Nestled in the picturesque Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, I found myself in the charming town of Hot Springs. The name was a perfect fit, as this place was renowned for its abundant warm water springs that bubbled up from the ground, offering natural therapeutic properties.
For over a century, these springs and the town itself had acted as a magnetic force, drawing in visitors from around the globe. People came in search of relief from various ailments, firmly believing in the healing powers of these soothing waters.
As I reflect on my own experience, I recall the diverse range of accommodations available in Hot Springs. Whether you were on a tight budget or seeking luxury, there were options to suit every preference. Furthermore, the town boasted a wealth of historical, cultural, and recreational activities in close proximity, ensuring that finding exciting things to do was never a challenge.
So, allow me to accompany you on your journey as I share my recommendations for the top 15 activities to embark upon during your adventure in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
1. Hot Springs National Park
Having had the opportunity to visit Hot Springs National Park, I discovered that it possessed a unique charm that set it apart from other national parks.
Unlike its rural counterparts, this national park found itself nestled within an urban setting. The town that enveloped the springs was brimming with enticing restaurants, shops, cafes, and coffee shops, rendering it more convenient and accessible than its more remote counterparts.
Regardless of the time of year, the hot springs remained open for exploration. The presence of a remarkable visitor center added to the appeal, particularly for those interested in delving into the captivating geology and rich history of the area.
During my winter visit, I noticed a sparse crowd, which granted me a sense of exclusivity as if I had the entire place to myself. It was a refreshing and tranquil experience, allowing me to fully immerse myself in the serene surroundings.
2. Fordyce Bathhouse and Museum
As I explored the vibrant town of Hot Springs, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of bathhouses, each vying to provide their guests with the utmost pampering. Among them, Fordyce Bathhouse stood out as one of the most opulent, with its roots tracing back to the early 20th century.
Having undergone meticulous refurbishment over the years, this historic establishment now served a dual purpose. It functioned as a captivating museum, offering a captivating window into the past, while also serving as the welcome and visitor center for the national park.
Stepping inside Fordyce Bathhouse was like stepping back in time. It transported me to an era when Hot Springs held the reputation of being the Las Vegas of its day, long before the Nevada gambling mecca claimed the top spot as the ultimate destination for gamblers. The museum showcased a myriad of captivating features, including insightful tours, intriguing movies, and enlightening exhibits.
With each passing moment, I found myself immersed in the rich history and cultural significance that surrounded me within the museum’s walls. It was a delightful journey into the past, allowing me to gain a profound appreciation for the legacy of Hot Springs as a premier destination of indulgence and leisure.
3. Gangster Museum of America
Contrary to its current reputation as a tranquil haven renowned for its therapeutic warm mineral pools, Hot Springs was once a bustling town with a vibrant past.
During the 1920s and 1930s, it shed its peaceful façade and transformed into a boisterous hub. The streets were filled with a motley crew of gangsters, elegant women, and high-rollers who flocked to the town in search of excitement and indulgence. It was an era of glamour and flamboyance.
At that time, the town was under the control of a notorious New York gangster who had sought refuge in Hot Springs. The tales surrounding this era were captivating, and I was intrigued by the intriguing characters and their stories.
In the present day, a visit to the museum allowed me to delve deep into the town’s captivating history. The exhibits showcased a fascinating assortment of memorabilia, offering a glimpse into the colorful past and the remarkable individuals who once graced the town.
The museum boasted numerous galleries, each with its own unique theme. One of the standout sections was “The New York Connection,” which delved into the influence and presence of the notorious gangster who had left his mark on the town. Another notable gallery was the “Outlaw Gallery,” which showcased the captivating tales of rebellious characters who had left their indelible imprint on Hot Springs.
As I wandered through the museum, I couldn’t help but feel transported to a different era. The artifacts and displays provided an immersive experience, allowing me to connect with the town’s rich history and gain a deeper understanding of its vibrant past.
4. Garvan Woodland Gardens
Nestled on over 200 acres of unspoiled land just beyond the town’s borders, I discovered the enchanting Garvan Woodland Gardens during my stay. Located approximately ten miles away from the heart of the town, the gardens mesmerized me with their meticulously maintained grounds, teeming with a splendid array of plants, trees, and wildflowers.
Under the ownership of the University of Arkansas, the gardens were primarily sustained through grants, admission fees, and generous donations. This support allowed for the professional management and preservation of the breathtaking landscape.
