How to Spend a Weekend in Hot Springs, Arkansas

By Melonee Hurt

Many are called to visit Hot Springs, AR, for its healing mineral waters, but there’s so much more to see, do, and taste in this historic Southern town! These are our favorite ways to soak up a weekend in Hot Springs.

Located only about an hour’s drive southwest of Arkansas’s capital city of Little Rock, Hot Springs, Arkansas, is home to Hot Springs National Park, an idyllic row of historic bathhouses, stunning gardens and museums, and a vibrant local food and drink scene. We’re breaking down the fascinating history of this charming small town, plus all of our favorite things to eat, see, and do on a weekend visit. (You can use the links below to jump between categories!)

HOT SPRINGS HISTORY

Hot Springs has quite a storied past. In the early 1900s, it was on the fast track to becoming the Las Vegas of the South, complete with gambling, casinos, and brothels — which happened to exist in plain sight on the town’s main drag. Later, the locale became popular for its healing thermal mineral water that bubbled up naturally from the ground.

Local folklore says the water on one side of the street could cure you of everything you caught while dabbling in the casinos and brothels on the other side. In the late 1800s, doctors would even write prescriptions for people to come to Hot Springs just for a bath.

In its heyday, gambling wasn’t actually legal in Hot Springs; it was just allowed. Gangsters like Al Capone, who used to rent out the entire fourth floor of the historic Arlington Hotel for himself and his bodyguards, were notorious visitors in the town where police turned a blind eye.

At one time, there were 50 bathhouses in Hot Springs using thermal waters to treat people seeking relief from ailments ranging from fatigue to syphilis. It wasn’t until the 1960s, when Winthrop Rockefeller became governor, that the casinos were shut down. This ultimately led to the decline in the bathing industry. Sadly, the number of bathhouses has dwindled to two on Bathhouse Row. Although they offer spa services and access to thermal water for soaking, the “bath” has been reduced to somewhat of a novelty by today’s standards.

In the aftermath of all this rich history, Hot Springs was left with some fabulous architecture, a quaint, walkable main street (Central Avenue), and the legendary Bathhouse Row houses that still stand as markers of a bygone era. The historic Fordyce Bathhouse, built in 1915, now serves as a visitor center and offers a glimpse of what the baths were like in their original glory.

We spent four days kicking around Hot Springs to bring you the essential list of where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Hot Springs. Happy exploring!

WHERE TO STAY

Hands down, the best hotel in Hot Springs is The Waters. A lovingly restored historic building that dates back to 1913 when it was constructed as The Thompson Building, this space is equal parts modern convenience and historic beauty. Original features like ceramic tile floors still proudly display cracks and blemishes, and frosted glass windows still display the numbers from the building’s original use as a medical building.

The town’s first rooftop bar sits atop The Waters, which provides sweeping views of the city, while the second floor’s back door has direct access to more than 10 miles of hiking trails. Hotel rooms offer complimentary Mountain Valley Spring Water (in fabulous green glass bottles), soaps, and coffee from local vendors.

boutique hotel offering nine luxurious guest suites, Hotel Hale is a newer addition to Hot Springs’ lineup. Originally Hale Bathhouse, the hotel was recently renovated to provide guests with a one-of-a-kind experience and opportunities to explore downtown Hot Springs. Eden, the on-site restaurant, offers everything from happy hour to dinner and brunch. The best part of Hotel Hale? Each room is equipped with a large soaking tub pumped with hot spring mineral water.

SB TIP: Other places to stay in Hot Springs include the historic Arlington Hotel, OakLawn Racing Casino ResortLookout Point Lakeside Inn, and The Reserve.

WHERE TO EAT

Hot Springs’ main thoroughfare, Central Avenue, is lined with wonderful locally-owned businesses. Grab a cup of java and order breakfast at Kollective Coffee + Tea to get you going for a day of shopping and sightseeing. The coffee rivals any major coffee chain and serves it in a much more organic and comfortable environment. You should also pop into The Savory Pantry, a beautiful market offering culinary creations primarily sourced locally and regionally.

Another great sit-down breakfast option is The Pancake Shop, which offers arguably the largest pancake on the planet. We tried the blueberry and made the mistake of ordering a stack. Then we made the even bigger mistake of eating the whole thing, which was enough to feed a small family.

Your sweet tooth will thank you for stopping at Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe — the ‘Chocolate on Chocolate’ cupcake is mind-blowing. They even offer sturdy to-go boxes that will survive your journey home!

