ALERT! These are the BEST things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas
If you’re here then…
you must be looking for info on Hot Springs, and if that’s the case…we’re happy to see you. We hope you enjoy this guide to a Hot Springs weekend getaway.
This is the complete how-to-have-fun guide with the natural hot springs in Arkansas, so bookmark this NOW!
We don’t want to lose you…we just found you.
Here’s what we promise to give you in this article:
a review of the most popular Hot Springs bath houses on Bathhouse Row, so you’ll know which one is right for you,
a brief history of the area,
where to eat, and
where to stay and play, a full vacation guide.
Hot Springs is a fantastic getaway, but like most destinations, you need to know how to make the most out of your limited time there.
We spent 3 days in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Here is an overview of the Hot Springs, AR, area:
We partnered with Visit Hot Springs Tourism Office to bring you details of some of the best things to do in Hot Springs, AR. All opinions are our own.
Here is a 3-day breakdown of things to do in Hot Springs, AR:
Drive from Nashville: 6 hours
Do a driving tour to get your bearings
Walk the National Park Trail behind Bathhouse Row
Check into hotel
Dinner at DeLuca’s (call ahead for reservations)
Bath experience w/massage at Arlington Hotel
Breakfast at hotel
Walking tour of Bathhouse Row, start at Fordyce Bathhouse
Mineral bath experience at Buckstaff Bathhouse (bath option #2)
Want more info on the activities listed on our itinerary? Scroll to the bottom of THIS article for details and links!
Here’s the back story on Hot Springs.
Before we spill all the trip details, Hot Springs has a complicated past.
It wasn’t always a quaint spa town.
Indigenous people called this area the “valley of the vapors,” flocking to the region, even during those early times, for the heated healing powers of the natural springs. Pioneers continued to establish a community centered around the thermal waters and erected bathhouses in the early 1900’s.
Still the boom didn’t happen until the Prohibition period, when gangsters found a safe haven in Hot Springs.
Supported by corrupt politicians and law enforcement, illegal gambling, prostitution, and moonshine production enhanced the local economy and created a vibrant community. Gangsters like Al Capone and Owney Madden are local legends for the efficient and lucrative gambling racket they established, but also for the good they did in the community. Like I said earlier…it’s complicated.
The history here is real; you couldn’t make this stuff up.
From being the mecca for baseball spring training to being the state capitol for just a few weeks, Hot Springs is like your grandpa who has fireside stories of the crazy old days.
Priceline ranked Hot Springs, Arkansas #1 Emerging Travel City in the nation in 2018. Want other facts?
It’s the boyhood home of Bill Clinton
It’s known as America’s first resort town.
The Arkansas Derby is held here annually every April at Oaklawn race track.
Ready for the deets on Bathhouse Row?
Ok, back to current day.
There are many Hot Springs bath houses. When I first started making my travel plans, I have to tell you, the whole bathing experience was very confusing. There was not a lot of info online and very few pictures.
I wanted to sit in the open air and soak in a rock pond filled with natural hot spring water.
This isn’t possible.
There are no natural pools. All the thermal water is directed to the bathhouses. So the only way to access it is to purchase a service.
I bit the bullet and did the hard work of researching natural hot springs in Arkansas…just for you.
(*Ahem) Enduring long sessions in mineral baths and steam rooms and trying out a Swedish massage, I’ve logged all the info you need to feel well prepared in your authentic age-old bath experience.
What happens in a bathhouse?
Services vary on Bathhouse Row, but typically, a bath experience involves:
a soak in a tub filled with thermal spring water from Hot Springs National Park
a brief scrub down with a loofa by an attendant of your arms, back and legs
a sauna, steam, and/or wrap of super hot towels
a 20-30 minute massage
Hot Springs pro-tip: If you’re clueless about bathhouses—like I was (no judgement)— plan a visit to the Fordyce Bathhouse on Bathhouse Row. It houses the visitor center and has exhibits and films that help you piece together the history of Bathhouse Row. It will give you a better understanding of the progress that has been made. Don’t skip it!
Do you have to be nekked?
No, you don’t HAVE to be naked. Some people opt to wear underwear or swimming suits. I went bare like a newborn babe. It’s better that way, in my opinion. The staff are very professional. No one is checking you out. Genders are separated. But ultimately, no one cares whether you’re naked or not— so don’t let this be an issue.
There are 3 bathhouses you should consider.
