Hot Springs National Park observed its 100th anniversary in March, and the fascinating area has never looked better. Steeped in history and lore, this park has seen its share of ruffians, dreamers, and gangsters, and its cultural heritage is matched by a bounty of natural amenities.
Things to do in the park
The area that became Hot Springs National Park was first Hot Springs Reservation, set aside by Congress in 1832—predating Yellowstone’s national park status by 40 years. Officially made a national park in 1921, the urban park with natural components has been intertwined with the city of Hot Springs since the town’s 1851 incorporation. Originally composed of two rows of hotels, bathhouses, and attendant businesses, the locale has always focused on health, relaxation, and leisure. Explore the area’s history at the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitors Center and Museum, operated by the National Park Service, and check out monthly events that will commemorate the centennial. Before you visit, check if the visitors center is open.
From there, take your recreation outdoors to the park’s 26 miles of interconnected hiking trails. Find relatively short paths in the Hot Springs and North Mountain area and in the West Mountain area. The longer Sunset Trail travels through more remote areas of the park. If mountain biking is more your speed, riders have plenty of world-class options. The park’s Pullman Trail connects with the Northwoods Trails—more than 26 miles of mountain biking routes for all skill levels.
A variety of other Hot Springs attractions complement the park’s appeal. The Gangster Museum of America tells tales of the gambling and bootlegging that once drew mobsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano to town.
Garden lovers shouldn’t miss the beautiful landscapes at Garvan Woodland Gardens. And dozens of artists have transformed historic buildings into studios and galleries, most of which stay open late for the Gallery Walk on the first Friday of every month.
Read more: Enjoy these other gorgeous Southern botanical gardens and arboretums.
No trip to Hot Springs is complete without a visit to Oaklawn, which features year-round casino gaming and entertainment, as well as thoroughbred racing from late January to May. While you’re there, enjoy one of Oaklawn’s legendary corned beef sandwiches, a crowd favorite since 1904.
Where to shop
Find souvenirs of all descriptions at the official national park store, The Bathhouse Row Emporium, in the former Lamar Bathhouse. Browse the eclectic shops located throughout downtown’s Historic District for one-of-a-kind mementos.
Where to eat around the park
Fortify yourself for the day with breakfast at The Pancake Shop. Be warned: There could be long lines, but it’s worth the wait. At Deluca’s Pizza, which the Food Network and some polls have cited as one of the nation’s best pizzerias, don’t miss the signature Gooch Pie (Calabrese salami, garlic, Peppadew peppers, and arugula). Like a little history with your libation? Have a drink at The Ohio Club, where Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, and other gangsters once caroused.
Where to stay
Some of those same gangsters—as well as actors, dignitaries, and sports legends—have stayed at The Arlington Resort Hotel and Spa, which dates to 1875. Each of the 246 rooms at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Hot Springs Hotel and Spa is a two-room suite.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.