Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, there's a whimsical location where you can experience the green beauty of the Natural State —Hot Springs National Park. This southern oasis will meet all your “nature” needs. Let's jump right into these great outdoors with a few must-dos, must-sees, and must-eats for the naturalist in downtown Hot Springs.
Southern Magnolias bloom from late March through the end of April. These luscious beauties line the incredible, historic Bathhouse Row. Just look up! These Southern Magnolia trees (aged 5-60 years) don't just add beauty, but perhaps even more importantly, shade the Row as you stroll. And the best part is the large creamy white flowers they produce are not only beautiful but fragrant, truly immersing you in a spring scene.
Thermal springs are part of what makes Hot Springs National Park unique, and there's one place tucked away in Arlington Park where you can find a steamy, serene thermal spring. This water is more than 4,000 years old and comes out of the water clean and fresh at 147 degrees. Above the spring's pool is the exposed mountainside from which it originates. Spend some time at the base, then get a few more views from the lookouts above.
At an elevation gain of 383 feet, this .6 mile (one way) moderate trail winds up Hot Springs National Park's North Mountain. At its end, it meets Hot Springs Mountain Trail.
If you're looking to extend that Gulpha Gorge Trail, this 2.4 mile, moderately rated, out-and-back trail is the way you go. On this hike, you'll glimpse overlooks of Indian Mountain and East Hot Springs, which ultimately lead you to Goat Rock overlook. It offers a breathtaking view of Indian Mountain.
This moderate 7.5 mile is an out and back trail with a 1,758-foot elevation. One of the most handsome features of this trail is the wildflowers. To access the trail, start at the parking lot of Cedar Glade Road that meets Sunset Trail. Hike to Balanced Rock, then top Music Mountain.
Shaded by trees, this red brick trail within the National Park runs about half a mile just above Bathhouse Row. Bathers historically used The Grand Promenade for walking and relaxing after bathing in the thermal waters. A few steps below will deliver you to Bathhouse Row. A few steps above will lead you into Hot Springs Mountain.
Whether you're looking for beginner-friendly or expert mountain biking, the Northwoods Trail System is the way to go. Look to the green trail markers for a beginner-level experience and the black trail markers for a more difficult one. No bike? No problem. Walking the trails is always an option and never a bad one. But if you don't want to miss out on the action, head to one of three bike shops to rent a bike!
It's not hard to escape a busy downtown Hot Springs and find yourself in a serene setting in nature. Take a drive up to West and North Mountains at sunrise or sunset, stopping at the many overlooks along the way for some of the best views Hot Springs and the Ouachita Mountains have to offer.
Live like they used to and take a horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown or Whittington Avenue. In this open-air experience, enjoy one of two routes. The downtown ride will give you a historical narration of the area. The Whittington ride is a bit more calm, quiet, and serene. As long as it's not raining, the carriage rides will run Friday and Saturday from The Arlington Hotel starting at 5 p.m. No appointments are necessary. Beginning in May, the rides will run on Thursday too. If the temperature is above 92 degrees, rides won't start running until 7:30 p.m.
Heading to one of the bathhouses and enjoying a soak in the thermal waters is a given in the Spa City. Try either the Quapaw or Buckstaff. Have a private bathing experience at either house or enjoy a soak in the thermal water public pool at the Quapaw. These thermal waters deriving from the mountain above are thousands of years old. They have been long thought of to be healing and medicinal.
Located at 100 Exchange St. is Grateful Head, and located at 210 Central Ave. is Rolando's. Both are downtown, and both offer patio dining nearly in West Mountain. Grateful Head serves up some of the best pizza in town, while Rolando's grace's plates with traditional Central and South American cuisine.
So, where are you feeling like going to dine today? Argentina or Germany? The Argentinian and Steinhaus Keller are two cultural cuisine venues with outdoor eating areas that transport you to another part of the world. At the Argentinian Coffee and Wine Bar, located at 328 Central Ave., you have the option to eat in its new secluded patio area. At Steinhaus, situated at the base of Spencer's Corner at 801 Central Ave., you have the chance to dine in its beautiful Biergarten lined with stone.
Over the years, Bathhouse Row itself has acquired a few eateries. They have both recently expanded to outdoor eating options. Head to the Superior and Hale Bath Houses, not for bathing but dining. Dine on Arlington Lawn at Superior Brewery, and enjoy a brew made from the National Park's thermal waters. At Eden, inside of what is now Hotel Hale, enjoy one of the best brunches around in its new outdoor dining area. What if it's raining? Don't worry, Eden's interior is just as friendly to the naturalist with its live botanical garden covering its back wall and massive skylight covering the ceiling, flooding in natural lighting.
Two more outdoor eats that deserve attention include 420 Eats, located at 420 Malvern Ave., and Diablos Tacos and Mezcal, located at 528 Central Ave. At 420, enjoy all the options this family-friendly food truck court provides. It's paired with outdoor games and live music some days. Look to its Facebook Page for updates on which food trucks are available and who might be performing. Diablos is the perfect dining location to remove yourself from the busy downtown traffic and instead view it with a margarita in hand.
Are you looking for a place to stay? Gulpha Gorge Campground is an excellent choice for those full-time naturalists. But if you're looking for something a little more accommodating, check out any of these downtown options: Hotel Hale and The Arlington, which offer thermal water amenities from the park. Or try one or two of these awesome Airbnb's I found in the heart of downtown.
Regardless of where you stay or what you do, Hot Springs National Park is a dream for the naturalist even with no plan. Anywhere you go, you will find yourself crossing paths with something magical in these great outdoors. Enjoy, my friends.
One hundred fifty thousand tulips decorate this four-plus acre botanical garden from late February to mid-April. The colors and hues of these blooming beauties are endless. Bonus Beauty: While visiting, try to spot one of the peacocks that roam the gardens with you. Perhaps one will fan their feathers for you.
Come March 17th, and you won't want to be spending your St. Patrick's Day anywhere else other than Hot Springs' shortest street. At 98-feet-long, Bridge Street will once again bring together the greenest, wackiest group of folks you ever did see. And in there, you'll even spot celebrity guests, Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo! It'll be an all-day party, concluding with a live musical performance by Foghat. And afterward, stick around! The party doesn't end just because St. Patrick's Day does. The following day will feature another live musical performance by Sugar Ray! Click here for more information.
The 18th Annual VOV will take place in Cedar Glades Park March 18-20th, and you're permitted to pitch a tent and stay awhile! There will be camping, camaraderie, food and tattoo trucks, art vendors, and tons of underground music. Click here for more information and passes.
At Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, the annual Arkansas Derby will run on April 2nd. It's the most lucrative thoroughbred horserace in Arkansas, currently offering a purse of $1 million. Come out and enjoy some sunshine, racing, live music, and corned beef sandwiches from the infield of Oaklawn on Derby Day! And the best part is you're betting on Kentucky Derby hopefuls. Click here for more information.
On April 24th, this day-long competition on Lake Hamilton will feature high schools across the state. Teams will fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass. Check out what these young anglers were able to hook in the tri-lakes area! Weigh-in will be at 3 p.m. (Will this be in the Convention Center? NO. ON LAKE HAMILTON) If weigh-in isn't in the Convention Center, this isn't open to the public. Should we scratch it?
Cassidy is a Hot Springs-based freelance journalist. She spends most of her time exploring and writing about the city for her online platform The Hot Springs Post. In her freetime she enjoys skating, swimming, car camping and spending time with her nieces and nephews. Cassidy aspires to create a positive impact with her writing, be it fun or informative.