HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS:
WHAT’S HOT AND
WHAT’S NOT

It was the water that attracted the people. They called it the Valley of the Vapors; a place where weapons were forgotten and grudges dissipated like the steam rising into the cool air.

PEACE INTERRUPTED

It was a place of peace until Hernando de Soto came calling in 1541 pretending to be a god called the “Son of the Sun.” He and his men clashed with several local tribes causing great distress and many deaths.

De Soto died not long after visiting “the great water” from a fever. His men hid his body along with his lie telling the Indigenous people their Spanish leader had risen into the sky.

PEACE RESTORED

The broken De Soto expedition eventually returned to Mexico restoring peace to the area.

For centuries the hot springs flowed undisturbed most likely because of the remote location requiring travel through wild and unpredictable lands.

But after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned expeditions to explore the new territory which included the famous Lewis and Clark duo.

PEACE INTERRUPTED AGAIN

By 1807 settlers staked land claims creating court battles and other misunderstandings.

In 1818, the remaining Indigenous people ceded the land to the United States where eventually the springs and adjoining mountains became a federal reservation.

THE BIRTH OF THE BATHHOUSE

Despite Congress declaring the area for federal use in 1832, people built crude bathhouses charging a dollar for three baths.

This hodgepodge trend continued until the first superintendent of the reservation in 1877 allowed private owners to improve the bathhouses that developed into an attractive row of buildings.


Bathhouse Row early 1900s
Photo source: National Park Service / Credit unknown

IT DOESN’T GET ANY BETTER

Despite hotels sprouting and tourism increasing after the railroad came to town, Hot Springs continued to struggle with ugliness.

The gangsters moved in after the mayor in 1926 declared Hot Springs an “open” town allowing gambling and other things usually associated with such activities (nudge, nudge).

Famous mobsters like Al Capone and “Lucky” Luciano frequented the bathhouses and gambling joints.

Interesting though, much like the Indigenous people, the mobsters kept a secret code of peace vowing to lay their differences aside while in town.

But peace was once again destroyed when a mobster bomb exploded the Vapors Casino in 1963 finally killing illegal gambling in the town for good.

PEACE RESTORED AGAIN

And here we are back to the natural yin yang of life where peace once again reigns.

For the most part.

There’s still ugliness in Hot Springs, confusion, and an overall feeling of disjointedness.

But there’s good here too.

Let’s dive into what’s hot and what’s not in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

what's hot in hot springs

• The Weather ☀️

Yes, it’s hot and muggy in Hot Springs, Arkansas in the summer. You can plan for that. 🥵

 

But in the spring and fall, the weather is delightful; beautiful.

 

In the spring, expect explosive flowering Azalea 🌸 bushes along the half-mile Grand Promenade behind the bathhouses.

 

October is probably the best time to visit the Spa City. The leaves change 🍂, the weather cools down, and the mosquitos leave with the crowds making your visit more pleasant.

 

Website: Weather Spark

Average weather in Hot Springs

• The National Park 🛀🏻

Any National Park is hot in my book, and Hot Springs doesn’t disappoint. It’s intriguing with its different feel of a traditional National Park where you can take a bath while immersing yourself in history, geology, and mystery.

 

Hot Springs National Park is also hot because it’s our nation’s first National Park when Congress set aside federal land for the people to enjoy in 1832; forty years before Yellowstone!

 

It was also the smallest National Park until the recent redesignation of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial as Gateway Arch National Park in 2018.

 

And there’s no admission fee! Now, that’s hot! 🔥

 

Website: Hot Springs National Park

Address: 369 Central Ave, Hot Springs, AR 71901 
Phone: (501) 620-6715

• Catherine’s Landing RV Park 🛶

Catherine’s Landing, an RVC Outdoor Destination, is one of our top ten RV Parks.

Because of its location on a lake surrounded by dense forest, you feel you are far from urban activity, but it’s only a 15-minute drive to the National Park.

It’s a beautiful spot to hookup with clean, paved sites, and lots of activities for everyone to enjoy.

 

See more review here.

 

Website: Catherine’s Landing

Address: 1700 Shady Grove Rd, Hot Springs, AR 71901

Phone: (501) 262-2550 

• The Purple Cow Restaurant 🐮

The Purple Cow restaurant is a great place for lunch or dinner or both!

 

It’s a fun place to eat for all ages as you dine in a classic 50th-style diner.

