WanderList: Guide to Downtown Hot Springs Arkansas

Rolling hills in the Ouachita Mountains on a hazy day and an orange rectangle with the words

Downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas, also commonly referred to as Hot Springs Village, is perhaps one of the most interesting places in the U.S. For one thing, the entire place is a national park, as well as an actual, functioning city. Really!

In fact, what is now Hot Springs National Park was the first-ever piece of land in America to receive federal designation and protection for the purpose of recreation (say that five times fast!). It received that protection in 1832, 84 years before the National Park Service was even created. 

See, we told you Downtown Hot Springs is interesting! It’s also a postcard-worthy mecca for tourists and locals alike, thanks to the abundance of natural thermal water, outdoor recreation, fascinating historical sites, and various festivals throughout the year. Let’s take a look at what exactly you can get into in and around Hot Springs.

An overview of downtown Hot Springs Arkansas at sunset

Best Time to Visit Downtown Hot Springs Arkansas

While the city hosts events year-round and the national park is accessible in every season, the best time to visit downtown Hot Springs Arkansas is from August to October or February to April. 

Not only is this best in terms of the weather, but it also helps you avoid summer crowds. Fall in Hot Springs is especially lovely, as autumn color abounds and there’s the perfect amount of barely-there chill in the air. 

Getting to Hot Springs

Hot Springs is a convenient destination no matter where you’re coming from. Out-of-towners will likely want to fly into Little Rock, then rent a car to make the hour-long drive. 

The city is also within 200-250 miles from several major cities, making it an easy day or weekend trip. 

  • Distance from Memphis, TN: 177 miles
  • Distance from Tulsa, OK: 202 miles
  • Distance from Dallas, TX: 244 miles

Best Things to do in Downtown Hot Springs Arkansas

1. Indulge in a Mineral Bath

At a glance:  Experience the namesake thermal waters for which the town is named, believed to offer a myriad of health benefits. 

One of the first things you’ll notice when you arrive in downtown Hot Springs Arkansas is that the main road is lined with beautiful, stately bathhouses. This stretch is aptly named Bathhouse Row. 

Spas including Buckstaff Bathhouse and Quapaw Baths allow you to soak in the thermal waters, offering both traditional bath packages and contemporary spa services. Hot Springs hotels including the Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa and Hotel Hale also offer guests unique ways to enjoy the springs on property. 

2. Take in the Views from Hot Springs Mountain Tower

At a glance: See the panoramic beauty of Hot Springs in a whole new way at Hot Springs Mountain Tower, 216 feet in the air.

The Mountain Tower is a 216-foot-tall observation tower perched high above downtown Hot Springs Arkansas, providing a sweeping view stretching 140 miles in every direction. 

You can drive right up to the tower and take the elevator up, but for a (super scenic) workout, hike the 1.5 miles from the national park visitor center.

Hot Springs Mountain Tower through trees, one of the best viewpoints of downtown Hot Springs Arkansas

 

3. Superior Bathhouse Brewery

At a glance: As the only brewery inside a national park and the only brewery in the entire world using thermal spring water, Superior Bathhouse Brewery brings the wonder of the springs to your tastebuds.  

Eat, drink, and be merry at Superior Bathhouse Brewery, the only brewery in a national park. It’s also the only one on Earth to feature thermal water as its main ingredient! Pair one of the 18 craft brews on tap with seasonal menu items featuring locally-sourced foods.

4. Drink From Natural Mineral Springs 

At a glance: In addition to being fantastic for soaking, Hot Springs’ abundance of mineral water is also perfectly drinkable. Best of all, there are several accessible springs within the downtown area!

There are nine spring water fountains in downtown Hot Springs Arkansas, five of which you can drink from. Bring a jug and fill it up — for FREE! “Wet” your whistle at the following springs around town:

  • Libbey Memorial Physical Medicine Center - hot spring
  • National Park Service Administration Building on Bathhouse Row - hot spring
  • Hill Wheatley Plaza, outside park boundaries - hot spring
  • Happy Hollow at the base of North Mountain on Front Street - cold spring
  • Whittington Avenue at the base of West Mountain - cold spring

5. Duck Tour

At a glance: Experience downtown Hot Springs Arkansas from a unique perspective on both land and water in an amphibious World War II-era vehicle.   

