Local radio host, author, musician, and resident Ricko Donovan had this to say about Hot Springs, Arkansas: “We are surrounded by so much natural beauty and we are rich in natural gemstones, minerals, and spring water. The town has a quirky history and seems to attract quirky people.” Sound like your kind of place? You’re in good company. Priceline recently crowned Hot Springs as the number-one emerging travel city in the United States.
After receiving federal protection in 1832, this once sleepy town in the Ouachita Mountains of Garland County developed into a successful spa town. For centuries the natural steaming waters have been thought to possess medicinal properties. Hot Spring’s has a rich history of speakeasies and illegal gambling which attracted the gangster-est of gangsters, including the notorious Al Capone, as well as being hometown to America’s 42nd President, amateur saxophonist Bill Clinton.
Hot Springs boasts a modest but growing population of roughly 37,000. The residents have no problem sharing their mountain mecca with the thousands of annual turf invading visitors, but some fear the sands of time may bury their beloved cities all-American charm as more of them return to call it home. Thus far this hasn’t happened. The citizens of Hot Springs, many tracing their history back multiple generations, remain as warm as they’ve been since the city’s official incorporation in 1851. Imagine a Leave it to Beaver town with a modern Chip & JoAnna Gaines update.
Here’s what some of the “hoopla” is all about and why Hot Springs, Arkansas is leading the pack as America’s perfect vacation destination.
Get Soaked to the Bone
Of course. The hot springs of Hot Springs. Native American’s performed rituals in the same natural healing waters as the early European settlers who followed them bathed in. Today, visitors immerse themselves in the mineral-enriched waters to feel refreshed and invigorated in a way not achievable by any other method.
Before plunging into a 100-degree bath, visitors are asked to drink a glass of pure mineral water which will heat as the body temperature rises, spreading its goodness from the inside out. Twenty minutes in the water is standard, but the experience does not end there. There are other refreshing treatments waiting once a person towels off.
Sitz baths focus on the lower extremities while steam baths allow the minerals magic powers to permeate every open pore. But wait. There’s more. Following a cold shower which closes the pores, trapping the minerals under the skin, guests can then choose to pamper their muscles with a Swedish massage.
When the Sun Goes Down
Hot Springs heats up when the sun goes down with no shortage of places to unwind with some adult beverages after a long day. Boogies Club & Restaurant and the Big Chill are popular havens for the night crowd. Local live entertainment from mellow acoustic solo acts to bands for boogieing the night away can be found, and fans of karaoke needn’t look very far to find an available microphone.
If the bar scene is of little to no interest, how about a haunted tour? Historic downtown Hot Springs is reputed to have its fair share of spirits from yesteryear who apparently enjoy the town too much to leave. Haunted tours last for about an hour and several ghosts infested buildings await those brave enough to enter. Guests will learn about deaths, mysteries, murders, suicides, and an array of ghoulish events that took place in Hot Springs dating as far back as the 1800’s.
The Five Star Theater is a professional Broadway dinner theater where a good time is always on the menu. The dinner buffet is not what one would find at a Golden Corral. Professional chefs prepare out-of-this-world mouth-watering delicacies for the pure edification of their hungry guests. Dinner is followed by a Broadway show performed by professional actors, making for an entire evening of pure unadulterated fun. The Pocket Community Theater is yet another theatrical establishment where year-round performances are held for the delight of visitors.
Who doesn’t like being left spellbound by an amazing master magician and illusionist? The Maxwell Blade Theater of Magic leaves guests scratching their heads every time.
The Great Outdoors
Bass and trout fishing simply does not get any better than in the lakes, streams, and rivers around the Hot Springs area. It’s so good that several major fishing tournaments are held here each year, and the stakes are high. Of course, all this water means summertime boating, skiing, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming activities abound.
The state parks on Lake Catherine and Lake Ouachita offer year-round camping as well as horseback riding, biking, and hiking, and the campsites are ideal for spotting wildlife and watching birds.
Golfing is some of the best anyone will find anywhere and some of the courses will challenge even those who claim to be good at the often frustrating sport. Two of the 18-hole courses are listed on the Natural State Golf Trail.
The Bank of the Ozarks Arena hosts all sorts of outdoor events to include the Hot Springs Motorcycle Rally and live music performances. The arena seats up to 6,200 people.
Putting on the Feedbag
Don’t worry about going hungry in Hot Springs. No matter what type of cuisine a hungry visitor might be craving there is a pretty good chance they will find it. A big juicy sirloin steak at Bone’s Chophouse to a primo Italian meal at Dolce Gelato Gourmet Italian Cafe to a fast-food burger at Wendy’s, it’s all readily available. Oh. Let’s not forget about BBQ. After all, this is Arkansas, where some of the best-smoked award winning pork and beef is slowly cooked over huge spits full of burning wood.
After dinner stop in for some delicious ice cream at Bailey’s dairy treat or relax over a cup of savory java at JavaPrimo Coffee House Cafe. For a real treat try Morrison’s Fried Pies.
It’s easy to see why Hot Springs receives so much attention and tops the scales of locations to visit. Next time vacation rolls around, give this mountain city a try and find out why more and more visitors are returning every year for their annual dose of a good time.