Travel Tales #2: Fun Times With Friends in Hot Springs, Arkansas – Distressed to Joyful; Bailey's Way
I’d like to start by saying that I’m from Texas and I have never, ever thought to myself “let’s go to Arkansas!” when planning a trip. I mean, what’s there to even do in ARKANSAS?!
About a month ago, my boyfriend and his friends decided that they wanted to go somewhere over Labor Day weekend (and include the girlfriends and wives this time, finally!) but with the holiday weekend being only a month away, our options were extremely limited. The group consisted of people living in Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee so with such short notice, we decided that we wanted to go somewhere drive-able in order to avoid ridiculous airline prices. We also wanted to go to a state that none of us currently lived in so the only option seemed to be Arkansas.
Let me just tell you, this trip took my by surprise – and the good kind of surprise! We had such an amazing time while never once being bored or running out of things to do. Also, excluding the cost of the lakeside Airbnb, we really didn’t spend a whole lot of money – an added bonus for this budget-conscious girl! 🙂
So, let me be the one to convince you to plan your next trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas! Here’s a list of some of the best things to do during your stay:
1. Rent Mountain Bikes and explore Hot Springs National Park
Before this trip, I had never ridden a mountain bike before and there is definitely a difference between these bad boys and regular bikes! There are more gears, front breaks that are separate from the back brakes and the seat shifts up and down, which I thought was super weird at first but it definitely is a useful feature. We rented the bikes from Parkside Cycle and it was fairly inexpensive – $75 to use the bike with suspension from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. The owners of this shop were awesome people! Check out my Yelp review to learn more about this bike shop.
The one thing that I wish we would’ve taken into better consideration was that the nearest bike trail from the shop was a 2-mile ride uphill along a sidewalk-less road… There were five of us and we drove to the shop in one of our small cars which was not equipped with bike holders sooo guess who biked 2-miles uphill to get to the trails? **insert hand-raise emoji** We did!! But in all honesty, we enjoyed the ride regardless. Plus, the great thing was that the way back was all downhill – my favorite!
Once you make it to the bike trails, there’s an awesome map that shows you which trails are easy, mid-level and hard so that you can choose according to your own capabilities. We chose an easy one, Bearcat Hollow, which was pretty flat and perfect for the skill-level of the majority of our group.
2. Check out Bathhouse Row and the history behind it
I am a suckerrr for a museum along with any kind of history-learning-experience I can get my hands on, especially when traveling to someplace new. Imagine my delight when we found a Visitor Center in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas that showcased how Bathhouses began their operation in the late 1800s – some of which are still operating to this day.
There are eight bath houses on Bathhouse Row and only 2 remain fully functioning to this day (Quapaw Bathhouse and Buckstaff Bathhouse). Before you ask, no, we did not try a bathhouse experience (mainly due to COVID-19), although I’ve heard it’s actually a very relaxing experience. Fordyce Bathhouse is now a museum/visitor center which gives you an inside-look on what it was like to be a patron of a bathhouse in the early 20th century. *Side note: I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Italy back when I was a junior in high school and let me just make it clear that these bathhouses are not like those that I toured in Pompeii… So this was fascinating to learn about, to say the least!
The Ozark Bathhouse is now an art gallery that has free admission – this is something that I wish I would’ve known ahead of time as I would’ve loved to have checked it out. If you get the chance to do so, please leave a comment and let me know what you thought!
3. Drink craft beer made from thermal spring water at Superior Bathhouse Brewery
Okay, so this is actually super cool and a must-do if you’re into beer! Personally, I stopped drinking back in 2019, so while the guys in our group enjoyed the beer, myself and Poonam enjoyed the tasty food that is top-notch in comparison to your average bar food.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery is classified as the most unique brewery world-wide as it is both the only brewery located inside a United States National Park and the only brewery in the world to utilize thermal spring water to craft its brews. How cool is that?! The owners of Parkside Cycle actually recommended that we try this place out and mentioned that the food here was also great – we are very glad that we listened the their advice!
The guys shared a Beer Bath – a flight that contained one, 4 oz pour of each of the 18 beers on tap. They enjoyed all of them excluding the pickle-flavored brew (which was a hilarious experience for Poonam and I to watch!). The soft pretzel appetizer was so good that we ordered one…two…THREE in total by the time we left! Definitely don’t skip out on trying that. 😉 Check out my Yelp review for more helpful tips.
4. Hike Hot Springs National Park
If you’re a fan of hiking, enjoying the nature and beautiful scenery of Hot Springs National Park is definitely a must! Unfortunately, my group did not get the chance to experience a hiking excursion as we were only there for the long weekend, but we were constantly recommended to do so during our stay. Although, we did have the pleasure of enjoying a scenic drive through the park which went uphill and at the top was a gorgeous view! If you don’t have time to hike or if it’s just not your thing, you’ve at least got to check out this beautiful view that you can drive to.
Also, if you’re looking to check out a real-live hot spring without having to hike to one, take the stairway upwards that’s located in between Maurice and Fordyce Bathhouses and you’ll find one on the left side. It was actually super cool to see steaming hot water flowing in its natural state.
5. Rent a boat on Lake Hamilton
Once again, this is something that our group was unfortunately unable to experience. Apparently renting a bot on Lake Hamilton is a HUGE to-do as each rental place we called said that Labor Day weekend had been fully booked months in advance. Keep that in mind if you plan to visit on a holiday weekend! Jet skis are unavailable for commercial rental due to too many causalities on the lake in the past so don’t waste your time trying to find somewhere to rent you one.
If you are able to score a boat rental, be sure that you get your Boater’s Education Card beforehand as they will require this at pickup. The good news is that you can get certified in your home state and it’s valid in Arkansas! Use this link to access the online training course needed to get certified.
Because our Airbnb was on the lake and we could not rent a boat, I was not about to go the entire weekend without utilizing the lake somehow. After all, this Aribnb wasn’t cheap! We improvised by purchasing tubes from Walmart along with some rope to create a safe, lake-float experience where we did not have to worry about drifting away. This way my idea, of course! All of my Girl Scout knot-tying-skills finally came in handy. 😉
In all seriousness, we had a blast free-floating in the incredibly wavy lake with no worries in the world. If you have your own tubes, bring them to save some money! I was kicking myself for forgetting to pack mine before leaving. Also, the nearest Academy is 40 minutes from Lake Hamilton so we were very lucky (and thankful) that Walmart still had some tubes left as summer is nearing to an end.
**Bonus: Holiday weekends include a fireworks show over Lake Hamilton
Never in my life have I seen a fireworks show in commemoration of Labor Day, but these Arkansas folks take advantage of the American holiday and celebrate with a bang! We did a little research and found the exact spot where they would be setting off the fireworks. I found a parking lot of a brunch restaurant nearby where we parked to enjoy the show. This show was actually better than Houston’s 4th of July 2021 fireworks show – and we had one of the best views in the city so that’s saying something! I’d say that it’s probably safe to assume that they do this for 4th of July and possibly Memorial Day weekend as well but do some research beforehand to avoid missing out.
Feel free to leave a comment with some of the fun things YOU experienced while in hot Springs, Arkansas! I’d love to hear about your fun times. 🙂
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