Hot Springs is a resort city in Arkansas with a unique and colorful history. For instance, Hot Springs was the home of former US President Bill Clinton and the gangster Al Capone. Located in the Ouachita Mountains, the city has beautiful outdoor spaces and a quaint downtown.
The city which is also the former capital of Arkansas has a large part of its territory preserved in a National Park. And interestingly, in 1832, this region became the first federally protected area in the US. Nowadays, the city is known for its annual festival and events including the Hot Springs Music Festival, Hot Springs Blues Festival, and the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Hot Springs (AR)
1. Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is an urban park featuring a historic row of early 20th-century bathhouses built atop natural hot springs. This park seems more like a nice little town surrounded by a lot of greenery. The hot springs run under the town and you will see multiple fountains and places where the water is steaming, even in cold weather. Make sure to drink the cold springs water or make tea with the hot springs water directly, it tastes great.
The park itself features many trails suitable for all ages and fitness levels. The surrounding forests are pretty, gentle, and full of diversity and wildlife.
2. Hot Springs Mountain Tower
The 216-feet tall Hot Springs Mountain Tower features an elevator up to an observation deck offering expansive 360-degree views of the surrounding unadulterated forested mountain. There are many displays to see and read about Hot Springs and a lot of history to find out about.
From up there, you get an amazing view of the city. You need to get a long-distance perspective to really appreciate its unique architecture. And the thick forests covering rolling hills as a backdrop just cannot be seen well until you get this high. Besides, right next to the tower, you will find the 1920s Observation Gazebo which is worth a visit as well.
3. Ouachita National Forest
The expansive Ouachita National Forest features camping, hiking, and scenic drives in a rugged mountain landscape. Overall, the trails are well marked with paint or stakes and the water is very fresh with great fishing and swimming opportunities. The forest also has plenty of wildlife and photography opportunities. Not to mention all the waterfalls, rare plants, unique butterflies, and dragonflies.
From slate rock to crystals this National Forest has it all. For example, there is a nice pool between Crystal Springs and Hickory Nut Mountain which is an awesome swimming hole out in the middle of the woods.
4. Mid-America Science Museum
With a lot of different science exhibits, Mid-America Science Museum offers a mix of education and entertainment in a kid-friendly venue. The museum features many activities for all ages including a lot of motion studies, light studies, and mechanical studies in addition to the popular dinosaur exhibits and the Tesla Theater.
The highlights include the skywalk, a 2 story rube Goldberg water-based physics delight, and a dinotrek outside to get some fresh air. Overall, the staff is wonderful, exhibits are interactive and fun for all ages, and the scenery within and without the building is breathtaking.
5. Garvan Woodland Gardens
Huge and kid-friendly, Garvan Woodland Gardens is more like a botanical garden on a woodsy shoreline with small waterfalls and an airy chapel. Situated in the arms of the Ouachita River and Lake, the park has nice views and places to take photos. The walking paths are clear and easy to manage and the most popular trail is the nature preserve loop.
The gardens’ highlights include the treehouse and the Anthony Chapel. However, the Japanese garden is also quite popular, and the kids will love all the rocks and steps and places to explore.
6. Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo
In business since 1902, the Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo is an old-school attraction displaying over 100 alligators. However, they have more than just alligators and you can interact with other animals at the petting zoo. So, you can hold bunnies and turtles, pet sheep, brush goats, watch the sleepy raccoons, and feed alligators. Besides, you can watch as the staff feeds wolves and mountain lions.
And one of the highlights is the feeding show. All of the animals are well taken care of and the staff is extremely knowledgeable and friendly, making the experience that much more special.
7. Lake Catherine State Park
Featuring a 2,240-acre lake, Lake Catherine State Park offers fishing, boating, and hiking, plus waterfront cabins built in the 1930s. Lake Catherine is actually one of the five lakes in the Ouachita Mountain region. There are cabins to rent or if you are planning to camp out, there are options for renting tents or yurts from the park.
The highlight of the park is the Falls Branch Trail. This is not just a flat walk through the woods as there are many rocks and hills along the trail. Also, the park counts with a visitor center where you will find gifts, basic camping supplies, memorabilia, ice, and firewood for sale as well.
