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Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas - Travel Guide



A wide variety of activities make Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, an excellent year- round destination for a weekend or a longer vacation. Amtrak service to Hot Springs is provided by the Texas Eagle with connecting travel options from Little Rock, Malvern or Arkadelphia. For passengers who will be picked up by someone from Hot Springs, Malvern is the closest station, approximately 20 minutes drive from Hot Springs. Passengers from points north may wish to detrain at Little Rock to secure a rental car for travel to Hot Springs, and passengers arriving from points south and west may wish to use Arkadelphia as their connecting point. The availability of Amtrak service allows visitors to the spa city to begin their vacation adventure as soon as they step aboard the train. For almost a century, passenger trains were the major transportation source into this resort city, and Amtrak's Texas Eagle is reviving the grand tradition of bringing visitors to Hot Springs by rail.

Famlies traveling aboard the Texas Eagle can experience quality time together, without the stress of driver fatigue, finding a gas station, or worrying about that speeding 18- wheeler in the rear view mirror. Instead, Amtrak passengers may enjoy dinner in the dining car and then watch a spectacular Texas sunset from the panoramic windows of the Sightseer lounge as the train hurries toward its destination. Individual staterooms and family rooms are available (at additional cost) for passengers desiring privacy to finish some last minute work, play a card game, or simply read a book.

After arriving in Hot Springs, a variety of choices are available, ranging from a quiet weekend of rest and relaxation to a more active time enjoying the majestic beauty of the Ouachita Mountains while boating or swimming on the lakes, hiking woodland trails or perhaps hunting for quartz crystals ["Hot Springs diamonds"} at one of the nearby crystal mines. Numerous festivals lend themselves to a long weekend in Hot Springs. Passengers from Texas arrive Thursday evening and depart Sunday morning; passengers from northern points arrive Friday morning and depart Sunday evening. Special weekend festivals which are particularly suited to an "Amtrak weekend" schedule include:

April - May -- Arkansas Celebration of the Visual Arts - painting and sculpture
July 4 -- Fireworks on Lake Hamilton, near the Clarion Resort Hotel
September -- Hot Springs Jazz and Blues Festival
October -- Documentary Film Festival
October -- Arkansas Oktoberfest
November -- Arkansas Celebration of the Performing Arts - music and dance
Persons planning to travel to Hot Springs during any of these festivals should make hotel and travel arrangements well in advance. Consult the Eagle's Hot Springs web page or the Hot Springs tourism web site for exact dates of each festival.

Visitors to Hot Springs may wish to base their selection of hotel accommodations according to the activities which are planned in Hot Springs. Downtown hotels are within easy walking distance of the shops, restaurants and museums of the Historic District along Central Avenue, thus avoiding the need for a rental car. Visitors planning to take advantage of water sports or other outdoor recreational activities may prefer to rent a car and select a resort hotel situated on one of several lakes surrounding Hot Springs.

Several excellent hotels are located within Hot Spring's downtown historic district. Perhaps the most famous, and certainly the most imposing, is the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, which anchors one end of Central Avenue's Bathhouse Row. The Arlington has been a Hot Springs tradition since 1875 [the current structure opened in December 1924] and is an excellent choice for visitors who wish enjoy the historic ambiance while situated in the midst of the shops, museums and other attractions of Central Avenue. At the other end of the historic district, the Hot Springs Park Hilton offers a more modernistic setting, adjacent to the Hot Springs Convention Center and overlooking the former Missouri Pacific depot (now the Hot Springs Transportation Plaza).

Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa: 239 Central Avenue, 501-623-7771.
Austin Hotel & Convention Center: 305 Malvern Avenue, 501-623-6600.
Clarion Resort on Lake Hamilton: 4813 Central Avenue, 501-525-1391.
Listing of other accommodations in the Hot Springs area.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION AND RENTAL CARS Rental cars are available in Hot Springs, and are recommended for guests planning extensive outdoor activities on the lakes or Ouachita Mountain retreats around Hot Springs. Vehicle rental offices in Hot Springs include the following options:
Avis Rent A Car, Hot Springs Airport-Memorial Field. 501-623-3602 or 800-831- 2847.
Discount Auto & Van Rental, 115 East Grand, 501-623-8226.
Hertz Rent A Car, Hot Springs Airport-Memorial Field, 501-623-7591 or 800-654-3131.

