Marty and I love to get away on little Spring Break getaways. One day, while perusing the internet looking for something quirky to do when we came across The World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Marty got this huge, silly smile on his face when he told me that the whole parade route was only 98 feet in length!
Well, of course, I’m in!!!
We discovered there are so many things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas that we could easily stay entertained for several days.
Whether you are making a special trip just to Hot Springs, or are including it on a Southeast USA road trip, Hot Spring is definitely a destination you should consider. We think after spending some time here you will see why.
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Things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas
World’s Shortest St. Patty’s Day Parade
The World’s Shortest St. Patty’s Day Parade is what drew us to Hot Springs. The thought of a parade that is only 98 feet in length is just quirky enough to get my attention. Couple that with a chance to dress up and be silly, and you know I’m in.
This fun parade began as a quirky idea dreamed up over a couple of pints by an Arkansas man of Irish descent. The pub where these pints were being consumed is located on the World’s Shortest Street in Everyday Use, Hot Spring’s Bridge Street.
The first parade was held in 2004 and has been a Hot Springs tradition ever since, drawing visitors from far and wide. Though they have been challenged over the years, there has yet to be anyone to steal this claim to fame!
If you are in Hot Springs in March, be sure to check out this parade. Don your best St. Patty’s Day costume and head out. Be sure to get there early to claim your spot, as this small area fills up quickly.
Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is what draws most visitors here, making it one of the most popular things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Now when you first see Hot Springs National Park, you might start to wonder, “Is this really a National Park?” I mean, it isn’t like most other National Parks you have visited. Nope! This one is located right smack in the middle of the city!
Don’t worry though, friends, you are in the right place!
Hot Springs National Park was a reservation dating back to 1832, and then it became a National Park in 1921. This is because even back in the 1800s, people knew what a jewel of an area this was.
Located on the western slope of the Ouachita Mountains, Hot Springs National Park is the area where the natural thermal springs come to the surface, giving the park its name.
The National Park is well known for the Historic Bathhouse Row that you will find right in the heart of town. Here there are eight bathhouses, 2 of which are still working, and the others have been transformed into the Visitor’s Center, a gift shop, and a brewery.
The park is comprised of 5,500 acres containing the above-mentioned Bathhouse Row, numerous hiking trails, and a campground. The hot springs are open year-round, but it is really best to visit in the low season (winter) when it is much less crowded.
While here, don’t miss the National Park Visitor’s Center to learn more about the park, including some fascinating history of the area.
The hot springs are what have drawn visitors to Hot Springs, Arkansas for years, and that is still true today.
What was one of the most luxurious bathhouses, the Fordyce Bath House, was in operation from 1915 until 1962. The Fordyce is now the visitor’s center and museum, and has to be on your list of things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
The Bathhouse has been completely restored to its former glory allowing visitors to glimpse into what the bathhouse experience was like.
Here you can take a tour to learn all about the history of these thermal waters and to see the fully restored bathhouse.
During the tour, we were especially surprised at some of the “contraptions” used during the bathing ritual. I mean really, some of these things have to be illegal right? Some form of cruel and unusual punishment?
Treat Yourself to a Spa Experience
A trip to Hot Spring would not be complete without a visit to Bath House Row. For centuries, the natural hot springs found in this area drew visitors from far and wide to experience the healing waters.
After a long day of sightseeing, a relaxing spa treatment is just what the doctor ordered. While you will find many operating bathhouses in the Hot Springs area, I recommend the Buckstaff Bathhouse for your spa experience.
The Buckstaff is the only remaining continually operating bathhouse and is located right on Bath House Row and is one of the eight bathhouses that were built over the natural hot springs. Its amazing to think that their Hot Springs Spa has been in operation since 1912!
Keep in mind that the Buckstaff doesn’t accept reservations, so get there early to ensure you have time for your treatment.
The Grand Promenade
The Grand Promenade is a half-mile long brick path that runs behind Bath House Row. This “trail” runs parallel with Central Avenue and Bath House Row from Fountain Street to Reserve Street.
This elevated pedestrian-only walkway is a nice little escape from the hustle and bustle of the main street. The raised elevation of the walkway gives visitors a great view of historic downtown Hot Springs. It also allows visitors to see both the cold and hot spring that this area is famous for.
Garvan Woodland Gardens
Located on the shore of Lake Hamilton, the Garvan Woodland Gardens is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon in Hot Springs. The garden contains beautiful walking trails with quaint bridges, natural foliage, and serene lake views.
The garden complex belongs to the University of Arkansas and consists of 210 acres of beautifully manicured garden, and natural wild areas.
While here, don’t miss the Garden of the Pine Wind Japanese garden. This Asian-inspired garden combines beautiful waterways, gorgeous bridges, and incredible Asian flora and fauna.
Marty and I were lucky and happened to visit during the spring tulip bloom. Of course, I was super excited as tulips are one of my favorite flowers! Thousands of daffodil and tulip bulbs are carefully planted to celebrate the end of winter. During our trip, one of the gardeners explained to us that they planted over 13,000 tulips!
As you can see from the photos, the tulips created a blanket of color. They were stunning!
Hot Springs Mountain
Hot Springs Mountain is a great place to go if you want to see completely unobstructed views of the Hot Springs area.
The mountain is accessible to hikers by accessing a trail at the picnic shelter located below the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. Be careful though as this path can get slippery if there has been any rain recently, so bring appropriate footwear.
If you would rather drive to the top, you can do that as well.
