Relax in Hot Springs
By Sydni Ellis
Serenity is not just a word in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It’s something you feel with your entire being—from the basement of a bathhouse to the top of Mountain Tower. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, serenity is “the state of being calm, peaceful and untroubled.” That is exactly how I felt after a recent weekend getaway with my husband to this charming little town.
First things first: I wanted to discover firsthand why Hot Springs is nicknamed The Spa City. Bill Solleder, director of marketing for Visit Hot Springs (hotsprings.org), gave me some more information about the city. Located in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, Hot Springs gets its name from the naturally thermal spring waters found here, which flow out of the ground at 143 degrees Fahrenheit. They produce almost one million gallons of water daily! President Andrew Jackson designated this natural wonder as the first federal reservation in 1832, making Hot Springs the country’s first national park. But it’s not just a place filled with great history—it’s also incredibly beautiful. I was pleasantly surprised with the gorgeous mountain views, blooming cherry blossom trees, stunning architecture and impressive water displays everywhere I turned in downtown Hot Springs.
On Saturday morning, I visited Quapaw Baths and Spa on 413 Central Avenue. Inside a gorgeous Spanish Colonial-style building is this luxury bathhouse, which originally opened in 1922 and was remodeled in June 2008. In addition to the famous thermal pools, Quapaw also offers a variety of relaxing services, massages and treatments. I had an appointment for the Quapaw Signature Facial (just $85).
After descending to the basement, I changed into a plush robe and slippers. The esthetician met with me beforehand to talk about the organic ingredients they use and offered to switch a few products for my easily irritated skin. When I walked into the room, I felt an instant sense of peace. Soft music played while steam gently warmed my skin. She used two cleansers, an exfoliator, two masques and a moisturizer on my face, in addition to giving me an amazing neck, shoulder, arm and scalp massage. Throughout the entire process, she was checking in with me and making sure I felt okay. Afterward, she assured me that my mildly red, blotchy face was temporary (it was!), and I practically glided out of there, feeling more well-rested than I had in months.
While I was getting pampered, my husband was touring the free Fordyce Bathhouse Museum next door. It has been restored to look like it did at its height of splendor in 1915, with beautiful stained glass ceilings, marble walls and statues. This building also houses the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center, a handy place for mapping out where to get some of the delicious spring water for free. Afterward, we met up inside the Quapaw Boutique, where we bought sweet-smelling soaps handmade in Hot Springs using the fresh mineral water.
Next on our itinerary was exploring the historic Bathhouse Row. We strolled past the eight bathhouses, popped into several charming shops and boutiques (did you truly visit a place if you didn’t get a souvenir shirt?) and grabbed cupcakes at the quirky Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe, which was featured on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.” The cupcake flavors and designs were extraordinary. I highly recommend the Creme Brulee—featuring vanilla custard layered between vanilla bean cake and vanilla bean buttercream icing and embellished with real torched sugar—as it was a heavenly, sugary delight!
When it was time for lunch, we were excited to visit the famed Rooftop Bar inside The Waters Hotel at 340 Central Avenue. This cozy porch offers panoramic views of Hot Springs. Sip on a handcrafted cocktail in cozy patio chairs while soaking in the gorgeous mountain views, city life and nature scenes all around you. For lunch, we sat under the string of lights munching on hamburgers and chips, while people laughed and mingled all around us. Heaters were set up at intervals all around for colder weather and there were plenty of chairs and cushions to go around. It had the feeling of a backyard cookout or big family get-together—with much prettier picture opportunities.
In the afternoon, we made our way to the Garvan Woodland Gardens, located at 550 Arkridge Road. These 210-acre botanical gardens were bursting with color and natural beauty at this time of the year. Walking in, you are greeted by the most amazing daffodils, hyacinths, tulips and other flowers in every color, along with beautiful waterfalls, trees, botanical landscapes and a canopy of pines. These gardens are a perfect reminder why Arkansas is called The Natural State!
Once inside, we headed straight to the Anthony Chapel to see friends Taelor and Dave get married. If you’ve never been before, Anthony Chapel is like the most elegant treehouse you’ve ever seen. It is nestled inside the pines and hardwoods of Garvan Woodland Gardens, featuring native wood beams and floor-to-ceiling glass windows rising up in a 57-foot-high vaulted ceiling. It was like a wedding out of a fairytale!
From there, we visited the Superior Bathhouse Brewery, located at 329 Central Avenue. This is the first brewery in a U.S. National Park and the world’s first brewery to utilize thermal spring water in their beer. This lively bar has a cozy atmosphere, with historic decor that points to its bathhouse roots. The upstairs was rented out for the reception, featuring its own bar, pretty views of the outside and plenty of seating.
Afterward, we stayed the night in the gorgeous Waters Hotel. We were already impressed with this establishment after enjoying its Rooftop Bar, but seeing the rooms made us love it even more. A multimillion-dollar renovation turned this doctor’s office building into a gorgeous boutique hotel, with each of its 62 rooms filled with art and products from local artists and companies to show off the charm of the city. The rooms were modern and spacious, with brick wall details, luxurious amenities and an overall pleasant atmosphere.
In the morning, we woke up refreshed and ready to conquer the world—or at least, a short mountain hike. We walked across the street to the Promenade (a paved walk behind the bathhouses) and made our way to Dead Chief Trail. This was a fairly steep, 1.4-mile trail up Hot Springs Mountain. The fresh air and surrounding trees were spectacular. At the top, we took the elevator up to Mountain Tower, a 216-foot structure with an open-air observation deck. Despite the cold wind, we stayed up there for a while, admiring the views of the 140-square miles of countryside, Hot Springs National Park and Ouachita Mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking.
After our climb, we were famished! We treated ourselves to breakfast at the Colonial Pancake and Waffle House, at 111 Central Avenue. This adorable little restaurant is American Colonial-themed and has some of the most amazing chocolate chip pancakes I’ve ever had (and that’s not just the hike talking!).
Our getaway was the perfect mix of activity and relaxation, natural wonder and blissful new experiences. If you are looking for a serene weekend with friends or a romantic partner, you can’t beat Hot Springs!