Many sights, particularly in the downtown historic district, can be easily accessed by walking or by riding the Hot Springs Trolley. The trolley (riding on rubber tires rather than rail) provides service on a route serving the entire downtown historic district as well as the Mountain Tower observation site. Beginning at the Transportation Plaza, the Hot Springs Trolley route includes stops at the Hilton Hotel, the Visitor Center in Hill Wheatley Plaza, several stops along Bath House Row and Central Avenue, a side trip up Hot Springs Mountain to the Mountain Tower, followed by stops at the Arlington, Downtowner and Majestic Hotels. Trolley service operates 10am-7pm Tuesday through Saturday during the tourist season, with special runs to accommodate festivals or other activities. The regular fare is 50 cents per ride; an all day pass good for unlimited rides may be purchased for $1.00. For trolley information, contact Hot Springs Intracity Transit, 501-3321-2020.

In addition to the Hot Springs trolley, Intracity Transit operates "IT buses" on three routes radiating from Wheatley Plaza on Central Avenue. Each route operates hourly from 6:10am until 6:10pm on weekdays; 8:10am until 5:10pm on Saturday; no service on Sunday. Route #1-Blue operates south along Central Avenue to the Clarion/Sunbay resort on Lake Hamilton, serving intermediate attractions such as the Factory Outlet Mall, Hot Springs Mall, and Oaklawn Race Track. Route #2-Red operates southwest along Grand Avenue to the Mid America Museum. Route #3-Green (north side) operates north and west along Whittington Avenue serving tourist attractions such as Tiny Town, Educated Animals & Petting Zoo, Arkansas Alligator Farm, and Dryden Pottery Studio. A timetable with a route map is available from Intracity Transit (501-321-2020) and these brochures are also usually available at the Transportation Plaza (served only by trolley) and at the Wheatley Plaza Visitor Center. The regular fare is $1.00 (exact change only); coupon books for 10 rides are available for $7.50.

A variety of eating establishments are available in Hot Springs to suit every preference. Among the more famous of the unique Hot Springs restaurants are:
Belle of Hot Springs Riverboat, 5200 Central Avenue (on Lake Hamilton), 501-525- 4438.
Belli Arti Ristorante, 719 Central Avenue, 501-624-7474.
Cheese Corner Delicatessen, 303 Broadway, 501-624-3040.
Coy's Steak House, 300 Coy Street (off Grand Avenue east), 501-321-1414.
Hamilton House, Highway 7 at Lake Hamilton, 501-525-2727.
McClard's Barbeque, 505 Albert Pike, 501-624-9586.
Venetian Dining Room, Arlington Hotel, 239 Central Avenue, 501-623-7771.
Listing of other restaurants in the Hot Springs area.

Numerous antique and craft shops, gift shops, art galleries and clothing stores are located throughout the downtown area, and a detailed map and retail listing may be obtained from the Downtown Association of Hot Springs (501-321-2027). While downtown, a stroll along historic Central Avenue will provide an opportunity to admire the preserved and restored architecture of another era. One of the bath houses along Bath House Row (the Buckstaff) still offers therapeutic Hot Springs mineral baths. The Fordyce Bath House, perhaps the most ornate of the group, has been restored as the National Park Visitor Center and free tours are available. The gift shop in the visitor center is an excellent resource for historical material about Hot Springs' colorful past. Nearby, the Mountain Valley Water Company maintains a museum and gift shop in their original headquarters building across Central Avenue from the Arlington. Central Avenue is perhaps the heart of Hot Springs; one side lined with historic bath houses and the other lined with historic buildings housing a potpourri of craft, antique and jewelry shops. Art galleries, the National park Aquarium, and several museums help to define the ambiance that is uniquely Hot Springs. The Hot Springs Mule Trolley (unrelated to the Trolley transit system) offers a mule drawn, one-hour narrated tour of the national park and historic district, or for the more adventuresome, the famous amphibious "Ducks" offer a 90 minute tour including a ride on Lake Hamilton. Evening entertainment is available in the form of several musical shows ranging from country/western/patriotic, to a salute to 1950s Rock and Roll, to a Las Vegas style magic production. Rediscover why Hot Springs, Arkansas, remains one of the nation's favorite tourist destinations, and be a part of history as Amtrak's Texas Eagle recaptures the nostalgia of the passenger train bringing visitors to the spa city.

Numerous additional events are scheduled throughout the year, including such things as the Racing Festival of the South, Arts and Craft Fairs, a Jazz and Blues Festival, a Documentary Film Festival, Oktoberfest, spring and fall Celebration of the Arts, and spectacular Christmas decorations with Holiday in the Park. The Hot Springs experience provides additional details on these and other events, or prospective visitors may contact the Hot Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box K, Hot Springs, Arkansas, 71902 [phone 800-SPA-CITY] to obtain a vacation information packet.

Consult the timetable pages of the Texas Eagle web site for current schedules and other station information. For reservations and ticketing information, contact your local Amtrak ticket office, or you may contact Amtrak's national reservation system at 1-800-USA-RAIL.


Prepared for Arkansas Rail by Bill Pollard.

Posted: Sunday, 22 February 1998. Revised 15 July 2002.