An Insider’s Guide to Hot Springs, Arkansas

Next Avenue

Named for its naturally flowing thermal spring waters, Hot Springs, Arkansas, a town that celebrates its storied past and keeps its eye on the future, is a worthy trip no matter the generation. 

Located about an hour from Little Rock, Arkansas, and nestled in the Ouachita Mountains at the center of Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs has all the appeal of a worthy natural destination blended with one-of-a-kind experiences, like thermal bath soaks, historic museums, botanical gardens, hiking trails, fine dining and more.

Credit: Visit Hot Springs

Stylish Digs 

Staying in Hot Springs can take many forms, from historic bed and breakfasts to contemporary lakeside digs.

For a fun intergenerational trip, book a stay at the Best Court Cottages, a drive-up style motel with roots in the 1930s. If the accommodations conjure a bygone era, the menu at Best Cafe and Bar, the on-site restaurant, is quite the counter. Run by Arkansas native and executive chef Joshua Garland, who boomeranged back to Hot Springs following a decade of far-flung national and global travels, the cafe is celebrated for its decadent breakfasts, including crème brûlée French toast and savory confit duck hash topped with poached egg.

For a luxurious bed-and-breakfast experience, The Reserve at Hot Springs sits atop several acres, just minutes from the popular Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. Built in 1890, the stately former private residence of W.C. Brown, now a national heritage landmark, was remodeled in 1919 to its current Neoclassical style. Stroll around the well-landscaped grounds or reconnect with family and friends around the fire pit.

Book a contemporary room at Lookout Point Lakeside Inn for a secluded, waterfront experience. Birds flock to the lush, manicured backyard, where complimentary kayaks or canoes are available at the private pier.

What to Do 

Hot Springs may be known for its thermal mineral waters and national park, but rich and varied history, contemporary art, outdoor activities, craft beer and more are worthy draws, too. The main attractions, including the three-story Fordyce Bathhouse and park visitors’ center, can be found along Central Avenue downtown, but quick jaunts farther afield reveal serene botanical gardens, top-notch dining, live art presentations and more.

Experience a Traditional Thermal Bath 

Between 1892 and 1923, eight properties along Bathhouse Row drew visitors to the springs for their rejuvenating and healing properties. Today, only one is still in operation and open to the public. Sign up for a soak at Buckstaff Bathhouse, which opened in 1912 and offers a traditional experience, during which bath attendants take you on a station-by-station journey through the process, from whirlpool soak to steam and full-body massage.

Credit: Visit Hot Springs

Throw Back a Cold One 

While downtown, head over to the Superior Bathhouse Brewery, the only brewery in the country housed inside a national park. Built in 1916, and operating as one of Bath Row’s original bathhouses until 1983, the structure sat vacant for over 30 years until beer lover Rose Schweikhart had a big idea. In 2013, the brewer, who cultivated her love of beer while touring as a tuba player in Europe, signed a lease from the Department of the Interior and has been serving up some of Hot Springs favorite brews and bites ever since.

The full and original version of this story appears in Next Avenue, April 2023.

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