Here in Hot Springs National Park, one of America’s oldest national parks, a 216-foot tower sprouts atop a small mountain. The Hot Springs Mountain Tower, opened in 1983, seems cut from the same mold as Knoxville’s Sunsphere, fifty feet higher, built for a world’s fair a year earlier. From this vantage point, it is easy to pick out the landmarks in the city of Hot Springs. I could have driven up a winding road, but instead I hiked 0.6 miles up steep National Park trails to get a view of the city. The trail started along Hot Springs Bath House Row, where tuberculosis and arthritis patients traveled here for relief during the first half of the twentieth century. A couple have been reborn as spas, but they are closed on Tuesday, which eliminated any potential of a visit for me. It is easy to pick out the majestic bath houses, nearly a century old, built in a time when Al Capone holed up in the landmark Arlington Hotel, still open to overnight guests, just a block away. The Gangster Museum of America retells some of this history about a time when local police (certainly financially enhanced) looked the other way and even alerted gangsters when the Feds were arriving.
At the open air observation deck atop the Hot Springs Observation Tower, the December air is brisk, but the view is worth the chill. One level below, in climate controlled comfort, the history of Hot Springs (from the Indian times through Bill Clinton’s high school years) is laid out. The multiple and unique business cycles the town has faced are fascinating. The rise and fall of the “taking of the waters.” The rise and fall of the gamblers. The rise and fall of professional baseball in Hot Springs, where the Pirates and Cubs (among others) once hosted spring training. To understand how Hot Springs developed, how a land of gambling halls, saloons, and brothels turned into a lake resort and a Midwestern family retreat, a visit to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower is essential. And the view’s not too bad either. Once you’re done, take time for a hike in the many trails in the National Park. You can pick up a trail map at the National Park Visitors Center on Bath House Row.
The Hot Springs Mountain Tower is one of many things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
You can probably find a $1 off coupon at the Hot Springs Convention & Visitor’s Bureau website, the visitors center on Central Avenue or from the brochure rack in your Hot Springs hotel.
Related stories about things to do in Hot Springs, Arkansas:
Related story: Knoxville’s Sunsphere, brother of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower.