Our week in Hot Springs has come to an end. From the start of our adventures to the day we rolled down the road once again, we had a wonderful visit. Hot Springs, AR is most definitely one of my favorite stops on our RV journey so far.
If you’re considering a visit of your own, make sure you catch up by reading about our first day on Bathhouse Row and our RV park, Catherine’s Landing. We packed a ton of other activities and restaurants into the rest of our stay. You may want to add some of them to your own itinerary.
Garvan Woodland Gardens and Anthony Chapel
We spent a sunny afternoon at Garvan Woodland Gardens, about 15 minutes south of Bathhouse Row. The gardens are owned and operated by the University of Arkansas, and you’ll find a maze of trails on a peninsula surrounded by beautiful Lake Hamilton.
The gardens were not what we expected. We’ve been to Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, and most recently visited Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach. Both bring to mind images of refined, manicured expanses of leafy, flowering marvels. In contrast, Garvan Woodland Gardens was much more raw, with well kept trails cutting through the natural terrain.
But don’t get me wrong, once we adjusted our expectations, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. There were memorable highlights such as the koi pond, peacocks and Birdsong Trail along the water. I’m all about supporting the preservation of our country’s nature spaces.
And there is one major exception to the raw, natural theme of Garvan: the Flowering Border and Gardens. Here you’ll find 10,000 square feet of mixed flowers including tulips, chrysanthemum and one of my absolute favorites: hyacinths. Note that the tulips are in full bloom around April 1st each year. We caught the hyacinths nearing their height on March 23rd.
Don’t forget to visit Anthony’s Chapel while you’re there. It’s simply gorgeous (photos below).
The trails are almost all wheelchair accessible, but if you have leg pain be prepared for a number of slopes. Open 9-6 daily. $15/person (13+) and $5 ages 6-12. Leashed dogs are allowed at $5/each.
Rolando’s Nuevo Latino Restaurante
Located within easy walking distance of Bathhouse Row, Rolando’s Nuevo Latino Restaurante was also not what we expected (traveling tends to challenge your preconceptions). We’re so used to the typical Tex Mex menu of enchiladas, tostadas, refried beans and Mexican rice. Rolando’s menu includes similar plates, but with noticeable cultural variations.
In other words, this isn’t your typical Tex Mex or even Mexican restaurant. The cuisine is actually Cuban and El Salvadorian and I enjoyed the opportunity to try something new. I’ve never had a spinach burrito before!
I had Popeye’s Burrito: flour tortilla stuffed with fresh spinach sautéed in olive oil and garlic, sour cream, vegetables, Argentinean sauce and cheddar cheese. I chose to have mine with chicken inside. The burrito came with black beans and white rice, mixed with vegetable pieces. Housemade pickle coins were an extra treat.
If you’re feeling adventurous too, you can check out the menu on their website. Upstairs you’ll find Rolando’s Speakeasy, a laidback place to hang out and have a drink. Normally they have outdoor seating, but it was closed for renovations during our visit.
Hot Springs National Park and the Grand Promenade
Hot Springs National Park can be confusing to first time visitors because – like me – they probably picture a gated park away from civilization. Instead, you’ll find Hot Springs National Park in the middle of town, with nearly indiscernible boundaries, no gates and no admission fees.
One side of Central Ave is shops, restaurants and bars, and the other side of the street is the national park! This national park also includes two spas and even a brewery! Make sure you walk all the way down Bathhouse Row to the park at the end, where you’ll find a pathway leading up the hill. At the top of the hill is the Grand Promenade, an half-mile historic walkway that will loop you back to the beginning of Bathhouse Row.
Many of our RV friends stay at Gulpha Gorge Campground when they visit Hot Springs, so we wanted to make sure to check it out. The setting was beautiful and wooded. $24/night for full hookups (50 amp available) and a number of the sites were big rig friendly. One of the potential downsides we saw was that many of the sites didn’t seem level. I’d love to know about your experience if you’ve stayed before, so please leave a comment.
Rocky’s Corner is a restaurant located across from Oaklawn Park Race Track. It’s a popular watering hole and restaurant, with a menu dominated by pizza and pasta. I got a kick out of the witty, boxing related pizza names like The Contender and The Long Count.
We had the Pizza Bianca, which was highly recommended online. Alfredo sauce, mozzarella, parmesan and chicken or spinach. Though it didn’t turn out to be our favorite type of pizza, we would go back to try a different pie. The toppings were fresh and the crust was delicious. Just good comfort food.
Downtown Hot Springs (Central Ave and beyond) is full of shops if you feel like a stroll. The standout for me was Bathhouse Soapery, where I picked up two amazing smelling soaps made there on the property.
I only made it to a small fraction of the shops available for browsing.
Gangster Museum of America
We learned more about the city of Hot Springs as a whole at the Gangster Museum of America than we did anywhere else during our stay. Hot Springs has a crazy history and it was most definitely left out of my school history books.
Hot Springs was the resort destination in the United States before Las Vegas was a thing. During Prohibition, law enforcement officials turned their heads and let gangsters like Lucky Luciano, Al Capone and Frank Costello rule the town. On any given day, you might be passed on the street by Babe Ruth or Mae West.
As far as the museum itself, a tour guide will lead you through a series of rooms. The rooms are not artifact heavy, but the objects are used as starting points as the guide explains the significance of Hot Springs gangsters. Each room features an informational video and the videos take up the majority of the tour time.
The museum storefront may not look impressive, and you may not think you’re very interested in organized crime. But trust me. If you take the time to visit Hot Springs at all, work this place into your itinerary. It’s really cool.
Buckstaff Bath House
I mentioned in my first Hot Springs article that the Quapaw and Buckstaff are the two bathhouses still operating on Bathhouse Row. We went to Quapaw early in the week, but we wanted to try the Buckstaff too because we knew we would have a different experience. And man, were we right.
Eric wrote an amazing article about the bathing experience at Buckstaff that you’ll want to read. I have never felt transported to another time in history like I did at the Buckstaff. Seriously, this is time machine stuff.
The only thing I’ll add is that the women’s bathing experience at Buckstaff is slightly different from the men’s. Women do the same things during the bathing process, but not in the same order. If you’re claustrophobic and worried about the steam room, don’t be. The door to the women’s steam room is left open. And probably most importantly, women get to wear sheets while moving from station to station!
Quapaw Public Bathing
For our last day in Hot Springs, we went back to the Quapaw. Instead of taking a private bath like last time, we opted for the public bathing ($18/person, all day, no reentry). We enjoyed a peaceful afternoon of moving from pool to pool. There are four pools total, at different temperatures. It’s recommended you only stay in each pool for 10-20 minutes at a time, before getting out to cool down. Mineral water to drink is endless. We lounged around in the pools and poolside, intermittently reading or chatting with other visitors.
There are lockers and nice locker rooms to clean up afterwards. The spa provides shampoo, body wash and towels. You’re required to wear shoes any time you’re not in the pool, so bring water friendly sandals or flip flops.
And of course, we had to go back to The Ohio Club for our last dinner. It was by far our favorite restaurant/bar in town. Delicious cocktails, friendly service, oozing history, with killer burgers. Our kind of place.