Destination:  Hot Springs, Arkansas

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks

Hot Springs, AR, sits atop more than 40 springs with water heated by magma thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface. Native Americans enjoyed these mineral springs long before European Americans arrived. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “taking the waters” in the “Valley of Vapors” was a popular recreational indulgence for many Americans, including the famous and the infamous.

Mobsters on Vacation

Among the famous visitors were presidents, professional athletes, entertainers, and writers. On the darker side of the guest register were the names of mobsters and outlaws. One visitor who garnered much attention in the Roaring ’20s was that well-known Chicago businessman Alphonse Gabriel Capone. 

Al Capone was usually accompanied by a 40-man retinue of what I guess you would call “staff members.” This extended “family” usually occupied the entire fourth floor of the elegant Arlington Hotel. Accompanying Capone to the golf course was a rather serious-looking fellow known as Sam “Golf Bag” Hunt. His otherwise empty golf bag carried a Tommy gun, which as everyone knows can be invaluable on a golf course. I wonder if Capone somehow wound up winning every round of golf.

Spa City was also a favored vacationing spot for others in Capone’s line of work, including members of mob royalty such as Albert Anastasia, Bugsy Siegel, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Carlos Marcello. Although some of these mobsters may have been shooting at each other back on the streets of Chicago or New York, activities in Hot Springs were cordially nonviolent. After all, they were on vacation!

Now a Family Destination

The spas on Bathhouse Row have been restored to their former architectural splendor. Although most of them are no longer functioning spas, two still offer mineral baths. One of them, the Quapaw Bathhouse, with its Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture, offers a series of progressively hotter pools for invigorating soaks. 

Hot Springs’ other popular entertainment venues include the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, which provides an overlook of 140 square miles of the surrounding Ouachita Mountains; Gangster Museum of America; and historic Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, which provides an Al Capone package of room, breakfast, on-site mineral bath, massage, and more. For outdoor enthusiasts there are nearby hiking trails and fishing spots, including Lake Ouachita, Arkansas’ largest lake.

A Multitude of Motorcycle Roads

Hot Springs also makes an excellent home base for motorcycle touring. Scenic SR 7 goes right through town; it’s particularly twisty for riders proceeding north. Other routes in the Ouachita Mountains area include US 270, SR 27, and SR 28. SR 8, going west from Mena, AR, along mountaintops into Oklahoma, is like a miniature Blue Ridge Parkway. In the Ozark Mountains, located in northwest Arkansas, the menu of inspiring riding routes expands even further. For more information, see www.hotsprings.org and www.arkansas.com/things-to-do/motoring-byways/motorcycling.