Hiking, Bathing, and Admiring Holiday Lights in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Following my half marathon in Cotter, Arkansas, and the completion of state number 44 on my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states (race report here), I decided the best place to spend the vacation portion of my racecation was in Hot Springs. Hot Springs is about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Cotter, a small town in northern Arkansas, and is about an hour from Little Rock.

Hot Springs is the number one tourist destination in Arkansas, with more than 6 million visitors per year. It’s evident the area caters to tourists, with the plethora of tourist shops, restaurants, and hotels, along with some of the more touristy things like a wax museum. One of the big draws for outdoor lovers is Hot Springs National Park.

Hot Springs National Park isn’t your typical park, since it’s located within and around the downtown area of the city of Hot Springs. The area was first protected in 1832 as Hot Springs Reservation but did not officially become a national park until 1921. The National Park Service has the perfect recommendations for how to spend your time at Hot Springs National Park here. Admission to the park is free.

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There are several options for hiking trails within the park, with some easy and others considered moderate. We ended up hiking most of the trails while we were there. If you don’t enjoy hiking or can’t hike, there is also a scenic drive through much of the park. I recommend either hiking or driving to the Mountain Tower, where you can go to the top for some great views of the area. You can either take an elevator up or go up stairs on the outside of the tower, for the same price, $8 for adults. There’s also a gift shop at the tower.

I highly recommend taking a traditional bath at Buckstaff Bathhouse, which we did, but with a bit of warning. Buckstaff Bathhouse doesn’t take reservations so you walk in, give them your last name and what services you want, pay, and go to sit and wait (upstairs for women, first floor for men) until an attendant calls your name. My last name is admittedly not the easiest to pronounce or spell, given the prevalence of how many people have trouble pronouncing and spelling it correctly. However, my daughter and I waited, and waited for our names to be called. A couple of times they called out names that no one else answered to. I later found out they had been calling our name even though never did they say anything remotely like our last name. Only after three other women that arrived after us were called back, did someone finally realize their mistake in skipping us. One attendant told me she had called our name repeatedly and asked why we didn’t answer. I told her we were sitting there the whole time and no one said anything that sounded like our name. Lesson learned- give them a very simple last name at the front desk, something that’s impossible to screw up.

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Despite having to wait much longer than we should have upon arrival, the bath treatment more than made up for it. To begin, you have a bath drawn in a private tub that’s very long, and I’m tall so it was fantastic to actually be able to stretch out completely, where you sit in the whirlpool mineral bath first. Next, I was taken to an area where an attendant put hot towels around my shoulders and lower back. After that, I went to a sitz bath, then to a wet sauna, and finished off with a needle shower. All of this cost just $33. You can add on extras like a massage, a loofah scrub, and a paraffin treatment for hands. I’ve seriously never felt more recovered after a half marathon than I did after the race in Cotter, and I completely believe it was due to the traditional bath at Buckstaff Bathhouse.

The final thing we did in Hot Springs that turned out to be one of the highlights of our time there was visiting Garvan Woodland Gardens. Normally, November wouldn’t be an ideal time to visit these gardens since not much is in bloom then but there is a lights display that is one of the best I’ve seen and well worth a visit. Holiday Lights is open November 17- December 31 and admission is $15 for adults and $5 for children. You walk around the 4 1/2 miles of land, with different areas decorated in different themes; you can also rent a golf cart for extra admission. Don’t forget to take a peek at the stunning Anthony Chapel which as my husband put it, “is made for weddings.”

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Lily pad scene, one of my favorites from Garvan Gardens
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Anthony Chapel at night

Some of our favorite restaurants in Hot Springs include:

Superior Bathhouse Brewery

Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer Garden

Bone’s Chophouse (a bit away from the touristy downtown area with phenomenal service and great food)

Cafe 1217 (“gourmet to go” dine in with great-tasting healthy options)

Hot Springs, Arkansas is a fun place to spend a long weekend or a few days. There are plenty of offerings to suit pretty much anyone, whether you want a girls’ weekend at the spa, hiking at the national park, or you’re a foodie and want some great food in a scenic spot. There’s also horse racing, an amusement park, Lake Catherine State Park, a science museum, and the Gangster Museum of America. I’m not exaggerating when I say every single person we talked to seemed genuinely nice and were happy to see us and talk to us. Even with all that Hot Springs has to offer, it’s an added bonus that the people are one of its greatest attributes.

