Arkansas, the “Natural State,” was the perfect mini-getaway this past weekend. As we drove in from Louisiana, we wondered “why did it take us so long?” to make the short trip into Hot Springs. The second we crossed the state line we were greeted with lush green trees and rolling hills and we couldn’t have been more excited to explore.
Hot Springs is a small historic town with a rich history. In 1541, Hernando de Soto was the first European explorer to visit Hot Springs. For centuries, Native Americans (who referred to this area as the “Valley of Vapors”) believed that the water held medicinal healing properties and sparring tribes considered this area to be a peaceful, neutral ground. In 1862, Hot Springs became the state capital from May 6th through July 16th, when the Governor feared that Little Rock would be taken over by Union Troops. It has been the home to speakeasies and gangsters, such as Al Capone and Owen Madden, and in 1832, it became the first National Park in the US, as Congress wished to preserve the 47 natural hot springs in the area.
We parked at the base of the Hot Springs National Park, walking distance to the Historic Bathhouse Row. Bathhouse Row is located in downtown Hot Springs and is the home to 8 bathhouses that were built between 1911 and 1923.
Our first stop was lunch at the Superior Bathhouse and Brewery, a renovated bathhouse that has been turned into a microbrewery and beer tasting room. We each ordered a beer tasting flight, which allowed us to sample 4 4oz. beer draughts, and shared BBQ pork sliders (with smoked pork topped with mango house bbq and cole slaw), a beer-infused white cheese dip, and a frito pie.
From there we walked over to the Quapaw Bathhouse, a bathhouse with spa treatments, thermal pools, private baths, and a steam cave. (It is said that the Quapaw Tribe used this site for centuries, as well as the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Osage.)
The thermal pools and private baths use the mineral-rich water from the hot springs and the steam cave is a man-made cave that uses the heat from the springs to steam the small rocky room. We spent the afternoon hopping into four different indoor thermal pools, each set to a different temperature!
After exploring downtown and resting at the hotel, we headed out for dinner at the Back Porch Grill, where we sat on the porch and watched the sun set over beautiful Lake Hamilton.
I ordered snow crab legs and Tyler ordered the lobster ravioli.
Is there anything cooler than ordering a plate of snow crab and then having your waitress check on you while you’re watching YouTube videos of “How to Open Snow Crab Legs”?
I think not.
The next morning we woke early to hike at Hot Springs Mountain. The weather was perfect!
We chose to hike Dead Chief’s Trail, a trail that was heavily used in the 1920s as an exercise regimen, an integral part of spa therapy. The 6-mile hike led us through tall trees and over small creeks and springs all the way to the top, where we were able to take in the vast beauty and greenery that is Arkansas.
We concluded our trip with lunch at The Ohio Club, a meal where I don’t have any pictures because, well, if you’ve seen me after any sort of physical activity there’s not much else on my mind besides food. A casino turned speakeasy turned cigar bar turned restaurant and lounge, The Ohio Club has been in business for over 100 years, and has been visited by Al Capone and Babe Ruth alike. Walking into the restaurant, we were instantly transported into a different era, from the bartender with a handlebar mustache to the dark mahogany furniture and sultry jazz music to the hundreds of photos and memorabilia all over the walls. The food was delicious and consumed in under 4 seconds.
For centuries, the waters in Hot Springs were said to bring about peace and healing. Our experience was one that was peaceful and healing and rejuvenating on so many different levels. Our first trip to Arkansas was wonderful…and it definitely will not be our last.