(SB TIP: Fat Bottomed Girls isn’t the only store on Central Avenue named after a classic rock song. The candy store down the street is aptly titled Pour Some Sugar on Me.)

If you eat nowhere else in Hot Springs, absolutely do not miss a stop at Deluca’s Pizzeria. Owner Anthony Valinoti doesn’t take table reservations — only pizza reservations. Call ahead to reserve your crust and ensure your scratch-made circle of deliciousness doesn’t get eaten by someone else.

For a fun, festive take on Latin cuisine, stop at Rolando’s on Central Avenue. Dishes are presented with artistic flair and vibrant flavor. For a more upscale dining experience, pop into The Avenue. The restaurant offers a window seat to Central Avenue from the street level of The Waters, and the menu rotates seasonally. Additionally, it derives some of its ingredients from the rooftop garden, which also houses the bees that provide honey for the restaurant.

The newest addition to the Hot Springs Dining Scene is DONS Southern Social, a speakeasy serving upscale fare and craft cocktails right in the heart of the action on Central Avenue. Reservations are highly encouraged, but if you don’t have a reservation, stop by to see if there’s space at the bar!

Across the street, pop into Superior Bathhouse Brewery at the Arlington Hotel, which is not a bathhouse anymore but a super cool woman-owned craft brewery. Try some of Brewmaster Rose Schweikhart’s ingenious creations, such as Madden’s No. 1, a blonde ale that uses a recipe from gangster Owney Madden.

For something more family-friendly, spend an afternoon at 420eats, a food truck court offering everything from Thai and Japanese to Cajun, Mexican, and Indian. Guests can also enjoy outdoor games, live music, picnic tables, and covered pavilion seating.

WHERE TO SHOP & EXPLORE

While on Central Avenue, pop into Bathhouse Soapery & Caldarium and plan to leave smelling better than when you arrived. Not only does this shop offer locally crafted soaps and lotions, but it also steps outside the box with cleansing oils, shaving butter, natural deodorants, and hand-crafted perfumes.

Nature lovers can enjoy countless options to get fresh air and exercise at Hot Springs National Park. Central Avenue fronts the park’s edge and offers miles of hiking trails and natural attractions. The park is also home to Northwoods Trails. Located about five minutes from Downtown, it offers over 26 miles of world-class mountain biking trails.

If fishing is more your speed, Hot Springs draws professional anglers from all over the U.S., thanks to its spectacular lakes. Options include Lake Hamilton, Lake Catherine, and Lake Ouachita.

If you want to experience the baths, you can soak in a public thermal mineral water bath at Quapaw Baths & Spa or Buckstaff Bathhouse, which offers a traditional bathing package, among other traditional spa services.

Take a spin up to the top of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower for a beautiful panoramic view of the Ouachita Mountains and the valley where the town of Hot Springs is nestled.

The Garvan Woodland Gardens is another not-to-be-missed spot. Upon her death, local industrialist and philanthropist Verna Cook Garvan donated 210 acres of her personal gardens to the University of Arkansas’ landscape architect program, stipulating that they would be used for educational purposes. The gardens transport you to a fairyland with water features, seasonal blooms, and some of the most enormous azalea bushes you’ve ever seen. Check out the Anthony Chapel, too — a six-story structure made entirely of glass, wood, and stone.

If you want to learn something new, visit the Mid-America Science Museum to experience over 100 hands-on exhibits, including the Marvelous Motion Gallery, the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk, the Oaklawn Foundation Dinotrek, and more.

Another great family-friendly option is Magic Springs Theme & Water Park. From roller coasters to a log flume, bumper cars, and more, this is an excellent place to spend the afternoon with your family. (SB TIP: Magic Springs offers a summer concert series every year. You can find the schedule HERE.)

Hot Springs also offers fun-filled events throughout the year. Annual favorites include the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March, the Running of the Tubs in June, and the Hot Springs Documentary Festival in October.

While the mobsters and Hollywood elite might not be seen coming and going from The Arlington anymore, Hot Springs remains a destination with something for everyone. There’s a little bit of new mixed in with a lot of fabulous history from a town that saw its original glory more than 100 years ago.

Author: Melonee Hurt

New company to manage concessions at Roaring River State Park

CASSVILLE, MO, JAN. 2024 – Roaring River Adventures LLC, a division of ExplorUS, a hospitality management company operating in parks across the country, will manage the lodging, dining, retail and meeting facilities at Roaring River State Park beginning this year.

