A Dirty Dozen Things To Do In Hot Springs Arkansas

Hot Springs, Arkansas, USA town skyline in the mountains.

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Who would have thought that a town dedicated to bathing would have such a dirty and nefarious past? Yet, Hot Springs, Arkansas, was an organized crime hotbed for a century until Governor Winthrop Rockefeller and Circuit Judge Henry M. Britt shut the whole thing down in 1967 with the help of a legion of state troopers.

Hot Springs gangster past is the muse for this list of the dirty dozen things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We’ve traveled to Hot Springs and know these are the top attractions, and we’re here to tell it with a little flair for all the aspiring good fellas and goombahs.

Gangster Museum of America

Gangster Museum of America Hot Springs Ar
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

When Carlito Brigante claimed, “You’re a gangster now… You can’t learn about it in school,” he forgot to mention that you can learn about “family matters” at the Gangster Museum of America. It’s a historic and entertaining account of how the most notorious criminals in America co-existed with the quaint population of Hot Springs with a seven-gallery audiovisual experience.

Like most frontier towns, Hot Springs started out a little rough around the edges. However, this town was different from most because of the abundant natural hot springs. The healing waters brought a continual influx of tourists, who, in turn, brought to town “Boss Gambler” Frank Flynn by the late 1870s.

Flynn subverted the local police and built a gangster paradise of brothers and gambling. He was eventually run out of town in 1899 following the infamous Hot Springs Gunfight, but the corruption remained. In 1926, Leo McLaughlin was elected mayor with the promise to run Hot Springs as an “open town.” He fulfilled his campaign promise in spades and ruled as the undisputed Hot Springs crime boss for 20 years.

During McLaughlin’s tenure, the most notorious gangsters of the 20s and 30s came calling, including Owen Vincent “Owney” Madden, Bugs Moran, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Al Capone. Hot Springs was a vacation town for Chicagoland mobsters. Even though they were violent thugs in Chi-Town, they were polite and generous tippers in Hot Springs and generally accepted by the local service-based industry

Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park Hot Springs Ar
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The National Park Service encourages you never to forget about it. That’s why Hot Springs National Park includes portions of the historic downtown, including Bathhouse Row. In fact, the famous Fordyce Bathhouse serves as the park’s visitor center.

Hot Springs National Park has many interesting facts and features. It is the oldest park maintained by the National Park Service and was the smallest National Park by area until the Gateway Arch received its park designation. It’s also one of the most accessible National Parks, which you can visit by simply strolling down Bathhouse Row or hiking on numerous short trails heading out of town.

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Bathhouse Row

Bathhouse Row Hot Springs Arkansas
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Al Capone once claimed, ” I don’t even know what street Canada is on.” He did know what street Hot Spring’s bathhouses were on. Of course, that’s not hard when it’s called Bathhouse Row, now part of Hot Springs National Park.

Bathhouse Row contains eight bathhouses aligned along Hot Springs Creek: Buckstaff, Fordyce, Hale, Lamar, Maurice, Ozark, Quapaw, and Superior. They are a collection of turn-of-the-century eclectic buildings in neoclassical, renaissance-revival, Spanish, and Italianate styles, complete with elaborate promenades and landscaping.

Fordyce Bathhouse

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Fordyce Bathhouse is the largest, most elaborate, and most expensive on the Row. It was also the first to close in 1962 and has been the park visitor center since 1989. Today, it’s open for self-guided or ranger-led tours every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

In Casino, Robert De Niro said, “Las Vegas washes away your sins. It’s like a morality car wash.” Only, Fordyce wasn’t a gangster; he made his fortune on the railroads. He believed he owed his life to the healing powers of the hot springs and built his spa as the pinnacle of the American bathing industry, rivaling those of Europe. It provided for the well-being of the whole patron – body, mind, and spirit and even included a museum where prehistoric Native American relics were displayed.

Buckstaff and Quapaw Bathhouses

Buckstaff Bathhouse Downtown Hot Springs Ar
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse: soak in a historic bathhouse. The Buckstaff and Quapaw Bathhouses are the only two establishments still offering treatments.

The Buckstaff Bathhouse, dating back to 1912, is Arkansas’s oldest continually operating bathhouse. Using original bathtubs and equipment, you can soak up history surrounded by mineral-rich thermal water.