Each of them has a unique history.
A review of Quapaw Baths and Spa
If retro experiences and amenities DON’T impress you, go with Quapaw; it is the most updated of the three.
They have a small cafe on site with free WiFi, which makes waiting easier. This is especially handy if you have kids not old enough to bathe. Make use of this cafe if you and your partner need to stagger services so someone is always with the kids.
Co-ed communal pools of varying temperatures are available for soaking (bathing suits required).
Bring shower shoes or rent them on-site.
A review of Arlington Bath House
Tour the historic Arlington Hotel while you’re bathing here. (Ask to see the Al Capone or Ronald Reagan room.)
This bathhouse offers a cozy bath experience with 30-minute massages instead of the standard 20-minutes.
While not updated, it’s vintage amenities tie you nostalgically to the past.
Slippers were provided at no charge, so you did not have to walk barefoot in the spa.
Kids 7 and up are allowed.
Men and women are separated.
Front office staff were welcoming and friendly.
A review of Buckstaff Bathhouse
One of the most popular bathhouses on Bathhouse Row, it’s been opened continuously since 1912.
No reservations allowed.
No frills, vintage amenities make for an authentic bath experience.
Shower shoes are not provided.
Price is reasonable.
Bath attendants are very good at talking you through the experience, especially what to expect.
Men and women are separated.
Are kids allowed in bathhouses?
This was one of the biggest questions we had and the hardest answer to find. Were kids allowed to use the mineral baths? Was it at the parent’s discretion? Were there kid’s rates? Here’s what I discovered:
Buckstaff Bathhouse: kids 10 and up, services are full-priced
Quapaw Baths and Spa: kids 14 and up, services are full-priced
Arlington Bath House: kids 7 and up, services are full-priced
(It is a spa-type venue and you are dealing with scalding hot water. So, your kid should be at the age where they can sit quietly for over an hour and enjoy soaking in the hot water. A 3-yr old—no. My 8 and 9-year old loved it.)
*For parents with very young children: Ready for a family fun pro-tip? You can still enjoy a hot springs bath at the Arlington. Book a Mineral Bath Hotel room during your stay and thermal spring water will be pumped directly to your bathroom tub! Then, you AND your young ones can enjoy soaks at your leisure throughout your time in Hot Springs, Arkansas!
Need a getaway idea that’s PERFECT for kids?? Have you been here?
Are there other things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas, besides bathhouses?
Surprisingly, a ton. Check out these attractions.
Here are 12 things to do next time you’re in Hot Springs, Arkansas:
1.Mid-America Science Museum: leave time to explore their tree house and outdoor dino trail
2. Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo: hold and feed a baby gator
3. Gangster Museum: may not be best for kids; mainly informational videos and lots of reading of exhibits
4. Watch sunset from the West Mountain Trail
5. Garvan Woodland Gardens: ranked one of the Top 5 Most Spectacular Gardens in America and 5th best Japanese Garden in North America
6. Oaklawn race track: racing goes from January to April/May of each year
8. Historic Baseball Trail: see the spot where Babe Ruth hit the first official 500-ft home run in the gator pond (at the Gator Farm, see #4)
10. Beer tasting at Superior Bathhouse: the only brewery in a National Park; uses thermal waters to make craft beer
11. Crater of Diamonds State Park: 1 hour away; dig for diamonds
11. Oaklawn Gaming
12. Starlite Club of Hot Springs: recently restored dive bar (can those words really go together?)
Explore the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas
Lake Ouachita (1 hour away)
Lake Hamilton (15 min away)
Lake Catherine (15 min away)
DeGray Lake (45 min away)
Lake Greeson (1 hour 15 min away)
Want another relaxing getaway idea? Try this one.
Hot Springs, Arkansas hotels and cabins
If you’re planning a winter trip:
The Waters Hotel (boutique hotel in heart of historic district)
Comfort Suites (320 Nash St. location, breakfast included)
Dame Fortune’s Cottage Court (vintage motel)
If you’re planning a summer trip:
Iron Mountain Lodge and Marina on DeGray (lakeside cabins)
Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa on Lake Ouachita (lakeside spa, Top 100 Spas of America)
Lookout Point Lakeside Inn (#6 Top Hotel for Romance in US, #11 Top Small Hotel in US)
Don’t miss these local restaurants when you’re in Hot Springs, AR!
Love food? We tried the strangest food here.