8. Magic Springs Theme and Water Park
Offering all-day use of the rides, water slides, concerts, attractions, and special events, Magic Springs Theme and Water Park is Arkansas’s only theme and water park.
This park is not as big as other amusement parks but still has plenty to do with lots of rides for little kids, but also some big, exciting rides for older folks. Given its size, the lines are usually short, and the park is not crowded at all. The water park itself features a wave pool and a lazy river that are the highlights of Magic Springs.
9. Lake Ouachita State Park
With beautiful trees and awesome lake views, Lake Ouachita State Park features a 40,000-acre lake, plus camping, cabins, and historic springs. The park also has a visitor center where you can purchase wood and ice. And there is a Dollar General just a short drive outside the park where you can go for more supplies.
The lake itself is a huge reservoir in a natural setting featuring swimming, boating, and fishing. Besides, it offers a good amount of rental equipment for paddle boating, kayaking, motorboats, and more. And make sure to hike the 4 mile Caddo trail for an amazing sunset view of Lake Ouachita.
10. Gangster Museum of America
Gangster Museum of America offers guided tours on the relationship between the local area and notorious American gangsters. Besides learning the history of old school gangsters and mafia, you can see artifacts and even hold a Tommy gun.
During the guided tour, they discuss well-known mob members that frequently came to the area. And you will watch a short video in each room explaining the theme and person the room is attributed to. There is also a gift shop where you can pick up a souvenir.
11. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
The pirate-themed mini-golf chain, Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf, features 18-hole landscaped courses set among waterfalls and caves. They have two different courses to choose from with one being easier and the other one more challenging. You can pay to bundle them and play both back to back if you have the time. The pirate theme is very cool with the ship, cave, and waterfalls being part of the actual courses.
The courses are well thought out and well-designed making them challenging without being discouraging for the non-pros. Also, this is a pretty good workout, with all the hills and steps.
12. Buckstaff Bathhouse
Buckstaff Bathhouse offers a traditional and authentic spa experience. However, do not expect a modern facility, but rather enjoy the historic charm of the building. The spa has a wide range of treatments. From hot bath, steam shower, sitz bath, and massages, to the traditional mani-pedi.
Upon arrival, ask the staff about the deluxe bath package which includes bath, needle shower, full body massage, and paraffin wax hand treatment. And if you are worried about preserving your modesty that is not at all an issue. You can wear your bathing suit into the bath, and you are completely covered with a sheet by an attendant.
13. Hot Springs Mountain
At only 400 vertical feet, Hot Springs Mountain is not one of the hardest climbs or the most impressive views within the Hot Springs National Park system. But it is a beautiful mountain that offers an easy family climb. On the top, you will find the Hot Springs Mountain Tower which provides amazing views of the park. There is also a great viewing area at the top that can be reached via car for those less adventurous.
The mountain features amazing hiking trails and driving paths, wonderful open grounds, fun “watering holes”, an interesting observatory/museum, and so much more!
14. Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum
Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum features life-size wax replicas of historical and fictional people, plus gambling paraphernalia. So, get ready to step back into the Nixon era.
The displays include many celebrities and also historically popular events. Not to mention Disney’s princesses. The quality of the wax figures is great, and they pay extra attention to details on expressions and clothes. Interestingly, each strand of hair in the wax figures was inserted one at a time and the eyes are made of optical glass from Germany. And if you pay a little extra, they will take you to a tunnel that shows where gangsters used to escape to when the cops came around.
15. Entergy Park
Sitting on the margins of the Ouachita River, Entergy Park is a waterside recreational park offering walking trails, fishing spots, playgrounds, and a scenic overlook. The park is very large and quiet with one play area for toddlers and another one directly across for bigger kids.
There are also lots of well-marked trails for running, hiking, and biking that vary in steepness and difficulty. Besides, there are swimming areas, fishing areas, and several boat docks. Overall, it is a great place for the entire family to enjoy a day outdoors right on the water.
16. Anthony Chapel
The 57-feet tall Anthony Chapel is a unique structure at Garvan Woodland Gardens made of native wood and glass. The chapel itself is free to visit and you will find it just outside of the entry into the gardens. Pay extra attention to the architecture and all the details in the chapel, the lines of the design contrasted with the asymmetry of nature.
Curiously, this is the most popular wedding venue in Hot Springs. So please be generous and kind if there is an event taking place while you visit the site.
