Now we know how our dogs feel when we leave them behind… Bored, lonely, and stuck at home. After months of quarantining, many of us are itching to get away. Our loyal companions deserve a vacation too. Fortunately, Hot Springs offers pet-friendly accommodations and tons of outdoor activities for you to enjoy with your fur babies.

After spending most of 2010 on the road with a 40 pound dog, my husband and I came to love and appreciate outdoor dining, dog parks and doggy daycares. So we were thrilled when we returned home to discover that Hot Springs was opening its first off-leash dog park. Since then, the city has continued to grow in leaps and bounds — throwing out the welcome mat to all kinds of visitors, including the four-legged. Below are some of the best pet-friendly activities for you and your sidekick, as well as recommendations on places to stay and dine. When booking your accommodations, be sure to inform the front desk that you’re bringing a dog, and ask about their pet policy so you aren’t surprised by any fees or rules.

 

Take a Hike

Hike to a waterfall, a mountain vista, or a brewery! The Ouachita Mountains surrounding Hot Springs are home to hundreds of miles of trails that lead to some pretty spectacular places. In addition to the National Park, Hot Springs borders the Ouachita National Forest and has multiple state parks in its vicinity. Dogs are allowed on all 26 miles of trails in Hot Springs National Park and there are trails leading in and out of downtown. I like to start at the Fountain Trailhead and hike over North Mountain to the Gulpha Gorge Campground. There you and your pooch can rest and cool off with a dip in the creek. After hiking back, enjoy a bite to eat or a frosty beer at one of downtown’s dog-friendly restaurants. It’s a little over three miles roundtrip, depending on your route. Trails are well marked and a map is available here.

Where to Stay

Opt for one of the dog-friendly hotels downtown for easy access to the park and its trails. Happy Hollow is a cool, retro hotel that reopened under new ownership in 2015, following an extensive renovation. It’s located right across the street from the Fountain Trailhead which connects to trails that meander all over the mountain. Before you go, fill up your water bottles at the Happy Hollow cold water spring next to the hotel.

Where to Eat

Downtown boasts a variety of restaurants with dog-friendly, outdoor patios and beer gardens. Take your pick from Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer GardenRolando's Restaurante or Steinhaus Keller. And be sure to visit Superior Bathhouse Brewery. It is the first brewery headquartered in a U.S. national park and the world’s first brewery to use thermal spring water as its main ingredient. Besides the delicious beers on tap, Superior serves homemade root beer and delicious farm-to-table-fare using locally sourced ingredients. Best of all, dogs are permitted inside! There is also dining outside on the grassy lawn.

Hit the Dog Park

Let your dog enjoy some off-leash play time at the Hot Springs Bark Park. Open year-round from dawn to dusk, the park has separate sections for large and small dogs, plus agility equipment, bag dispensers, benches, and even an antique fire hydrant. The dog park is adjacent to Hollywood Park, a nicely shaded city park. Both are located along the Hot Springs Creek Greenway Trail, a scenic paved path that stretches 2.7 miles from the Hot Springs Transportation Depot downtown to its current termination, just past Golf Links Road. In addition to the Bark Park, the trail passes by a sculpture garden, the farmers market pavilion, a skate park and the Majestic Park baseball complex. After your dog is good and worn out, you can enjoy a relaxed dinner while he or she snoozes under the table.

Where to Stay

The Bark Park is centrally located so it’s convenient to most parts of the city. The Best Western Winner's Circle is just a short drive away, located directly across from Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, with their very own dog park on the property. Here your four legged friends can exercise all their extra energy off leash just a few steps from your room! You can stay downtown and walk to the park via the Hot Springs Creek Greenway Trail. (From the Transportation Plaza Trailhead, it’s a little more than 1.5 miles to the park.) Or book a vacation home rental in one of the city’s neighborhoods and get a feel for what it’s like to live here.