Seeking respite from the bustling crowds in town, I found solace within the serenity of Garvan Woodland Gardens. It provided a tranquil escape, allowing me to immerse myself in the natural beauty that surrounded me. However, it’s worth noting that the gardens were closed during the month of January, as well as on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
Exploring the grounds was an absolute delight. A network of easily accessible trails meandered through the landscape, inviting me to embark on a leisurely stroll and discover the hidden treasures tucked away within. Additionally, there was an indoor portion that offered a different perspective, allowing me to marvel at the beauty of the gardens even in inclement weather.
As I wandered through this horticultural paradise, I marveled at the impeccable craftsmanship and dedication evident in every corner. Garvan Woodland Gardens proved to be a sanctuary of natural splendor, providing a perfect blend of tranquility, exploration, and visual delight.
5. Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum
I had the pleasure of exploring the captivating world of wax museums, where the lives of remarkable individuals from around the globe are brought to life. One such gem, the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum on Central Avenue in Hot Springs, proved to be a unique and quirky destination that should not be overlooked during a visit to the town.
Open seven days a week, this museum offered an affordable and immersive experience. As I stepped inside, I couldn’t help but wonder if the rumors were true—had Bill and Hillary Clinton been spotted here recently? It was a mystery whether it was the real couple or impeccably crafted wax figures. Such was the artistry of the wax figures that it became challenging to discern reality from the incredibly lifelike sculptures.
Equipped with my trusty phone, I made sure it was fully charged, for the museum provided countless opportunities to capture selfies alongside a multitude of famous personalities. It was a surreal and entertaining experience, as I stood beside lifelike replicas of renowned individuals, immortalized in wax.
The Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum allowed me to walk among legends, offering a chance to glimpse the lives and legacies of extraordinary people. It was a thrilling adventure, blending history, artistry, and a touch of whimsy.
6. Charlton Recreation Area
During my time in the area, I had the pleasure of exploring the popular Charlton Recreation Area, which stood as one of the region’s most frequented destinations. Conveniently situated between the towns of Crystal Springs and Mount Ida, it offered easy accessibility from Hot Springs.
Walnut Creek and the Charlton Recreation Area served as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. It was a place where visitors flocked to partake in exhilarating hikes, embark on thrilling mountain bike rides, engage in bird-watching ventures, and test their luck in the abundant fishing waters that the area boasted.
At the heart of the recreation area, a small artificial lake captured the attention and admiration of visitors. It served as a picturesque centerpiece, adding to the allure and tranquility of the surroundings. For those seeking an extended stay, camping sites were available, allowing individuals to immerse themselves fully in the natural beauty of the area.
Delving into the history of the Charlton Recreation Area, I discovered that much of its infrastructure was a result of the dedicated efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. Their work left a lasting legacy, enhancing the park’s facilities and contributing to the overall appeal of the recreational haven.
7. Magic Springs Water and Theme Park
During my visit, I had the pleasure of experiencing the Magic Springs Water and Theme Park—a relatively new facility thoughtfully crafted with families and children in mind.
The park’s main highlight was undoubtedly Splash Island, a captivating water playground that left children and adults alike in awe. Towering over the area was a four-story water slide, providing an adrenaline-pumping adventure for those brave enough to take the plunge. To the delight of the young visitors, massive dump buckets periodically released thousands of gallons of water, drenching them in joyful screams. Additionally, the park featured a colossal wave pool, rumored to hold an impressive 400,000 gallons of water.
Safety and enjoyment were top priorities at the park, with attentive staff members diligently monitoring the attractions. Their presence ensured that everyone could partake in the fun-filled activities while maintaining a safe environment. For parents who preferred to remain dry, there were covered seating areas strategically placed, offering a perfect vantage point to observe the excitement from the sidelines.
8. Ouachita National Forest
Having embarked on an adventure to explore the awe-inspiring Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas, I discovered that the Ouachita National Forest provided the perfect opportunity to experience these natural wonders up close and personal.
Stretching across vast acres, the park encompassed a breathtaking landscape of meandering streams, serene lakes, and dense forests that blanketed the mountains and valleys. This diverse terrain offered an array of outdoor activities for nature enthusiasts like myself. Whether it was hunting, fishing, camping, or climbing, there was something to satisfy every adventurer’s spirit.
One of the highlights of the Ouachita National Forest was its extensive trail system, catering to various users with designated sections for hiking, mountain biking, and even off-road vehicles. It was a testament to the park’s commitment to accommodating a range of outdoor pursuits and ensuring a memorable experience for all who ventured into its embrace.
