With a population fewer than 40,000 Hot Springs, Arkansas has much more to offer than you would expect from a small town. Museums, parks, lakes, concerts, hiking trails, art galleries, antique shops, an amazing botanical garden on Lake Hamilton, and numerous outstanding restaurants make a trip to the hot water city relaxing and memorable.
Hot Springs is the only city in the United States that encompasses a national park. Within Hot Springs National Park alone you can visit the Fordyce Bathhouse Museum and Visitor’s Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Gangster Museum of America and the Mountain Tower. Before leaving the park stroll past bathhouse row and up to the Grand Promenade where you can see many of the 43 thermal springs including several that are uncovered and flowing 143º F water. If you happen to be a phycologist you are in for a treat as Trelease’s Blue-green Algae can be found near several of these open springs. This is the only place in the United States it has been found so take a long look. Want 25 more miles of Hot Springs National Park? Great, then get back to nature hiking marked trails where you can make your way to Gulpha Gorge Campground for a night or two of camping. Finish the park with a scenic drive up Hot Springs Mountain and then to West Mountain for outstanding views of the city, lakes, and national forest.
For nature outside the national park try camping at one of the State Parks on Lake Ouachita. Most sites have power for your camping trailer or RV. Tent camping is also great if you don’t go in the hottest part of summer. Lake Ouachita is the largest lake in Arkansas and it is one of the clearest and cleanest. Boats are for rent at the marinas for water skiing, fishing, or just touring the lake. Hiking trails along the lake make for a great back to nature moment. The ranger’s lecture schedule is usually posted and is a treat especially if you have kids. If camping is not an option rent a 2 or 3 bedroom cabin at Lake Ouachita State Park. Most of these cabins have a basic kitchen and air conditioning. Check with State Park websites for details. If you would rather visit the lake but not sleep there, you are in luck as Hot Springs has an abundance of Hotels for most budgets. If your visit is for a week or more you might think about renting a condo on Lake Hamilton. While near Lake Hamilton make sure you visit Garvan Woodland Gardens, Arkansas’ premier botanical garden also located on Lake Hamilton.
Now that you have a place to stay and are done with visiting the national park and nature you are ready for other Hot Springs’ attractions. Magic Springs Theme Park and Crystal Falls Water Park will provide the kids with a fun packed day. Mid-America Science Museum houses the world’s largest conical Tesla coil and it has lots of kid friendly educational displays. Other attractions include the Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo, the magic of Maxwell Blade, the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum, and a cruise on the Belle Riverboat. If you’re in town between January and April you may want to check out Oaklawn Park to watch the ponies run.
Hot Springs has some great restaurants to fill the gaps between attractions. BBQ is king in Hot Springs. There are quite a few good BBQ restaurants. It’s hard to find a bad one because with so many good ones the bad ones can’t last long. For outstanding pizza that is far from typical try the Godfather pizza at Rod’s Pizza Cellar. Find other good established restaurants by asking the locals then for dessert wash it all down with some Gelato at Dolce Gelato.
When planning your next vacation give Hot Springs, Arkansas a try especially if you haven’t been there in the last few years. If you go chances are you will be back. With so many unique museums, attractions, and surrounding nature you won’t be able to see it all on the first trip.