mountain tower to capture a breathtaking view of 140 miles of Arkansas countryside.
At 1,256 feet above sea level, it offers an unparalleled view of Hot Springs, Diamond Lakes and the Ouachita Mountains.
Head up 216 feet to the observation deck and soak up some stunning views.
You can take a scenic hike from The Waters or drive to this picturesque overlook. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Hot Springs and is definitely worth a visit.
In addition to glorious views, you can also get snacks and gifts from the Hot Springs Mountain Tower’s gift shop and cafe.
I think climbing the mountain tower is probably one of the best things to do in Hot Spings in my opinion.
Grab a cocktail at the Arlington Hotel
Originally opened in 1875 the Arlington has had a long history, including rebuilding, fires, gangsters and tragic murals.
Pull up a barstool, order a massive cocktail and engage the bar staff in a conversation about the hotel’s wild history.
Sip boozy Cosmos and let staff regale you with stories about the famous people that stayed at the hotel, including Franklin Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Barbra Streisand and Yoko Ono.
Legendary gangster Al Capone, whose favourite room was 443, had the whole floor for his staff and bodyguard when he stayed at the Arlington.
Arlington hotel Lobby bar
The tropical murals that adorn the art deco lobby bar and lobby have a long and sad backstory.
Bar staff are happy to keep you topped up as they discuss the mural legend, so make sure order a strong drink and settle in.
The murals were painted by French artist Kenneth Stern, who legend has it, wove his love for one of the hotel residents into the mural.
He was said to be pretty stoked to be in the relationship and so painted bright flowering trees, frolicking monkeys and tropical fruits, in his first mural for the hotel.
By the time he was painting the second mural, rumour had it that the relationship had soured.
This is said to be reflected in the forlorn animals in the second mural. Along with an inscription in French, that details his bitterness at the hotel.
Whether the legend is true or not, the murals are dedicated to ‘For Gloria M, who should have stayed’ and is a pretty good bar tale.
Discover boutique shopping in Hot Springs
There’s a whole host of unique stores in Hot Springs selling a range of gifts, clothes, antiques, candy and cupcakes.
There’s a whole host of independent and quirky stores for you to discover in the spa city.
Spend an afternoon shopping in Hot Springs and treat yourself to a little retail indulgence. You do deserve it darlings.
Some popular shops in Hot Springs include:
- Ouachita Chocolate
- The Silver Coconut
- Shaw’s Antiques
- That’s So You Boutique
- Rings N Things
- C&D Crafts & Treasures LLC
- Dryden Pottery Studio
Fat bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe
All that shopping can work up an appetite, I highly recommend you get your post-retail sugar rush at Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe.
This sugary sweet store is full of delicious candies and baked treats, including the most incredible cupcakes.
Their cupcakes come in a range of flavours including creme brulee, red velvet, salted caramel and chocolate on vanilla.
I struggle with cake restraint at the best of times and I was in cupcake heaven here. Naturally, I ordered a box of 6, which seemed entirely reasonable at the time?
What to Eat in Hot Springs
The dining scene in Hot springs is as attractive as its glorious surroundings. There are a range of diners, restaurants and bars to try during your trips.
The city has a great selection of USA eat and international cuisine to try. Here are some of my fave places to eat in Hot Springs.
Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer Garden
Grateful Head serves up some pretty awesome speciality pizzas, sandwiches and salads.
Honestly, the food here is a little on the pricey for pizza I think. A 14″ pizza will set you back between $24-$27 depending on what you order?
This shouldn’t necessarily put you off though, the pizza is hot, fresh and tasty. I don’t mind paying high prices for decent food and the pizza here is frankly spot on.
I would go for the ‘Psychedelic Supremo’ pizza, ‘Dire Wolf’ pizza and moreish garlic knots. You won’t regret it.
The Ohio Club
A building with a vibrant history, The Ohio Club is thought to be the oldest bar in Arkansas. It dates right back to 1905 when it was first opened as a bar and casino.
The backstory of this venue is fascinating, it previously served as an illegal speakeasy masquerading as a cigar store.
It was also a hangout for notorious gangsters including Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, as well as being a jazz and blues venue.
The Ohio Club’s interior pays stylish homage to its heritage. It’s decorated in with vintage pictures, slot machines and a range of antique items
The menu includes options such as salads, sandwiches and the signature Ohio Club burger.
Swanky Hot Springs restaurant The Vault is located on the main floor of the original 1890’s Bank Building. This is the place to come for a sophisticated night out in Hot Springs.
For a spot of fancy pants dining in the city, this venue is the perfect location. There’s even a preserved bank vault, reserved for special, private dining events.
Delicious entrees include scallops, New York strip, seafood tower and pork shank.
Not just a craft beer venue, this hip brewery on Bathhouse row has a great range of foodie options.
If you aim to do more than drink your calories, Superior Bathhouse has a big menu full of tasty starters, salads and sandwiches.
The Pancake Shop
The Pancake shop is one of the best places for breakfast in Hot Springs in my opinion.
This is definitely a unique diner experience in Hot Springs. For British visitors like me, it’s wonderful to experience a traditional American diner that’s full of charm.
The menu hasn’t changed much in the last 70 years in this retro diner. Their incredible pancakes are made from scratch and are served with butter and warm maple syrup.
If you are planning on visiting on the weekend, be aware that you might have to wait.
This place is super popular with locals looking for hot coffee and fresh pancakes and crazy good French Toast.
More places to eat in Hot Springs
For classic American food that has a modern twist, I recommend you visit Cafe 1217, which serves everything from fish taco wraps to turkey melts.
Best Hotels in Hot Springs, AR
To get the most out of your Hot Springs vacation, I recommend spending a few nights staying in one of its many boutique hotels or spa resorts.
You could also stay a little further out by Lake Hamilton, or by camping at the Gulpha Gorge Campground.
Some of the best places to stay in Hot Springs include:
- Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa
- Courtyard by Marriott Hot Springs
- Embassy Suites Hot Springs – Hotel & Spa
- The Waters, Ascend Hotel Collection
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hot Springs
- Hampton Inn Hot Springs
We stayed in the beautiful boutique hotel The Waters. It’s a centrally located, historic hotel with a sleek, contemporary feel.
This 63 room hotel is located in the heart of Hot Springs near many of the main attractions and landmarks in the area.
Hotel amenities include:
- On-site Avenue Restaurant
- Rooftop bar
- Fitness Center
- Artwork by local and regional artists
- Spa packages in partner spas
- valet parking
Getting Around Hot Springs, AR
The best way to get around Hot Springs is by car. If you’re starting your journey from the airport at Little Rock, you can rent a car from one of the many on-site rental companies.
It’s only 55 miles from Little Rock to Hot Springs, so it’s a relatively short drive.
You could also continue your USA road trip and explore the rest of Arkansas. There’s definitely plenty to see this gorgeous southern state.
You’ll definitely need a car when exploring the wider Hot Springs area as public transit throughout the town, and Arkansas as a whole is quite scarce.
Is Hot Springs worth visiting?
Hot Springs has a lot to offer visitors who are looking for a vacation that balances outdoor adventure and natural splendour with a small city feel.
It’s the perfect vacation getaway in the mountains and it has so much to offer visitors.
It’s not somewhere I would have thought of visiting but I am so glad we got to experience this kooky spa town on our Arkansas vacation.
Definitely add it to your USA bucket list and start planning your Hot Springs trip today.