Hot Springs most famous attractions, Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Magic Springs, Mid-America Science Museum, and Hot Springs National Park, are must-see spots when visiting the Spa City. However, consider searching out these off-the-beaten-path hidden gems when visiting Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, is known for countless brilliant and charming characteristics unique to the area. Indulge or bathe in our coveted millennium-old water. Dive into our gangster and baseball history that connects to some of the most notable characters in American history. Take in our unique art found around the city's galleries.
And once you’ve discovered these prerequisites of our lovely little town, don’t miss the hidden gems found off the beaten path. Hot Springs has allure found in every nook and cranny. Here are 10 not to miss.
The Stonebridge Area
With its beauty, serenity, and history, the Stonebridge Area may be one of my favorite off-the-beaten-path treasures in Hot Springs. The area can be found on Sunset Trail. The Stonebridge section of the trail is 3.8 miles between Cedar Glades Road and Gulpha Gorge Campground. Parking is available at both ends of the trail, or you can drive directly to the stone embankment, located at 105 Stonebridge Road.
The Stonebridge Area contains several features of the old Fordyce-Ricks estate.
According to the National Park Service, Samuel W. Fordyce hired the St. Louis architectural firm of Mauran, Russell, and Garden in 1903 to design a log house on the property reminiscent of a late 19th or early 20th-century railroad hostelry. Construction on the imposing 4,338-square-foot home began in 1904 and was completed by 1909.
After his father’s death, John Fordyce inherited the property and added a dam on the creek below the house to form a pond for his wife to enjoy. Named Lake Lillian in her honor, Fordyce also constructed large and small stone bridges over the creek and pond, a boathouse, and a water wheel to generate electricity for the house. After donating and selling some of the land to the National Park Service, John Fordyce sold the remaining acreage of the original estate in 1937 to Major General Earl T. Ricks.
The house and 17 acres on the hilltop above the pond are privately owned. Today, Lake Lillian is known locally as Ricks Pond.
Goat and Balanced Rock
In the spirit of hiking, two more trails must make the “off-the-beaten-path” list: Goat Rock and Balanced Rock.
Goat Rock is a 2.4-mile out-and-back trail leading to an astounding overlook. The route, in its entirety, will take about one hour to complete. To access the trailhead, start at Hot Springs Mountain Drive, and take the North Mountain loop. The trailhead is located just before you reach the parking area. You will take the short hike below the overlook at North Mountain, keeping right. While on the lower side of the trail, don’t miss the opening that reveals flowery meadows and views of Indian Mountain and east Hot Springs. After taking in this view, the path will become rocky.
According to All Trails, After several hundred feet, you will pass beneath huge novaculite boulders. Goat Rock Overlook is forty feet above you. A sign indicates the stairway to the overlook. Stone steps rise 240 nonvertical feet to the summit, which showcases a spectacular view of Indian Mountain.
As for Balanced Rock, this 7.5-mile out-and-back trail takes about four hours to complete and is more challenging than Goat Rock. Although it’s popular among locals and visitors, the path is large enough to have long stretches of seclusion.
To access the trailhead, park in the lot on Cedarglade Road that intersects Sunset Trail. Hike towards Balanced Rock, then summit Music Mountain, and back.
The Waterworks Trailhead in the Northwoods
The Northwoods Trail System is a gem in Hot Springs. With more than 31 miles of world-class mountain biking and hiking trails, the area is an oasis located just outside of busy downtown Hot Springs. And among the trail system, there are many hidden spots worth venturing to (with or without a bike!) One to note is the Waterworks Trailhead, located at 300 Pineland Drive.
Located on the shore of the serene Bethel Lake, this trailhead is considered the main trailhead of the Northwoods. At the site, you will find the small Lakeside Water Treatment Facility that pulls & purifies water from the three nearby lakes for Hot Springs — hence the name. Whether you’re going to enjoy the lake before a ride through the woods or you’re going to admire the site as a hiker, visiting this trailhead is one off-the-beaten-path destination you won’t want to miss. The area includes picnic tables. And don’t overlook the stunning mural on the old pumphouse building, which is one of 12 public art pieces across the state as part of the ARkanvas Initiative.
Rolando’s Patio and The Waters’ Rooftop
While venturing off the beaten path, a few food options with somewhat hidden patios can be found.
First, there’s Rolando’s, located at 210 Central Ave. Dine from their patio built into the side of West Mountain. This Nuevo Latino Restaurante will fill you with margaritas, guacamole, tamales, enchiladas — and so much more.
