Hot Springs, Arkansas is primarily known for one thing: Hot Springs National Park. And while this gorgeous fountain of mineral-rich, naturally warmed water is definitely an amazing highlight, there are many more fantastic things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas!
I grew up two hours southeast of Hot Springs and I was always so excited to visit this idyllic city. I instantly fell in love with it after one visit and it became our family vacation spot. To this day, I’m still pleasantly surprised by all the fun things there are to do in Hot Springs. It’s truly one of the most underrated destinations in the United States.
During your time in this little city, you can admire the blooming flowers of the Garvan Woodland Gardens, do a little gambling at the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, and throw water balloons at people participating in the town’s annual bathtub race. And, that’s just the start!
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas, this guide has you covered! I’ve even included some helpful tips so you can plan the best getaway. You’ll see for yourself why Hot Springs belongs on every USA travel bucket list.
In This Post:
How to Get to Hot Springs
Getting to Hot Springs is fairly easy and you have one of two options. You can fly to Clinton National Airport in Little Rock and rent a car. Then, you’ll have a quick hour’s drive from Little Rock to Hot Springs.
Alternatively, you can road trip to Hot Springs from anywhere in the States. This way, you don’t have to worry about renting a car when you’re there.
How Long Do You Need in Hot Springs?
Whether you’re planning a trip to Hot Springs for a weekend getaway or you’re staying for a longer time, you won’t run out of things to do. There’s something in store here for everyone and there’s a new corner of this city waiting to be explored!
That being said, I highly recommend spending three to four days in Hot Springs in order to see and do everything on this list. If you like to go, go, go on your vacations, you could explore Hot Springs in a weekend.
If you wanted to spend a week here, you wouldn’t run out of things to do either. Hot Springs is just one of those cities where you can spend as much time as you want.
How to Get Around Hot Springs
The easiest way to get around Hot Springs is by car. Public transport isn’t really a thing in Hot Springs. There are a few buses, but they have limited operating hours and limitations when it comes to routes.
Getting around the downtown area is pretty easy. You can park your car in the area and explore on foot. But, you’ll definitely need a car to get you to and from the other places listed on this guide.
Best Time to Visit Hot Springs
The best time to visit Hot Springs is spring and fall. The weather is ideal making it a more comfortable experience for visitors since a lot of the best things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas is outdoors. Plus, fewer tourists visit during this time.
A lot of people visit during the summer months, but these months are the busiest because that’s when most tourists visit. Consequently, accommodation and tour prices are higher.
If you want to visit during winter, keep in mind that January is the coldest month.
Where to Stay in Hot Springs
Hot Springs has so many amazing accommodation options including hotels, apartments, bed and breakfasts, and more. You have all kinds of options to choose from. Use this tool to help you find your home away from home when visiting Hot Springs.
16 Amazing Things to Do in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Explore Hot Springs National Park
By far the most popular best thing to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas is to visit the landmark that the town is named after: Hot Springs National Park.
In 1832, Hot Springs National Park became the first section of land that the U.S. government chose to preserve for recreation. This action paved the way for the creation of the U.S. National Park System 40 years later.
During your visit to Hot Springs National Park, you can hike, camp, and, of course, experience the famous hot springs. There are two bathhouses on the premises, the Buckstaff Bathhouse and the Quapaw Bathhouse, both of which are filled with natural thermal water. While at these bathhouses you can soak and relax to your heart’s content.
Hike Along the Northwood Trails
While relaxing soaks in hot springs and leisurely strolls through botanical gardens are definitely lovely, sometimes you’re just looking for an activity that will get your adrenaline pumping. A hike along one of the Northwood trails is the perfect solution!
The Northwood trails are actually found in the Northern section of Hot Springs National Park. And these 26 miles of hiking and biking trails provide breathtaking views of the surrounding natural landscape.
Check Out the Bath Houses of Bathhouse Row
On the edge of Hot Springs National Park, you’ll find Bathhouse Row. This road is where you’ll find the previously mentioned Buckstaff Bathhouse and Quapaw Bathhouse, along with six other bathhouses that are not open to the public.
