For locals and travelers alike, Hot Springs is revered as a recreational hot spot, not only for the three lakes on the edges of the city, but for many other attractions, and a rich history, too.
Lake Ouachita, Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year for boating, fishing, camping, hiking and nature watching. Each lake is unique, with Lake Catherine as the focus of Lake Catherine State Park, Lake Ouachita as the largest man-made lake in Arkansas and a fishing mecca for both professionals and hobbyists and Lake Hamilton as the center of the town's tourism boom with attractions like watersports and summer fireworks displays.
Lake Hamilton also has a dock that leads right up to Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs’ top attraction. A scenic garden dotted with architectural wonders and interactive experiences, Garvan Woodland Gardens brought in more than 180,000 visitors in 2019 with events like the Tulip Extravaganza and Daffodil Days in the spring, Fall Flower Days in October and weddings and events at the garden’s famous Anthony Chapel, inspired by renowned Arkansas architect and Arkansas native E. Fay Jones.
For more recreational trails, more than 99,000 visitors turned to the Northwoods Trails System for mountain biking, hiking and trail running in 2020. It includes green, blue and black single-track, multi-track, flow trails, jump lines and an expert section, with a skills park nearby. Each November, mountain bikers from across the country participate in the wildly popular Güdrun MTB Festival.
Thanks to the opening of the Northwoods Trails System and a surge in tourists seeking destinations away from crowds during the pandemic, the Hot Springs tourism industry has boomed, with AirBnB owners suddenly seeing an increase in bookings year-round. Not only has Hot Springs become a very popular area to own rental properties, but to also own a second home.
Hot Springs, also known as The Spa City, is predicated on its ability to combine nature and luxury, and there are few greater examples than the amenities offered along Bathhouse Row. The series of eight historic, architecturally unique bathhouses lining Central Avenue are a testament to the city’s rich history of relaxation and rejuvenation. The hot spring water comes from rainwater that fell more than 4,000 years ago, percolated 6,000-8,000 feet into the earth, became superheated by surrounding rock and emerged at 147°F from the area’s 47 hot springs.
Many Indigenous tribes enjoyed the springs in this neutral territory, which they called “the valley of the vapors,” and put aside their differences to relax in peace. This area once again became “neutral ground” in the 1930s when mobsters from Chicago, New York and Los Angeles came for the same reason.
Arkansas’ oldest bar, Ohio Club has been in business since 1905 and turned into a speakeasy during Prohibition. Its patrons have included the likes of Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Babe Ruth and Mae West. Presidents, actors, musicians and baseball players alike have all enjoyed the many pleasures of Central Avenue.
The Rooftop Bar at The Waters hotel is the new place to see and be seen, complete with fantastic views of the downtown area. The Hotel Hale is the oldest standing bathhouse on Bathhouse Row and comes complete with mineral water tubs in each of its nine guest rooms. The Starlite Club is a zany place to drink, dance and witness live events.
Downtown is also home to some of Hot Springs’ most beloved bars and restaurants, such as The Pancake Shop, DeLuca’s Pizzeria and Rolando’s Nuevo Latino Restaurante & Speakeasy. However, the barbecue in Hot Springs is hard to beat, with McClard’s and Stubby’s serving it up hot, fresh and doused in their signature, take-home sauces.
Just a little farther down Central Avenue, you'll find the Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, which many regard as the jewel of the district. This thoroughbred horse track and casino draws nearly 1 million visitors each year and hosts the Arkansas Derby. A $100 million-plus expansion project is currently underway at Oaklawn that includes a larger gaming area, a future seven-story hotel and a multi-purpose events center. While the racing season is only hosted from January to May, the casino is open year-round for off-track betting, card and electronic games like poker and blackjack and thousands of slot machines.
There's no doubt there are endless opportunities to explore in Hot Springs. This remarkable city has been and will continue to be a haven to those who venture to experience its healing waters and welcoming people.
(See more content provided by our sister publication, Hot Springs Guest Guide.)
5 Signature Spa City Sips
1. Enjoy craft beer at Superior Bathhouse Brewery, the only brewery located in a U.S. National Park and the first to brew its beer using thermal mineral water.
2. At The Ohio Club, Arkansas’ oldest bar, order The Mae Flower, a drink inspired by one of the bar’s famous past visitors, Hollywood star Mae West.
3. Breathe in the aroma of Red Light Roastery Coffee House’s Bourbon Barrel Pango Pango drip coffee and grab a bag of whole beans to brew at home.
4. Considered by many to be the best in town, the house margarita at La Hacienda is a bright and refreshing must-sip.
5. Float over for a Bubba’s Big Un at the three-story Bubba Brew’s on Lake Hamilton with a side of unbeatable views of the water.
How to Do Garvan Woodland Gardens
Fun blooms year-round at the gardens. Discover your best way to experience Hot Springs’ top attraction.
IF YOU LOVE LONG WALKS...
The 210-acre garden beckons visitors to grab a trail map and go. The primary trail winds its way from the welcome center to the Floating Cloud Bridge to the Fern Glade. Take the non-primary trail to Eagle Point, where more than 120 species of birds, including bald eagles, have been spotted.
Bring the stroller but be prepared to abandon it as soon as your kids set eyes on the amazing treehouse in the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden. It’s an easy climb to the top, even for toddlers, and the adjacent cave and waterfall are a blast. Children can meet the resident peacock, explore the Sugg Model Train Garden or take part in a scavenger hunt to score a prize.
Dogs are welcome (on leashes) to accompany visitors on their walks. Dog fee is $5; one dog per visitor.
IF YOU APPRECIATE ARCHITECTURE…
One of the highlights of the gardens is the architecture, inspired by renowned architect and Arkansas native E. Fay Jones, who believed architecture should reflect and fit within the natural beauty surrounding it. Jones’ influence is seen in the garden’s famous Anthony Chapel, which boasts floor-to-ceiling glass walls and skylights affording views of the changing seasons in the garden.
IF YOU LOVE FLOWERS...
Make a trip during the Tulip Extravaganza or Daffodil Days in spring. The colorful Dutch tulips are a sight to behold and a photo-op paradise. Fall Flower Days in October celebrates a rainbow of 8,000 chrysanthemums in bloom.
The Garden of the Pine Wind is a 4-acre, rock and stream garden offering a quiet place for meditation. Approximately 300 varieties of Asian ornamental plants can be viewed here.
The Bonsai Garden is a showplace for the ancient art of growing miniaturized trees and bushes.
IF YOU NEED A SELFIE FOR THE GRAM
The entire garden is ripe with scenic selfie spots, but the Perry Wildflower Overlook is picture-perfect. The Bridge of the Full Moon is also one of the most recognized and most photographed features in the gardens, so don’t miss this Insta-worthy spot.
For more information about the gardens, visit GarvanGardens.org.
Editor’s note: COVID-19 safety protocols vary at Hot Springs attractions and change frequently; call to be sure of hours and safety guidelines as you plan your trip.