As a native of the Spa City I frequently road trip down to Hot Springs to visit family. As a current resident of Fort Smith, I know Hot Springs is a beloved place to road trip in Arkansas. From the horse races to the history fraught with Al Capone to the beautiful lakes Hot Springs is a beautiful destination for a day trip, a long weekend, or a full vacation. It’s a beautiful trip & one I think all should take.
From Fort Smith you can go several routes to get to your destination of Hot Springs. The Interstate, boring with a splash of wine country…ok that makes up for it. Highway 10, beautiful drive, mostly a flat ride with a view of pretty pastures & of Mount Magazine. My favorite way to go 71 South to 270 East. This route starts out kind of ho-hum. Once you get to Y-City and stop at the gas station for either a snack or a bathroom break, you will soon turn onto 270. This way takes you through the Ouachita National Forest. It’s beautiful all year-long, and you can’t tell from the road, but much of the way you are traveling next to the gorgeous Lake Ouachita. Next stop you must make, Burl’s Smokehouse!. If you don’t stop just know, you are totally missing out! Stop! Eat some lunch…you won’t regret it. Once you get to Hot Springs, you could stop at Cajun Broilers on Lake Hamilton. If you’re not quite hungry you can head downtown where there is an abundance of little shops, famous Bath House Row, the visitors center (where you can say hello to my moma-RoseMary), and the Arkansas Walk of Fame.
Bath House Row & the Hot Springs are probably the most famous attractions. Quapaw & Buckstaff are the only currently operating bathhouses. Superior is now a Brewery! You can spend a day just walking around town. You can walk the Grand Promenade visit the stores & fountains and take some water with you. Bring your water jugs! Downtown is also close to where Babe Ruth hit his first home run & the place where Tony Bennett first sang his classic, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. Make time to visit the famous Ohio Club and to take in the local arts scene. Just don’t ask the natives how the duck tours are because they’ve never been on one nor have they visited many of the museums other than for school field trips. 🙂 Do take time to visit the museums though, they are truly fascinating, especially the Gangster Museum! Robert Raines, author of the book, Hot Springs: From Capone to Costello is the owner/director of the museum, and if you’re lucky your guide will be Fred. Fred was Al Capone’s errand boy, and he knows a thing or two!
Seasonally, Magic Springs & Oaklawn Race Track are terrific additions to your itinerary. Magic Springs is a local theme/water park. It’s priced very reasonably & isn’t lame at all in my opinion. Oaklawn is open from about Jan 20th to mid-April every year. Well, they’ve added more casino gaming, etc. & it’s always open now technically. BUT, racing is the main thing. One thing you can get from a native is who to talk to about the ponies! We’ve been pony savvy since about the age of 14 (just kidding–we would NEVER skip school at such a young age & hit the races). One of the things I honestly miss most about living in the spa city is hearing the races called on the radio & watching them in the evenings on (was it?) channel 5. The traffic, for a native, hits a bad nerve as for these few months our city grows far beyond what we believe it should hold within its limits. We’ve learned the “smart” routes during racing season so to free up the roads for you guys who are just visiting our city.
The Lakes…the beautiful, beautiful lakes! “Lake life” is a real thing. For many here it’s spending as much time as they can free up to steal away to their lake homes. For natives, it’s packing up the car & hitting a beach or an island. Floating the lake with a straw hat on and a cold beverage in hand, sitting on the shoreline taking in the orange sherbert sunset, cooking out freshly caught fish, laying in a hammock with the sun on your face & the breeze swaying you into a nice afternoon nap, campfires for s’mores, walking along the shores, hearing the waves against the rocks, and jumping the waves on a tube behind a boat…this is a glimpse into “lake life” & you’re so missing out if you don’t at least take a day trip (and I would say camp out at least for a night). There’s so much beauty to take in at the lakes of Hot Springs! The most relaxing place in the world to me. It’s like indescribable freedom. So, the lake is a MUST! One of the hardest things I endure each summer is that it takes soooo long to get to the lake…”when I grew up it only took 5 minutes to get to the lake!” (in my grumpy voice).
I think there’s not enough time or space to write all I want to write about this city. I can only recommend you see her at any time of year. Whether it be to fish, see the Garvan Gardens, have a massage & a bath, see the lights of Christmas, the fireworks of Independence or the trees of fall come and experience Hot Springs. Don’t waste a weekend, take a road trip & visit the sister city of Hanamaki, Japan, Hot Springs, AR.
I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations on places to stay while in Hot Springs. I have limited knowledge of hotels since I stay with family or at the lake during my visits. Overwhelmingly, the consensus was for the Arlington, don’t ask for room #442. Other recommendations included Country Inn Lake Resort & the Best Western Winner’s Circle (directly across from Oaklawn & the location of my bachelorette party 🙂 ). There’s also several bed & breakfasts downtown as well as cabins on both lakes.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have about visiting Hot Springs, and if I don’t know I’d try to find out. Just comment below or email me firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have suggestions for my next blog…a question or road trip idea etc. let me know!