Put on Your Hot Springs, Arkansas Vacation Pants

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At the official Hot Springs National Park entrance in Hot Springs, Arkansas. August -2016

In August we flew to Northern Texas because my baby brother got married.  My husband reminded me that I had never been to Arkansas, so we had to plan a little road trip out of Texas while we were out there.  We wound up in Hot Springs, Arkansas for a four night trip, and let’s just say, this place was made to be blogged about.  Hot Springs, Arkansas is the home of Hot Springs National Park and it is exactly what it sounds like.  People at the turn of the century flocked to Hot Springs to take advantage of all the bath houses that sprouted up in the town due to the natural hot springs in the area.  Well, eight of the original buildings remain standing today, and two of them are still working bath houses.  Read on to find out how you can plan an amazing adventure to this fantastic place.

Trip Overview

This was a fairly cheap trip.  We were already flying to Texas from California for a wedding, so we just rented a car and made a little road trip out of it.  We also headed down to Shreveport, Louisiana for a couple of days on this trip as well, but I am saving that for a later post.  We went in early August and it was HOTTTTTT!  The humidity was pretty extreme, but there is a lot of indoor air conditioned places to hang out in.  This would be a great place to visit in the fall.  I guess it is a little more crowded, but the weather is perfect.

Trip Itinerary

We stayed for four nights and five days.  Take a look at how we did it below.

Day 1: Drove to Hot Springs, got in late to the Country Lake Resort.
Day 2: Played in the lake by our hotel and drove around the downtown area.
Day 3: Toured Bath House Row, ate at an actual re-purposed bath house, took in a room escape.
Day 4:  Hiked around the National Park area, went up in the observation tower.
Day 5:  The kiddos did the Junior Ranger program, and we headed out, but stopped at Diamond Crater State Park on our way out of town.


Trip Budget

So I am not including the cost of airfare in our trip budget since we were in the area for a different reason.  We traveled in the summer which is more of a peak season time to travel, so you may find some deals for even cheaper then we found.
  • Rental Car – $250 for a full sized car through an amazing rental car company called Sixt.  They specialize in luxury rental cars, but they do have some affordable prices.  When we got to the rental car terminal at the airport there were long lines at every counter except Sixt.  They helped us right away and had excellent customer service.  Keep in mind that the company does charge $99 for an extra driver even if it is your spouse, but I am glad they just charged a flat rate instead of a day by day situation like other rental car companies do.
My Vacations Pants (MVP) Travel Trip:  Always sign up for a rental car company’s customer loyalty program.  They often give you some great coupons, offer you faster check in, and many give you a free additional driver just for signing up.  
  • Gas – I calculated the round trip cost for gas on https://www.fueleconomy.gov/ and it worked out to about $50 round trip for a compact car.  I calculated the gas from Arlington, Texas to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
  • Lodging Costs – $516 for four nights in a family room with a full sized kitchen and dining area. We stayed at the Country Inn Lake Resort in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  This magnificent place was right on a lake and every room had a spectacular view.  Plus…they had a swim dock right by our rooms.  We jumped and frolicked into the refreshing and warm water.  I am guessing the water was warm because of the Hot Springs flowing in to the lake.
  • Attractions – $166 – You can see the attractions we decided to do below.  We love to find cheap and free stuff to do.
  • TRIP TOTAL = $982 – This was for 3 adults (Grandma came with us) and 2 children ages 5 and 7 at the time of travel.  
  • I don’t include food in my budgets because you have to eat everyday.  We go to some restaurants and we do some food in the hotel, so it ends up costing about the same to eat at home as it does on the trip.

Trip Lodging

We stayed at the Country Inn Lake Resort located on the lovely Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I am telling you this place is one of the coolest places we have ever stayed on a vacation.  Holy Cow!!!  What Makes it Special – It has recently been remodeled and we got a double queen room with a kitchenette. Every room overlooks the lake and there are stairs right down to the swim dock where you can jump right in the refreshing water.  The water is like bath tub temperature because of the hot springs, so even my very skinny son could swim for hours.  The staff was very nice and friendly.  It has that family owned country inn vibe and we absolutely loved it.

