Hot Springs, Arkansas things to do….what are the best? I’ve wondered that same thing for many years. I’d heard about the Hot Springs, Arkansas Bath Houses. And that Hot Springs is one of the most scenic places in Arkansas. But what are the other must see Arkansas attractions in and around Hot Springs? I was delighted to spend a few days exploring Hot Springs recently, and have so many great tips for y’all! This post was written in collaboration with Visit Hot Springs. All opinions are my own.
Hot Springs Things To Do
For me, Hot Springs has always been a must see Arkansas city. It brings together History, Historic Hotels, Unique Experiences, Museums, and some of the friendliest people around. Hot Springs is located in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, about 45 minutes southwest of Little Rock. The Fall and Spring are particularly gorgeous times of year to visit. The mountains are full of Dogwoods and Redbuds in the Spring, and the Fall offers radiant colors of foliage.
Probably the most popular of all Hot Springs Things to Do is a visit to the Historic Bath House Row. Y’all, I could not believe how gorgeous the buildings are after so many years! Let’s take a closer look.
Hot Springs Arkansas Bath Houses
Bathhouse Row, which runs along Central Avenue, and is formally part of The Hot Springs National Park, has 8 bathhouses from the 19th and 20th centuries. This elegant collection of buildings was built over the thermal waters that first drew tourists to Hot Springs. “Taking the Waters” was believed to have medicinal purposes, and early visitors to Hot Springs often stayed for long periods of time, enjoying exercise, spa treatments, and other diversions meant to promote healing and wellness.
The eight Hot Springs, Arkansas Bath Houses were constructed between 1892 and 1923 and are third and fourth generation structures. The Bathhouses are:
- The Lamar (1923): Named for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, who was Secretary of the Interior when the first bathhouse was built in 1888. The Lamar is one of six bathhouses with a Spanish flavor. It offered a range of tub lengths for people of various heights and a coed gym with a separate area just for women. Today the Lamar is home to Bathhouse Row Emporium as well as National Park offices.
- The Buckstaff (1912): Named for George and Milo Buckstaff. Although it has undergone many changes over the years, the Buckstaff is one of the best preserved of all the bathhouses. The 27,000 square feet, three-story facility provides the traditional bathing experience that was offered so many years ago. The Buckstaff is the only bathhouse to be in continuous operation since opening.
- The Ozark (1922): Named for the surrounding mountain range then considered to be a part of the Ozark range, but now is known as the Ouachita Mountains. The Ozark was built in the style of the Art Deco movement. It was one of the smaller bathhouses, with 14,000 square feet and twenty-seven tubs. It catered to bathers who did not want to pay for a more lavish experience offered at other bathhouses.
- The Quapaw (1922): Named for the American Indian tribe who lived in the area. The Quapaw is the longest building on Bathhouse Row, occupying the site of two previous bathhouses. Its tiled dome is one of the most distinct features on Bathhouse Row. Today: Quapaw Baths and Spa offers modern spa services in the renovated building. On my visit, there were several guests booking their “bath experience.”
- The Fordyce (1915): I suggest starting your tour of the Hot Springs, Arkansas Bath Houses here. With 28,000 square feet, the Fordyce is the largest bathhouse on the row. It has three floors, two courtyards and a large basement. The basement had a bowling alley and display of the springs. In its heyday, The Fordyce provided more services than any other bathhouse. It had a beauty parlor, an assembly room with a grand piano, a shoeshine stand, a pool table in the men’s parlor and a roof garden. It was extensively, and beautifully restored, and now functions as a museum and the park’s Visitor Center. You can see treatment rooms, parlors, gymnasium, bathtubs and equipment used in the bathhouse. In the basement, visitors can see the Fordyce Spring that supplied the thermal waters to the facility. I was totally blown away!
- The Maurice (1912): Named for Charles Maurice, who owned the Independent Bathhouse, which the Maurice replaced. The Maurice had a gymnasium, a roof garden, two elevators, and was the only bathhouse on the row to have a pool. The third floor had a Craftsman-style den with a stained glass ceiling and a frieze hand-painted by artist Frederick Wernicke. The Maurice is the only bathhouse that, as of February 2020, does not have a tenant.
