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Given Hot Springs’ name, it’s a safe guess the area’s numerous thermal mineral springs have played an important part in attracting locals and visitors alike over the years. In fact, the geothermally heated “healing” waters around the forested Ouachita Mountains earned the lands the designation as America’s first federal reservation all the way back in 1832, basically making it a national park four decades before Yellowstone earned that title. Today, Hot Springs codependently operates as both a city and a national park. Only two of the original bath houses remain along the city’s famous Bathhouse Row, but the bucolic beauty of the wooded mountains, including Hot Springs National Park and Lake Ouachita State Park, continue to attract tourists who have an affinity for hiking, camping, boating, biking, and water sports.
Most out-of-town visitors will arrive into Hot Springs by car, shuttle, or bus after landing 55 miles northeast at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT) in Little Rock, where rental car options are numerous. And renting a car is definitely the way to go, offering visitors the greatest flexibility and access to numerous natural and historic attractions, whether by plan or whim, including a beautiful winding road through Hot Springs National Park.
If you’re starting from Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Austin, or San Antonio, here’s another alternative worth considering: Amtrak’s Texas Eagle. The train makes a stop at Malvern, about 20 miles east of Hot Springs, but travelers can disembark in Little Rock to finish the last leg by rental car or by bus.
Hot Springs enjoys mostly pleasant weather from May till late June. During those months, warm temperatures — with daytime highs in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit — combine with a bearable humidity index to make outdoor activity comfortable. July, August, and September are months with the least chance of significant rainfall, but even so, be prepared for unexpected sprinkles and perpetually muggy conditions that can feel oppressive to those unused to high humidity.
Come October and November, the chances of rain increase while temperatures dip, with December being the wettest month of the year. Expect daytime temperatures in the low 50s in the winter, dropping to an average low of 33 degrees in January.
The 47 thermal springs dotting the 8.5-square-mile Hot Springs National Park are all protected, but visitors are welcome to literally sip from the source from spigots installed by the park system, allowing all to enjoy the supposed curative effects that originally made the area’s mineral water so famous.
If you’re into architecture, the eight genteel preserved and restored buildings on Bathhouse Row are the closest to a time machine as one could hope. Be sure to drop into the Fordyce Visitor Center, whose exhibits recreate the former glory of the original bathhouse.
The healing water of Hot Springs has attracted all sorts over the years, including nefarious characters. The Gangster Museum is dedicated to exhibiting some of the more interesting and salacious moments that unfolded in Hot Springs from the 1920s to the 1940s.