Located in the southwest Ozark hills, Roaring River State Park is one of Missouri’s most popular state parks and one of three state parks stocked with rainbow trout. It offers visitors lodging accommodations ranging from rustic cabins to modern motel rooms. The impressive Emory Melton Inn features 26 hotel rooms, meeting space and a full-service restaurant. The park also features 26 rustic cabins, including duplex and fourplex units, and seven rooms in the Civilian Conservation Corps Lodge. 

“We’d like to thank Jim and Carmen Rogers and family for their many years of service taking care of visitors at Roaring River State Park,” said David Kelly, director of Missouri State Parks. “We look forward to working with ExplorUs and seeing new opportunities they will offer our guests.”

The company will work with Missouri State Parks for planned improvements to the concessions, including enhancing the Park Store, updating the restaurant menu, and adding new activities and events. “ExplorUS is committed to preserving the park’s long-standing traditions, especially those related to fishing, while enhancing services for families that have been visiting for generations,” said Frank Pikus, CEO of ExplorUS.

ExplorUS, which is headquartered outside Kansas City, will draw on its experience providing hospitality services at another Missouri trout park, Montauk State Park. The company also manages concessions at other parks in the Show-Me State. ExplorUS’ portfolio includes a total of nearly 70 sites in 17 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  

Rooms and cabins at Roaring River are available for rent online or by calling the park. More information can be found at https://roaringriverstatepark.org/ or by calling 417-847-2330. You can also find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/roaringriveradventures and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/roaringriveradventures.

For more information on state parks and historic sites, visit mostateparks.com. Missouri State Parks is a division of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

For more information about ExplorUS, visit goExplorUS.com

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Tasty Tradition Becomes a “Pop”-ular New Treat

Freshly baked popovers and afternoon tea on the lawn of Jordan Pond House is a longtime tradition, dating back to 1895. Today, more than 2,000 visitors dine on the lawn daily during peak season at this restaurant within Acadia National Park in Maine, run by ExplorUS under a National Park Service concession contract.

Our popovers are pretty perfect on their own, served with butter and locally made strawberry jam. Then our on-site team members came up with an innovative idea for another way to serve these delicious treats: popover sundaes!

It’s a commonly held belief that ice cream is one of the basic food groups, and we couldn’t agree more. Light and airy popovers filled with local Maine ice cream and topped with dark chocolate sauce, sea salt caramel, or sprinkles is a mouthwatering treat to enjoy while gazing out over Jordan Pond on a warm summer day.

Our popover sundaes were an instant hit when they debuted in 2022 and quickly became a signature item at Jordan Pond House. We’d ship them if we could, but as it turns out, ice cream doesn’t travel well. Therefore, we encourage all who are in the vicinity of Bar Harbor, Maine, to pop over for a popover sundae!

Historic Camp Richardson Resort Begins a New Era With ExplorUS

December 18, 2023

Generations of families have enjoyed spending their downtime at the historic Camp Richardson Resort on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe in California. The resort is a popular travel destination that has served guests for more than a century.

Beginning in January 2024, premier hospitality company ExplorUS will usher in a new era that will bring a host of improvements to the resort while honoring the history and nostalgia that has made the resort a family tradition. After a competitive selection process, the company was awarded a special use permit from the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the USDA Forest Service to manage the resort.

Set on more than 100 acres along the Tahoe shoreline, the resort offers stunning panoramic views of the crystal-clear water. Amenities include a beachside bar and grill, historic hotel, inn, 38 cabins, three campgrounds, general store, ice cream parlor, and coffee shop.

“It is a huge honor to take Camp Richardson into the next decades,” said ExplorUS CEO Frank Pikus. “We are eager to welcome the resort’s faithful visitors who come back year after year and to meet new visitors as well. Our partnership with the Forest Service is important to us, and we will work together to ensure the continued success of Camp Rich.”

Lake Tahoe is often called “America’s year-round playground,” with an abundance of activities such as boating, camping, hiking, mountain biking, and winter sports. Though Camp Richardson is open year-round, summer is peak season, and thousands of visitors arrive to enjoy the warm temperatures and make memories.

An influx of visitors means congestion in and around the resort, with both vehicles and pedestrians. ExplorUS has developed a detailed parking and shuttle plan to help ease congestion and ensure the safety of visitors.

