Located in Arkansas’ scenic Ouachita Mountains, the town of Hot Springs is aptly named for the natural and therapeutic warm water springs that make their way to the surface all over the area.
For more than a century, the town and its springs have been like magnets attracting visitors from all over the world, many of whom suffer from ailments that they’re convinced will be treated by the water’s soothing properties.
With a host of accommodation choices from budget to luxury and plenty of other historical, cultural, and recreational activities nearby, finding great things to do won’t be a problem.
1. Hot Springs National Park
If you’ve never visited, you may find Hot Springs National Park different than other national parks.
Located in an urban setting, the town surrounding the springs is full of inviting restaurants, shops, cafes and coffee shops that make it more convenient than its more rural national park cousins.
The hot springs are open year-round, and there’s a great visitor center that’s worth a look, especially if you’d like to learn about the area’s interesting geology and history.
If you visit in the winter months, the crowds may be sparse, making it feel like you’ve got the place to yourself.
2. Fordyce Bathhouse and Museum
The town of Hot Springs is full of bathhouses, all of which are looking to pamper their guests. As far back the first decade of the 20th century, Fordyce Bathhouse was considered one of the most luxurious.
Since then, it’s been refurbished and now functions as a museum and the national park’s welcome and visitor center.
It’s a fascinating glimpse into the past, when Hot Springs had the reputation of being the Las Vegas of its day, well before the Nevada gambling mecca took over the top spot as the go-to destination for gamblers.
Tours, movies and exhibits are all available at the museum.
3. Gangster Museum of America
Hot Springs hasn’t always had the reputation as a sleepy town famous for its therapeutic warm mineral pools.
In the ’20s and ‘30s, it was a rough and tumble place full of gangsters, elegant women, and high-rollers who came to gamble and enjoy the swank.
Back in those days, the town was run by a notorious New York gangster who was on the run. Today, the museum exhibits an interesting array of memorabilia related to the town’s history – and some of the colorful characters who graced its presence over the years.
It consists of numerous galleries, including The New York Connection and Outlaw Gallery.
4. Garvan Woodland Gardens
Located on more than 200 pristine acres just outside of town, Garvan Woodland Gardens is about a ten-mile drive from the town’s center and is renowned for its professionally managed grounds boasting a fantastic variety of plants, trees, and wildflowers.
Owned by the University of Arkansas, it’s funded mainly with grants, admission fees, and donations.
It’s a great place to visit to escape the crowds in town, but the gardens are closed during January and on Thanksgiving and Christmas days as well.
The grounds are full of easily accessible trails, and there’s an indoor portion too.
5. Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum
Wax museums are fascinating places to learn about the lives of famous, infamous and extraordinary people from all over the world.
The Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum on Central Avenue in Hot Springs is one of the unique and quirky places that shouldn’t be overlooked when in town.
It’s open seven days a week, inexpensive, and rumor has it that Bill and Hillary Clinton were recently sighted there, but it’s not known whether it was the real couple or just well-made wax figures – it’s so hard to tell.
Make sure your phone is charged because you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take some selfies with more than a few famous people.
6. Charlton Recreation Area
The Charlton Recreation Area is one of the region’s most visited sites; since it’s conveniently located between the towns of Crystal Springs and Mount Ida, it’s easy to visit from Hot Springs.
Walnut Creek and the Charlton Recreation Area are where many visitors stop to hike, ride mountain bikes, do a bit of bird-watching, and try their luck at some of the best fishing waters around.
There’s a small artificial lake that’s the recreation area’s centerpiece, and camping sites are available too.
The Civilian Conservation Corps made much of the park’s infrastructure in the ‘30s.
7. Magic Springs Water and Theme Park
The Magic Springs Water and Theme Park is a relatively new facility that has been specifically designed with families with children in mind.
Its main attraction is Splash Island, which includes a four-story water slide and massive dump buckets that release thousands of gallons of water on screaming children every few seconds. There’s also a giant wave pool that’s reported to hold nearly 400,000 gallons of water.
The park is full of fun activities and is monitored by staff to ensure that everyone has a fun and safe time. There are covered seating areas for parents who’d rather stay dry and watch from the sidelines.
