These days, we’re all looking for safe spots that provide respite from the everyday routines, same-ole sights and cabin fever that our interior spaces generate–destinations that can uplift our minds and bodies and refresh our spirits.
When used to describe a vacation spot, the term ‘healing’ typically means that the place offers beautiful natural settings, great views, plenty of sunshine and numerous options for outdoor recreation. While those do make for excellent trip selection criteria, why stop there? There are places that meet those qualifications while also offering more literal healing benefits and services—locations, for example, that have storied healing waters.
The state of Arkansas has two such places–both are bubbling over with natural thermal springs that bolster well-being: Hot Springs, surrounded by lovely Hot Springs National Park and named for the 147-degree waters that flow out of its grounds, is the more well-known of the two. The city’s springs, long relished by local native tribes, were also enjoyed by the Spanish explorer Hernando De Sota who came to the area in 1541.
Eureka Springs, further north and far smaller and less populous than Hot Springs, hit the public’s radar later, in the 1850s. But the combination of its potent natural springs and manmade charms has been attracting visitors ever since.
Both locales are must-experience spots for anyone interested in an authentic wellness vacation.
Hot Springs, Arkansas: Take the Waters
Hot Springs, Arkansas, located in the Ouachita Mountains in southwest Arkansas, is legendary for the healing benefits of its 47 naturally heated, mineral-rich springs and the bathhouses that started tapping them in the mid-19th century.
Bathhouse Row, located within Hot Springs National Park (the smallest and oldest in the National Park System and founded to protect the springs) features eight architecturally distinctive bathhouses built over natural hot springs between 1892 and 1923. Marvel at the imposing structures (a tiled dome, stained glass skylight, American Indian motifs, and sculpted mythical creatures are just some of the amazing elements you’ll see), then take advantage of spa services at Buckstaff Bathhouse. It’s the only bathhouse on the row that has operated continuously for more than a century and still offers a complete traditional thermal mineral bath experience.
Or, experience the thermal springs at Hale Bathhouse, the oldest structure on Bathhouse Row and now a highly rated hotel. Each of the nine suites boasts a large soaking tub into which hot spring mineral water is pumped directly.
If you’d rather drink thermal spring waters than soak in them, head over to Superior Bathhouse, once the smallest bathhouse on the row and now a brewery. It’s the first one in the world to use thermal spring water to make beer and the only one located in a U.S. National Park.
Other health-boosting adventures you’ll want to experience in and around Hot Springs: walks in the 210-acre Garvan Woodland Gardens, outdoor activities in Quachita National Forest and water sports on the Diamond Lakes.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas: Soak up the Vibes and Pursue Pampering
Eureka Springs, a lesser-known town nestled in the Ozark Mountains in the state’s northwest corner, offers access to natural springs, as well as a mix of other enticements—rich history and tradition, bohemian funk, cool architecture and fun activities. The town chalks up an additional advantage with summer temperatures that are milder than those in Hot Springs.
If you go, you’re guaranteed to have plenty of eureka moments. Bit by bit, with each outing you take, it’ll dawn on you that the most restorative trip nowadays is the one with experiences that can seep into every pore until, together, they’ve succeeded in recharging you and making you feel more whole.
Walk Around on a Main Street Like No Other
Let’s start with the unique appeal of Eureka Springs’ downtown, which radiates a quirky sense of history through architectural styles ranging from Victorian to Romanesque. In a state with a fair number of Ozark Mountains-based town centers, Eureka Spring’s may just be the most rare and charming. Why? Because, the whole caboodle is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The gently sloping Main Street, a bit over a mile long, is lined with small shops, old-world hotels, art galleries and eateries—it’s a virtual treasure trove for visitors who enjoy walkable streets and browsing. For those who prefer to take in a town’s specialness in a vehicle, there’s the 90-minute, narrated Eureka Springs Tram Tour that starts at the south end of Main Street. That part of Main Street culminates in the Eureka Springs Historical Museum, which puts the history and heritage of the city on bold display and is well worth a visit. Downtown is also the site of numerous events and festivals.
Rewire With Art
Few places have as large a percentage of artist residents as Eureka Springs—in a town of just 2,000 citizens there are about 300 working artists. Be sure to visit the downtown galleries to see the vast spectrum of artistry they produce and participate in 2nd Saturday Art Strolls from April through November.
Put a Spring in Your Step
Attracted to the healing powers of over 60 natural springs, people first started flocking to the Eureka Springs area in the late 1870s, giving the town a spa and resort focus. Today, the town remains a vibrant haven for personal pampering and enhanced well-being, offering more modern takes on the earlier healing traditions in over a dozen wellness-dedicated facilities located in the downtown area. Their robust menus of spa services range from mineral baths to massages to facials, but all emphasize relaxation and rejuvenation.
Natural springs continue to flow in locations throughout town, in compact caves and various other crannies. The city has preserved many of the springs by establishing parks or gardens around them. Visit them, bask in their beauty and soak up their amazing vibes. Basin Spring (once known as the Indians’ Healing Spring) now lies beneath Basin Spring Park on Spring Street, but the picturesque park is a wonderful place to rest after walking around—the original spring is encased by a fountain. Be sure to also see Crescent Spring in Crescent Spring Park, notable for its Victorian-style gazebo and layered rock walls; Sweet Spring in Sweet Spring Park’s, punctuated by a large basin bowl and lovely blooms; and Magnetic Spring in Magnetic Spring Park, where you can take in the beauty under a large pavilion.
Feed Your Spirit With Manmade Majesty
Starkly divergent from the vintage architectural style of downtown, stunning Thorncrown Chapel, soars 48-feet up and features 425 windows and 6,000 square feet of glass panes. Walk into this wood structure to feel the light and take in soul-stirring views of the surrounding Ozark woodlands. Thorncrown Chapel is fourth on the American Institute of Architects’ list of the top buildings of the twentieth century.
Perhaps the most famous landmark in the area is Christ of the Ozarks, a 65-foot white statue of Jesus that you can see from pretty much anywhere in Eureka Springs. Its grassy slope setting is well suited to contemplative practices and regrouping.
Visitors may also wish to attend a performance of The Great Passion Play, held in a nearby three-story amphitheater, three days a week, three times daily, from May through October.
Gain Fresh Perspective in Below-Ground Wonderlands
The natural springs that gave Eureka Springs its name suggest the existence of a mysterious subterranean world in the area. And, in fact, there are vast cave systems formed over millennia. The prettiest cave, Cosmic Cavern, is located 20 miles to the east of downtown and features out-of-this-world rock formations and two underground lakes. For more amazing below-ground adventures Visit Onyx Cave Park and War Eagle Cavern on Beaver Lake, which offers gemstone panning experiences and tours that range from the traditional to the more challenging (feel like crawling on your belly through unconditioned passages?)
Breathe Clean Air and Exercise in the Parks and Lakes
To alternate the slower-paced activities with invigorating adrenaline-pumping outings, head to beautiful 32,000-acre Beaver Lake, where you can kayak, paddleboard and swim. Or, hike and bike on the trails of Lake Leatherwood City Park or amble on The Harmon Park Loop. Both spots are close to downtown.