National Park Duck Tours take visitors through downtown Hot Springs, then out to Lake Hamilton on 75-minute tours. You’ll get a look at just how unique (and scenic!) this historic town really is!

6. Hike Around Downtown Hot Springs

At a glance: There are tons of hiking trails to enjoy in and around downtown Hot Springs Arkansas, both in and outside the official park boundaries. 

It’s pretty unique that in downtown Hot Springs, you can simultaneously explore The Great Outdoors and treat yourself to some retail therapy. It’s one of the things that makes Arkansas such a great state for adventure lovers!

Hot Springs National Park itself has 26 miles of trails, most of them shorter and interconnected. You can very literally hike through the downtown area and behind Bathhouse Row, then up to Mountain Tower. Downtown Hot Springs also borders the Ouachita National Forest, with miles upon miles of additional hiking opportunities.

7. Off-roading at Hot Springs Off-Road Park

At a glance: Head just a few minutes outside of downtown Hot Springs to experience a whole different, very dirty, side of the city and national park. 

After relaxing in the thermal baths and sightseeing along Bathhouse Row, blaze your own trail by off-roading at Hot Springs Off-Road Park. The 1,200-acre park has trails for every skill and interest level, including intense Jeep Badge of Honor trails for the most adventurous riders (and capable vehicles!). 

Rent an ATV, bring your own, or book a guided ride for something middle-ground. The park is open year-round, seven days a week, and even has camping options available. 

8. Mine for Gems

At a glance: Just an hour away from downtown Hot Springs, mine for gems (including diamonds!) at one of the only public gem mines in the entire world.

Crater of Diamonds State Park allows everyone to be a prospector. Simply show up and start digging! The park provides tools for rent, but you’re also welcome to bring your own. The best part is that you keep everything you find — and yes, people find diamonds. Big ones. Regularly!

Don't Forget a National Park Souvenir!

Whether you're still planning your trip to downtown Hot Springs Arkansas or you've already been, don't forget the souvenirs!

And while there are lots of super cool, quirky shops downtown, consider getting something more personal and unique - like, say, a Travel Token from The Wander Club. 

 

We have travel tokens for national parks, including (of course!) Hot Springs National Park, as well as state, city, landmark, and even 100% custom options. They'll help you relive your trip memories for years to come and bonus, won't ever need to get stuffed into a drawer or cabinet.

2 comments

To tell the truth, I am so glad that I came across your article because I really like finding new unique places and Hot Springs is a truly special place where you can be filled up with a special atmosphere, getting away from the routine. It is so cool that you can have such an eventful time there and be engaged in so many incredible things because it is so important to enjoy your trip in full measure. Quite frankly, I fall in love with visiting historical places because they are the best way to delve into the history and mentally go back to the past. I really want to observe Historic Bathhouse Row because it seems to me that these bathhouses have such a unique concept and can make you look at the bathhouses from a different angle, learning a great deal of interesting facts about them. It is so incredible that the former Hale Bathhouse is the oldest surviving structure on Bathhouse Row because it is so important to preserve old buildings which are the reflection of our history. Also, it is so interesting to visit the Gangster Museum of America because it is the best opportunity to gain an extraordinary experience.
// Marina Teramond

Marina T. July 23, 2022

Thanks for sharing the hidden gem that is Hot Springs. My family vacationed there every year when I was a child. Don’t forget Oaklawn Horse racing and the casino. There is also very interesting history as Hot Springs used to be a vacation spot for Al Capone, and there was not quite secret illegal gambling up until the ‘60’s.

Two small corrections though: the National Park does not cover the entire city. And Hot Springs Village is a separate planned retirement community located some distance to the north of Hot Springs.

Scott Estes May 22, 2022

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