For those yearning for a deeper connection with the tranquility of the forest and a desire to escape the crowds, I highly recommended considering a night or two of dispersed camping. This allowed for an immersive communion with Mother Nature, allowing the sights and sounds of the forest to envelop and rejuvenate the spirit.
9. The Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic and Comedy
Fresh off its recent high-dollar renovation, I had the pleasure of attending a performance at the newly revitalized Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic and Comedy. With its doors once again open to the public, the theater eagerly resumed its mission of entertaining and bringing laughter to its audience.
For nearly a quarter of a century, this venue had held the esteemed title of being the area’s premier destination for magic and comedy. Now, with the completion of its renovation, it had transformed into an even more remarkable space, equipped with a world-class sound and lighting system that elevated the shows to a whole new level of spectacle and enchantment.
To witness the extraordinary performances, one simply needed to secure tickets for the show. However, the experience did not end there. The theater also housed a captivating museum, beckoning visitors to explore its fascinating exhibits and delve into the rich history of magic and comedy.
After a day spent amidst the splendor of the mountains or soaking in the therapeutic hot springs, indulging in an evening at the Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic and Comedy was the perfect way to complete the day. It offered a delightful escape into a world of wonder and laughter, leaving a lasting impression and creating cherished memories.
10. The Galaxy Connection
I had the opportunity to explore a truly extraordinary destination that catered to space fiction enthusiasts, sci-fi lovers, superhero aficionados, and Star Wars fans alike—the Galaxy Connection.
Regardless of age, if one held a passion for these realms of imagination, this place was an absolute must-visit. The moment I stepped inside, I was immersed in a world of captivating displays, showcasing a vast array of personal memorabilia meticulously curated by the museum’s owner. It was evident that he possessed an unwavering dedication to his hobbies, evident in the extensive collection he had amassed over the years.
The Galaxy Connection was undeniably a one-of-a-kind establishment. Visitors had the freedom to embark on self-guided tours, exploring the captivating exhibits at their own pace. However, for an even more exclusive experience, there was the option to schedule a VIP tour with the owner himself. This extraordinary opportunity offered deeper insights into the collection and provided an unparalleled chance to engage with the passionate curator. It was essential to plan and book in advance to secure this remarkable experience.
As I wandered through the Galaxy Connection, I marveled at the incredible pieces on display, each holding its own story and significance within the realm of space fiction and popular culture. From iconic props to rare collectibles, the museum was a treasure trove that sparked excitement and nostalgia in equal measure.
11. Hot Springs Farmer’s & Artisans Market
For nearly two decades, the remarkable Hot Springs Farmer’s and Artisan’s Market had been a focal point, showcasing the finest locally made products, arts, and crafts.
Nestled downtown, near the old train depot, the market had garnered a loyal following over the years. Each week, both locals and visitors eagerly flocked to this lively gathering, drawn by the opportunity to procure an array of fresh produce, delectable prepared food, health and body products, and an assortment of captivating arts and crafts.
It was important to note that the market operated seasonally, with specific opening days, so it was advisable to consult their website before planning a visit, ensuring their presence on the desired day.
What truly resonated with me about the Hot Springs Farmer’s and Artisan’s Market was its role in supporting the local economy. By participating in this vibrant community event, patrons contributed to the growth and sustainability of local businesses and artisans. It was a gratifying experience to witness firsthand the impact of these transactions, fostering a sense of connection and mutual support among the residents and visitors alike.
As I meandered through the bustling market, I found myself captivated by the abundance of colors, flavors, and talents on display. It was a testament to the creativity and dedication of the local community, a testament to their commitment to producing high-quality products that celebrated the essence of Hot Springs.
12. Anthony Chapel
The breathtaking Anthony Chapel—an architectural marvel nestled within the grounds. This stunning chapel stood out for its distinctive design, predominantly constructed with glass walls and adorned with a lofty, arched ceiling crafted from exposed wooden arches.
It was truly a one-of-a-kind structure, exuding a captivating charm that beckoned visitors to explore its unique offerings. Notably, the Anthony Chapel had gained recognition as an enchanting venue for weddings, providing couples with an unparalleled setting to exchange their vows. The grandeur of the chapel was accentuated by its soaring vaulted ceilings, reaching an impressive height of nearly six stories. Stepping inside, one couldn’t help but feel a sense of openness, as if surrounded by the beauty of the forest while still enjoying the shelter of the chapel’s embrace.