ExplorUS also has plans to update the restaurant’s interior décor and renovate the kitchen to transform it into a modern facility and create better efficiency and flow. An exciting menu will feature wood-fired pizza, bourbon-glazed salmon, champagne scallops, burgers, sandwiches, and a full drink menu, including visitor favorite, the Rum Runner.

Overnight resort guests will have all-new furnishings in the cabins, hotel, and inn, and will have the option of food delivery from the restaurant to their room on weekends.

These improvements and more will be on tap as ExplorUS begins operations at Camp Richardson Resort. Staff will be ready to welcome visitors with friendly smiles and high-quality customer service.

A Hole-in-One for ExplorUS

Visitors at two of Utah’s premier golf courses will have a new dining experience beginning in spring 2024. Longtime national hospitality company ExplorUS will manage the food and beverage operations at Soldier Hollow Golf Course and Wasatch Mountain Golf Course south of Park City.

Soldier Hollow and Wasatch Mountain are about 7 miles apart and set among the scenic beauty and high elevations of the Wasatch Mountain range. Each complex offers 36 holes of challenging play, and both are managed by the State of Utah Division of State Parks.

At Soldier Hollow, ExplorUS will run a year-round restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and provide catering services for golf tournaments, ranging from beverage coolers to sack lunches to full buffets. The clubhouse’s 100-foot vaulted ceiling provides an unmatched view of the surrounding mountains, making it a popular destination for memorable wedding receptions and corporate events, for which ExplorUS will also provide catering.

Wasatch Mountain’s café is open during the golf season, typically March through October. In addition to serving up three meals a day, ExplorUS will also provide a range of catering services for golf tournaments. The company hopes to expand operations in the future to include year-round services and facility improvements to allow for a larger event space.

Frank Pikus, ExplorUS’ CEO, says the golf courses are on par with the company’s focus. “We are a hospitality company first and foremost. At each of our locations, our priority is to provide a superb visitor experience, and we will do that at Soldier Hollow and Wasatch Mountain by providing excellent food and memorable occasions for golfers, visitors, and eventgoers.”

ExplorUS operates more than 100 food and beverage concessions at locations across the country.

Improving Visitor Services at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

Visitors to Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Florida will soon be able to enjoy enhanced amenities, including an improved restaurant, updated event space, more options for recreational equipment rentals, and a new dock. Hospitality provider ExplorUS plans to improve the Park’s current concessions when its contract with the State begins in January 2024. The company’s No. 1 priority is to preserve the Park’s green spaces to ensure it retains its laid-back feel for visitors.

The Park is nestled in bustling Fort Lauderdale and is named after Hugh Taylor Birch, who donated his estate in 1941 to become a public park. The green oasis in the middle of urban development is nicknamed “Florida’s Central Park.” Visitors can escape the fast pace of city life and enjoy the secluded feel of the Park tucked between the Intercoastal Waterway and the surf and sand of the Atlantic Ocean.

A beachside restaurant and bar provide the perfect setting for diners to enjoy a delicious meal and sip a cocktail while watching the ocean waves roll in. Visitors can expect a seamless transition to ExplorUS management in January, and a new menu that will focus on local flavors and appeal to a wide range of palates. Blackened mahi, grouper tacos, conch fritters, and crab cakes will be highlighted, along with upgraded classics such as a beach burger and tuna nachos. Other favorites such as cheeseburgers, chicken tenders, and wings will also be on the menu.

The Park is a popular destination for weddings, receptions, meetings, and more. ExplorUS will focus on growing event services by making much-needed cosmetic improvements to the Garden Club Building, where many events are held. These changes will give the event space a more modern feel and encourage group gatherings.

Visitors will also have a better selection of souvenirs, gifts, and outdoor supplies in the retail space inside the restaurant building. The retail area will have new retail fixtures and an improved layout which will aid customer flow.

ExplorUS CEO Frank Pikus said the company is excited to work with the Park’s citizen support organization, the Friends of Birch State Park, to promote the conservation and preservation of the Park. He added, “Hugh Taylor Birch State Park has such a unique and rich history, and we are honored to continue traditions while enhancing amenities. Visitors will be pleased with our improvements, which will boost their Park experience. We have tremendous respect for the State of Florida and are ready to serve as a valuable partner.”

At each of its concession locations, ExplorUS hires staff from the local community and works with regional vendors and community leaders to ensure the site remains a treasured landmark.

ExplorUS has nearly 30 years of experience elevating visitor experiences in areas such as food and beverage, retail, equipment rentals, event management, lodging, campgrounds, day-use areas, interpretive services, and marinas.

