We’re on our way to south central Kentucky where we’ll be spending about two months with Eric’s kids. After leaving Austin, we were planning to stay around Mt. Pleasant, TX for our first stop. The only reason was mileage – it was a logical resting point when we divided the total distance we had to travel.
While running our travel plans by our friends Jason and Kristin (the Snowmads), Jason insisted we push a bit further to Hot Springs, AR. Even though getting here meant a looongg nine hour travel day yesterday, we are already so glad we listened to Jason!
One day in Hot Springs, and I’m a fan for life. It has been an amazing day! This is one of my top five places we’ve been in our 13 months of full-time RVing.
Our RV Park: Catherine’s Landing
We found our RV park Catherine’s Landing through Good Sam. It has a perfect rating: 10-10-10 across all categories. We’re waiting for sunshine (hopefully tomorrow) to take good photos, but so far we love this RV park. It’s surrounded by trees and located on a beautiful creek with clean, level sites. Though it’s only about 10 minutes from town center, all the amenities might tempt us to spend time closer to home: free Wi-Fi, cable, swimming pool, boat and kayak rental, game room, fitness center. Wow!
We’ll have more to share about the park itself in a couple of days.
Day One in Hot Springs
Since this is our only full weekend day in Hot Springs before we head to our next destination, we wanted to take advantage of the time. It’s overcast and has been drizzling on and off, but we can’t let that stop us.
Before leaving home, I called Quapaw Spa and made a reservation for a private bath. We want to try the public bath too, but with the dreary day and aches left over from our drive yesterday, a cozy soak for two sounded awesome.
Just a few minutes from our RV park, we turned into the Visitor’s Center for a map and words of advice from the staff there. Metered parking was free today (Sunday), so we were able to park right there at the southern edge of Bathhouse Row with no problems.
We walked across Reserve Street and five early 1900’s bathhouses were lined up before us, complemented by lush magnolia trees along the sidewalk. As you walk south to north:
- The Lamar Bathhouse is a National Park Service gift shop. This is where you get your National Park Passport stamped, and you should also stop in for your first taste of Hot Springs mineral water (free)!
- Buckstaff Bathhouse is one of the two bathhouses still in operation. We’ve had a couple of people tell us this is this favorite bathhouse because it has an older, more original feel to it. We hope to try it later this week.
- Quapaw Bathhouse is the other operational bathhouse. It’s more modern, but there are still historic features. Photos to follow!
- The Fordyce Bathhouse is now the National Park Visitor Center. You can take a self guided or ranger guided tour, plus there are informational videos about the history of Hot Springs. Highly recommended, all free.
- The Superior Bathhouse is now a brewery and distillery. It’s been recommended to us – we’ll let you know what we think if we make it there!
Quapaw Baths & Spa
With a reservation for 1 PM, we checked in at Quapaw Baths & Spa around 12:30. The private mineral bath starts at $30 for an individual and $45 for a couple. We opted for the Kneipp foaming bath treatment with Juniper for muscle relaxation and natural pain relief. It was absolutely worth a mere $7 more.
Debi quickly took us into our room and had us check the temperature of the water. Then she left us to enjoy our 20 minute soak with Hot Springs mineral water to sip! At first we were surprised that the time limit was 20 minutes, but we learned it’s mandated for all private baths for safety reasons. You can extend your time by paying for another session, but you have to get out and cool down in the interim.
Not sure what to say about the private bath, except it was awesome and I’d do it again tomorrow (and the next day). The aromatherapy was fabulous, and the historic surroundings made the experience more memorable. Without a doubt, this is one of the most memorable things I’ve got to do doing our full-time RV adventure.
After we cooled down with some infused water, Debi was kind enough to take us to the basement of Quapaw to see the newest part of their spa. Behind a glass door with a beautiful handle made of reclaimed wood was an amazing sauna/steam room fueled by the hot springs. In fact, we got to see the actual running hot springs there! It’s only $10 more to use the steam room.
The story of how this room came about is so cool. Debi and her colleagues used to sneak down there to take advantage of the steam. The ground was covered with natural water. When they were “found out,” the happy result was an official spa facility. The floor has been covered by a slated wooden platform, but you can still see the water Debi used to step through. There are benches in there and the temperature is 109 degrees. Eric and I tried to get pictures, but our camera lenses fogged right up!
The Ohio Club
Lunch was long overdue, so we walked across the street from Bathhouse Row to eat at The Ohio Club. This place is the oldest bar in Arkansas (1905), and it has a colorful history as an illegal casino and bar during prohibition. Many famous gangsters frequented the venue, like Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Bugs Moran and Frank Costello. There were political visitors (FDR, Herbert Hoover, maybe even Theodore Roosevelt), movie star visitors (Mae West) and sports visitors (Babe Ruth).
The ambiance is delightful. The bar back is crafted out of beautiful mahogany. The front of the building actually had to be removed to get it installed. Upstairs there’s a small stage and low lighting.
But what I really want to talk about is the food! The Ohio Club is lauded for its burgers. We tried The Ohio Burger and The Hawaiian Burger and they were so good. I also recommended the onion rings.
You can also expect an impressive cocktail menu. My berry sangria was the best I’ve had, but that was hardly the most creative concoction on the list. On my next visit, I plan to try the caramel apple martini!
National Park Visitor Center
With food in our bellies, we went back to Bathhouse Row to tour The Fordyce Bathhouse/National Park Visitor Center. It won’t take you long to walk through the three floors of The Fordyce, guided by your map and placards in each room. We caught the end of a ranger guided tour, which I’d recommend if you want more of the story. Also don’t miss the video on the first floor, which plays at the top and bottom of every hour (every half hour).
I don’t want to spoil all the cool things you’ll see at The Fordyce! It was fascinating to see the decor and implements of the time, and to learn about the medicinal recommendations of the time.
Make sure you make it down to the basement, where you can actually see the hot springs flowing.
Scenic Drive up West Mountain
Just north of Bathhouse Row, we took a left and followed the signs to W Mountain Dr. It was less than 5 minutes to the top with two scenic pull-offs on the way and a place to stop at the top. It’s a lovely short drive and you’ll get a fun view of Hot Springs. There’s also a trail that starts (ends?) at the top of the mountains. The trail is 9.8 miles total.
So Much Left to See
And this is just day one! We have an exciting week ahead of us. Here’s what’s on our list:
- Garvan Woodland Gardens and Anthony Chapel
- Grand Promenade
- Buckstaff Bathhouse
- Public bathing at Quapaw
- East Mountain and observation tower
- The Gangster Museum of America
- Rolando’s Nuevo Latino Restaurante
- Fat Jack’s bar and grill
Lots to do, so little time! It’s been a great day and I can’t wait to explore more tomorrow. Comment with any questions, or recommendations for things we should do (eat!) in Hot Springs.