17. Funtrackers Family Fun Park
With a go-kart track and an 18-hole miniature golf course, Funtrackers Family Fun Park is a seasonal, family-owned facility that has been in business since 1998. The park features a wide selection of game arcades, a large go-kart track, nice laser tag grounds, and indoor golf for everyone.
But the highlight of the park is the water boat bumper. Just do not forget to empty your pockets or put everything in a watertight plastic bag to protect your wallet, phone, and other items. And make sure you do the boats last because you will get wet!
18. Lake Ouachita State Park Marina
Lake Ouachita State Park Marina is a beautiful place to kayak and take out a flat bottom fishing boat for a day. The boat ramp is not as steep as it is in most marinas and there is a store selling gas, ice, and more.
The park itself is very clean and well-maintained and the lake is beautiful with limited lakefront access. The marina has a two-lane boat ramp that is typically pretty leveled unless the lake is low. Parking is somewhat limited, but boat/trailer spots are nicely arranged. Also, the rangers looking out for you and your things are very polite and helpful.
19. The Galaxy Connection
Featuring a collection of Star Wars and superhero toys, the Galaxy Connection is a storefront museum with a gift shop. The museum is a hidden gem in Hot Springs and a must-see for action figure collectors. It is well presented with love for the collectibles and their respective universes. While there, you will explore a diverse collection of Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and more. The collection continues to grow so it is worthwhile to go back.
Tour guides are smart and knowledgeable, not to mention they love engaging with the visitors. Besides, the fact that you are helping a business that does charity work is a definite plus!
20. Falls Creek Falls
Located between Ouachita River and Lake Catherine State Park, Falls Creek Falls is an absolutely beautiful trail. In fact, there are two trails in the area, one that is 4 miles long and the other one is 2 miles long. There are incredible views of the creek and waterfalls and the hikes are easy-moderate level, which is good for most ages and hiking abilities.
The park itself is beautiful with lots of gorgeous trees providing shade and nice views of the river. It is also a nice place to camp that is close to hot springs for sightseeing and mineral baths.
21. National Park Aquarium
National Park Aquarium is a compact, vintage aquarium with fish, reptiles, and amphibians from around the world. The aquarium also has a gift shop, and it will take you no more than 1 hour to explore all the exhibits.
Although it is quite small, they have a lot of animals and informational displays. Between being amazed over the large tortoise that walks around the aquarium greeting guests and excited to get to watch some of the fish get fed, the kids will love it.
22. The Grand Promenade
The Grand Promenade is a beautiful pedestrian walkway with attractive pavers and landscaping. It is like a walking exploration, so wear comfortable footwear and you will have a good time. Located right behind the Main Street make it a stop on one of your strolls around Hot Springs.
Overall, it is a very cool little walk through an awesome part of history and lots of places to stop and sit to enjoy the views. Make sure not to miss the cascade and the hot springs.
23. A Narrow Escape
A Narrow Escape is a center featuring 6 themed escape games, including a family-friendly Wonderland puzzle room. The games vary in difficulty, number of players, and category. The games are A Clinical Trial, Murder at Silver City, Wonderland, Home Alone, The Bionic Dilemma, and Inheritance.
Besides the traditional clues and padlocks, this escape room also counts with special effects, clever use of computers, and creative storylines. Located above Brick House Grill on the second floor of Spencer’s Corner, the center also has tabletop games, coffee, and ice cream.
24. Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort
Featuring a live horse-racing track and casino with table games, video poker, slots machines, Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort is located in the Hot Springs National Parks. Oaklawn has been in the horse-racing business since 1904. The casino itself also offers live music every week and plenty of machines as well as a wide variety of games to play.
The establishment also counts with a Creole restaurant, the Silks Bar & Grill. Specialized in appetizers, the restaurant’s most popular dishes are nachos and the cheese steak which is accompanied by French dip.
25. Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is a laid-back seafood restaurant on a lake with grilled and fried fish, nautical decor, and a spacious patio. It does not look like much from the parking lot, but that is because the restaurant is nestled low and close to the lake. This is a great place for kids to watch boats on the lake along with geese who come up to the dock area.
And they serve a great amount of food and the quality is amazing! Some of the most popular meals include bacon-wrapped, crab-stuffed shrimp, and Trigger fish.