For more information about ExplorUS, visit goExplorUS.com.

Colossal Accolades for Our Cave Guides

Descending six stories into the Earth, winding through narrow passageways and across rock bridges, seeing stalagmites and stalactites up close … it’s all part of the cave tour experience at our concessions operation at Colossal Cave Mountain Park in Arizona.

To add to the excitement of exploring these natural wonders, ExplorUS has a team of experienced, fun cave guides who lead the tours. The guides give lively talks about the cave’s history, geology, and legends — train robbers and ghosts are among them! They also give informative stories about cave formations and unique residents, such as bats and coatis. And, of course, visitor safety is a priority, and our guides are trained to provide safety instructions as well as assistance when needed.

Our guides have earned countless glowing reviews from visitors for their enthusiasm, knowledge, and expertise. Don’t take our word for it, though; visit the Park and meet our phenomenal cave guides!

Thanksgiving Traditions Celebrated at Starved Rock Lodge

Renowned for its fabulous food, banquets, and more than 500 special events and activities each year, Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center is THE place to be for the holidays. Located two hours from Chicago, the operation has a full calendar of fun year-round, and especially in November and December.

Kicking off the holidays is our annual Thanksgiving buffet, where we serve up melt-in-your-mouth turkey, ham, and all the trimmings, including scrumptious dessert. We have celebrated this tradition year after year and welcome many returning guests as well as newcomers. Reservations are required, as this is one of our most popular events at Starved Rock.

Preparations begin weeks ahead of time for our kitchen staff, who take great care to craft a wonderful menu full of holiday favorites and innovative fare. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are included, as well as other special dietary needs.

This year, the Starved Rock team served a whopping 1,200 guests, who left with full bellies and warm memories.

ExplorUS makes quite a catch at Roaring River State Park

ExplorUS will deliver its signature high-quality hospitality services at Roaring River State Park in southwest Missouri beginning in January 2024.

Roaring River State Park is one of four trout parks in Missouri and is a premier destination for anglers. In addition to cold-stream fishing, the park also offers a full-service restaurant, camp store, rustic cabins and rooms at the Emory Melton Inn and Conference Center and Civilian Conservation Corps Lodge.

Since 2019, ExplorUS has managed Montauk Lodge within one of Missouri’s other trout parks, Montauk State Park, and will draw on that experience to manage Roaring River State Park, where the company is committed to preserving long-standing traditions while enhancing services. The park store will continue to offer an abundance of fishing equipment as well as camping supplies and groceries, and anglers can purchase fishing licenses and daily trout tags.

Preparations are underway to enhance the retail experience by offering new high-quality products, including custom apparel and park-themed merchandise. The restaurant will have a new menu which will feature classic favorites as well as modern fare — of course, trout will be on the menu!

“We are thrilled to operate in one of Missouri’s most-visited state parks and to be a part of family traditions that have spanned generations,” said Frank Pikus, ExplorUS CEO. “We have a number of exciting family-friendly activities and amenities planned and look forward to serving visitors at Roaring River State Park.”

ExplorUS has a treasured history with the State of Missouri. Roaring River is the company’s seventh operation in the Show-Me State, joining Montauk Lodge, two marinas in Lake of the Ozarks State Park, and four state parks: Sam A. Baker, Lake Wappapello, Echo Bluff, and Thousand Hills.

With headquarters in the Kansas City area, ExplorUS’ Missouri locations are in its backyard, but the company’s profile extends much farther to include nearly 70 sites in 17 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For more information about ExplorUS, visit goExplorUS.com.

The Lincoln Café Is Now Open

Visitors to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, will now have the opportunity to grab a convenient bite to eat on-site.

ExplorUS has opened the Lincoln Café, a quick-service restaurant, open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., inside the museum building. Patrons can choose from a menu of grab-and-go breakfast and lunch items, including muffins, sandwiches, soups, salads, pizza, and ice cream. Box lunches will also be available for visiting schoolchildren and other large groups. Museum admission is not required to eat at the café.

ExplorUS also manages the museum gift shop, which features a wide variety of gifts, books, and souvenirs honoring the nation’s 16th president.   

“Opening the café was a natural progression after our success managing the gift shop,” said ExplorUS CEO Frank Pikus. “We are pleased to offer visitors a variety of delicious food, and we are grateful to the State of Illinois for awarding us this opportunity.”

ExplorUS has a 28-year history of providing an array of hospitality services, including food and beverage, retail, and lodging.

#goExplorUS