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My 5 year old taking a dive in the super bath tub warm water of Lake Hamilton.
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The view from our room.

 


Trip Eats

  • The Purple Cow Restaurant – I found this place on the Tripadvisor app.  You can check out my blog on how to use that fantastic travel website right here.  Tripadvisor has pretty much never led us wrong as far as amazing local food places, and this place was no exception.  This was a cute diner style restaurant with good ole diner style fare on the menu. What to Get: Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, Purple Vanilla Ice Cream, The Burgers (and of course all sandwiches a burgers come with a purple onion on the side.
    Ready to get our grub on at The Purple Cow
    Pretty much the most magical purple ice cream I have ever laid my taste buds on.
  • McClard’s Bar-b-q – This is a family owned BBQ joint with some unique recipes.  The decor is adorable and we had a blast trying the family recipes.  What to Get:  The Tamale (this a family recipe and it said in the menu it was a cure for a hangover.
    Tamale Time!
    Out front by the neon sign. 
  • Superior Bathhouse – Since Hot Springs National Park has an area of preserved turn-of-the-century bathhouses, I became obsessed with visiting them.  The area of preserved bathhouses is called Bathhouse Row.  Two of the antique buildings are actual working bathhouses, but one of them has been re-purposed as a brewery and restaurant called Superior Bathhouse (they preserved its original name).  The moment we saw it, I knew we had to eat there.  It used to be a bathhouse and now it’s a restaurant.  Too cool.  You eat in the lobby area and it has amazing tiling and decor.  The restaurant has a bunch of different alcoholic beverages to try, but we don’t really drink.  We got the root beer which is made right there at the restaurant.  My son got a huge pretzel with cheese dipping sauce.  It also had good old fashioned pub fare like sandwiches, burgers, salads and more.  It was a really novel place to eat dinner at.
    Look how cool this place looks!
    Eating at a bath house.
  • Fat Bottomed Girls Cupcakes – Apparently this place was one of the finalists on the show Cupcake Wars, and after eating at this place I can totally see why.  Imagine the most decadent, frosted, moist cupcakes you have ever tasted…you literally need a fork to eat them.  They were so good.  I highly recommend anything with the cream cheese frosting.  Oh, yummers!
    Salted Caramel.  The fork is sticking right in that amazing thing.  
    Very cute and awesomely decorated shop. 

Trip Activities

  • Bathhouse Row – Like I mentioned before, there is a row of 8 bathhouses that have been preserved from the turn of the century.  One of them is a restaurant, two of them are still working bathhouses, one is the National Park Headquarters, some are gift shops, and art galleries, and various offices.  Each one has its own unique design and style.  The hot springs in the area caused this place to have many bathhouses sprout up in the city.  Hundreds of people flocked to the area to soak in their waters.  Many believed that the baths had healing powers.  You could tell that some of the areas of the downtown have been preserved nicely, but some of the beautiful buildings are in great disrepair.  It was an interesting sight to see.  You have to take in Bathhouse Row. Make sure you tour the National Park Visitor Center.  It gives you a peek in to what going to a bathhouse was like.  Also, make sure you check out one of the bathhouses and think about taking a bath while you are in the area.  One of the bathhouses, Quapaw Bathhouse, is more of a modern spa, but Buckstaff Bathhouse is still run like it was 100 years ago.  It had been open since 1908.  We didn’t do a bath because our kiddos are still a little too young, but my 7 year old decided she is coming back with her Grandma for a bath when she turns 10, the youngest you can be to take a bath at the bathhouse.
    Bathhouse Row
    Beautiful decor.
    A corridor inside the visitor center. 
    One of the medical showers.
    An old ad for the baths.
    How many family members can you fit in a tub?

    Buckstaff Baths is an actual working bathhouse.

