Things to see
Things to do and see in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Arriving in Hot Springs can be overwhelming. There’s so much to do and see in such a short amount of time. I’d like to talk to you about some things myself and other visitors have found interesting and helpful. Most are close to the vacation rental house you are renting -John Cooksey
Lake Ouachita State Park - Admission is free- Here’s a lake that’s only 23 minutes away and yet has the 3rd cleanest water in the country. This is because they don’t allow development on the lake other than the eight or nine marinas. It’s 26 miles long with 300 miles of shoreline. You can rent a boat for anywhere between 50 and 150 dollars, depending on the size of your group. You can go out to a small island and enjoy the peace and quiet and clean water, eat lunch, read a book, or just swim and float around. Here is the link to my video Or just type in Lake Ouachita State park attraction tour in the youtube search engine
National Park Visitor Center- Admission is Free There are two different visitor centers in town. The National Park Visitor Center and the City of Hot Springs Visitor Center. They are about 2,000 feet from each other so you could get them confused. The important one to go to is the National Park Visitor Center. What the National Parks did was take an old bathhouse and convert it into a visitor center and museum. It’s called the Fordyce Bath House and it’s located along bathhouse row. (Will reopen in July 2013 - it is one of the other bathhouses for this season) You not only learn about the history of Hot Springs, but you get to see what one of the old bathhouses was like. They have a lot of exhibits explaining why there’s thermal hot waters in Hot Springs. Plus you can pick up maps and get information about the hiking trails and scenic overlooks right in Historic Downtown. They have a 15 minute movie that goes over the history of Hot Springs. Best of all, there’s no charge to enter this facility. It should be your first stop when you are visiting historic downtown.
Bathing in the Bathhouses- Many people ask if there’s open thermal hot waters that you can bathe in. Unfortunately, there are only display springs that you can put your feet in. To bathe, you have to go to the Buckstaff or Quapaw Baths. Both on bathhouse row about 1 ½ miles from this house on Central. The Quapaw Bathhouse requires you to bring a bathing suit to their large indoor pool of the thermal hot water. This is great for going with a group of friends. Must be 14 years or older.
The Buckstaff bathhouse has a separate men’s and women’s section and you bathe in individual big tubs. This was the traditional way that has been done for over 100 years. Both ways have their advantages and disadvantages. To find out the procedure and order of things done at the Buckstaff, watch the TV segment that’s on the second or third floor of the Fordyce visitor center.
Hot Springs open spring and park - If you head down to the Arlington hotel, you will notice across from the hotel on Fountain street is the Arlington Lawn. In the far corner of the Arlington Lawn are rock formations where Springs hot Hot water drips into a small pool, large enough to stick your feet in. This is the display spring which gives you a good idea of what the hot water is like. It is also a great park to hang out with the family and kids. Lots of simple trails up above the springs. On a side note, if you’re on Fountain street, it’s only a block or two from Happy Hollow Spring which is at the end of the street. You can bring some water bottles and fill them up with what’s considered the best tasting water in Hot Springs and it’s free. From there, you can also drive up to the Scenic Overlook and Mountain Tower. If you decide not to spend the money for the mountain tower, you still get a great view from the cement gazebo at the top of the mountain.
The Promenade- Behind Bathhouse Row is a red brick walkway. It is about 1/2 mile long. It’s nice to walk along that walkway and when you get to the end, take a right and walk in front of all the bathhouses. At the end of bathhouse row, you’ll be at Arlington lawn and you will have made a complete circle. After that, if you want, you can go across the street and get something to eat at one of the restaurants.
Restaurants- If you’re looking for really good places to eat, the Park Ave Bistro on Park Avenue is about 1/2 mile at most from your rental house. Their lunches go from $6 to $9 and they’re made by a chef who does a fantastic job with very high quality ingredients. Historic Downtown also has Fat Jacks New Orleans food about a mile away. It has bands and a bar atmosphere after about 9. Near Fat Jacks is another New Orleans style restaurant called Quarters Cafe, which may seem small but has a lot of character with friendly staff. A little farther down Central is the Subway restaurant. Within 30 feet of it, is Spencer’s Corner. You will recognize it by the Subway restaurant. There are also 3 other non-chain restaurants worth taking a look at. The first is the Brickhouse Grill which is a good, medium priced, casual atmosphere steakhouse. I like their sweet potato fries. Another restaurant is a really good Mexican restaurant, right behind Subway.
