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Hot Springs, Arkansas Summer Travel Suggestions

Summer is here and as I am starting to think about my next trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas I reflect on what I will do in the hot water city. I always like to check out the new restaurants, shops and attractions but many of my top “things to do” in Hot Springs are things I have done since I was young. These are some of the “insider jewels” of Hot Springs that I and other past and present locals put high on the list of recommendations.

The list of things I like to do around Hot Springs starts with spending a day at one of the lakes. Lake Hamilton and Lake Ouachita have quite a few nice day camping spots with grills that make for a great picnic site. As an add-on option you can rent a boat to sightsee, fish or water ski. Many of these lakeside parks and campgrounds have swimming areas to float the day away and have fun. However, the “insider jewel” of this day trip is to drive out to Hot Springs Packing Company beforehand to pick up some of their polish sausages for the grill. They come in plain, cheese, jalapeno and cheese jalapeno. They are great and like nothing you have ever tried before. They can only be purchased at the packing company and in 10 pound boxes. Don’t let the size of the box scare you away, you will be the lake hero if you share with your day camping neighbors. Also don’t expect a nice retail store as most of Hot Springs Packing Company’s business is wholesale. Pick up some Big Red soda to wash it all down and if you’re visit is in mid July through August pick up a Hope Watermelon. When you see a pickup truck on the side of the road full of watermelons, pull over. That’s where you get the best ones short of driving to Hope, Arkansas! This lake picnic will make for a great day or two in Hot Springs.

Next I’ll cover my top Hot Springs attractions that your trip report must have in it. Visiting the Fordyce Bathhouse Museum & Hot Springs National Park Visitor’s Center is a must along with strolling through Bath House Row and park trails and all are free. Make sure at some point you drive the North Mountain (also known as Hot Springs Mountain) and West Mountain loop for beautiful scenery and great views of the city both day and night. Another great thing to do is to stroll downtown Hot Springs after you visit the National Park. Toward the fountain, located at the beginning of Central Avenue, you can visit the Mountain Valley Spring Visitor’s Center. You can browse their collection of Mountain Valley bottles and memorabilia dating back to their start in 1871. Work your way in the other direction from the national park to browse downtown art galleries. You will find all forms of creative art and much of it is created by artists from Arkansas. To see some creative fired pottery, drive to Fox Pass Pottery and take a look at Jim Larkin’s creations. Jim was selected as the 2012 Arkansas Living Treasure by the Arkansas Arts Council. Also arrive before noon to see glass blowing at the Riley Art Glass Studio.

My final must see attraction is Garvan Woodland Gardens. This University of Arkansas owned botanical garden has more than 4 miles of wooded shoreline on Lake Hamilton and many trails of beautiful flora, trees, streams and bridges. Don’t miss the Anthony Chapel, a short walk from the parking lot, and make sure you bring your camera. You can easily fill half a day here with all of the walkways if your feet can take it.
Last but not least are my restaurant “insider jewels”. Hot Springs is filled with great places to eat but several make my must visit list. Rod’s Pizza Cellar is one of those places I must go to at least once but usually twice or more each visit. There’s nothing like Rod’s Godfather, Godmother or Razorback pizza so get it while you can! Locals like Rod’s but if you live far away from Hot Springs you really appreciate what Rod’s has to offer with their unique pizza that is anything but skimpy on toppings. Hot Springs has several great BBQ restaurants that cook and smoke their meat with hickory wood. Ask a local which is their favorite and you will get different answers because many of them have a rich history of great food. My favorites are Mickey’s, Smokin’ in Style, and McClards which is the most famous of the group. There are others with great BBQ but I find myself going to these three.

Years ago I wouldn’t get that excited about Mexican restaurants in Hot Springs but that has changed. Recent newcomer Cotija Mexican Restaurant is the first place I go as the food is wonderful and the prices are great. Jose’s Mexican Grill & Cantina is another good choice and most Hot Springs locals grew up eating Taco Pronto burritos and cheese crisps. A trip is not complete without getting a combination burrito at Taco Pronto. It was the first to serve Mexican food in Hot Springs. Mexican food critics may not appreciate it as much as locals and that’s OK. Finally, there’s another newcomer in town that serves great Italian food, called Luna Bella. It is also a restaurant great for special occasions.

Everyone planning a Hot Springs tour should consider these “insider jewels” and seek out other jewels from the locals they meet along the way. If you have some jewels you would like to share post them on the Hot Springs Tips Facebook page at or send an email to

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