Whether you want to take a thermal soak, experience nature on two wheels, or enjoy beautiful views, there are so many ways to relax and unwind while visiting Hot Springs, Arkansas. The southern city is nestled in the Ouachita Mountains foothills and has a rich history, great food, a bustling downtown, and a laid-back atmosphere. Located less than seven hours by car or two hours by plane, it is a great weekend getaway destination for Houstonians.
Accommodations are plentiful in Hot Springs and range from luxury boutique hotels like The Waters and Hotel Hale to more mainstream chain hotels or rental cottages. But first things first, a weekend of relaxation is waiting.
Take a hike in Hot Springs National Park and don't worry about an entrance fee because it is one of the country's only free national parks. There are several hikes at all experience levels to enjoy, and make sure to stop at any one of the thermal-fed fountains (hot and cold) to fill up your water bottle. Mountain bike enthusiasts will enjoy an abundance of trails in this International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) Bronze-level Ride Center location. Multiple trails for every skill level wind their way through the area, making it easy to take in picturesque views.
Located just a short drive from Hot Springs are Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine, two of the five Diamond Lakes in the state's southwestern region. Perfect for fishing, boating, standup paddle boarding, or just enjoying the water, you will want to spend some time lakeside. Don't worry about bringing your own gear; there are several local outfitters for your equipment rental needs.
After working up an appetite, stop in at Deluca's Pizzeria. Owner Anthony Valinoti, a New York transplant, has made a name for himself with his delicious house-made pizzas and pasta. Valinoti and his crew make their pizza dough fresh daily and were recently named "Top 101 Best Pizzas in America" by The Daily Meal.
Soak in Local History
Start your day with a pancake breakfast at local favorite The Pancake Shop. Their delicious pancakes will fill you up for a day of walking along historic Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs. Stop in at the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center and request a tour of Bathhouse Row, where you will hear about the area's history dating back to the 1800s. Beginning with the Native Americans, the thermal water, which is a scalding 143-degrees, has been known for its healing powers. Lore of the healing water spread and people traveled from all over to "take the waters," eventually settling in what is now downtown Hot Springs. Originating with crude wooden structures that evolved into elaborate destinations catering to the elite, Hot Springs became known as America's first "spa city." Tour Fordyce Bathhouse to see the detailed stained glass and art common of that era, and if you are looking for a modern way to enjoy the mineral-rich waters, make a reservation at Quapaw Baths for a thermal soak or spa service.
Keep the relaxing day going with lunch or dinner at Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery – the only brewery in the world using thermal water to brew beer. Located in a historically renovated bathhouse from 1916, Superior Brewery prides themselves on their tasty beer and menu full of scratch-made and locally sourced fare.
Relax in Nature
A trip to Hot Springs would not be complete without a stop at Garvan Woodland Gardens. But before you go, fuel up with a homemade cinnamon roll and coffee at Will's Cinnamon Shop, where you can customize one of their fresh baked rolls with an assortment of delicious toppings. With coffee and cinnamon roll in hand, enjoy a stroll through 219 acres of the lush woodland landscape. Highlights of the gardens included the famed Anthony Chapel, Bob and Sunny Evans Tree House, as well as the Garden of the Pine Wind, which is recognized as the fifth-best Japanese garden in North America.