If you were to head back from Subway toward your rental house, on the left, you would see Rolando’s Restaurant, less than one mile away. Rolando’s has really good Ecuadorian plates which are less expensive during lunch than dinner, but either way it’s great food. While we’re on the topic of food, if you want to go out for breakfast in the morning, we recommend the Colonial Waffle House and the Pancake Shop, which are both in the first block of Central, before you get to the Arlington Hotel. They are less than 1 mile from your rental house. The Colonial Waffle House still serves their food on ceramic plates from the 1950’s and a few of the staff have been there that long. It’s good food with good service. The Pancake Shop is very popular and has fresh-squeezed orange juice. It can be found on the right side of the street, across from the Arlington Hotel. Across the street from the Colonial Waffle House is Fat Bottom Girls Gourmet Cupcakes. Kollective Coffee + Tea is a new coffee and tea house a few doors down from the cupcake shop. They use the finest ingredients, and have freshly baked scones and pastries daily. Alexa’s Creperie out on Marion Anderson Road has some delicious crepes, as well as soups and sandwiches. If gelato is your thing, you have two excellent choices. Gelato di Superior is right downtown inside the Superior Bathhouse Brewery, and Dolce Gelato is in the Cornerstone Shopping Center if you’re heading further into town. On Grand Ave a couple miles away, you will find all the fast food places as well as Lotus Vietnamese, A few more miles down Central ave, you will find Osaka Japanese and sushi bar, Outback Steakhouse , Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Applebees, Buffalo Wild Wings, Starbucks and New China Buffet.
Crystals mining versus Diamond mining-
Some people come here and want to drive a couple hours to the diamond mine in Murfreesboro, however, most people will find a better value is to go about 15 minutes away to Coleman’s Crystal Mine. Instead of searching all day for maybe a fragment of a diamond, you’ll be collecting crystals every 5 to 10 minutes, which can make great presents for the holidays. Last I checked, it’s 10 dollars for kids and 20 dollars for adults to stay all day. It’s a good idea to wear older shoes, especially after rain, because it’s often muddy. But after it rains, you can find the best crystals.
The Secret Cave - Free admission- If you don’t mind going up a steep hill, there is a 5-room cave about a mile away from your rental house. It’s located about 10 minutes up a steep hill on an unmarked path in Desoto Park. To find the path, go to YouTube and type in “secret cave Hot Springs AR” or call me and I can tell you how to get there. John: 501-318-4117. The Desoto Park has an army tank that kids love to climb on.
Great Local Park in the woods- Cedar Glades Park Free Admission If you have pets, like frisbee golf or you just want a secluded park with an eight-foot wide stream to walk along, consider Cedar Glades Park. The alternative Bull Bayou entrance gets you right to the area where you can walk right along the water and bring your pets, if needed. It’s also a great swimming hole for small kids. To find out how to get to it, type in “hidden entrance Cedar Glades Park” in YouTube. They have a great giant tree fort for the kids if you go in the main entrance. 5 or 6 times a year you can watch Radio controlled airplanes up close at the landing strip right next to the parking lot of the main entrance
Another park that is good is Gulpha Gorge Campground and picnic area. Even though it is a campground run by the National Park, it is also a day use area that allows people to come in and hike trails and wade, or swim if you’re young, in the 3-foot high water. The creek is located at the very end of the park by the amphitheater. If you’re headed to the Magic Springs Amusement Park, you’ll see Gulpha Gorge on your right as you will be taking Gorge Road toward Magic Springs.
Magic Springs Amusement Park and Water Park is just a few miles away and quite popular in the summer. If you are going in very hot weather, I suggest getting there when it opens , then going back to the house early afternoon and eat lunch and nap, and then go back for the evening. On Saturday nights in the summer they have a concert series, inclusded with the price of your ticket. For concert info, hours of park, and prices, go to magicsprings.com
At the end of Gorge Road, if you head back to the right, toward town, instead of a left which would get you to Magic Springs, you will see in about 1/2 mile a Frostee Treat Take-out restaurant. It’s fun to take the kids there because it is what burger restaurants were like before McDonald’s and the big chains ever came along. They have a few things that make it unique. You can get veggie burgers as well as beef burgers. In season, you can get things like peach or pumpkin shakes. The owner has a private park in back of Frostee treat, where you can sit and eat your burgers on multi-colored picnic tables. You can watch a video on this by going to YouTube and going to our hiddenhotsprings channel. You will also find our other videos there.
Motorcycle tour- If you’re driving motorcycles or just want a real nice couple hour drive, you can actually go entirely around the whole Lake Ouachita, stopping at some of the scenic overlook points. However, if it’s really hot and you want cold water to swim in, consider taking a 30 to 40 minute drive on Highway 270 to Charlton Springs. It is a big giant outdoor pool that gets its water from a cold spring, so even when it’s over 100 degrees out, the water is refreshingly chilly. It also has a campground and hiking grails. It is a great place to picnic with kids as well as swim. It’s under $5 to bring a carload of people. It’s a great getaway.
