Why Hot Springs, Arkansas, Belongs on Your Bucket List
You can still “take the waters” in this beautiful Arkansas town tucked into the Ouachita Mountains, but there’s lots more to see and do.
Centuries ago, Native Americans came to this part of Arkansas to experience what they believed to be the healing waters of its natural hot springs. People still come here for that, but there are all kinds of things to do in Hot Springs besides visit bathhouses.
Historic Bathhouse Row started booming here between the late 1800s and early 1900s, with tourists coming from everywhere to relax and have a soak in a posh mountain spa. Today, the northern end of town, which includes 50 hot springs and 30 miles of trails, is a National Park, designated in 1921. But that’s just the beginning of its appeal. The Ouachita River and Lake Hamilton hug Hot Springs, which is also a short drive from two more of Arkansas’s clear Diamond Lakes, Catherine and Ouachita.
Buckstaff Baths (continuously operating since it opened in 1912) and Quapaw Baths & Spa are ready to pamper you with soothing mineral spring waters (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Most of the other bathhouses have been reimagined—as a visitors’ center, cultural center, hotel, and gift shop. And one became the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery.
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Check into The Waters Hotel for a luxe, modern stay with a rooftop bar downtown, or stay in the boutique Hotel Hale, a former bathhouse reimagined for comfort and style. If you’d prefer to relax on the water and drive into town for restaurants and entertainment, try the serene Lookout Point Lakeside Inn. Or rent a houseboat and really go waterfront.
Hot Springs has all kinds of shops and galleries. Find bath and spa specialties at places like the Bathhouse Row Emporium (housed in a former bathhouse), The Bath Factory, or Bathhouse Soapery & Caldarium, all on Central Avenue.
For food and drink, follow the locals and tourists to DeLuca’s Pizzeria, McClard’s famous barbecue, Ohio Club (the burger’s a local legend but they also have a throw-back bar and live music), and Luna Bella on Lake Hamilton.
Don’t leave town without visiting 210-acre Garvan Woodland Gardens, owned by the University of Arkansas. Here, you’ll find one of the most breathtaking chapels—and wedding venues–in the South, or for that matter, the whole country. Anthony Chapel was designed by architects Maurice Jennings and David McKee. Both Jennings and McKee worked with legendary architect E. Fay Jones, famous for Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Their pine masterpiece in Hot Springs soars some 6 stories high—with glass walls and skylights that bring the surrounding woodland views indoors. Unforgettable.