The Anthony Chapel had become a cherished destination for couples seeking a truly extraordinary and memorable wedding experience. Its popularity was evident, with over 150 weddings taking place within its hallowed halls each year. To secure this coveted venue, meticulous planning and early arrangements were paramount, ensuring a couple’s dreams could be realized in this enchanting space.
As I stood within the chapel, basking in its ethereal beauty, I couldn’t help but imagine the profound joy that must have filled the air as couples exchanged their vows amidst such an awe-inspiring backdrop. The fusion of natural surroundings and exquisite architecture created an ambiance that was nothing short of magical.
13. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
The pirate-themed facility boasted a mini-golf course adorned with all the elements one would expect. From cascading waterfalls to whimsical windmills and charming bridges spanning over meandering streams, every corner of the course was thoughtfully designed to transport visitors into a swashbuckling world of fun. This family-friendly destination provided a fantastic way to spend a few hours immersed in excitement and adventure.
It was worth noting that Pirate’s Cove, the name behind this captivating attraction, was a renowned national chain with multiple locations across more than a dozen states. Their expertise in creating engaging experiences for families was evident in every aspect of the course.
Younger visitors were in for a treat, as Pirate’s Cove offered a range of interactive programs and exciting contests designed to enhance the enjoyment of the little ones. The atmosphere was filled with laughter, cheers, and the spirit of friendly competition, creating lasting memories for families and friends alike.
As with many seasonal attractions, it was important to check the operating hours of Pirate’s Cove during your visit to Hot Springs. This ensured that you could plan your adventure accordingly and make the most of this thrilling experience.
14. Riley Art Glass Studio
As part of my trip to Hot Springs, I also discovered a thriving artistic community where creativity knew no bounds. Among the many talented artists, the mesmerizing art of blown glass stood out as an absolute gem.
Riley Art Glass Studio, situated on West Grand Avenue, served as both a gallery and a workshop—a haven for glass enthusiasts and curious onlookers alike. Stepping into the studio was like entering a world of enchantment, where molten glass transformed into breathtaking creations such as elegant vases and intricate bowls.
Visiting the studio was an experience filled with anticipation, as I hoped to catch a glimpse of the mesmerizing process behind the artistry. Fortunately, luck was on my side, and I had the privilege of witnessing the skilled artisans deftly shaping molten glass into magnificent pieces. The dance between fire and glass was truly a sight to behold—a testament to the mastery and craftsmanship of the artists.
As I perused the studio’s offerings, I was captivated by the diverse range of glass art available for purchase. Whether you were on a modest budget or seeking a show-stopping centerpiece, there was something to suit every taste and preference. The studio served as a haven for art enthusiasts, providing an opportunity to bring a piece of this captivating medium into their own homes.
One of the highlights of my visit was the chance to witness live demonstrations, where the artists generously shared their craft with visitors. The studio welcomed guests to observe these captivating performances, granting a deeper appreciation for the intricate process behind the creation of blown glass art. To ensure you don’t miss out on these enthralling displays, it’s advisable to check the studio’s online schedule or give them a call before your visit.
15. Hot Springs Mountain
I couldn’t resist the allure of Hot Springs Mountain, a majestic peak that towered over the town, beckoning me to explore its heights and revel in the breathtaking vistas it offered.
Ascending the mountain, I was greeted by a sight that surpassed all expectations. The views stretched far and wide, providing an unobstructed panorama of the surrounding area. Whether it was the glistening waters of nearby lakes or the lush expanses of verdant forests, the beauty of the landscape unfolded before my eyes.
While the allure of Hot Springs Mountain was timeless, I was fortunate enough to visit during the enchanting fall season. As nature’s paintbrush transformed the leaves into a vibrant tapestry of autumn colors, the views became even more breathtaking. The fiery reds, golden yellows, and rich oranges added a touch of magic to an already awe-inspiring setting.
Embarking on the hike to the mountain’s summit, I treaded along well-established trails, feeling the thrill of adventure with each step. It was important to note that depending on the weather, the trails could become slippery and mildly treacherous. Equipped with appropriate footwear and clothing, I ensured my safety as I ventured higher into the embrace of the mountain.
Upon reaching the pinnacle, I found myself in an observation area that was nothing short of sublime. It was a perfect spot to spend a leisurely afternoon, basking in the beauty that surrounded me. Whether I chose to sit in quiet contemplation or indulge in a delightful picnic, the serenity of the mountain heightened my sense of tranquility and connection with nature.