Hot Springs, Arkansas, and the national park by the same designation are named for the network of mineral springs believed to have healing or therapeutic properties.
The lush natural beauty of the national park, the natural hot springs and thermal waters of the natural mineral springs, and other outdoor activities are the biggest draws for visitors to Hot Springs – Arkansas is, after all, the Natural State. There’s more to do in Hot Springs besides enjoying the outdoors. There’s a mix of activities available in this friendly, walkable city.
Get inspired by this travel guide of 18 super fun things to do in Hot Springs and plan your own getaway.
Getting to Hot Springs
Hot Springs is a great road trip destination. Although the downtown area is very walkable, you’ll need a car to get from downtown to most of the places on this list.
If you are flying, Hot Springs has a small commercial airport serviced by Southern Airways Express, which flies to and from Dallas and Memphis. The airport in Little Rock has more flight options and is just 54 miles from Hot Springs – about an hour’s drive in regular traffic.
Read More: The Best Places to Visit in Arkansas
1. Visit Hot Springs National Park
Much of Hot Springs National Park is in the city of Hot Springs, which gives the park an urban feel, especially compared to Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks. The town grew around the park to accommodate the tourism that was driven by the thermal mineral springs the park was named for.
The park has 26 miles of hiking trails and one campground, tent sites and RV hookups. If you prefer to do your sightseeing from the comfort of your car, you can. Take a scenic drive along West Mountain Drive. The park roads are good, and there are pullouts where you can stop and snap pictures.
You can also enjoy biking, mountain biking and horseback riding in and near the park. If you want more water activities, there are two lakes – Lake Ouachita and Lake Hamilton – within an hour’s drive of Hot Springs.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Consider a side trip for a hike in the beautiful Petit Jean State Park.
2. Check Out Bathhouse Row
The Bathhouse Row historic district is home to eight bathhouses built in the late 1800s through the early 1900s. These ornate buildings were constructed for spas and leisure to help the tourists who came to Hot Springs take advantage of the thermal springs. The bathhouses had water piped in from the springs.
Today’s bathhouses serve as spas and shops – one even houses a brewery, Superior Bathhouse Brewery! Don’t miss the historic Fordyce Bathhouse, which serves as the visitor’s center for Hot Springs National Park. This historic bathhouse houses a free museum. The exhibits span three floors and are well-labeled so that visitors truly get a sense of what it was like to get a treatment at a bathhouse long ago. Some hydrotherapy equipment is a little bizarre and scary, but seeing how far wellness and self-care have come is fun.
3. Stroll the Grand Promenade
The Grand Promenade is a National Recreation Trail that runs parallel to Bathhouse Row, behind the bathhouses. This scenic half-mile-long brick walkway has benches, tables and even a table for playing chess.
4. Soak in a Thermal Bath
The bathhouses might be a thing of the past, but you can still “take the waters” to borrow a long-ago term. The Quapaw Baths & Spa is a modern facility with four public thermal pools beneath a stained glass skylight. The Buckstaff Bathhouse offers a more traditional Hot Springs bathing experience consisting of a whirlpool mineral bath, a loofa mitt and a 20-minute full body massage.
5. Learn About Hot Springs in the Time of Al Capone
Not only is the Gangster Museum of America a must-do, but I also recommend taking the museum tour as early in your visit as possible. The information you’ll learn on the tour provides an excellent foundation for understanding the area’s history and is a great jumping-off point for exploring everything Hot Springs offers.
The guided tour takes about one and a half hours. The tour touches on potentially sensitive subjects like murder, prostitution and other illegal activities. If you take younger kids, be prepared for a post-tour question like “What’s a brothel?”
6. Get Your Education On at Mid-America Science Museum
Arkansas’s largest hands-on science center and first Smithsonian Affiliate has over 100 exhibits that explore the wonders of energy, matter, life and perception. Kids of all ages can absorb science and technology in a fun, hands-on way, as well as view the night sky and tour the solar system using digital planetarium software. Don’t miss exploring the outdoor bridge and skywalk and taking in the views of the forest surrounding the museum.
This pirate-themed miniature golf establishment on Central Avenue has two challenging courses to choose from.
7. See the Littlest Village
Tiny Town started off as an electric train display under someone’s Christmas tree. Inspired by the travels of its creator, Frank Moshinskie, the display is powered by 18 small motors. Tiny Town has been in its current location on Whittington Ave since 1963 and is one of the area’s most-loved roadside attractions.
8. Play at Garvan Woodland Gardens
Garvan Woodland Gardens is not only a don’t-miss but don’t make the same mistake I did and not schedule enough time to explore this beautiful botanical garden. If you visit during the winter, go early in the day when it isn’t so hot.
