Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter, whatever time of year you visit, you will find a calendar full of activities that celebrate the season and all the best Hot Springs has to offer.
Springtime is a burst of color and creativity with plenty of opportunity to get outside, enjoying the warmer weather and longer days. The season kicks off with the Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival (VOV), March 20-23. The 2020 VOV will bring 140-plus musicians to small venue stages with styles ranging from garage and psych rock to synth pop. Classical music enthusiasts will enjoy the Hot Springs Music Festival, May 31-June 13. Pairing world-class mentor musicians with pre-professional apprentices, the festival features over 20 concerts and over 250 open rehearsals. For art of all kinds, check out Arts & the Park, April 24-May 3. The celebration encompasses dozens of activities, including studio tours, poetry readings, workshops and Art Springs – a free, two-day art festival and showcase. For nature’s art, visit Garvan Woodland Gardens. The Tulip Extravaganza will be mid-March through mid-April in the Sensory Garden with some 150,000 tulips and a design celebrating the elements – earth, wind, water and fire. One of the season’s biggest events is the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, Saturday, April 11. A prominent Kentucky Derby preparatory race, it’s a great excuse to get gussied up. The Stueart Pennington World Championship Running of the Tubs, Saturday, May 30, is another fun, albeit very different, race, celebrating Hot Springs’ bathing history with teams racing bathtubs on wheels. Onlookers get in on the action too, pelting racers with water balloons and hosing them with water guns. Directly following the Tubs races, Hot Springs hosts the Zero K foot race. The 250 foot race, includes a hydration station at the 1/2 way mark.
Sparks fly in the summertime with fireworks, motorcycles and music. The 2020 Summer Concert Series at Magic Springs Theme and Water Park will be hard-rocking with acts like Molly Hatchet, Quiet Riot, Dokken and Lynch Mob. There will also be country, Christian, Latino and pop performances, a Michael Jackson tribute show, and a 90’s House Party featuring Vanilla Ice and Kid ’N Play. Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort will light up the sky with Spa Blast, Friday, July 3. The free, family-friendly event includes a performance by the Charlie Daniels Band, a children’s play zone, a petting zoo, and a stellar fireworks display. Summer fun continues Labor Day weekend with live jazz and blues music presented by the Spa City Blues Society and the Hot Springs Jazz Society. The event features regional, national and international acts with performances throughout downtown. The music fades into a low rumble as the motorcycles roll into town. The Hot Springs Rally, Sept. 10-12, is central Arkansas’ largest annual bike rally, featuring a parade, poker runs, a bike show, live music and more. The season closes with Spa-Con, Sept. 18-20, a pop culture & comic convention that celebrates the geek in us all. The event includes panels, workshops, celebrity guests, games, contests, vendors, and thousands of costumed attendees. Celebrity guests for the 2020 event include actress Lori Petty of “Tank Girl” and “Orange is the New Black,” Puddles Pity Party, and Rodger Bumpass, the voice of Squidward on “Spongebob Squarepants,” with many more to be announced.
Blanketed in the colors of fall, the Ouachita Mountains are a beautiful backdrop for outdoor activities of all kinds. Mountain biking is among the most popular, thanks to three IMBA Epic Rides and the Northwoods Trail System which features single- and multi-track trails, flow trails and jump lines. The Güdrun Mountain Biking Festival, Nov. 13-15, will include a mountain bike expo, a group ride through downtown, and the annual Attila the Hun Mountain Bike Race. Making the weekend extra athletic is the Spa Running Festival, also Nov. 13-15. A family-friendly festival, it features multiple races through downtown and the Hot Springs National Park with a half marathon, a 10K, a 5K, and a 1K for children. But you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy autumn in Hot Springs. The city also hosts some major arts events this time of year too. The Hot Water Hills Music and Arts Festival, Oct. 2-3, is an all-ages event held outside in Hill Wheatley Plaza with an impressive line up of original live music, plus artist booths, food and drink vendors, and hands-on activities for children. Also in October is the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Oct. 9-17. The longest running non-fiction film festival in North America, the festival includes documentary features and shorts from all around the world, plus film panels, parties and the opportunity to rub shoulders with a host of celebrity guests and visiting professionals.
There’s no hibernating in Hot Springs. The city stays active all winter with events that celebrate the holidays and our fun-loving spirit. Garvan Woodland Gardens makes the season extra bright with Holiday Lights, a multi-week display featuring nearly 5 million lights. Holiday happenings downtown include the Tom Daniel Holiday Chili Cook-off, held the Monday before Thanksgiving followed by the Hot Springs Christmas Parade, Monday, Dec. 7, featuring elaborate floats, high school marching bands, pageant winners, and, of course, Santa Claus. Following the holiday rush is Arkansas Shorts - A Night of Short Film. Held on the first Saturday of January at the Malco Theatre, the annual event features a wide variety of films from around the world and right here in Arkansas. Any rising winter blues are trampled on the track on Opening Day at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. The live race season kicks off in January with the Smarty Jones Stakes, the first of Oaklawn’s four Kentucky Derby preparatory races. Bidding winter farewell is the last event of the season and one of the biggest of the year – the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Tuesday, March 17. The 2020 event will feature celebrity guests Cheech Marin and Danny “Machete” Trejo, plus the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. There will also be live music with performances by Brian Martin and the Blues Traveler on Monday, March 16, and Foghat on Tuesday, following the parade. Throw a dart at a calendar or pick the season that suits you best and make plans now to visit Hot Springs. You’ll be glad you did.
-Leslie Fisher is a media professional with a passion for travel and adventure. She has covered Hot Springs and the surrounding areas for over a decade and enjoys being a tourist in her hometown.