- The Hale (1892): Named for bathhouse owner John Hale. The Hale is the oldest bathhouse on the row.
- The Superior (1916): Named for, you guessed it, the superior service the business strived to provide. The 11,000 square feet Superior is the smallest bathhouse on the row. It had the lowest rates and offered basic services. Today, the Superior Bathhouse Brewery is a brewery, restaurant and special event venue. They brew their beer with the thermal spring water.
You can listen to my Podcast Episode, detailing my personal bath experience by clicking on the Player Below!
Hot Springs Hotels Downtown
At the very tip top of my list is the well-known and Historic Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa. According to their web site, ” The Arlington has hosted hundreds of grand balls and social events since 1875. Politicians, dignitaries, actors, gangsters and entertainment and sports legends bathed in our bath house, danced to our music and enjoyed our splendor and charm. The Arlington has survived a devastating fire, economic downturns, changing social attitudes and much more. Steeped in history, The Arlington is truly a legend.” From live music each weekend, to a Documentary Film Festival each Fall, there’s always something fun happening at The Arlington!
Will and I were graciously hosted by the Arlington, and spent the night in the legendary Al Capone Suite, Room 443. Capone liked to go “to the bubbles” of Hot Springs, and allegedly found “product” locally produced during Prohibition, that he could ship back East. When he stayed at The Arlington, he had the whole 4th floor for his staff and bodyguards. He could look across the street from his window and see the activities at the Southern Club, now the Wax Museum.
If you love Historic Hotels, then a stay at The Arlington is a MUST!
Will and I were also graciously treated to a Bath and a Massage in the Arlington Spa. Thermal waters are pumped directly into private bath tubs, and after a hot towel wrap and a wonderful massage, I was like a big blob of relaxation! But…I soldiered on….because there’s more to see!
Other Hot Spring Hotels Downtown
- The Waters: We spent a second night in this fully restored historic building. 62 rooms make up this boutique hotel, and while the rooms are very modern, the halls reflect tile and woodwork from the original structure.
- The Best Court Motel: As y’all know, I LOVE it when an original building is preserved, and given new life. The Best Court Motel is about the cutest place I have seen in a LONG time. It’s truly a Motel, built in the 1930’s, that has been lovingly and painstakingly restored. And it’s adorable. 1,2 and 3 bedroom rooms are available. And the rooms are cute, cozy, and perfectly appointed. Will and I enjoyed a delicious breakfast at The Best Court Motel Cafe, and they are now open for dinner as well.
Other Hot Springs Attractions
Directly across the street from Bath House Row, along Central Avenue, are many more Hot Springs Arkansas Things To Do. At one time, there were dozens of “clubs” and casinos. Today, The Ohio Club is the only surviving club. Owner, Mike Petty, explained to me that other clubs were named for states, like The Texas Club , The Tennessee Club, etc. The Ohio Club has a great menu for lunch or dinner, and live music in the evenings. Be sure and notice the bar back. It’s gorgeous, and so large, the entire front of the building had to be demoed to move the bar in place.
If American Gangster history interests you, be sure and stop in at The Gangster Museum of America. Visitors are taken through several unique rooms, decorated with artifacts and reproductions, explaining the history of notables like Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, and of course, Al Capone.
Any baseball fans? Hot Springs is rich in baseball history. Many teams relocated to Hot Springs for Spring Training. They could practice during the day, and “take the waters” to heal tired and sore muscles. The Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail has many markers throughout the city, including sites frequented by Cy Young and Babe Ruth.
As I mentioned earlier, Hot Spring is one of the most scenic places in Arkansas. Make time to visit Garvan Woodland Gardens. This botanical garden of the University of Arkansas is serene and lovely, with winding paths, picturesque bridges, and seasonal color! Will and I especially enjoyed the Anthony Chapel, with its floor-to-ceiling glass walls, surrounded by woods.
I enjoyed every minute in Hot Springs, Arkansas. This is the perfect spot for a few days getaway! Have you visited? You should!!!!
Tags: Al Capone | Bath House Row | Bath Houses | Garvan Woodland Gardens | Historic Hotel | Hot Springs Arkansas | Podcast | The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa | The Ohio Club