Garvan Gardens has pine trees, wooded shorelines and rocky inclines that remind visitors of the surrounding Ouachita Mountains. There’s something new to discover around every corner here. And bring the kids! It’s one of the most family-friendly things to do in Arkansas.
If your time is short, don’t miss the treehouse (coolest treehouse ever) and the Anthony Chapel. There are many hands-on play options here, which is great for families.
Garvan Gardens is a popular wedding venue, so check in advance to find out if a wedding is scheduled for the day you visit. You’ll want to make sure you can explore the entire space, plus leave yourself some time to check out the gift shop.
9. Batter Up! Follow the Hot Springs Baseball Trail
If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll enjoy discovering the untold stories from the sport’s early days found in Hot Springs. The Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cubs) came to Hot Springs in 1886, so the players could take the mineral baths. The team’s owner decided Hot Springs was the perfect place to hold spring training, and five ball fields were subsequently built.
Baseball greats such as Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Dizzy Dean, Cy Young and many more are part of Hot Springs’ baseball history. The tour is self-guided. A free app shows the locations where baseball history was made, and scannable QR codes at the sites provide more information. There’s also a baseball exhibit at the Gangster Museum.
10. Pet an Alligator (Or maybe just wave from a distance)
The Alligator Farm Zoo is one of Hot Springs’ oldest attractions. You don’t have to pet the alligators if you don’t want to. You can view them from a safe distance or even watch them eat!
This Arkansas Alligator Farm Zoo also has a petting zoo with rabbits, ducks, pygmy goats, sheep and more.
11. View Hot Springs from the Mountain Tower
The Hot Springs Mountain Tower gives you the best views of the Ouachita Mountains, Hot Springs Mountain and the Diamond Lakes. You’ll take an elevator up to the observation deck 216 feet up and be treated to stunning views.
There are also on-site exhibits that have information about the tower’s history and the surrounding area’s history.
12. Explore Downtown Hot Springs
Downtown Hot Springs is a fun, walkable place to explore. In addition to Bathhouse Row, there are lots of restaurants, shops and cafes to explore. Visit on the weekend, and you’re likely to see street performers adding to the general festive vibe.
If you plan to visit during June, check out the free Thursday night Bridge Street Live. Bridge Street Live is a free street party with entertainment, kids’ games and live music. Food and beverages are available for purchase – bring cash. Many of the vendors don’t accept credit cards.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Try to stay within walking distance of downtown. Street parking is very limited, and most downtown businesses do not have their own parking lots. There’s a free two-story parking garage directly behind the Gangster Museum of America, but it fills up quickly.
13. Enjoy Magic Springs Theme and Water Park
This Arkansas theme park and water park is a fun place to spend a warm weather day. Magic Springs has a balanced selection of family and thrill rides, including roller coasters. The water park has many waterslides, a lazy river, two pools, a wave pool and a Flow Rider – all attractions are included with admission.
One admission gets you into the theme park side and the water park side. There was no separate process to go from the theme park to the water park. There’s plenty of food available – mostly standard amusement park fare like ice cream, fries and corndogs.
15. Hike and Swim at Lake Catherine State Park
Lake Catherine State Park is located 12 miles from downtown Hot Springs. This beautiful park offers many opportunities for hiking and cooling off in the water. Campsites are also available.
Lake Catherine State Park also has hiking trails.
If you want to hike, drive straight into the park from Catherine Park Road until you reach the visitor’s center. A park ranger will be on hand to assist you with advice and provide a trail map. The Falls Branch Trail was moderate and offered lovely waterfall views at the end of the trail. The trails are very well-marked.
16. Eat Some Pancakes at The Pancake Shop
The Pancake Shop, located on Central Avenue, is the place for pancakes and other breakfast foods. The plate-sized pancakes are made from scratch and made to order. The menu hasn’t changed since the 1970s, and the line outside on Saturday mornings is evidence they’re doing something right. The breakfast is worth the wait.
Central Ave also has many other shops and eateries worth checking out if you need to walk off your breakfast.
17. Check Out The World Championship Running of the Tubs
This bathtub race takes place each June. Teams of five race water-filled bathtubs (actual bathtubs!) down Bridge Street while the crowds attack them with squirt guns and water cannons.
The Hotel Hot Springs is within walking distance of the festivities, which is convenient because this event has multiple street closures.
The World Championship Running of the Tubs is fun and a little corny – definitely worth planning a summer vacation around.
18. Enjoy the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Hot Springs has the distinction of the world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade. At 98 feet long, this tiny parade makes up for what it lacks in size by really packing in the wild fun.