8. Ouachita National Forest
Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains are one of the region’s most iconic natural wonders; the best place to experience them up close and personally is in the Ouachita National Forest.
The park includes acres and acres of streams, lakes, and forested tracts of mountains and valleys that are perfect for outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, camping, and climbing.
The park features an extensive trail system, and different portions are designated for different users, including hiking, mountain biking, and even off-road vehicles.
If you’re keen on avoiding the crowds and communing with Mother Nature, consider a night or two of dispersed camping.
9. The Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic and Comedy
Having just undergone a high-dollar renovation, the Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic and Comedy is once again back in business, and eager to get back to doing what it does best: entertaining people and making them laugh.
For nearly a quarter of a century, they’ve been the area’s number one venue for magic and comedy, and now, they’ve got a world-class sound and lighting system to make the shows even more memorable.
You’ll need to buy tickets to catch a show, and there’s a great museum on site that’s worth a look as well.
It’s the perfect way to spend an evening after a day in the mountains or hot springs.
10. The Galaxy Connection
Whether you’re old or young, if you’re a fan of all things relating to space fiction, sci-fi, superheroes, and Star Wars, then the Galaxy Connection is a place you’ll need to visit on your trip to Hot Springs.
Most of the items exhibited are the personal memorabilia of the museum’s owner; he’s a man who takes his hobbies seriously and has the extensive collection to prove it.
It’s a one of a kind place, and you’re more than welcome to take a self-guided tour. If you’d rather schedule a VIP tour with the owner himself, that’s a possibility too, but you’ll need to book in advance.
11. Hot Springs Farmer’s & Artisans Market
For nearly 20 years, the Hot Springs Farmer’s and Artisan’s Market has been showcasing some of the best locally made products, arts, and crafts in town.
The Market is located downtown near the old train depot. Over the years, it has become a weekly event for locals and guests eager to pick up fresh produce, prepared food, health and body products, and a variety of arts and crafts.
The market is open seasonally, and it isn’t open every day, so check out their website to make sure they’ll be there before you head out.
It’s a great way to support the local economy.
12. Anthony Chapel
Located on the grounds of the Garvan Woodland Gardens, Anthony Chapel is a beautiful chapel that is built mostly of glass, with a tall, arched ceiling made from exposed wooden arches.
Without a doubt, it’s an absolute one of a kind and is available for weddings if you’d like to take your vows in a unique setting. The chapel’s vaulted ceilings reach nearly six-stories up, giving the interior a feeling of openness and that you’re really outside in the forest.
It hosts more than 150 weddings yearly, so if you’re interested, you’ll need to plan ahead.
13. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
Kids like mini-golf and pirates; when the two are combined into one family-friendly attraction, it makes for a great way to spend a few hours.
The pirate-themed facility includes all the obstacles and features you’d expect on a mini-golf course, like waterfalls, windmills, and bridges leading over streams of water.
You may recognize the name because Pirate’s Cove is a national chain with locations in more than a dozen states.
They offer fun programs and contests for kids, and they’re open seasonally, so check to see what their hours will be when you’re in town.
14. Riley Art Glass Studio
Hot Springs is home to many artists who work in a variety of mediums, but blown glass is one of the standouts.
Riley Art Glass Studio is part gallery and part workshop. With a little luck, you’ll be able to witness the fascinating process by which molten glass is turned into beautiful and unique items like vases and bowls.
The studio is located on West Grand Avenue and has plenty of items on sale regardless of your budget.
Live demonstrations are free to watch, so check online or give them a call before you go to make sure you won’t miss out.
15. Hot Springs Mountain
Majestic Hot Springs Mountain looms over the town and offers some of the most beautiful and unobstructed views of the surrounding area.
The views are amazing no matter when you go, but they’re particularly stunning in fall when the leaves have changed into their vibrant autumn colors.
It’s possible to hike to the top of the mountain on a few well-worn trails, though depending on the weather, they may get slick and mildly treacherous, so wear appropriate shoes and clothes.
The observation area at the top is a great place to spend an afternoon or have a picnic.