“What has been your favorite place to visit?” For the past two+ years, our answer has been Hot Springs, Arkansas. We had the best time when we visited in spring 2015. Our campground was beautiful; we loved the historical bathhouses at the national park and the Gangster Museum of America, and we frequently indulged in the burgers and cocktails at The Ohio Club.
So it was interesting to return more than two years later, with so many miles in between. It isn’t our favorite place anymore, though it’s still in our top 10, if not top 5. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Hot Springs. It’s just that there’s so much out there.
Coming back to the same place with an augmented perspective, due to time and travel, led me to write an article entitled “How More Than 3 Years of RV Travel Have Changed Me.” Maybe you can relate.
Another thing that was vastly different this time was how many RVers came through Hot Springs in the two weeks we were there. We met and/or hung out with Two Lanes of Freedom, Leaving Little London, Drivin’ & Vibin‘, and our new friends, Pat, Kelsey, and their baby son, John. It seems the RV community has discovered this special spot…or are there just that many more RVers now?
While Hot Springs wasn’t as exciting on our second pass, we still enjoyed our time there and made a point of trying things we hadn’t the first time. The tips in this article are specific to our recent visit. Read all about our initial visit in the following articles:
- Steamy Adventures in Hot Springs, Arkansas
- Bathing at the Buckstaff in Hot Springs, Arkansas
- Our Favorite Food and Activities in Hot Springs, AR
- RV Park Review: Catherine’s Landing in Hot Springs, AR
Things to Do in Hot Springs, 2017 Edition
Winona Scenic Drive
I absolutely love Winona Scenic Drive, a 26-mile dirt road through Ouachita National Forest. It’s so peaceful and cool under the canopy of trees, and the vistas are incredible. This article will help you get your bearings.
You don’t need a 4×4 to enjoy it. At one point, a tiny convertible zipped past us.
Hot Springs Mountain Tower
A twisty road and glass-walled elevator lift you 1,256 feet above sea level for a beautiful view of the Hot Springs area. Before you get to the observation deck, stop to read the plaques that relay Hot Springs’ storied past, from presidents to baseball players to gangsters. You won’t stay at the tower long, but it’s always valuable to rise above everything for context.
Adult admission (12+) is $7.
401 Hot Springs Mountain Dr. – Website
Superlift ORV Park
Eric couldn’t wait to get to Superlift ORV Park, which spans a massive 1,254 acres and is home to three of Jeep’s official Badge of Honor trails. To put its weight into perspective, there are only 44 Badge of Honor trails in the whole country.
Eric visited the park three times total, and did the Badge of Honor trails at least once each. On his second visit, he connected with a friendly group of experienced Jeepers who let him tag along all day. On his third visit, Caspian and I went, too! It was Caspian’s second time off-roading, and he fell asleep…like he did the first time.
We’ll be writing a full review of Superlift on Eric’s Jeep blog, Jeepsies. I’ll link to it when the article is up!
2100 Mill Creek Road – Website
State & Pride Provisions Company
We have to give a huge shout-out to Jill, who owns a local gift and clothing shop on main street. The store is beautifully curated and we found some pillows to complement our nautical theme. But the best part was meeting the owner, Jill. She ended up being a wealth of information, directing us to activities and restaurants we wouldn’t have found without her. Without a doubt, her store is the best one on Central Avenue. We’d like to see more stores like hers, and less of the kitschy stuff.
518 Central Ave. – Website
Definitely reference our articles from 2015 that I linked to above, where we share about a slew of other activities in the area.
Things to Eat in Hot Springs, 2017 Edition
I definitely noticed how much more we eat out now, compared to two years ago! This may sound like a veiled excuse, but we consider ourselves food tourists. We use local dining experiences to get to know the community we’re visiting and the people in it.
Here are the restaurants in Hot Springs we checked out this time:
- The Pancake Shop – Breakfast hotspot that has been around since 1940. There was quite a wait on a rainy Sunday morning, but it was worth it. We especially enjoyed the homemade sausage and apple butter. Not to mention the pancakes!
- Rocky’s Corner – This was a return visit for us. In 2015, we tried the Pizza Bianca, which Rocky’s is known for. It wasn’t our thing, but we had a feeling we’d enjoy something else on the menu. We were right. On our return, we got our standard half pepperoni, half “Contender” (Canadian bacon and pineapple). It was so good. I also had a really delicious fruity cocktail.
