What to Do on Your Hot Springs Vacation

Looking for a quick family getaway, or a weeklong retreat? Hot Springs, Arkansas, is an excellent choice for your next family vacation. Located near Lake Oachita and Lake Hamilton, Hot Springs has activities to meet nearly every interest. Whether your family loves the outdoors or would rather explore history, museums, and the arts – Hot Springs has something for you.

It is easy to find a place to stay in Hot Springs. There are dozens of motels, hotels, and cabins in the area for a reasonable price, many with a lakeside view. Or, you can opt to stay in one of the historic hotels in Hot Springs. A good resource for finding and booking a place to stay is: http://www.arkansashotdeals.com. Our family was able to find a suite hotel with lakeside access, an indoor pool and restaurant, and a boat launch for a very reasonable price.

The city is named for the naturally occurring phenomenon of local springs that produce warm water thought to have a medicinal value due to its mineral content.

Fordyce Bathhouse Museum & Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center

Hot Springs National Park, established in 1832, is the Nation’s first National Park. It is also the nation’s smallest national park. The park consists of the area around the “Bathhouse Row” area of the hot springs and includes nearby hiking and camping trails as well as the Hot Springs Mountain Tour.

The bathhouse row is designated as a National Historic Landmark. You can read more about National Parks on the National Park Service site: http://www.nps.gov. You can learn more about National Historic Landmarks on this national park service page: http://www.cr.nps.gov/landmarks.htm.

As you stroll down the bathhouse row it is easy to imagine these beautiful old buildings in their heyday, with men and women lined up to enjoy the medicinal benefits of the local hot springs. The buildings are absolutely beautiful and a wonderful study in period architecture.

Most of the bathhouses are closed the public, but you can pay to have a spa experience at the Buckstaff bathhouse and the Fordyce bathhouse has been turned into an excellent visitor-center museum. When we were there it looked as though they were renovating or repairing another bathhouse. Free covered parking is available across the street and behind the businesses that face Bathhouse Row.

There is no charge to tour the Fordyce bathhouse and it has been renovated to accurately depict how it would have originally appeared to bathhouse patrons. The tour is well worth it, you will not only see the dressing rooms and tubs where men and women bathed (separate facilities, of course), but also have the chance to explore numerous other treatments that were available at the facility. It even had a music room and a bowling alley!

Before you leave bathhouse row, don’t forget to taste-test water from the hot springs yourself. You can fill up your water bottle for free at any of the public spigots available along bathhouse row. It was a little weird drinking warm water. Maybe the water really is good for you, or maybe it’s the hype, but I actually did feel refreshed. (The local gift shops sell plastic bottles that come pre-labeled with the spring water’s mineral content.)

Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Not far from bathhouse row is Hot Springs Mountain. On top of the mountain is a 216-foot tall visitor’s tower that gives you a panoramic view of the surrounding area. There is a fee for taking the elevator to the top of the tower, but you can hike up or drive up the mountain for free. There are picnic spots and scenic lookouts all the way to the top of the mountain.

Mid-America Science Museum

A little bit off the beaten path is the Mid-America Science Museum is Hot Springs, Arkansas. You will have to wind through some residential-looking areas to find this one, but your trip will be worth it. I was pleasantly surprised to find this family-friendly museum that was chock-full of hands-on exhibits for the kids. There is an admission cost for this attraction but your kids will have the chance to: crawl through a gigantic indoor cave, trap their shadow, and explore the hall of mirrors. The most impressive exhibit is the caged lightning exhibit, which contains the world’s largest conical Tesla Coil. My kids got a fun, yet hair-raising experience with this one. (Because they turn out the lights, photos taken around the Tesla Coil may not turn out.)

Dryden Pottery Factory

Are you into the arts? The Dryden Pottery Studio is one of the many family-owned artisan studios in the area. This particular studio has been in the area for over fifty years and produces some truly beautiful pieces. If you stop by their rather large studio, you will likely be waited on by one of the artists who can answer any questions about the pottery. This pottery is also available online at this location: http://www.drydenpottery.com/index.htm. These pieces may be collectible one day, and they are already being traded on Ebay.

Garvan Woodland Gardens

You can easily spend an afternoon, or even a day, hiking the trails of Garvan Woodland Gardens located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. You will pay admission to obtain access to 40 acres of landscaped gardens, but you will also be able to experience a huge variety trails and plants. The University of Arkansas professionally and beautifully maintains these gardens. The scenery varies depending upon the season, but the views are always breathtaking.

Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo

Do you ever feel nostalgic for a true, old-fashioned tourist attraction? That’s exactly what this is, and they even advertise it as the oldest attraction in Hot Springs. Like all tourist attractions, there is a fee to get into the alligator farm and petting zoo. Inside, you’ll find a small gift shop, an enclosure with alligators of all sizes, and a small petting zoo. As an adult I wasn’t really excited about this and wanted to hurry through it (I admit it, I’m just not an alligator fan). For some reason kids seem to just love this place-I guess it’s the fascination kids have with reptiles. By the way, the facility advertises that no alligators are harmed in this attraction.

In conclusion, Hot Springs is a wonderful vacation choice with something for just about everyone. If you are in the mood for a country vacation with a historic flavor, check out Hot Springs.

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