Hot Springs has an amazing cultural past and is full of fun activities, wonderous natural marvels, and fun activities to engage an entire family seeking a quick staycation, a couple looking to get away, or history buffs wanting to enrich their national park knowledge.
The city and surrounding area were originally discovered by famed Spanish conquistador Hernando DeSoto in 1541 while trekking through the Southeast looking for gold. Hot Springs is named for—you guessed it—the ancient natural hot springs that come from the mountain adjacent to the city. The water is clear, odorless, and comes out of the ground at an astonishing 147°F.
Nicknamed the “Spa City,” Hot Springs has enjoyed the caveat of protected land status since 1832—and it was later formally recognized as a National Park. The thermal springs in this city have been visited for almost 190 years by people from all over the world for their tranquil, healing properties. But there’s more to Hot Springs than just hot water. There are museums, racetracks (horse and go-kart), lakes, camping, and amusement parks.
Here are the best things to do in Hot Springs to engage and excite your senses!
(featured image via Hot Springs National Park)
16. Special Interest Museums
(image via The Galaxy Connection)
Hot Springs has a wide variety of small museums guaranteed to fit any interest. The Gangster Museum tells the history of Hot Springs, underground gambling, and the most famous gangsters in America who took refuge in Hot Springs. Visit Galaxy Connection for an interactive museum featuring Star Wars and various superheroes. Mountain Valley Water hosts its own museum that shows how the fresh springs are captured and sold all over the world.
Tiny Town is a series of interactive model railroads and small towns. Arkansas Alligator Farm, adjacent to Tiny Town, allows you a close interaction with gators of all sizes. And finally, Dryden Pottery was founded in 1946 and still is an active pottery studio where you can visit and purchase their one-of-a-kind pieces.
All are open year-round; visit their sites for ticket information.
15. AdventureWorks Hot Springs
(image via AdventureWorks Hot Springs)
Hot Springs has become a hot spot for ziplining because of the majesty of the surrounding nature canopy. AdventureWorks includes canopy tours and an aerial adventure course. With 10 zip lines, you never get tired of zipping through nature. You can even zipline at night on a Moonlight Zip Tour.
The Aerial Adventure has a 16-element challenge course high above the trees that challenges your balance and daring, all while maintaining safety measures.
Open year-round; prices vary based upon the adventure.
14. Get Out in Nature
(image via Julie Farris)
Hot Springs is nestled in the valley of several majestic mountains and is partially located within the Ouachita Forest. There are several established campgrounds, as well as multiple options for hiking and water fun in canoes or kayaks.
If you’re looking for more established campgrounds, check out Gulpha Gorge for rough camping or DeGray Lake, just south of Hot Springs, for a fantastic lodge. If you’re looking for some great river action, head up to River Run in nearby Glenwood to jump on the Caddo River or up to Two Spirits to float the Ouachita River.
13. Funtrackers Family Fun Park / T-Rex Fun Spot
(image via Funtrackers Family Fun Park)
If you need to get your arcade games or miniature golf fix, Hot Springs has three locations to satisfy those urges. Funtrackers (Albert Pike Avenue) includes arcade games, bumper boats, miniature golf, go-karts, and laser tag.
T-Rex Fun Spot is an amusement park that includes a challenging rope course and zip lines. These are done indoors, so they aren’t weather-dependent.
Both are open year-round. Check websites for prices.
12. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
(image via Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf)
Pirate’s Cove (Central Avenue) is a dedicated adventure mini-golf course featuring two separate courses. The only spot in Hot Springs where you may have a Pirate Adventure! Putt your way through mountain tunnels, over footbridges, and under cascading waterfalls in the realm of 18th-century buccaneers.
Discover why this institution received the Hot Springs, AR “City Beautification Award” for its sophisticated theming, manicured landscaping, carefully carved rock work, and immaculately clean grounds. Attempt the Captain’s Course or the daring Blackbeard’s Challenge Course. This spot is open year-round. Check the website for prices.
11. Hot Springs Mountain, Grand Promenade, and Mountain Tower
(image via Hot Springs Mountain Tower)
While it’s fun to see the namesake hot springs, it’s even more incredible to walk on the mountain that they come from. You’ll find hiking trails that intersect all up and down the mountain as well as the Grand Promenade, a half-mile bricked trail featuring seating and further looks at the springs. It’s a beautiful, free walk located behind Bathhouse Row.
If you hike (or drive) to the top of Hot Springs Mountain, you can go up in the Mountain Tower 216 feet, where you can see panoramic views of Hot Springs and the Ouachita Mountains—up to 140 miles away!
Open year-round. Trails and Grand Promenade are free. Tower costs range from $4.50-$8.
10. Crater of Diamonds State Park
(image via Crater of Diamonds State Park)
If you’re willing to drive about 90 minutes south of Hot Springs, the Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only public diamond mine in the United States. This is the only diamond mine in the world that you can visit and dig for your own diamonds; you keep what you dig! Several famous diamonds have been found here, including the 15-carat Star of Arkansas and 40-carat Uncle Sam.
There are also nature trails, camping opportunities, and even a small water park. Prices are reasonable, and it’s a great way to find your own real treasure.
Open year-round; prices range from $6-$10.
