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History Trip | Hot Springs National Park Arkansas

Stay Awhile

Hot Springs’ history is anything but boring! An elegant spa town with a seedy underbelly, its past reads like noir fiction, replete with tales of notorious gangsters escaping through underground tunnels. But our history is not confined to the pages of a book! It lives in our beautiful architecture and one-of-a-kind attractions. Here you can walk in the footsteps of our most famous – and infamous – guests and indulge in the same activities they enjoyed so long ago. Check out the itinerary below to experience Hot Springs’ history first hand!

Day 1 - Downtown/Hot Springs National Park

Plan to stay at one of Hot Springs’ most historic properties! At Hotel Hale, you can overnight in the oldest bathhouse on Bathhouse Row. Completed in 1892, this extensively remodeled property allows you to enjoy thermal baths in the privacy of your own room. Other historic hotels include The Waters Hotel and the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa. Hot Springs also has elegant bed and breakfasts in turn-of-the-century homes, like the 1884 Wildwood Bed and Breakfast Inn, The 1890 Williams House Inn, Hilltop Manor Bed & Breakfast, and The Gables Inn Bed & Breakfast.

Once you’ve settled in, get out and explore downtown Hot Springs and Bathhouse Row, just across the street. A highlight of Hot Springs National Park, Bathhouse Row is a stretch of eight bathhouses dating from 1892-1923. Enjoy the architecture while learning about the history of “taking the waters.” The Fordyce Bathhouse, which serves as the park’s visitor center and museum, offers a free, self-guided tour where you can see historically furnished rooms and hydrotherapy equipment dating from 1915-1920. One of the area’s most opulent bathhouses, the Fordyce first opened in 1915 and has marble throughout and beautiful stained glass ceilings.

As the bathhouses began popping up, a hospitality industry emerged to cater to the growing number of guests. In addition to hotels and tourist attractions, Hot Springs offered wide-open gambling and other illicit activities that attracted notorious gangsters like Al Capone, “Lucky” Luciano, and Owney Madden. Cross the street to learn all about it at the Gangster Museum of America. Showcasing Hot Springs’ more nefarious side, this hour-long tour includes a large collection of photos and memorabilia with an informative tour guide and a series of short videos that tell all of Hot Springs’ dirty secrets.

Afterwards, grab dinner and drinks at the Ohio Club, Arkansas’ oldest bar. Opened in 1905, it survived Prohibition and multiple raids on its illegal casino. The casino is now gone but the original mahogany bar is still there, as well as a statue out front paying tribute to one of its most regular patrons, Al Capone. (Teenagers are allowed daily but the club is 21 and up only after 5 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.)

Day 2 - Baseball and Bathing

As the “birthplace” of Major League spring training, Hot Springs hosted more than 300 professional ball players between the late 1800s through the middle of the 20th century, including legendary players like Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Jackie Robinson, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Rogers Hornsby and Hank Aaron. Discover our rich baseball history with a free, self-guided tour of Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail. The trail comprises 32 markers detailing significantly-important locations around town where baseball players stayed, played and relaxed. The trail features an accompanying audio tour with colorfully narrated stories that can be accessed by phone or by a free, easy-to-use web app which also includes historical photos. To get started, pick up a trail brochure and spring training timeline at the Hot Springs Visitors Center located in the Hill Wheatley Plaza parking lot near the start of the trail.

What attracted the ballplayers (and countless other visitors) was Hot Springs’ nationally-prized, thermal spring water – purported to cure a wide range of ailments. Plan to hit the baseball trail in the morning to have time to experience our therapeutic waters yourself! (A soak feels especially nice after a morning of walking and sightseeing.) There are three spas where you can indulge in Hot Springs’ most historic pastime: Quapaw Baths & Spa, the Buckstaff Bathhouse, and the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa. The latter two offer traditional baths similar to those taken at the height of the bathing industry with a private bath followed by a series of hydrotherapy stations. At Quapaw Baths & Spa, you and your travel companions can soak together at your leisure. This modern spa features four public thermal pools beneath a stained glass skylight. Private and couples baths are also available.

End the day with dinner and drinks at Superior Bathhouse Brewery. A former bathhouse turned brewery, the Superior serves delicious farm-to-table fare and craft beer brewed with the thermal spring water! The Superior is the first brewery headquartered in a U.S. national park and the only brewery in the world to use thermal spring water as its main ingredient. Grab a brew and enjoy history in the making!