Then, there’s The Rooftop Bar at The Waters Hotel, located at 340 Central Ave. This gem is atop one of the tallest historic buildings in downtown Hot Springs and offers some of the area’s best views. The bar is best enjoyed at night under the string lights and moonlight. Check out The Rooftop for dinner or an after-dinner drink.
Crystal Ridge Distillery
In Crystal Ridge Distillery, located at 455 Broadway St., you will find some of the most creative moonshine you’ve ever seen. And the fact that it’s a moonshine distillery in the south is the tell that it’s the good stuff. Moonshine was an illegal southern staple during the prohibition days, and Hot Springs natives Danny and Mary Bradley started the first legal moonshine distillery in Hot Springs. This down-home distillery has produced moonshine flavors like apple pie, salted caramel, maple bacon, pecan pie, grape, peach, pineapple, and strawberry, and new flavors are continuously made. Enjoy your moonshine at the bar, have them mix it into a cocktail, partake in a tasting or grab a jar to take home.
Owney Madden’s Grave
The gangster history of Hot Springs is definitely on the beaten path, but hop off and visit the gravesite of infamous gangster Owney Madden while here. That’s right, the final resting place of “The Killer” is alongside his wife, Agnes, in Greenwood Cemetery, located at 701 Greenwood Ave. This is just one of nine stops on an entire tour outlining the local gangster history that accompanied popular southern club, The Vapors. Check out the full tour here.
Their gravestone is not far from the cemetery’s entrance. Keep right when the road splits, veering left at the next split. The headstone is on the right side of the road.
Madden was a New York City crime boss, owning Harlem’s Cotton Club. He and Dane Harris, a fellow boss gambler, opened Hot Springs’ Vapors nightclub at 315 Park Ave. The Vapors is still standing, running today as an event venue.
Hill Wheatley Beach Park
Hill Wheatley Park is a park on Lake Hamilton with everything you need for a day at the lake. Located at 688 Majestic Lodge Road, Hill Wheatley Park has an impressive swim beach, astounding views of the lake, and a mile-long walking trail. Other amenities include picnic tables, grills, restrooms, a boat ramp with a dock, and a drinking fountain. Whether you drive to this fun little park or are already on the northern side of Lake Hamilton and want to dock your boat for the afternoon — this is another can’t-miss destination.
Babe Ruth Statue
The Babe Ruth statue, more widely known as the world’s third bronze statue of baseball legend Babe Ruth, will be unveiled on Feb. 6, 10:30AM at Hot Springs’ Majestic Park, located at 105 W. Belding St. Unveiled on Ruth’s 128th birthday, the statue’s location will commemorate the exact area Ruth played when he came to Hot Springs in the early 1900s for Spring Training. The novelty and history surrounding this statue make it the perfect destination when venturing off the beaten path.
Falling in line with the countless “hidden” nature oases in Hot Springs, allow me to help you discover Entergy Park, located at 530 Lakepark Dr. The 30 acres making up Entergy Park has picnic and fishing areas, two playgrounds, and a 2.3-mile loop trail. The park on Lake Hamilton connects to Sonnybrook landing, which has a boat launch and fishing pier. The loop trail is an easy route open year-round, taking about 47 minutes to complete. Leashed dogs are welcome. Other amenities of the park include ADA accessibility, benches, a bike trail, electrical outlets, grills, an overlook, parking, a pedestrian bridge, restrooms, and water.
From atop Blakely Dam, located at 1113 Blakely Dam Road, you can get some of the best views of Lakes Ouachita and Hamilton. Below, you can have one fun-filled lake day at the Spillway Recreation Area. Sit back, relax and enjoy the scenic views, swim beach, and shaded picnic tables. Other amenities include restrooms, a boat ramp, a pavilion, and a fish cleaning station. As one of the nicest spots on Lake Ouachita, the area is relatively underused.
The beaten path of Hot Springs, Arkansas, stretches far and wide and is worn for good reason. But the intrigue doesn’t stop. In Hot Springs, there’s never a shortage of unique destinations to experience. Take these 10, for example, which are only a taste of what’s to be discovered. Happy traveling!
Cassidy is a Hot Springs-based freelance journalist. In her free time she enjoys playing games, skating, walking her dog Murphey and spending time with her nieces and nephews. Cassidy aspires to create a positive impact with her writing, be it fun or informative (or both!).