Hot Springs, AR is a very interesting town with an equally noteworthy past. Joan and I have had Hot Springs on our destination list for several years. Fortunately, we were able to stop for a week to enjoy a tour of the historic bathhouses, the amazing views offered by the National Park, along with some very interesting history from the notorious gangsters to many of baseball’s past.
Where we camped
There are a number of camping options offered around Hot Springs. From private, corporate, to national park, there is every option available to meet the desired camping experience. For this trip, Joan and I had been on the road close to 2 months with 6 stops behind us and we wanted to treat ourselves. Looking to splurge for this stop, we chose Catherine’s Landing. This one of the nicest campground we’ve visited in a while. Our week stay was at the top our budget, but the amenities offered were worth every penning. For more information about Catherine’s Landing see our blog here.
Bathhouses and hot springs
Coming to the center of town along what is known as Magnolia Row, you’ll find the historic bathhouses. The bathhouses are built where the hot springs flow from the side of the hills. The 47 springs are the result of a natural thermal water that produces around 1,000,000 gallons of water that reaches over 140 0F (62 0C) each day. From the Quapaw Indians who first settled in this area, to the entrepreneurs who built the bathhouses throughout the center of the city, it was believed these hot springs had healing properties.
Our first stop was the Fordyce Bathhouse which now houses the National Park Visitor’s Center. The bathhouse was built between 1914 through 1915 and is estimated to be the most expensive. We had the opportunity to join a tour given by a park ranger who provided a tour of the lower portion of the bathhouse and shared much of the history about the services offered and of the famous and even notorious who visited. We continued our tour through the self-guided portion to the second floor where guests relaxed in opulent style after their treatments. The building is quite amazing from the so called medical treatments of the time to the stunning architecture.
There are other bathhouses along the row. Two offer spa services, one is an art center, and one has been converted into a micro-brewery.
To say that Hot Springs, AR had a notorious past is an understatement. From the 1920s until the 1960s, Hot Springs was known for its illegal gambling, prostitution and bootleg alcohol. We visited the Gangster Museum which providing much of the information about this period in Hot Springs. Starting with Owney Madden who had been exiled from New York, City for his racketeering and murders, he settled in Hot Springs. Here with the aid of mayor, Leo McLaughin, they provided an environment for most of the gangsters of this era to use Hot Springs as a safe place for entertainment and the health benefits of the bathhouses. Gangsters who visited Hot Springs from this era included Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, Bugs Moran, Bugsy Siegel, Frank Costello, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and many more.
The hike to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower
I started my hike at the Pavilion located behind the Visitor’s Center. First stop was at the springs. There’s a fountain where you can sample the water. Virtually tasteless and extremely hot, I moved on to the next location when the springs flowed from the side of the hill. Moving up a few short steps, I chose the Peak Trail that would take me to the Mountain Tower. The Peak Trail is .6 miles in length and quite strenuous. I was really glad to find a number of spots along the way to stop and rest a few minutes as I continued up toward the tower.
I must admit, I was spent by the time I reached the peak of the trail. Standing at 1,256 feet above sea level, I wasn’t one hundred percent sure that I still had enough fortitude to scale the steps of the 216 foot Hot Springs Mountain Tower. I entered the air conditioned retail shop at the base of the tower and was so happy to find that for a couple dollars I could take an elevator to the top. There I found two observations decks – one enclosed and the open top deck both providing stunning views of the beautiful hills and valleys surrounding Hot Springs, AR. If one doesn’t want to walk one of the many trails, there is a paved road and ample parking at the peak with a scenic picnic area and public restrooms.
We enjoyed our Hot Springs, AR visit. There was much more to see and do that we’ll save for our next trip including a trip to the casino, the alligator and petting zoo, the beautiful Gravan Woodland Gardens, and the many unique restaurants located throughout downtown.
Hot Springs, AR – https://www.hotsprings.org/
Hot Springs National Park – https://www.nps.gov/hosp/index.htm
Gangster Museum of America – https://www.tgmoa.com/
Hot Springs Mountain Tower – https://www.nps.gov/hosp/learn/historyculture/hot-springs-mountain-tower.htm
Catherine’s Landing – https://jerryn.sg-host.com/catherines-landing-hot-springs-ar/
Not sure about what RV accessories you need as you start RV travel? Check out our RV Accessories page where we have listed a wide range of products from essential items to those “nice to have” RV products to make RV life more enjoyable. Every item listed is being used or has been used by Joan and I as we’ve traveled across the country in our RV.
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