Once you get to the top, you can go up even further by accessing the Hot Springs Mountain Tower if you choose to pay the per person fee.
Gangster Museum of America
Long before the casinos of Las Vegas were popular, people flocked to the small town of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
For you see, Hot Springs was not just a small town with therapeutic waters. Back in the 1920s and 30s, Hot Springs was the place to see and be seen. Hot Springs was full of gangsters, gamblers, and elegant ladies.
Thanks to that history, visitors today can enjoy a visit to the Gangster Museum of America and learn all about the gangsters that once considered Hot Springs their playground. The museum is quite interesting and consists of several galleries for visitors to enjoy and even has an antique casino!
The surrounding mountain range, the Ouachita Mountains, offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities.
Here you can hike, mountain bike, fish, and boat on the 1.8 million acres that comprise the Ouachita National Forest. The park has an extensive trail system that is designated for all ability levels and even for different uses.
Magic Springs Water and Theme Park
The Magic Springs Water and Theme Park is the perfect place to escape the southern heat in the summer months. Built as an entertainment venue for children and families, Magic Springs is a great addition to your list of things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Here you can enjoy a giant wave pool, or slide down a four-story water slide!
In addition to that, you can enjoy numerous adrenaline-pumping rides. Don’t worry though, the park also has rides for the smaller children.
You will find the beautiful Anthony Chapel on the grounds of Garvan Woodland Gardens. This chapel is a gorgeous but intimate chapel made from exposed wooden arches and built mostly of glass.
The ceilings reach almost six stories high, and because of the glass enclosure, you feel like you are being engulfed by the woods around you. I guess that is why over 150 couples a year choose to have their wedding in this chapel.
Charlton Recreation Area
Located deep in the Ouachita Forest between Crystal River and Mount Ida is the very popular Charlton Recreation Area.
Here visitors to the area can hike, ride mountain bikes, fish, and swim in the gorgeous Walnut Creek. There is also a small lake that was created when the Charlton Dam and Spillway was created.
Nearby you can also visit the Charton Bathhouse, a bathhouse that is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic
The Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic is perfect for those of you that love a good magic show. This intimate setting allows visitors to get up close and personal with a master magician and illusionist, Maxwell Blade.
Blade combines his love of magic, music, and comedy into a family-friendly show that is sure to wow you.
In addition to the show, visitors can also enjoy the theatre’s Oddity and Curiosity Museum which houses over 300 exhibits.
Arkansas Alligator Farm
Just across from Hot Spring’s Whittington Park, you will find Arkansas’ oldest alligator farm, the Arkansas Alligator Farm.
What originally began as a business that intended to raise alligators in order to sell their hides quickly turned into one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions. Not only can you hold a baby alligator here, but you can also pet many other animals including emu, deer, and sheep.
Lake Catherine State Park
Located just outside of town is the beautiful Lake Catherine State Park. Being one of the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas, Lake Catherine is a great addition to your list of things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Lake Catherine State Park is home to a great visitor’s center where you can learn all about the park’s amenities. Visitors can enjoy four hiking trails, picnic areas, playgrounds, guided tours, horseback riding, and a marina. In addition, there are also cabins and a dedicated campground area.
Where to Eat in Hot Springs, Arkansas
One of the joys of visiting a new area is experiencing the food and wine, and I don’t mean the chain restaurants! We like to go to local places, eat street food, and just dive in like a local!
Fat Bottom Girls Cupcakes
I first learned about Fat Bottom Girls while watching an episode of Cupcake Wars. I have to admit, I wanted to run to Hot Springs immediately and get one of their cupcakes!
I had the salted caramel cupcake, it was the perfect balance of sweet and salty! Marty had the Ooey Gooey Buttercake.
The crumb on this cake is incredible, but even if it hadn’t been, you wouldn’t care. The cream cheese frosting and the gooey vanilla layer between the cake was decadent!
Bathhouse Row Winery
If you show me a sign that says “free wine tasting”, you better get out of the way! Marty knew we were going in the minute I noticed this sign.
Bathhouse Row Winery is a small storefront that carries an assortment of Arkansas wines as well as some wine-related products.
I really enjoyed my tasting but was extremely surprised at the tax that is applied to alcohol in Arkansas. Buyer Beware!
You know that Marty and I are from Texas, so we are picky about our Mexican food. I do admit, we are suckers for TexMex, that is just what we have grown up on!
Honestly, we didn’t go to Rolando’s for any reason, but to enjoy the patio. I know, I know, that sounds rude, but it’s true! It was St. Patrick’s Day, so I wanted a fun green drink. Since I don’t drink beer at all, much less green beer, it only seems fitting that I have a margarita!
We really had a great time at Rolando’s. The patio was super cute and the service was really good. We had the queso flamado and some taquitos with our margaritas and all of it was delicious!
Final Thoughts on Things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas
As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas to keep you busy. This area is fabulous for outdoor recreation and for indulging in a bit of history. Of course, we only scratched the surface. Please comment below and tell us what other activities or places we need to add to our list.
Happy Travels, Friends!!
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About the Author
Michelle Snell is a travel writer, history buff, wine lover, and enthusiast of different cultures. While she is a professional educator by day, her passion for travel has her jet-setting all over the world during her free time.
Michelle enjoys bringing places to life through her informative writing style on her blog, That Texas Couple. Her practical tips and suggestions help make travel dreams a reality while immersing her readers in the history, culture, and food of a region. She is happiest sipping wine in Italy or chilling on a beach with her husband, Marty.