My name is Laura and welcome to my article on Hot Springs, Arkansas. I grew up and have lived in Orlando, Florida for most of my life. I was working for the University of Central Florida as the Content Director for the Central Marketing Department when we all went into lockdown for the pandemic.
Also, I had just separated from my now ex-husband and closed on my house the week the lockdown started. I had planned to get an apartment – but as the weeks and months went on, I didn’t want to be stuck in a small space in a city. Mentally, I just didn’t think it would be a great idea – and I began dreaming about how to visit all of the amazing US national parks.
For my entire career, I have worked in higher education: talking to students and alumni about what they are doing with their lives. I have always been inspired by the ones who took road trips and traveled – not because they lived extravagantly but because they figured out how to make it work.
This is something that I have been envious of but never thought would be possible due to the nature of my work. Then the pandemic changed how we work and opened up possibilities. Once I settled on an Airstream, it just took figuring out some logistics, convincing myself (and my family) I could do it alone, and getting my boss to agree to letting me do it.
I have now been living this adventurous life full-time for 14 months and have had some definite challenges but also some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. This included meeting my partner, John, and visiting 31 national parks in the US and four in Canada, 24 states, and two Canadian provinces. And I’m planning to add more destinations to my list next year.
A Wonderful Week in Arkansas
The inspiration for my visit to Arkansas was visiting Hot Springs National Park. We stayed for a week, and I didn’t have a ton of expectations. A friend had gone a few years prior and said it was something that could be done in a day or so – and I had read the same thing online.
But we stay everywhere for a week, as we can work during the day and explore during the evenings and Saturday. It just made sense to stay that long. I’m glad we did. Hot Springs is one of the more unique national parks in that it’s not really about the park or nature, which is counter-intuitive.
Hot Springs is about the baths. Two of the baths are still operational and one has been converted into the only craft brewery owned by a national park. We had dinner and beers at the brewery (Superior Bathhouse Brewery), did massages and soaked in one of the tubs at Quapaw.
We also did a couple of the trails in the park, walked around town and checked out a few shops (the soap at Bathhouse Soapery is divine) and restaurants (we enjoyed the Ecuadorian food at Rolando’s), and explored the gardens, treehouse and chapel at Garvan Woodland Gardens.
We only stayed in Hot Springs and West Memphis in Arkansas, but I’m hoping to go back to this state. I was pleasantly surprised by how pretty the central part of the state is. I have been told there is an amazing art scene in Bentonville that I would like to check out one day, and I would also like to visit Eureka Springs, Little Rock and the Ozarks. So for sure I will be back!
Highlights of Hot Springs, Arkansas
Highlights of the trip for me were Garvan Woodland Gardens and Quapaw. The gardens were beautiful, but I was also really impressed with the treehouse and chapel and how stunning the architecture is for both. It felt magical in that setting, and as an added bonus, we could take the pup with us – something that we try to do as much as possible.
We had great massages at Quapaw too and enjoyed soaking in the beautiful tubs. If we make it back here one day, I would like to check out Buckstaff, the other bathhouse, and Ohio Club (a former speakeasy that gangsters who made the town popular allegedly frequented).
5 Best To Do in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs is a small city with a population of just over 30,000 residents but the number of attractions here is impressive. Due to the springs that supply heated water, the thermal baths are the most popular attraction. Yet, there is so much more to this place – and we barely scratched the surface on our visit. Below are my recommendations for Hot Springs:
1. Relax at Quapaw or Buckstaff Bathhouses
Quapaw lets guests soak in these stunning mineral-rich waters which help you relax and heals your muscles of any aches and pains. The best thing about the four thermal pools at Quapaw is that they are located under this gorgeous stained glass skylight. Buckstaff Bathhouse is another fantastic spot to soak in thermal pools and get that much needed massage!
2. Have a Few Drinks at Superior Bathhouse Brewery
The Superior was built in 1916 as a bathhouse but then closed decades later in the 1980’s. It was untouched until 2013 when it was renamed the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and it turned into an awesome brewery, craft beer tasting room and restaurant. This is the perfect place to visit after exploring Hot Springs National Park and soaking in the thermal baths.
3. Explore the Beautiful Garvan Woodland Gardens
Garvan Woodland Gardens is a botanical garden nestled in the Ouachita Mountains. Here you can explore pines reaching high into the sky, lovely flora and fauna, and stunning architecture. Some of the structures are awe-inspiring and they make for awesome photos if you are a photographer. If you want to impress your Instagram followers, then this is the place to visit!
4. Enjoy Latin American Cuisine at Rolando’s
Rolando’s is a fantastic option for dinner if you love Latin American food. The restaurant was started by an Ecuadorian called Rolando, so you know the flavors and ingredients are authentic! Choose from meals such as Quesadillas De Chivo, Popeye’s Burrito and Pescado De Mesias.
5. Shop for Products at Bathhouse Soapery
Bathhouse Soapery makes great gifts for you to take back home. You can pick up some handmade soap, and bath and beauty products such as fresh cosmetics. This shop is located right across the road from Bathhouse Row – so you can’t miss it! The personalized and friendly touch by the Bathhouse Soapery staff will take your shopping experience to a new level.
Tips for your Visit to Hot Springs
The best advice I have is to visit this cute city in the fall. This season is a magical time to visit Hot Springs, the national park and the attractions like the bathhouses and breweries. But anytime of the year is going to be good.
I also recommend exploring more of Arkansas. Places like Lake Catherine State Park, Lake Ouachita, Ouachita National Forest, Cedar Falls Overlook in Petit Jean State Park, and Ozark National Forest were all on my list, but a busy work week combined with a few rainy days and leaving on Saturday (instead of Sunday) meant we weren’t able to do all the things we hoped.