DISCOVER HOT SPRINGS

WORDS Dwain Hebda
IMAGES courtesy Blake Jackson, Visit Hot Springs, Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

Apr 1, 2024 | Featured, Travel

Spring break has come and gone, and summer break is still a few weeks away, but you’re hankering for a getaway. What to do?

Fortunately, living in Arkansas provides several tank trips that offer a lot of entertainment bang for the buck. Nearby, friendly, and a lot of fun, there are hundreds of attractions for a weekend excursion right in your backyard.

In choosing the perfect destination for a couples’ weekend or a quick trip with the family, look no further than Hot Springs for the widest possible variety of attractions, amenities, unique lodging, and delicious dining options. Centrally located and never closed, Spa City is known as Arkansas’ entertainment and tourism capital for a reason. Haven’t been lately? Here’s a quick suggested itinerary for enjoying Hot Springs from sunup to sundown.

THE PANCAKE SHOP

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and this downtown landmark does it better than anyone else. Opened in 1940, The Pancake Shop (pancakeshop.com) has thrived through the decades on the strength of great food, large portions, and friendly down-home service. As for what to order, the pancakes – light and fluffy yet crispy around the edges – and the ham slabs are legendary, washed down with a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice.

The long lines are well worth the wait, and the restaurant steers hungry diners into The Savory Pantry next door (savorypantry.com) to peruse the shop and taste some of their incredible offerings until your table is ready.

HIKE HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK

Fueled with pancakes and syrup, it’s time for a little exercise and take in some of the natural beauty the city is famous for. Head for the trails of Hot Springs National Park that wind for twenty-six miles around downtown.

There’s no fee, and you don’t need a permit to hike these well-marked and maintained trails, but comfortable shoes and water are a must. The trails range from easy to strenuous and can be taken in short stretches or linked for a longer jaunt.

Start at the Grand Promenade, a brick pathway right behind Bathhouse Row, and you’ll find your entrance to several trails, including the half-mile Peak Trail, which leads to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, a popular tourist attraction.

The one-mile Goat Rock Trail is one of the most popular trails in Hot Springs. Hikers can access this jaunt from the connecting trails starting in downtown, creating a longer hike. Those up for a serious challenge can continue onto the ten-mile Sunset Trail. Grab a trails map from the Hot Springs National Park Visitors Center downtown (hotsprings.org/explore/visitors-center) and get moving!

GARVAN WOODLAND GARDENS

After your hike, it’s time to head to arguably the most picturesque spot in the entire city. This botanical garden of the University of Arkansas provides two hundred ten acres of beautifully cultivated grounds on a peninsula in Lake Hamilton. The gardens are open year-round and showcase Mother Nature at her best in multiple formats, from Japanese-inspired formal gardens to riotous wildflowers and everything in between.

Families flock to the Evans Children’s Adventure Gardens, which offers more than an acre of interactive fun, including a waterfall and cave, an iron bridge that resembles woven tree branches, and rocks weighing more than three thousand tons.

Garvan Woodland Gardens offers a full slate of programming throughout the year and several festivals dot the calendar. Be sure to check the website (garvangardens.org) for the latest in what’s happening outside!

BATHHOUSE ROW

After all the miles you’ve logged today, you might be in the mood to relax. Head back downtown to Bathhouse Row for a luxurious experience that speaks to the very history of Hot Springs. As the name “Hot Springs” implies, thermal waters have been the city’s calling card for generations. Native Americans and early European explorers first experienced the hot mineral water, followed by entrepreneurs who advertised Hot Springs as a health resort from about 1880 to 1950.

Changing times and tastes led several of the bathhouses that make up Bathhouse Row to close, but two remain. For an authentic experience, visit Buckstaff Bathhouse (facebook.com/BuckstaffBathhouse), which has operated continuously since it opened in 1912 and still offers a traditional bathhouse experience.

Quapaw Baths & Spa (quapawbaths.com) offers a more modern take on bathing, with large thermal pools of differing temperatures. Both locations offer optional amenities, from private and couples’ baths to massage and other spa treatments.

The nearby Arlington Hotel (arlingtonhotel.com) has a luxurious spa that uses natural thermal waters in whirlpool treatments.

Other historic bathhouse buildings have been repurposed to keep Bathhouse Row intact. One of these, Superior Bathhouse Brewery (superiorbathhouse.com), offers a tasty menu of craft beer brewed using thermal waters paired with delicious food items. It also offers some of the best people-watching in town from the beautiful outdoor patio.

OAKLAWN RACING CASINO RESORT

No trip to Hot Springs would be complete without a visit to Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort (oaklawn.com). Steeped in history yet incredibly new and exciting, Oaklawn offers something to do around the clock.

Spa City’s horse racing tradition dates to pre-Civil War days when a pasture surrounded by oak trees was a popular site for locals to race their favorite steeds. After several mediocre attempts to build upon this tradition, three entrepreneurs finally constructed Oaklawn Jockey Club, which opened in February 1905. The Cella family assumed ownership of the track in 1914 and still owns it today, having grown it into one of the premier horse racing venues in the United States. A casino, luxury hotel, spa, and multiple restaurants have all come online in recent years, expanding Oaklawn’s appeal and increasing its visitors.

If you’re there during racing season (December to May), do not miss the chance to experience the live action, complete with the track’s legendary corned beef sandwiches. Any time of year is a good time to visit the casino, take in a show, or enjoy a special dinner at The Bugler, Oaklawn’s fine dining experience overlooking the track.

RETAIL THERAPY

Hot Springs is full of unique shops and independent retailers. Stroll through downtown, and you’ll find a little bit of everything from boutiques and collectibles to art and antiques, plus stores specializing in home décor, pets, health, Christmas décor, beauty, and more (downtownhotsprings.org/shop).

You’ll also find plenty of spots to grab a bite or enjoy a cocktail between your shopping adventures. The Ohio Club(theohioclub.com) is a local landmark where diners can sit in the same spot as gangsters Al Capone and Owney Madden, who both made it their haunt back in the day. Also downtown is Deluca’s (originaldelucas.com), consistently rated as one of the best pizzerias in the United States (it also serves a mean cheeseburger).

For something chic, visit The Waters Hotel (thewatershs.com) and its elegant rooftop bar that provides the perfect atmosphere for socializing. Or get down at Maxine’s, a long-ago brothel-turned-bar offering great elevated pub grub and live music (maxineslive.com).

Whatever you fancy — from lake life to nightlife — Hot Springs awaits you. Make plans to visit and rediscover everything that makes Spa City unique in the Natural State.

For a complete list of attractions and events, visit hotsprings.org. What destination should we discover next? Email catherine@dosouthmagazine.com.

Do South Magazine

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