Hot Springs, AR
Distance: 635 miles
Drive Time: 9.5 hours
“THE GRASS is greener on the other side” takes on new meaning in Hot Springs. One side of town is Hot Springs National Park and Bathhouse Row, a National Historic Landmark, while across the dividing line, Central Avenue, is a bustling downtown of shops and eateries. The mineral-rich water of the eponymous springs, where folks have been soaking for ages, are said to have health perks, but only two of the eight ornate stone bathhouses still serve that purpose. The circa 1922 Quapaw Baths & Spa boasts an ancient Roman vibe with its grotto-esque pool and stunning tiled dome.
A ranger-led tour of Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center and Museum looks at early 1900s bathhouses and the western edge of the national park. The water from the 47 springs bubbles out at 143 degrees and, amazingly, what comes out today fell as rain around the time the Great Pyramid at Giza was built. Fill up a bottle with pure spring water from the fountains, then head up Hot Springs Mountain to hike. The silica-loaded water is also to thank for one of the world’s richest deposits of quartz crystals. Book a guided dig at Avant Mining, and you’ll leave with shimmering, sizeable specimens—Avant pieces are even in the Smithsonian. The on-site museum houses crystal relics from around the world, such as a 1500s Spanish flask, a 330 B.C. Egyptian amulet, and an 800s Viking pendant.
Soothe your spirit at tranquil Garvan Woodland Gardens, where myriad paths lead through magical landscapes. Highlights include a striking treehouse and a chapel by architect E. Fay Jones, a peaceful lakeside sitting spots, a fairy garden, and expanses of daffodils and tulips in spring. End a day at the lively The Ohio Club. Al Capone was a regular and left the bullet holes to prove it. These days, Arkansas’ oldest bar is known for its seven hand-pattied, proprietary-beef burgers.
IF YOU GO
STAY For a prime location and a refined vibe in a 1913 building, choose The Waters Hotel (340 Central Ave., 501-321-0001).
QUAFF Superior Bathhouse Brewery (329 Central Ave., 501-624-2337) is the world’s first to brew thermal spring water beer.
CAFFEINATE Family-run Kollective (110 Central Ave., 501-701-4000) serves organic java using a unique pour-over method.