- The Ohio Club – With Jill’s help, I found a babysitter for Eric’s birthday on June 9. It was a treat to go back to The Ohio Club together. We adore the ambiance, history, live music, burgers, and cocktails.
- Superior Bathhouse Brewery – We met friends here. Neither of us drink beer, so our experience was underwhelming. We normally find really good food at breweries, but not so much this time.
- The Hungry Greek – If you’re looking for a quick, cheap meal that isn’t your typical fast food, the gyros are packed with meat and the baklava is delish.
- Fisherman’s Wharf – One of our favorite discoveries! In fact, driving here, we found a whole side of Hot Springs we had never seen before. This restaurant is located right on Lake Hamilton. Sit outside by the water (there are fans for hot weather), or in the dim interior that reminds me of an old captain’s cabin. The food isn’t cheap, but it’s good. You’ll be surprised by the shape of the hushpuppies.
- Quarters Cafe – The good reviews drew us in, but we were blown away by the service. These may be the nicest people who’ve ever worked at a restaurant. It’s an interesting menu, too, with yummy Louisiana cooking. Say it with me: beignets!
- Hibachi Sushi – Good thing we didn’t find this place until a couple days before we left. We usually expect buffet food to be somewhere between poor and average, but this experience was definitely above average.
- Kollective Coffee – This place wasn’t around back in 2015. The kind of local coffeeshop with character that you love to frequent. NPR was on the first time I visited, so I knew I was in the right place. I had mixed experiences with the food, but I only had time to try a couple things.
- Vina Morita La Terraza – Probably our best dining experience this trip. Margarita flight. Need I say more? But I have to because the food was absolutely excellent, starting with the chips and salsa, and going all the way through our entrees. Highly recommend sitting on the outdoor patio.
Catherine’s Landing, part of the RVC Outdoor family, is a top-notch RV campground. We had no qualms about returning, and especially loved the clean and spacious swimming pool. With the summer heat coming on, we did miss having shade over our RV site.
If we ever find ourselves in Hot Springs again, we’d like to stay at Gulpha Gorge, the national park campground. We scoped it out, and the sites that appear to be big-rig friendly and relatively level are:
If you’ve stayed there before and have any insight, we’d love to hear it.
We also took a drive out to Ouachita State Park, which is stunning. Unfortunately, we had no cell signal, so we couldn’t stay during the work week. But it’s so beautiful that we’d consider camping there for a weekend.
Hot Springs With a Baby
Hot Springs with an infant was a completely different experience. So much so that, had this been our first visit, I don’t think it would have ever made our favorites list.
Here’s why. The outstanding features of Hot Springs are…the hot springs. But one has to be 14 years old to bathe at the Quapaw and 10 years old to bathe at the Buckstaff. We also couldn’t go to The Ohio Club with Caspian because it’s 21+, and that’s arguably our favorite place in town.
The good thing about the Buckstaff is that men and women don’t bathe together, so parents can visit in shifts. We emphatically recommended this to our friends Pat and Kelsey, and they were glad they took the time to do it. But that’s only one part of a proper Hot Springs experience.
The bottom line? If you have a young child, consider inviting grandma along for some quality babysitting time.
Sharon Eldridge Rasmussen
It was an absolute pleasure meeting the three of you as well! We loved Hot Springs and thanks to your advice, we had an awesome experience at the Buckstaff! We enjoyed the Mountain Tower view but mostly loved reading all of the amazing history of Hot Springs that it provided. Also, by using our Annual National Parks pass we got a discount off the $7. 🙂
Looking forward to our next trail crossing! (TwoLanesofFreedom.com) Sharon & David
Yes, thank you for the reminder about the tower discount! If I remember correctly, it’s $5 instead of $7. Does that sound right?
Sorry Hot Springs is no longer your favorite destination but as you visit more places and family dynamics change that will too. Please keep us on the map for future visits. You will find once Caspian is 6 to 8ish years old that the things to do in Hot Springs considerably widen and it may become a favorite again. Time of year also affects the enjoyment. It does get hot in Hot Springs in the summer. Cell service is sporadic (this can be good for those truly vacationing.) Spring and fall are both gorgeous visually and usually weather wise with fall having a little less rain. Hope to catch you on your next trip through.
@disqus_MviPf0Ltwc:disqus, I had no idea you lived in Hot Springs! We would have loved to meet you. It’s really not a negative thing that Hot Springs isn’t our favorite anymore. We still love it; there’s just a lot out there! I’m sure we’ll return.