Day 3 - Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort

Hot Springs is historically known for its healing waters, but as soon as the bathhouses started popping up, so did the gambling houses and the horse tracks. Spend the day betting the ponies and rolling the dice at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. Established in 1904, Oaklawn hosted some of the city’s most famous and infamous guests, including Babe Ruth and Al Capone. Over the years it has grown into one of the premiere thoroughbred racetracks in the country and Arkansas’ number one tourist destination. Live racing is held from December through May, culminating with the $1 million Arkansas Derby.

In addition to the horse track, Oaklawn boasts a state-of-the art casino with table games like craps and blackjack, rows upon rows of slot machines, and a sportsbook area with live wagering. Enjoy a stay at their resort with rooms overlooking the historic track then take on a relaxing spa treatment at their Astral Day Spa. Oaklawn also offers a variety of amazing restaurants on the property, with fine dining restaurants like The Bugler or The OAK Room & Bar. Stick around for a nightcap at The First Turn bar and boogie the night away to live entertainment at Silks Bar & Grill.

Day 4 - Alligators and the Arlington

Spend the day exploring some of Hot Springs’ throwback attractions! Tiny Town is a handcrafted, fully animated miniature city comprising hundreds of moving parts that visitors can operate themselves. The attraction was built over a 40 year period and is made almost entirely of recycled parts like aluminum foil, toothpicks, tin cans, coat hangers and sawdust. Afterwards, head up the road to the Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo. Opened in 1902, it is Hot Springs’ oldest tourist attraction, predated only by the Hale Bathhouse. It’s home to over 130 alligators and a variety of other animals, including miniature goats, wolves, mountain lions, and monkeys. Inside, a mini-museum houses Native American artifacts, and a variety of aquatic attractions. Break for lunch downtown, then tour the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum, located in what was originally the Southern Club – one of Hot Springs’ most prominent casinos. Opened in 1894, the club was a favorite spot of Al Capone. Following a crackdown on illegal gambling, the club was shuttered. It reopened in 1971 as a wax museum and and is home to about 100 waxy replicas of prominent figures from history books and fairy tales. An unblinking Al Capone serves as a reminder of the building’s past while the marble staircase, original wallpaper and light fixtures showcase its former grandeur. For more of the building’s history, be sure to ask about the secret tunnel. Hidden behind a fake wall in the men’s bathroom, it served as an escape route for gangsters running from the law.

If it’s the weekend, end your day with dinner or drinks at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa. Established in 1875, the Arlington’s current Mediterranean style building opened with a New Year’s Eve gala in 1924. Throughout its history, the hotel has hosted the rich, famous and infamous, including Al Capone who would book an entire floor for his staff and bodyguards. The Arlington serves dinner Fridays and Saturdays and the Lobby Bar is open Thursdays-Sundays.

Day 5 - Tours and Nightlife

It’s your last day, so sleep in and take it easy. Enjoy a slow start with a leisurely breakfast at The Pancake Shop, which has been serving Hot Springs since 1940, or visit the historic Hotel Hale for the weekend brunch at their onsite restaurant, Eden. You’ve probably done a lot of walking, so kick back and enjoy a colorfully narrated tour with Hot Springs Trolleys. Or hop aboard an amphibious World War II DUKW and travel about town with National Park Duck Tours. The hour and a half tour culminates with a ride on Lake Hamilton.

For lunch, head to Hot Springs’ most historic restaurant, McClard’s Bar-B-Q. The famous diner opened in 1928 and has welcomed celebrities and elected officials over the years, including former President Bill Clinton. Spend the evening taking in the nightlife at our historic venues, like the Ohio Club, or Maxine’s Live, a former brothel turned bar! Named for the madam who ran the joint, Maxine’s Live was the site of one of the most successful brothels in town, catering to professionals, politicians and gangsters. Today, the venue hosts karaoke most nights and drag shows every Thursday. And be sure to check the calendar of events at Vapors Live, a former casino and nightclub that hosted major acts like Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, and Liberace. Inside it is decorated with photos of past entertainers, and boasts the original mahogany bar.

Featured Listings

Buckstaff Bathhouse

501-623-2308 | 509 Central Avenue 71901

The Ohio Club

501-627-0702 | 336 Central Avenue 71901

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort

800-625-5296 | 2705 Central Avenue 71901

McClard's Bar-B-Q

501-624-9586 | 505 Albert Pike Road 71913

The Gangster Museum of America

501-318-1717 | 510 Central Avenue 71901

Superior Bathhouse Brewery

501-624-2337 | 329 Central Avenue 71901

Travel Tips

  • What to Wear

    Casual clothes and comfortable shoes for walking, a bathing suit for Quapaw Baths & Spa, dressier attire for evenings and your Oaklawn outing.

  • Best Time to Travel

    Almost anytime! Oaklawn’s live race season runs December 9-May 7 but the casino is open year round. 


  • How to Get Around

    By car.