The Quapaw Bathhouse is a classic 1922 Spanish Colonial Revival-style building that offers thermal pools, private baths, and spa services. Four thermal pools are located under a gorgeous stained-glass skylight. 

Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Hot Springs Mountain Tower
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Capone was speaking of gambling when he said, “I’ve never heard of anyone being forced to go to a place to have some fun,” but he could just as easily have been referring to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower.

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You can drive up the mountain or take the 1.5-mile trail from Fountain Street to reach the tower. Once you arrive, the tower elevator will take you 216′ up to the observation deck, where you’ll enjoy panoramic 360-degree views of the surrounding town and mountains. Between climbing the hill and riding the elevator, you’ll be 1,256 feet above sea level.

Tiny Town and Tussauds Wax Museum

Michael Jackson, American singer, songwriter and dancer. Wax museum
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Like many vintage tourist towns, Hot Springs has its share of classic attractions. Two of these are Tiny Town and Josephine Tussauds Wax Museum.

The Moshinskie family invites you to say hello to their little friends, which they’ve been handcrafting for over 75 years, at Tiny Town. Here, model trains run through scenes from 22 states in effigy, including Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, and the Colorado Rockies.

Unlike Tiny Town, Josephine Tussauds Wax Museum has life-size wax replicas of historical and fictional people, plus gambling paraphernalia. It also has an unusual gift shop that might just be the highlight of your visit

Garvan Woodland Gardens / Anthony Chapel

Garvan Woodland Gardens Hot Springs Ar
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Godfather says, “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” We ask if there is a better way to spend time with your family in Hot Springs than visiting the Garvan Woodland Gardens and Anthony Chapel.

Garvan Woodland Gardens is a 210-acre botanical garden along the shores of Lake Hamilton. Anthony Chapel is architecturally similar to Eureka Spring’s Thorncrown Chapel and one of Buzz Feed’s coolest places to get married in America!

Lake Ouachita

Lake Ouachita Hot Springs Arkansas
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Noodles from Once Upon a Time in America might like the stink of the streets to clean out his lungs. For the rest of us, there’s Lake Ouachita. It’s Arkansas’ largest lake, with 690 miles of shoreline, and is surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest.

Of course, boating, swimming, kayaking, and fishing are popular here. What’s surprising is that the water is clear enough to scuba dive down to some places that were flooded when the lake was filled in 1952.

Lake Catherine State Park

Fall Creek Falls, Lake Catherine State Park, Arkansas
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Louis Brasi sleeps with the fishes, and so can you at Lake Catherine State Park. We’re not talking about a cement shoe scenario here. The park has 20 full-service cabins, 70 campsites, and even a yurt. Visitors can enjoy hiking, waterfalls, guided horseback rides, and a full-service marina.

Crater of Diamonds State Park

Crater of Diamonds State Park Hot Springs Ar
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Don Corleone is old school; he still believes in respect, which probably involves giving a girl diamonds. What’s more old school than digging those diamonds yourself?

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Crater of Diamonds State Park is one of the few places in the world where you can search for diamonds in their original volcanic source. Visitors can search 37 acres of an eroded volcanic crater and keep any gems they find, including natural diamonds!

Wegner Quartz Crystal Mines

Natural crystal
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

A wise man (guy?) warns you never to make promises you can’t keep. Unlike searching at Crater of Diamonds State Park, hunting for gemstones at Wegner Crystal Mines is a sure thing. A full day of treasure hunting includes panning in the gemstone sluice, a ride to the Crystal Forest Mine, and a full access day pass to the Tailings Area.

Wrapping up the Best Things to do In Hot Springs

Anthony Chapel Garvan Woodland Gardens Hot Springs Ar
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Hot springs consist of water and a little volcanic action. You’ll find these in abundance in Hot Springs, Arkansas, from the 47 natural hot springs of the National Park to gems and minerals brought to the surface. Only an hour from Little Rock, Hot Springs makes for an excellent day or weekend getaway!

You’ll also see the history, architecture, and nature of this beautiful corner of The Natural State, just ask any wise guy!

Disclosure: A big thank you to Hot Springs Arkansas for hosting us and setting up a fantastic itinerary! For more Hot Springs travel inspiration, check out their InstagramFacebook, X, and YouTube accounts.

As always, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own, and we only recommend brands and destinations that we 100% stand behind.

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