A national park inside of a city? Well, almost. The city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, was founded right up against Hot Springs National Park (the second-smallest national park in the country) to capitalize on the tourists coming to the area for a dip in the healing hot spring waters. Cy Young, John F. Kennedy, Billy Sunday, Herbert Hoover, Helen Keller, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Jesse James, and Al Capone were all among the many fans of the mineral waters and bath houses in Hot Springs.
Some tips for visiting Hot Springs National Park:
Hot Springs National Park is small, but because it's developed, there's a lot to dig into here. The visitor center offers guided tours, so you can choose one that speaks to your interests and start from there.
There's no NPS parking, so find something along a street, in the garage a block off of Bathhouse Row, or in a private lot downtown.
You can taste the hot springs water at one of the spigots in the park. The NPS has deemed it safe to drink, and even though the mineral water was considered "curative" in the past, the NPS doesn't make any guarantees that it's medicinal.
In addition to the springs, the main attraction in the park is Bathhouse Row. The street is lined with old bathhouse buildings in a variety of architectural styles. Many have been restored and turned into shops, spas, and hotels. Stroll down the Grand Promenade behind Bathhouse row and dip your feet into one of the public fountains.
Named for former owner Maxine Temple Jones—who ran a cathouse out of the building—this music venue and boisterous bar is pretty much a guaranteed good time. Order a few decadently topped hot dogs, some cheap beers, and enjoy whatever show happens to be going on that night.
The Gangster Museum is dedicated to the salacious history of the notorious mafiosos who spent time in Hot Springs, including Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, and "Lucky" Luciano, who was arrested and detained by Hot Springs police.
Fordyce Bathhouse is now the visitor center for Hot Springs National Park, but from 1915 to 1962, it was the most opulent bathhouse on Bathhouse Row. It once had a bowling alley, a concert hall, massage rooms, fancy state rooms, and a gymnasium. Today, it houses exhibits on the history of the park, and is a great place to learn about Hot Springs.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery
Not only can you drink the hot springs water, you can also drink beer made with it, at Superior Bathhouse Brewery. The brewery and taproom is located in a historic bathhouse, offering everything from stouts to saisons to shandies and kombucha.
There’s still plenty of nature to explore in Hot Springs National Park, too. Hike part (or all) of Sunset Trail to get the full experience. It passes the park’s highest point, a peaceful pond, wildflower fields, wildlife, and more. Hot Springs is also a prime destination for watching cardinals, finches, wrens, eagles, hawks, chickadees, and woodpeckers.
Hot Springs Mountain Tower
Located at the top of the park's Hot Springs Mountain, the Hot Springs Mountain Tower offers 360-degree views of the region. Hike up the mountain to the observation deck, or drive to the top to take in the views. There are some historical exhibits and a nice gift shop here in addition to the observation decks, so take your time exploring.
The Pancake Shop
If you're looking for a solid breakfast to kickstart a day of exploring Hot Springs, then you'll want to make a stop at the Pancake Shop. This local favorite closes early and only serves breakfast, but it's worth it. The menu includes a variety of French toast and pancake options, plus eggs, omelettes, homemade sausage, bacon, and a great cup of coffee.
Party like a mobster at the Ohio Club. Open since 1905, this bar offers live jazz and blues, a menu of solid pub grub, and endless history. Ask a bartender about the gangsters and athletes that once gambled here.
Buckstaff Bath House
Buckstaff Bathhouse is the only continuously operating bathhouse left in Hot Springs National Park. Indulge with an hour-long traditional whirlpool mineral bath, Swedish massages, moisturizing treatments, manis, pedis, or facials.
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