While you can only enjoy the mineral-rich waters of two of these bathhouses, you can still admire the exterior of the other six. With the red tiles roofs, white stucco walls, and arched entryways, the architecture of Bathhouse Row is certainly eye-catching.
Stop by the Gangster Museum of America
There are a lot of weird museums in the country, but the gangster museum of America may be one of the most unique.
In the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, Hot Springs, Arkansas was a popular destination for gangsters to visit. In addition to coming for the gambling and bootlegging, these gangsters actually came for the mineral waters of Hot Springs National Park as well! At the Gangster Museum of America, you can learn more about the gangsters who visited the area and why they chose Hot Springs, Arkansas as their vacation destination.
Stroll through the Garvan Woodland Gardens
Garven Woodland Gardens appeals to nature lovers and architecture aficionados alike. Nature lovers will love a stroll along the woodland walk or an hour in the bonsai garden. And if you happen to visit in the spring, the blooming tulips will take your breath away.
If you’d prefer the architecture side of things, there’s certainly a lot for you to see as well. The Anthony Chapel Complex, the Joy Manning Bridge of the Full Moon, and the Millsap Canopy Bridge are all sights to see.
And if all that isn’t enough to convince you to pay a visit to Garvan Woodland Gardens, there’s also a four-story treehouse! Officially known as the Bob and Sunny Evans Tree House, this building is an architectural marvel, with its dynamic structure and innovative form. And the breathtaking views of the tree canopy certainly add to the appeal as well.
Test Your Luck at the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
From hot springs to hiking trails to botanical gardens, most of the best things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas revolve around nature. If you’d like to change things up a bit, you should consider heading to the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.
While at this Hot Springs institution, you can test your luck while gambling on horse races, table games, and slot games. But if you’re not much of a gambler, you can simply watch the horses and their riders race around the track.
Spend a Day at Lake Ouachita State Park
Since most visitors come to the town for the hot springs, they often miss out on one of the best things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas: spending a day at Lake Ouachita State Park. While at this lovely natural gem, you can swim, ski, scuba dive, boat, or fish – depending on the season, of course.
As if that weren’t enough to compete with Hot Springs National Park, Lake Ouachita State Park also has a spring of its own: Three Sisters Springs. As a matter of fact, the healing properties of Three Sisters Springs are said to be on par – or even better – than the springs at Hot Springs National Park.
Learn about Hot Springs’ Rich Baseball History
Most people don’t realize that Hot Springs, Arkansas has quite a bit of baseball history. To see as much of it as possible, you’ll want to wind your way along the historic Hot Springs Baseball Trail.
You can visit Hot Springs Baseball Grounds, where the tradition of baseball spring training was started. You can check out the playing cards mural, which includes the portraits of five baseball legends. Or you can even stop by Whittington Park, where Babe Ruth hit his first home run out of the park – and changed baseball forever.
Spend Some Time in Nature at Lake Catherine State Park
And Lake Ouachita State Park isn’t the only state park in Hot Springs, Arkansas that’s worth your time. You should also plan to pay a visit to Lake Catherine State Park as well.
The most popular draw of Lake Catherine State Park is the Falls Branch Trail. At the end of this two-mile hike, you’ll be rewarded with views of a beautiful waterfall. And if you’d like to add another hike to your itinerary, the Dam Mountain Trail, Horseshoe Mountain Trail, and Slunger Creek Nature Trail are all worth your time.
Lake Catherine State Park is also a great spot for fishing. With a lovely fishing pier and even an onsite marina with boat rentals, you’ll have lots of options for your fishing excursion at this awesome state park.
Visit the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center
While the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center is called a visitor center, it’s really more of a museum about Hot Springs National Park.
As the name of this attraction implies, the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center functioned as a bathhouse from 1915 to 1962. While it stayed closed for nearly three decades after that, it reopened as the visitor center that it is today.
