My husband and I just visited Hot Springs for the first time. We have driven past the exit to Hot Springs on I-30 dozens of times going to visit family in Tennessee and Mississippi but never actually stopped there. It was finally time to check it out.
I researched hotels and rentals before finding the perfect place for us. Reviews for the Lookout Point Lakeside Inn caught my attention and ended up being a fantastic place to stay! They are ranked the #1 Hotel in Hot Springs (Trip Advisor), #2 Most Romantic Hotel in the U.S. (Trip Advisor), #3 Small Hotel in the U.S. (Trip Advisor), one of the Top Ten Most Romantic Hotels in the U.S. (NBC Today Show), a Top Ten Best Lakeside Hotels (Good Morning America) and #9 Hotel for Service in the U.S. (Trip Advisor). It didn’t take too long for us to see why this beautiful inn had received all these accolades. The service, staff, location, amenities, design, food, rooms, gardens, and views were all exceptional.
My husband and I particularly enjoyed the gourmet breakfasts in the beautiful dining room and the fresh gluten-free cookies brought to our room each day. Our second floor room and balcony looked out over the manicured gardens, waterfalls, bird feeders, grassy labyrinth, fire pit, boat dock and lake. It was perfect for relaxing. We had a paddleboat, canoe and kayaks for our personal use. The inn also provided us with bug spray, beach towels, DVD movies, hammocks, emergency flashlights, soft drinks, cookies & chocolates, and a Keurig for coffee/tea/hot chocolates. The kitchen was open each day until 7:00 p.m. for snacks, meals, cocktails or wine. The staff was friendly, attentive, and very professional. We had a wonderful stay and I highly recommend this charming, quiet and well-decorated inn.
Our first full day was set aside to explore the Hot Springs National Park. This is an urban park located in the heart of downtown Hot Springs and is surrounded by shops, diners, busy roads, gangster museums and tourist attractions. The bathhouses lined up on Bathhouse Row seem to be the park’s most popular attraction. The grand architecture of these eight bathhouses and the stories of the healing waters continue to attract curious visitors as they have since the early 1900s. The therapeutic spas, ancient thermal springs, mountain views, unusual geology, forested hiking trails, and abundant creeks all make this “park” quite unique.
We stopped by the Fordyce Bathhouse which houses the National Park Visitor Center and toured the museum. The three-story bathhouse has informative exhibits, original spa rooms (with equipment) and a short film about the history of the area and Bathhouse Row. We got a more detailed glimpse into the history, grandeur and attraction of this special place. Afterwards, we joined a 45-minute tour led by a National Park Ranger.
Ranger Lisa was great! She was a Hot Springs native and her walking tour was both interesting and entertaining. We learned about the geology of the area, tasted the 140 degree water, walked the Grand Promenade (on the hill behind Bathhouse Row) and saw a momma groundhog and her baby. We were told that the thermal waters contain potassium, magnesium and sodium – these were the medicinal properties that prior generations found to be so “healing” (today we just take a multivitamin!). Generations ago, most people had poor diets and dirty drinking water. Regular bathing was labor intensive due to large amounts of water having to be carried from the source and then heated. It was quite obvious what was so appealing about these natural springs with clear, clean, nutritious, and heated water just bubbling out of the ground.
Only two bathhouses along Bathhouse Row are currently operational. One of the bathhouses, Superior Bathhouse is now a restaurant and brewery. This is the only brewery in the world that uses thermal spring water to create craft beers. We chose this as our lunch spot and it didn’t disappoint! The other bathhouses currently function as a hotel, a park store, a cultural center, and office building.
After lunch, we continued touring the park and drove up the winding Mountain Tower Road and West Mountain Road. Both drives provided scenic forested drives and great mountain lookouts. We had clear, beautiful views of Hot Springs and the Ouachita Mountains. For the more adventurous, there are almost 30 miles of hiking trails within the park boundaries that wind up, down and around these mountains overlooking the city. We decided to bypass hiking this time and just enjoyed the scenery from the comfort of our air-conditioned car (it was a humid 97 degrees in late September!).
Day Two – we decided to beat the heat, get an early start and canoe from our inn’s dock on Lake Hamilton. After another wonderful breakfast, we grabbed lifejackets, paddles and loaded up in a canoe. It was a beautiful day and the water was clear and calm. We explored the part of the lake and small islands scattered just off the shore from our inn. It was fun!
A couple of hours later, we were off to Garvan Woodland Gardens, a 200-acre botanical garden that is sponsored by the University of Arkansas. It was a short drive away and we got there early to beat the heat and the crowds.
Garvan Woodland Gardens was most enjoyable. The paved pathways through the flower gardens, waterfalls, dense ferns, towering pine canopy, rocky inclines, koi pond and the wooded shoreline provided beautiful sights at every turn. There are 4 miles of trails covering this entire garden so wear comfy shoes! We didn’t see every nook and cranny but hit all the major points. It was a fun spending the day outdoors.
I particularly enjoyed viewing the Anthony Chapel (just didn’t care for the two snakes that greeted us on the way there!). This stunning chapel appears to “be one” with the forest. The lofty pine columns, high ceiling, tall glass windows and oversize skylights all are designed to blend in with the surrounding pine trees. It was quite impressive – both inside and out. I could only imagine how beautiful a wedding ceremony would be here and certainly understood the popularity of this venue.
One of my favorite parts of any trip is the food! We began each day with a great breakfast at the inn. We had one lunch at Superior Brewery where I had a delicious Sweet Potato Salad and a Root Beer Float (with house-made root beer). Another enjoyable lunch was at Rolando’s Restaurante (near Bathhouse Row) where we enjoyed Ecuadorian food and flavored margaritas. Yum!
We found a couple of very good dinner spots in Hot Springs. The Vault (my favorite) was located in an old bank building near downtown Hot Springs. It was classy, dark and well-decorated. The menus had a backlight, which I thought was ingenious! David and I thoroughly enjoyed a delicious steak dinner here. The ambiance, service and food were all topnotch. A dinner at 501 Prime was also a standout. This restaurant and bar (known for its bourbon) served some great oyster dishes and we had exceptional service. A very special “treat” was a cupcake from Fat Bottomed Girl’s Cupcake Shoppe. I knew of this bakery from the Food Network Cupcake Wars competition. There were dozens of flavors to choose from and it was very difficult picking out just one. Decisions, decisions. Ooey Gooey Butter Cake was my final choice. OMG, it was good!
Hot Springs was a great weekend get-away for us. I really enjoyed seeing and learning about the bathhouses, the natural springs and the history of the park. Without a doubt, I would stay at the Lookout Point Lakeside Inn again. Heck, I would even drive three hours again for one of those cupcakes!