    Some of the necessities for taking a bath at a bathhouse.
    These steamers were a bit creepy looking.
  • Room Escape at A Narrow Escape – My family adores doing room escapes.  We have done them all over the Southern California area where we live, but we had never done one outside of our home state.  A room escape is an interactive game.  You are locked in a room and you have to solve a series of mental puzzles and clues to find away out.  I saw that Hot Springs had tons of room escapes for such a small area, but there was one that had the best reviews.  A Narrow Escape also let children participate in the room.  Our kids are pretty advanced and have done escapes with us before, so I definitely appreciated that they were willing to let my kids participate with us.  I don’t want to give anything away, but the owner is a fantastic human.  He designs his own tech for the room and several of the puzzles were designed by him.  It was such a unique experience and very different than many of the rooms we have done before.  I loved that he took the time to show us cool stuff after the room.  I highly recommend doing this escape if you dare.
    We escaped!!!
  • Hot Springs Observation Tower – As you drive around the downtown area you can’t help but notice a mountain of beautiful green trees, and rising above those trees is a tower that stands over the city.  We had to try out the view, and it didn’t disappoint.  Admission was $7 for adults and $5 for kids, 4 and under are free.  We took the elevator up to the museum level.  This was an enclosed circular room with a lot of interesting artifacts and history about the area of Hot Springs.  We then went up one more level to the outdoor observation platform and took in the breathtaking views from the city.  Mr. My Vacation Pants and my son took the stairs down to the bottom for an added entertainment value.  The rest of us were fine with the stairs.  Great fun for the whole family.
    That’s what we call a tower selfie.
    Taking in a view inside the museum platform. 
    Breathtaking views of the city.
    This is the outdoor platform which is the very top floor. 
    One more tower selfie. 
  • Old School Big Lots – I guess this is more of my thing and maybe not for everyone, but I LOVED the vintage Big Lots in Hot Springs.  It was a huge Big Lots and we got a lot of cool stuff and it just had an amazing vintage feel.  Check it our if you love your discount bargain stores.
    Love a good vintage sign and a good bargain discount retailer.
  • Hike – Now we were there in August, so it was HOT in Hot Springs and HUMID as well, but Grandma and the hubbs (husband) convinced me to take a hike, and it was totally worth it.  We saw many of the springs and saw wonderful views of waterfalls and the city.  You can start at the National Park entrance and hike the trails from there.  You can get advice on what hikes to take at the Fordyce Bathhouse National Park Visitor Center.  Also, if you have littles, make sure you do the junior ranger program.  It’s so fun, educational, free, and you get a badge for completing the activities.
    Silly Grandma posing at the hike entrance.
    I found some hot springs.
    Lovely brick roads.
    Waterfalls galore.
    Rock Climbing.
  • Crater of Diamonds State Park – So this place is about an hour outside of Hot Springs, located in Murfreesboro, Arkansas.  It’s just like what it sounds.  A gigantic crater filled with rocks and some diamonds.  Apparently, visitors find an average of two diamonds a day.  Admission is $8 bucks for adults, and $5 for children. Now if you find some diamonds, that’s gonna pay for itself.  We didn’t find any diamonds, but we found a lot of beautiful rocks.  There is a ranger who identifies your finds for free, and you get to keep as much as you want.  You can bring your own tools or rent them at the crater for a pretty fair price.  Again, it was hot.  Bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and a hat to keep your face out of the sun.  Also, wear grubby clothes and shoes, because you will get dirty.  We dug for a couple hours, and really enjoyed wet sifting our dirt.  It was good family bonding time.
Going Diamond Hunting
Dry Sifting.
Wet Sifting.
This was the site of a very large diamond find.

 

Well, there you have it, all our adventures in this amazing area.  If you ever find time for an Arkansas adventure, make sure you hit up Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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Links

Sixt Rental Cars – https://www.sixt.com/
Tripadvisor – https://www.tripadvisor.com/
Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce – http://www.hotspringschamber.com/

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