While at the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center, you can learn everything you’d like to know about Hot Springs National Park. You can even take a guided tour to fully immerse yourself in the experience. And for some added fun, there’s even a bowling alley, a grand piano, and an obstacle course!
Enjoy an Exciting Day at Magic Springs Theme and Water Park
One of the most family-friendly things to do in Hot Springs is to spend a day at Magic Springs Theme and Water Park. There are loads of thrilling rides for everyone in your group to enjoy.
Surprisingly, the waterpark is actually more popular than the theme park. You can relax on the lazy river, plummet down the High Sierra Slide Tower, or enjoy the Crystal Cove Wave Pool – all while escaping from the Arkansas heat.
And if a full day at Magic Springs Theme and Water Park wasn’t enough for you, you can stay late into the night for a concert! As a matter of fact, this theme park is one of the premier music venues in Hot Springs, Arkansas. And, as an added bonus, many of these concerts are completely free!
Go Brewery Hopping
If you’re looking for something fun and exciting to do after a long day of sightseeing, try one of the many delicious breweries in Hot Springs. Craft beer is actually a huge part of the culinary scene in Hot Springs.
Some of the best breweries in the area include Superior Bathhouse Brewery, SQZBX, Ohio Club, Bubba Brew’s Brewing Company, and Core Public House.
Take Part in a Bathtub Race
There are quite a few odd things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas. On this list, we’ve already included visiting the Gangster Museum of America. But there’s one that’s weirder than them all: taking part in a bathtub race.
During this annual June race, officially called “The World Championship Running of the Tubs,” participants push bathtubs along Bathhouse Row. And as if that weren’t difficult enough, the crowd also throws in obstacles, like water balloons and sprays from water guns! There’s nothing quite like this annual event anywhere else in the world.
Admire the Views of the City from the Hot Springs Mountain Tower Observation Deck
One of my favorite things to do when I visit a new destination is to find one of the highest points and take in the breathtaking views. The best place to do this in Hot Springs, Arkansas is the Hot Springs Mountain Tower Observation Deck.
At a whopping 1,256 feet high, you’ll be able to see all of Hot Springs from this tower! To reach this soaring tower, you’ll need to visit Hot Springs National Park and hike a little over half a mile on the Peak Trail. And when you reach the tower, you’ll be rewarded with views of the Ouachita Mountains, the Diamond Lakes, and the beautiful foliage that changes colors throughout the year.
Take a Day Trip to Crater of Diamonds State Park
While Crater of Diamonds State Park is technically an hour outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas, you won’t regret this magical day trip.
Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only publicly accessible diamond-bearing piece of land in the entire world. Diamonds have been continuously found here for over a century. As a matter of fact, the largest diamond ever found in the U.S. – a whopping 40.23 carats – was actually found at Crater of Diamonds State Park.
During your time at this state park, you can test your diamond hunting skills. You can sift and search from open until close if you’d like. And if you happen to find a diamond, the staff will confirm your find and even let you keep it.
Embrace Your Inner Nerd at the Mid-America Science Museum
The Mid-America Science Museum is home to loads of interesting exhibits that will blow your mind. You can learn about motion through the ever-spinning turntable, walk through prisms of color on the light bridge, experiment with the electricity that’s from your own body at the beautiful Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk, and gaze up at the solar system in the Oaklawn Foundation Digital Dome Theater.
But the highlight of the Mid-America Science Museum is the world’s most powerful conical Tesla coil! Simply put, a Tesla coil is used to effectively and efficiently produce electricity, so this ginormous Tesla coil at the Mid-America Science Museum is kind of a big deal.
Do you have any suggestions to add to this list of the best things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas? Let me know in the comments below!
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Disha Smith is the founder of Disha Discovers. She quit her job in 2017 to travel the world to explore new cultures and experience new adventures. She has since been to 95+ countries and counting and has lived in South Africa, Thailand, Croatia, and Australia. She has done all kinds of travel ranging from luxury to budget backpacking, and her mission is to inspire others to discover their own sense of adventure and to help them plan a life full of meaningful experiences through travel.