Have any of you ever been to Hot Springs, Arkansas or do you plan on going someday? I know Arkansas isn’t on the radar of many people unless they live in states nearby, but it really is a beautiful area of our country with a lot to offer!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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White River Half Marathon, Cotter, Arkansas-44th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Arkansas was my 44th state.

If you want to run a marathon, half marathon, or 5k on a blazing fast course, run one of the the White River races in Cotter, Arkansas. Seriously, this group of races is well-organized, has great volunteers, has technical long sleeve shirts for all runners, huge medals for all runners, and medals for age group winners in addition to the fast courses.

Packet pickup was quick and easy the evening before the race at Cotter Schools, and there was also the option of packet pickup the morning of the race. I got my shirt, bib, and chip shoe tags (I hadn’t seen those in quite a few years) and was out in less than 10 minutes. Shirts and some other things were being sold there but honestly I just wanted to get to dinner so I didn’t spend any time looking around. There was a pre-race pasta dinner but I wanted to try some local barbecue instead.

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Race morning, November 17, was even chillier than I was hoping, at 31 degrees. Someone mentioned how it was 70 degrees at the start of last year’s race, so I was thankful it wasn’t that warm (but I think 70 at the start is unusual). Racers for the 5k, half marathon, and marathon all started together at 7 am but fortunately the course never felt crowded, even at the beginning.

Here’s part of why this course is so fast. The first mile was downhill, and the course leveled out after that. We turned around at about mile 7.5 so we didn’t have to go back up the hill from the first mile. The course was on quiet, country roads and while the course was open to traffic, the handful of drivers we did see were courteous and gave runners a wide berth when passing. We got a couple of glimpses of the White River but mostly we saw fields and rural homes. There was a field with a couple of horses watching us at one point too.

Tailwind, water, and Gu gels were offered on the course. The volunteers at the aid stations were friendly and did a good job but there was almost no crowd support on the course, as would be expected for a small race in a rural area.

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The medals for the 5k, half marathon, and marathon are all personalized to each distance

If you follow my blog, you may recall that I recently found out I’m anemic. Just a couple of weeks before this race, my hemoglobin was 6 (normal for women my age is 12-15). Despite that, I still managed to finish in 1:57:31, 4th in my age group, 61 overall out of 287. I haven’t run a half marathon this fast since 2015. Needless to say, given my poor health, I was thrilled with my result. Unfortunately I forgot to hit save on my Garmin at the finish so I have no idea what my split times were. I also made a point of not checking my watch during this race because I just wanted to run more by feel.

As I mentioned earlier, the race medals at the finish were huge and pretty cool-looking. There were also space blankets, which was a nice touch given how cool it was that morning. There was chocolate milk, water, donuts, bagels, bananas at the finish line, and then there was even more food at Cotter School.

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The finish!

My daughter ran the 5k and came in 2nd in her age group, so my husband and daughter went to get her age group medal at the school, where the awards ceremonies were. There were sausage biscuits, bananas, lemonade, Gatorade, coffee, hot chocolate, chili, and a variety of soups when they went at 9:00 for the 5k awards. I showered and changed after the half and went to the school around 10:00 and then they had pizza instead of sausage biscuits but everything else was the same.

To be a small race, this is one of the best I’ve been to. While the course wasn’t one of the most scenic I’ve ever run on, it wasn’t bad and it was definitely one of the fastest courses I’ve raced on. The volunteers were great and the food afterwards was good and plenty of it. There was also a shoe recycling area and it looked like quite a few old running shoes were collected. If you’re looking to cross Arkansas off your list, I highly recommend this race!

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Just a portion of the shoes collected at the race

www.whiterivermarathon.com

Do any of you have plans to run a race in Arkansas or have you already? If so, which one do you want to run or have you run? Do you like races in small towns along back country roads or do you prefer racing in bigger cities with big productions like the Rock n’ Roll series for example?

Happy running!

Donna