 

The service is excellent; the shakes are, well, purple, and the food is delicious. Be sure to try the Portobello mushroom sandwich with sweet potato fries and honey. Yum! 😋

 

And before you leave, ask for a purple cow sticker for your travel journal!

 

Website: Purple Cow Restaurant

Address: 1490 Higdon Ferry Rd, Hot Springs National Park, AR
Phone: (501) 625-7999

• The FREE Water 💦

Water, water everywhere, and there’s plenty to drink; for FREE!

 

There are hot and cold fountains located through the Park (or town) beckoning you to fill as many jugs as you can carry.

 

The colorless, odorless, and tasteless water is safe to drink as it is naturally potable when it arrives at the surface of Hot Springs Mountain.

 

Quench your thirst and take some with you courtesy of the Park.

 

Fountains map provided at Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center
Address: 101 Reserve St, Hot Springs, AR 71901
Phone: (501) 620-6715

• The Mountains 

Hot Springs, Arkansas lies at the eastern edge of the unusual Ouachita (pronounced WASH-a-taw) Mountain range that runs east to west instead of north to south like the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains.

 

From the base of one of these ridges known as Hot Springs Mountain, flows the hot springs into the National Park.

 

Drive up Hot Springs Mountain, a one-lane road only open to vehicles under 30-ft because of the sharp hairpin curves, for beautiful vistas overlooking the town.

 

At the top, you will see the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. Keep going and skip the tower as it’s first on the list of what’s not Hot 👎🏽 in Hot Springs!

 

Directions: From the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center,
go north on Highway 7. Make the first right on Fountain Street.
Follow the signs for Hot Springs Mountain.

WHat's not hot in hot springs

• Hot Springs Mountain Tower 🔭

Hot Springs Mountain Tower is not part of the Hot Springs National Park. It is a privately-owned concessioner allowed by the park.

 

You first enter a junky gift shop. The employees did not acknowledge us as they were talking among themselves in loud voices.

 

The price to the top cost $8.00 a person which seems expensive for such a short ride. The elevator was filthy, full of trash, the door smeared with greasy fingerprints.

 

The observation deck was in no better shape, and the telescopes did not work. We barely looked over the edge, ready to escape such an unpleasant experience.

 

You will miss nothing skipping this overpriced, dirty establishment.

 

Website: Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Address: 401 Hot Springs Mountain Dr, Hot Springs, AR 71901

Phone: (501) 881-4020

• Hot Springs National Park, the city that is . . . ♨️

Hot Springs National Park is the only park within city limits also named . . . Wait for it . . . Ready? . . . Hot Springs National Park.

 

Yes, you read that correctly. Someone named the town where Hot Springs National Park exists the same name as the Park. Imagine visiting Grand Teton National Park, but instead of driving through Jackson Hole, you drive through the town of . . . Grand Teton National Park.

What??

 

The redundancy is confusing, especially droving through private neighborhoods to Hot Springs Mountain. We often felt lost and disoriented.

 

Website: City of Hot Springs

Address: 133 Convention Blvd, Hot Springs National Park, AR 71901

Phone: (501) 321-6860

• City of Hot Springs

Driving lost through the city of Hot Springs, we saw many abandoned buildings, crumbling foundations, and dilapidated storefronts. The bowels of the town appear seedy and unsafe.

 

Roadsnack.com rates Hot Springs the fifth worse city to live in out of 10 in Arkansas in 2019 due to high unemployment, low income, and an inferior school system.

 

Many majestic historic buildings sit decaying like the Medical Arts building located across from the historic Arlington Hotel.

 

It seems Hot Springs has no mission and solely hangs its hat on the National Park. And because the National Park and the city have the same name, the dirtiness and ruins of the town rub off on the Park.  

 

Website: City of Hot Springs

Address: 133 Convention Blvd, Hot Springs National Park, AR 71901

Phone: (501) 321-6860

FINAL THOUGHTS

There are more “Hot” aspects of Hot Springs than there are “Not.” And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Hot Springs National Park is worth the visit even if you only tour the Visitor Center.

As Sylvia Plath said in the Bell Jar, “There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”

What’s Outside Our Door explores the full time RV life creating inspiration, wonderment, and knowledge for a freer, simpler, and happier way to live explained in 15 Tips to Take Full Time RV Living to the Next Level and The Ultimate Step-by-Step Full Time RV Guide for Beginners ebooks. They also publish the free Full-Time RV Life bi-monthly newsletter of 8 things worth sharing about full-time RV living you might find interesting.

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