By Kelly Wingard

Hot Springs Arkansas Travel Information

A supplement to Destination: Hot Springs, Arkansas that appeared in the June/July 07 issue of Decatur Magazine.

Catering to those who want an active vacation as well as to those who just want to relax, the Hot Springs area offers abundant sources of natural and man-made attractions.

In addition to ample shopping opportunities — boutiques, antiques, and malls — and the usual tourist-town trappings, such as a wax museum, mini-golf, and go-kart racing, you’ll find the following unique attractions:

Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo (800-750-7891)
Over 200 alligators, monkeys, llamas, mountain lions
Large petting zoo
Museum features “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” merman

The Bath House Show (501-623-2040)
“Branson quality show”
Features big band hits from the 1930s through today

Belle of Hot Springs Riverboat (www.belleriverboat.com)
400-passenger riverboat tours Lake Hamilton
Offers site-seeing, lunch and dinner/dance cruises

Garvan Woodland Gardens (www.garvangardens.org)
210-acre botanical paradise along shores of Lake Hamilton
Asian garden, waterfalls, woodland amphitheater, bird sanctuary

Horseback Riding
Several area stables
Offering guided mountain trail rides, hayrides, and cookouts for groups

Hot Springs Mountain Tower (501-623-6035)
216-foot observation tower
Overlooks 140 miles of Arkansas landscape, including Hot Springs National Park and Ouachita (pronounced: washeeta) Mountains

Magic Springs Amusement Park & Crystal Falls Water Park (www.magicsprings.com)
Over 80 rides and attractions
One price for both parks (parking $8)
Adults: $44.99 (After 5 pm: $34.99)
Seniors 55+ and children under 52” tall: $34.99
Children 2 years and under: free
Free to military members (reduced prices for family)

Maxwell Blade Theatre of Magic (www.maxwellblade.com)
Magic and illusion
Two-hour Vegas-style production

Mid-America Science Museum (800-632-0583)
Interactive science museum covering topics on energy, matter, perception, and life
Associated with Smithsonian Institution

National Park Aquarium (800-735-3074)
Saltwater and freshwater fish
Frogs, lizards, snapping turtles, iguanas, and more

Ron Coleman Crystal Mine (800-291-4484)
Public mining for quartz crystals
Wholesale and retail quartz sales

Betcha Didn’t Know . . .

• Tony Bennett debuted his signature song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” at the Black Orchid Club in Hot Springs. With encouragement from the club’s bartender, Bennett added the song to his act the next evening at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

• Hot Springs has long been a favorite of professional athletes:

• During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Hot Springs served as the off-season capital of Major League Baseball with the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Nationals, Chicago White Stockings, and Boston Red Sox all holding their spring training camps in the area;

• Babe Ruth first visited as a young Red Sox pitcher and returned often to bathe in the waters and play golf;

• Heavyweight boxer Billy Conn trained for his 1946 rematch with Joe Louis in the gym at the Fordyce Bathhouse. Conn lost, just as he had in the 1941 fight with Louis that was billed as “The Fight of the Century;”

• James Braddock, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world known as “The Cinderella Man,” was a frequent Hot Springs visitor and worked out with the town’s high school football team in October of 1935;

• Other notable boxing figures, including Jack Dempsey, John L. Sullivan, Jim Corbett, Joe Louis, and Jess Willard, were frequent visitors to the area.

• St. Louis beer baron Gussie Busch was married in a civil ceremony in the lobby of Hot Springs’ Majestic Hotel.

• Bill “Bojangles” Robinson celebrated his 66th birthday in Hot Springs by dancing down nearly two miles of downtown streets as a thousand onlookers cheered him on.

• Hot Springs’ Alligator Farm was the first of its kind to open in 1902 and is Arkansas’ oldest tourist attraction.

• Hot Springs is the childhood home of former President William Jefferson Clinton, who graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1964.

• Hot Springs’ other noted presidential guests included Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Harry Truman, who enjoyed playing small stakes poker at his favorite Hot Springs’ club where he was known as a notoriously bad tipper.

Hot Springs held appeal for many gangsters, who came to town to enjoy the baths and partake in the town’s plentiful gaming opportunities:

• Illegal casino gambling in the 1920s and 1930s brought many wealthy show business celebrities and mob figures to town;

• Al Capone maintained Suite 443 in the Arlington Hotel;

• Lucky Luciano’s last arrest took place on the promenade behind the Ozark Bath House;

• Illegal gambling reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s in night clubs such as The Belvedere Club, The Southern Club, and The Vapors;

• The U.S. Justice Department concluded that Hot Springs had the largest illegal gambling operation in the country in 1961;

• Illegal gambling was eradicated from Hot Springs in 1966 under the reform administration of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.

Seduced by the relaxing thermal baths, contributor Kelly Wingard rates Hot Springs one of her favorite respites on frequent road trips from Decatur to Houston.

This is an online supplement to an article which originally appeared in the June / July 2007 issue of Decatur Magazine. It may not be reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part without the publisher’s consent.
© Copyright 2007 Decatur Magazine – First String Productions. All rights reserved.