Things to do in Hot Springs, AR

More About Hot Springs

The "Valley of the Vapors," as it was known when first discovered by Hernando de Soto, was a popular destination long before Americans settled here. Native American Indians came to bathe in steaming pools of water believed to have magical healing powers. Their reverence of the mysterious place was such that even warring tribes would lay rivalries aside and bathe together in peace. Dozens of natural thermal springs provide an endless supply of mineral-enriched water at an awe-inspiring 147 degrees. The springs and surrounding area became the first federally protected lands in our nation's history — later named Hot Springs National Park. As 19th-century innovations made interstate travel more feasible, more people came. A settlement sprang up to service the ever-increasing number of visitors and eventually grew into the city of Hot Springs.

A post-Civil War boom produced a brand new city with lavish hotels, bath houses, and of course, the saloons, gambling halls, and brothels that ushered in a sordid element that would claim the city for 100 years. At the turn of the century, betting on horse races joined the mix with the emergence of Oaklawn Park, which remains today and still draws throngs of thoroughbred racing fans. Through the 1920s and '30s, the city became a popular retreat for both famous and infamous characters like Babe Ruth, as well as a host of notorious gangsters, the most notable of whom was Al Capone.

A must-see for history and architecture buffs, the Downtown Historic District and early 20th-century bathing establishments of famed Bathhouse Row are incredibly well-preserved. An Arts District of major proportions now occupies many of the former brothels and saloons, putting the city on the map as one of the top art towns in the country. The galleries and eclectic gathering of artists offer a unique opportunity for art lovers to view and purchase fine contemporary art of every style and medium. Music and independent films add further fame to the "City of the Arts," with free annual jazz and blues festivals and a documentary film festival that receives world-wide attention for producing Academy Award-winning films.

Surrounded by the Ouachita Mountains and Ouachita National Forest, the area presents endless opportunities for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts to commune with nature. Summer months see thousands of fishing, boating and water sports fans converge on the five beautiful gems that are Arkansas's Diamond Lakes, while thrill-seekers prefer the state's #1 tourist attraction — Magic Springs Theme Park. A major interactive science museum, world-class botanical garden, and countless annual events and celebrations complete a list of attractions that draws more than 2 million visitors to the "Spa City" every year.