All American Road Trip: Memphis to Hot Springs – A Picturesque Road Trip to the Ozarks

As the trees begin to bloom and the days get longer, there’s no better time to let the wanderlust take over and hit the open road. Let your cares melt away with a three-day road trip from Memphis, Tennessee to the Ozarks. This picturesque journey will take you through Hot Springs, Arkansas, Ouachita National Forest and the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. Along the way, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to relax and recharge, surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

It’s time to pack your bags, fill up the tank and get ready for an unforgettable road trip. Let’s get started in Memphis!

View of Memphis, Tennessee from the Mississippi. Photo Courtesy of Shannon Tompkins

DAY 1 – MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

What better place to start an epic road trip than Memphis—home of the blues, rock ‘n’ roll and delicious barbecue. From live music and tasty eats to interesting museums and historic sites, there’s plenty to keep you entertained in Elvis Presley’s vibrant hometown.

Explore Memphis by trolley. Photo Courtesy of Carl Wycoff

Memphis Trolley

Start your morning off with a delicious southern breakfast at Hustle & Dough. This local favorite is known for its fluffy pancakes and incredible hospitality. When you’re ready to explore, jump on board the Memphis Trolley and take a ride through historic downtown. You’ll learn all about the city’s rich culture and see some of its most iconic landmarks, including Beale StreetSun Studio and Lorraine Motel, now known as the Civil Rights Museum.

Elvis’ Memphis home, Graceland. Photo Courtesy of Memphis CVB

Graceland

While you’re in Memphis, you also need to embark on a journey to Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley. Located just a short drive from downtown, this estate turned tourist attraction is a must-see for any music lover. But, even if you’re not an Elvis fan, the sprawling grounds and beautiful gardens are worth the visit. This world-famous attraction is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S., with over 600,000 visits every single year!

After a full day of exploring Memphis, grab dinner at Catherine & Mary’s. They do a fantastic pasta, plate and pinot noir pairing that is sure to hit the spot.

Beale Street in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. Photo Courtesy of Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Beale Street

Later, take a scenic stroll down Beale Street, and visit some of the best blues clubs in the country. If you’re feeling adventurous, stop into B.B. King’s Blues Club for some live music and dancing. This world-renowned club has hosted everyone from Elvis Presley to B.B. King himself.

The Peabody Ducks on their way to their fountain in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Photo Courtesy of Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Where to Stay in Memphis

What a day, right? By the time you head back to your hotel, you’ll be exhausted. Luckily, Memphis has no shortage of unique places to stay. For a luxurious experience, book a room at The Peabody Memphis – an iconic hotel that’s known for its world-famous duck march and southern charm. If you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly, the Westin Memphis Beale Street is a great option. No matter where you stay, you’re sure to have a good night’s sleep in preparation for day two of your road trip.

Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Photo Courtesy of sandwich

DAY 2 – HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS & OUACHITA NATIONAL FOREST

From riding around town on the Memphis Trolley to watching the ducks march at The Peabody, you’ve had a jam-packed first day in Memphis. Today, you’ll be hitting the road for a three-hour drive to Hot Springs, Arkansas—a small town with enormous appeal. Unlike day one’s city exploration, today will be all about nature.

Pool of hot spring water in Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. Photo Courtesy of Brandonrush

Hot Springs National Park

Start with a visit to Hot Springs National Park. This 26,000-acre park is home to 47 hot springs, as well as hiking trails, cascading waterfalls, towering mountains and scenic overlooks. You could easily spend an entire day here (and we recommend that you do), but if you’re short on time, be sure to at least check out Bathhouse Row. A collection of early 20th century bath houses have been transformed into must-visiti attractions for overnight stays, traditional bathing and soaking in thermal hot springs.

After relaxing up an appetite in the National Park, grab lunch at The Ohio Club. This local favorite has been serving up tasty food since 1905 and is said to be the oldest bar in Arkansas.

Sugar Creek in Ouachita National Forest. Photo Courtesy of Jack Gray

Ouachita National Forest

In the afternoon, make your way to Ouachita National Forest, a stunning stretch of forest that covers over one million acres in Oklahoma and Arkansas. This area is known for its 192 miles of hiking trails and picturesque waterways. For an easy hike with incredible views, check out the Hot Springs Creek Trail. This 5.5-mile trail will take you past waterfalls, springs and pools—the perfect way to cool off on a hot day.

The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Photo Courtesy of Chris Light

Where to Eat & Stay Near Hot Springs National Park

When you’re ready to call it a day, head back to Hot Springs and check in to your hotel. The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa is an excellent option if you’re looking for luxury, while The Days Inn by Wyndham Hot Springs is a budget-friendly choice.

After you’ve checked in, refreshed, and settled into your room, head to Maxine’s Live on Main for dinner. This cozy spot has live music and serves Southern comfort food. Make sure to save room for dessert because the chocolate cake is to die for!

Falling Water Creek in the Ozark – St. Francis National Forest, Arkansas. Photo Courtesy of Brad Sims

DAY 3 – OZARK-ST. FRANCIS NATIONAL FOREST

Your final day of exploration will take you from Ouachita National Forest to Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. The drive is just over an hour, so you’ll want to get another early start. But trust us, it’s worth it. This forest is home to over 1.2 million acres of land, as well as countless hiking trails, rivers and streams.

Instead of another day of hiking, mix things up a bit with a kayak or paddleboard adventure on Lake of the Ozarks. Admire some of the most beautiful scenery in the Ozarks; it’s the perfect way to relax and enjoy nature. If you don’t own a kayak or paddleboard, don’t worry. River Monkey Kayaks deliver everything you need right to your site.

When you’re finished with your float trip, and if you still have some energy left, we suggest setting out to discover some of the world’s most impressive geological wonders. Learn how billions of years of history have molded Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Peek into the planet’s turbulent past at Rocky Falls, uncover Devils Well– Missouri’s biggest underground lake – or soak up the harmonious blue waters of Blue Spring, one of Missouri’s deepest springs.

Where to Eat & Stay Near Lake of the Ozarks

At the end of the day, you’ll definitely want to refuel. Luckily, there are plenty of great restaurants in the area. For something quick and easy, stop by Mack’s Pines Café & Store for delicious home-style cooking. If you’re looking for something a little more upscale to celebrate the final evening of your trip, we suggest Chophouse Prime. This spot is known for its fresh seafood and filet mignon.

After dinner, settle down in your hotel room for the night. Choctaw Casino & Resort-Pocola is an excellent choice with cozy and affordable guest rooms.


The Great American Road Trip. Photo from our Original Series Venturing Out: Park 2 Park

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