Another lake, about 15 minutes away, is Lake Hamilton. This is the more well-known lake because you can rent jet skis, take a boat cruise with dinner on the Belle of Hot Springs, or eat dinner at one of the restaurants along the shore. You can also take a duck boat ride, which is an old army vehicle that drives you right into the water. This lake does allow development of houses all along it and can get pretty crowded on the weekends. It’s not the getaway that Lake Ouachaita is, but it’s good for Jet Skiers, the Belle of Hot Springs riverboat cruise, Duckboats, etc.
Canoeing If you’re more adventurous, there is canoeing down the Caddo River. About 40 minutes away, you can go out to the Caddo River and go canoeing, halfday or full day. The canoe rental places will drop you off with your canoe and you’ll end up paddling back to where you started, at your car.
Laser Tag, Pirate Golf For the kids, there is go-carting and pirate golf, etc in town. On central on the left about 2.5 miles is go carts and Laser Tag and then another bigger track about 5 miles down Central and another go cart track about 5 miles down 270. There’s also a great family magic show called the
Maxwell Blade Magic Show. . It’s less than 2 miles from your rental house, and if you mention the house you’re staying in, he’ll give you $3 per ticket off. I’ve seen this show personally and it’s very funny and entertaining as well as magical. Ideal for both kids and adults. Another fun thing about 2 miles from your rental house is the Escape Hot Springs escape room. Escape rooms have become very popular in recent years, so if you haven't been to one this makes a great first.
Hiking - If you’re into hiking, try going out to Balancing Rock or hiking from the Bathhouse row to Gulpha Gorge campground. The Fordyce Visitor Center can provide you maps and if you’re into biking, the local bike shop on Whittington Avenue can tell you all about the ideal biking areas. You can even hike up the mountain in back of the bathhouses. Cedar Glades Park has some excellent biking trails, as well as a rock climbing wall, and a professional frisbee golf course through the woods. Cedar Glades Park also has a RC controlled airport and a radio controlled car track. You just have to supply your own airplane or car. Cedar Glades park also has a big wooden fort for the kids.
Gangster museum less than 2 miles mile from your rental house on Central Ave on the right. You can also find a place down Central Ave on the right that allows you to sign up for haunted tours. I’ve heard it’s good for people who are really into that stuff. It takes place around 9pm in Historic Downtown. On Whittington Avenue is a great little old time tourist attraction for children under 10 years old, called
Tiny Town . It’s around 4 or 5 dollars to get in, and you get to see a layout of a town and train setup that a man spent 50 years making, mainly out of recycled material. The young kids love pushing the buttons to see the buildings light up and the trains move. If you have little kids and you want to see an old time tourist attraction, this is one to go see. Another attraction on Whittington is the Alligator Farm. The best time to visit is Sunday afternoon when they feed the alligators. You can call them and ask them the time they will feed them. I think it’s usually around 1 or 2pm.
Garvin Woodland Gardens, This is a very popular botanical garden in Hot Springs, It is on over 60 acres and borders Lake Hamilton. It is a 14 minute drive from the rental house. The walk around the property and paths and mini waterfalls are breathtaking. They also have an outdoor model railroad for the kids and some many great giant boulders and mini caves for the kids to play on clime and explore. I found myself exploring the Kids rock garden as its fun to climb and explore.
Convention Center. is about 2 miles from your house.
Sometimes when it is raining , I take my kids down there and stumble upon a coin show, or a car auction, cheer dance competition or some other interesting event, most of which are free. If it is raining and nothing is going on there, but you want to tire out your little ones, walking the length of the convention center in their carpeted wide hall, is over 3/4 a mile long. Little kids love the open space and climb on Statues and Furniture Art.
Off the beaten path. -Finally, if you want a place to picnic and be pretty much all to yourself, there’s an old decommission National Park area about a mile away from your rental house. It’s called Rix Lake and you’re going to take a left on Stonebridge Road, right past Mickey’s Barbecue which is on the right. There, you will find an old water mill and dam, where you can hang out and eat lunch, or just relax. In youtube type in Secret pond hot springs .
For all you ghost hunters, There is a haunted tour that goes on at 10pm in the evenings during the summer. There is a booth next to the fountains in front of the public parking garage.
Grocery Walmart supercenter - Head into to town is 5 miles down Central Ave and it’s on your left. Kroger is about 4 miles down on the left. John 501 318-4117