9. Oaklawn Park & Casino
(image via Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort)
One of the premier thoroughbred racetracks since 1904, Oaklawn has been the backbone of Hot Springs tourism for more than 117 years. They host live racing annually from January through April, including several stakes races that are Kentucky Derby prep races.
They also offer a full casino and live simulcasting from a dozen race meets. You can relax in their newly opened hotel and enjoy their five-star spa.
8. Mid-America Science Museum
(image via Mid-America Science Museum)
One of the earliest science museums to open in the United States, Mid-America Science Museum sits on 21 acres and hosts more than 100 hands-on science exhibits featuring motion, light, the environment, and workshops to manipulate heat, motion, and electricity.
There’s so much to see and do; kids and adults of all ages can find something new and interactive to learn about, whether it’s the natural world around us or the past geological events that helped create Hot Springs. It’s super affordable for families looking for a good bang for their buck.
Open year-round; prices range from $8-$11 depending on age.
7. Garvan Woodland Gardens
(image via Garvan Woodland Gardens)
Purchased in the 1920s by Verna Cook, a member of Garvan’s family, the site was protected from clearcutting. Beginning in 1956, Mrs. Garvan started planting thousands of specimens and continued over the next forty years. Upon her death in 1993, the garden was bequeathed to the University of Arkansas.
There are beautiful chapels, promenades, children’s gardens, canopy bridges, and an amphitheater, each meticulously maintained. Garvan Woodland Gardens rivals some of the best gardens in England and Europe.
Open year-round; prices vary.
6. Magic Springs—Arkansas Theme & Water Park
(image via Magic Springs Theme and Water Park)
One of the top attractions in Hot Springs, Magic Springs houses both a full amusement park and a full water park. Get your thrills on one of the six roller coasters while the kids check out the less intense attractions. Watch a show or grab some great eats.
Need to cool off? Head over to the integrated water park for slides, splash islands, and Crystal Cove Wave Pool.
Open seasonally; prices vary.
5. Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic
(image via The Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic)
At the Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic, you can take in a show that’s guaranteed to entertain all ages. Located in the Historic Malco Theatre in Hot Springs, the cinema was established in 1947 and is an amazing venue featuring 300 plush seats. Maxwell Blade is a renowned magician whose show is family-friendly, slightly zany, and audience-interactive. Mr. Blade is also an accomplished pianist; you’re sure to enjoy a number or two.
There is also an additional show in the Malco Lounge: The Close-Up Show featuring Sleight of Hand.
Prices vary according to age and shows.
4. Coleman Rock Shop & Crystal Mines
(image via Jim Coleman Crystal Mines & Rock Shop)
Crystals are connected with healing properties, clearing out negative energy, and even boosting concentration. In nearby Jessieville, you can dig for your own crystals at Jim Coleman’s Crystal Mine. This is a fantastic attraction for kids and adults alike; gear up in your old clothes, take your buckets and spades to dig in the largest collection of fresh clear and white quartz.
The attached museum gives you a glimpse of what has come from the area, including some beautiful collector pieces.
Admission is $10 per person aged 10+; children under 9 get in for free. Keep all treasures you find.
3. Enjoy the Diamond Lakes
(image via Wannafaye Lincecum)
Hot Springs is also blessed with abundant lakes: Lake Ouachita, Lake Catherine, DeGray Lake, and Lake Hamilton. Taking up roughly 78,000 acres of land, there are plenty of opportunities for boating, fishing, or waterskiing enthusiasts. Check with any of the local marinas for ski boat or pontoon rentals. Adventurists can even rent jet skis or take a parasail ride.
For fishing enthusiasts, there are abundant species stocked annually, including bass, crappie, bream, catfish, and walleye—you’ll be sure to catch your limit!
Boating and water sports prices vary according to location. Visitor Fishing licenses cost $6.50.
2. Hot Springs National Park Service
(image via Evelyn Gan)
As Hot Springs was set aside in 1832 as a protected park, and later officially recognized in 1921, a Junior Ranger Badge is an absolute must for any child visiting the downtown area.
The Junior Ranger program is completed by children who visit our national parks, each taking an oath of their own to protect them. The program takes about two hours, and each young ranger is solemnly sworn in at the end of their journey.
The Visitor Center is also located in the historic Fordyce Bathhouse. Adults can enjoy the historic architecture while they gather more information about the national park.
Visiting this National Park is free and open year-round.
1. Hot Springs Bathhouse Row
(image via Mike Wiese and Superior Bathhouse Brewery)
Visitors are encouraged to do more than just drink the amazing water of Hot Springs; they’re enticed to relax in a spa bath. The thermal waters are piped directly into the bathhouses, making it one of the most leisurely, indulgent experiences available in the state. Of course, it just had to be our #1 thing to do in Hot Springs!
Other former bathhouses along Bathhouse Row have been repurposed from their original use. Superior Bathhouse is now the first brewery operating within a U.S. national park!
Prices vary according to location and services.
As you can see, Hot Springs has a lot to offer everyone. If you want to do more in the area, check out other weekend trips from nearby Hot Springs.
These locations are great for a quick day trip or a long weekend getaway. Explore some of our favorite activities or read through some pre-planned itineraries.