Hot Springs/Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- Hot Springs Reservation (later national park) was America’s first federally protected land (1832).
- Approximately 15% of Eureka Springs’ residents are working artists.
- Blue Spring at Eureka Springs generates 38 million gallons of cold water daily.
- The waters at Hot Springs are rainwater, from rainfalls of about 4,400 years ago.
- Eureka Springs’ original main street sat in a gulch, now one story below today’s street level.
Hot and cold running water
Arkansas’ two popular spa towns grew up around the natural springs that gave them their names. That was in the 19th century.
But Hot Springs and Eureka Springs are more attractive as tourist destinations today aided by fully developed infrastructures, districts dotted with landmark-quality architecture and their status as magnets for artists and related studios, shops and galleries. Mountains surround both, plus nature got a boost in the form of manmade lakes that add opportunities for fishing, swimming and other water-based recreation.
Such are the similarities but each has its own characteristics, too.
Hot Springs, in the Ouachita Mountains west of Little Rock, abuts the nation’s smallest national park (about 5,000 acres), Hot Springs National Park, which protects the source of the area’s 47 naturally heated springs. Initially a federal reservation, the park had no administrators. Eventually, private citizens tussled with the government for control; the feds won in court (1878).
The town thrived, sometimes in roguish ways. Major League spring training was born here (Chicago White Stockings, 1886); Oaklawn Park opened for horseracing in 1905; eight bathhouses were built on what’s now called Bathhouse Row (1892-1923), and during Prohibition, the city was home to illegal gambling, speakeasies and gangsters.
The Bathhouse Row area, now a National Historic Landmark District within the park’s boundaries, contains America’s grandest collection of bathhouses. Two still operate. Less famously, the city has natural cold springs, too.
The much smaller Eureka Springs, in the Ozark Mountains in far northwest Arkansas, is noted for Victorian homes that hug mountain cliffs. Given the up-and-down terrain, no streets cross at right angles; there are no stoplights either. The entire downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Eureka Springs presents “The Great Passion Play” seasonally, but also hosts music variety shows; summertime blues, jazz and opera events, as well as galleries and other outlets for artworks. It’s the place for romantic sightseeing tours by carriage and, still more, one of the nation’s most popular wedding sites.
Finally, visitors can see many of Eureka Springs’ underlying natural, cold springs and can still book a spa experience though not based on the spring waters.
Things to do for Venturers
- Outside Hot Springs, get on the waterskis at lakes Catherine, Hamilton or Ouachita. Jet skiing also in an option at lakes near both spa towns.
- Plan a Eureka Springs visit around the annual early summer Blues Weekend, or make that a late summer visit for the Jazz Eureka Festival. (BTW, the town also hosts a summertime Opera in the Ozarks festival.)
- At Hot Springs, pedal a mountain bike on the 38-mile Womble Trail, called epic by the International Mountain Biking Association, or choose the 36-mile Lake Ouachita Vista Trail. The latter is a hiker’s destination, too.
- Mark your calendar for the June Running of the Tubs in Hot Springs. Costumed competitors push wheeled tubs, complete with water and a bather, through town. Rules are imposed at the whim of judges, and anyone arguing with a judge “will never be allowed to bathe on Central Avenue again, or until another Arkansan is elected president.”
- Don the gear and take a dive, or several, at Lake Ouachita (Hot Springs) or Beaver Lake outside Eureka Springs. Stand-up paddle boarding is an option at Beaver Lake, too.
- Camp in Hot Springs National Park. Alternatively, consider campsites and cabins in Lake Catherine and Lake Ouachita state parks. At Ouachita, primitive camping on the lake’s uninhabited islands is a unique choice.
Things to do for Centrics
- Sample the drinking water at one of several cold-water spring-fed fountains in Hot Springs. You can collect hot thermal spring water in the city’s Hill Wheatley Plaza, too.
- Choose your fishing venue: In Hot Springs, options include Lake Catherine, Lake Hamilton and Lake Ouachita. At Eureka Springs, they include Beaver Lake and Table Rock Lake or even the 85-acre spring-fed lake inside the city’s Lake Leatherwood City Park.
- Bind your sides and come to Hot Springs for the Spa-Con, an autumn comedy convention covering every genre anyone can think of.
- Attend a half- or full-day workshop at the Village Writing School in Eureka Springs. The school, with programs for beginning and established writers, offers additional relevant activities including its Publish!
- Look at Hot Springs’ colorful past. Visit its Gangster Museum of America, and follow the Hot Springs Baseball Trail documenting the earliest days of spring training. And, attend the races at Oaklawn Park, opened in 1905 but still hosting the horses.
- Get married in one of the spa towns, in one of the public gardens. Eureka Springs is particularly known as a romantic wedding venue.
Things to do for Authentics
- Experience the spa services at one of several historic sites, such as the Buckstaff or Quapaw bathhouse in Hot Springs or, in Eureka Springs, the Crescent Hotel and New Moon Spa or the Palace Hotel and Bath House.
- Check out the museum in Hot Springs’ restored Fordyce Bathhouse.
- Play golf at either spa town. Also, enjoy a riverboat outing on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, or rent a houseboat on Lake Ouachita.
- Take in the charms of Eureka Springs’ historic center on a tour by trolley or by carriage. Also, join a guided tour of one or more of the caverns in and around town.
- Attend “The Passion Play,” an open-air production presented seasonally at Eureka Springs.
- Make time to visit the galleries and craft sites in either spa town. Hot Springs also hosts a monthly Gallery Walk and a monthly Antique/Boutique Walk. Eureka Springs has its monthly Gallery Strolls, April through November; tours of artist studios are available.
For more information, consult the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism at www.arkansas.com