Folks in the know are already onto Hot Springs. The Arkansas city is an attractive place to live, thanks to the low cost of housing and slow-paced lifestyle, but it’s also a restful place to visit—even in 2020.
Easy to get to by car (about seven hours of drive time from Houston) or by plane, not only is the city seeing a boom in tourism with visitors falling under the spell of its historic small-town charm and urban amenities, but also the name itself doesn't lie: You'll want to take a soak in its healing mineral waters.
Here now, why you should consider a getaway to this Southern gem.
The city’s history is fascinating.
Located on bustling Central Avenue, Hot Springs National Park has the distinction of being one of the country’s oldest national parks. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson set aside the land and springs and deemed them protected from development.
Beginning with the Native Americans, Hot Springs’s mineral-rich waters have had a reputation for healing powers. Many visited to “take the waters” first from the open springs, a scalding 143-degrees, and then in wooden bathhouses eventually built along what’s now called Bathhouse Row on Central Avenue in Hot Springs National Park—no trip would be complete without a tour, and since park rangers host entirely outdoor historic tours, it's somewhat safe.
You can also tour the inside of the Fordyce Bathhouse, where the Park Service has restored the building to its former glory of being one of the most upscale bathing houses in the area. Visitors can view where men and women bathed separately and take in the stunning stained glass and marble art found throughout the bathhouse (make sure to check for Covid restrictions before planning your trip, though). For a more modern take on bathing, visit Quapaw Baths & Spa for a soak or spa experience.
Hot Springs was known among the upper echelon for its healing powers, but it was also a favorite hangout of gangsters and playboys for the same reasons. The Gangster Museum of America, located just steps away from Hot Springs National Park, chronicles the history of notorious gangsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, who loved the city for its gambling, girls, and horse racing.
The outdoors are gorgeous.
Nestled in the beautiful Ouachita Mountains, Hot Springs has a bounty of outdoor recreational opportunities year-round. Garvan Woodland Gardens, home to the famed Anthony Chapel and Bob and Sunny Evans Tree House, boasts 210-acres of beautifully curated grounds, including one of the country's best Japanese gardens.
The southwestern part of Arkansas is also known for the five Diamond Lakes, two of which are a short drive from Hot Springs. Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine are great for getting out on the water to enjoy fishing, boating, or water sports.
If you’re into mountain biking, Hot Springs is home to multiple International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) trails and is an IMBA Bronze-level Ride Center. Not to worry if you aren't a hard-core bike enthusiast; there are trails for every age and skill level.
If hiking is more your speed, miles of trails await at Hot Springs National Park—as does camping. Traveling light? There are plenty of outfitters that will rent equipment, so that you can enjoy your time without the worry of extra luggage.
Dining is still going strong.
Sure, you’ll find stick-to-your-ribs Southern comfort food in town, but Hot Springs also boasts plenty of unique restaurants that are worth a visit too. In the a.m., head to Kollective Coffee + Tea for artisan-made java or Will's Cinnamon Shop for made-from-scratch, topped-to-order cinnamon rolls—go big with the Maple Bacon iteration. The Pancake Shop, on Central Avenue, has a robust morning menu and diverse clientele (make sure to ask your server about the "proper" way to eat a pancake).
In the p.m., a trip to Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery is in order. It’s the only brewery in the world serving beer made from thermal water. Rose Schweikhart, the brewery owner, worked for years to get a lease on the historic building and has since turned it into one of the most popular culinary destinations in the city. Or stop in at DeLuca’s Pizzeria, where owner Anthony Valinoti and his team make delicious made-from-scratch pizza, pasta and burgers—you’ll definitely want to the burger.
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There’re even luxurious boutique hotel accommodations.
If you’re looking for a unique overnight experience, the nine-room Hotel Hale offers intimate luxury in a historic setting. Located on Bathhouse Row, the recently renovated hotel boasts deep soaking tubs that pump in hot spring mineral water to each room.
Conveniently located on Central Avenue, The Waters Hotel is another great option in a beautifully refurbished historic building. The hotel’s rooftop bar has fantastic views, and it’s centrally located to many of the city’s best attractions.