Where to Eat

Located on Malvern Ave., Taco Mama is a short drive from the Bark Park. (There’s also a second “side town” location on Ouachita Avenue.) The restaurant is owned and operated by Diana Bratton and her husband Shane, who made culinary fame with Cafe 1217. Their latest venture features authentic handmade Mexican food. I recommend the fish tacos and the margaritas. Both locations have nice dog-friendly patios for dining al fresco.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Your dog’s olfactory system will be in overdrive with all the sweet scents at Garvan Woodland Gardens. One of Hot Springs most popular attractions, the 210-acre botanical garden is located on a peninsula on Lake Hamilton featuring lake views, delicate flora and fauna and a towering canopy of pine trees. There are 4.5 miles of trails, including a 1.7 mile loop trail through a nature preserve, and thousands of blooms. The paths meander over stone bridges, past cascading pools and streams, and through a labyrinth of flowers. Dogs are required to be on a six-inch leash, and there are some available to borrow if you arrive without one.

Where to Stay

Garvan Gardens is in close proximity to Catherine’s Landing RV Resort and Lake Catherine State Park. Located on the shores of Lake Catherine, both showcase Arkansas’ natural beauty and are perfect for visitors who are camping or traveling in an RV. They also each have pet-friendly cottages and yurts, plus lake access, boat rentals and hiking trails. (Dogs are not permitted on boats rented at the state park.) Catherine’s Landing also has two fenced-in, off-leash dog parks, a swimming pool, ziplines and an aerial adventure course.

Where to Eat

Located near Garvan Gardens, Red Oak Fillin’ Station is a southern-style, family restaurant serving up barbecue, hamburgers, fried catfish and more with homemade sides and sauces. There are some tables outside as well as a drive-through, pick-up window if you want to take your order to go and enjoy it back at your campsite. 

Live the Lake Life

Nothing beats the “dog days of summer” like splashing and playing in our glistening area lakes. Lake Hamilton, which hugs the city’s southern border, is one of three manmade lakes built along the Ouachita River – and it’s one of Arkansas’ most popular with pleasure boaters and fishermen out all summer long. Its shores are dotted with grand lake homes, condominiums, hotels, marinas and a handful of restaurants that you can visit by boat. Boat rentals are plentiful or you can bring your own. Take a ride out to Electric Island and enjoy the two-mile nature trail with your pup or take the whole family tubing. After you’ve worked up an appetite, dock and dine at a lakeside restaurant.

Where to Stay

Stay at one of the dog-friendly, lakefront hotels, such as the completely renovated DoubleTree by Hilton Hot Springs. Formerly the Clarion Resort on Lake Hamilton, it was rebranded and given a $20 million facelift in 2019. The hotel features lake view rooms, a swimming pool, lake access and boat docks.

Where to Eat

Enjoy expansive lake views and elevated pub fare at Bubba Brews Sports Pub & Grill. The three-story restaurant has several boat slips so you can dock and dine outside on their large patio. Dogs are also allowed inside the third-floor bar which is open weekends.

Enjoy a Spa Day - You and your dog!

Whether you’re hiking the trails or hanging at the lake, don’t be afraid to let your dog get dirty. Hot Springs is home to numerous dog spas, such as Gio’s Paw SpaCentral Bark Dog Spa & Boutique and Tootsie’s Pet Boutique and Grooming. Tootsie’s also offers DIY bathing as well as overnight boarding and dog sitting, so you can enjoy a day at the spa too! Owned and operated by Kristie Russell, who calls herself a “huge animal lover,” Tootsie’s features a gift shop that includes a bone bar and a raw bar with freeze dried treats, which Russell says are good for dogs because they don’t splinter. Outside is a fenced-in area with agility equipment, and pools in the summertime.

Where to Stay

The historic Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa is one of Hot Springs’ most opulent hotels and it’s Arkansas’ largest. With almost 500 rooms and suites, there’s plenty of space to accommodate fur babies. In fact, there’s a whole wing on one floor that’s dedicated to guests traveling with their pets. The hotel features an onsite spa and salon, so you can spend your spa day at the hotel or take a short walk to one of the historic bathhouses.

Where to Eat

This is a day to treat yourself, so drop off your dog at Tootsie’s before your spa treatment. Afterwards, take a short walk to Eden, an upscale restaurant located inside the historic Hale Bathhouse which was recently renovated and repurposed as a boutique hotel. And don’t forget dessert… for your dog that is! Treat your pooch with a mini puppy cupcake from Fat Bottomed Girl’s Pupcake Shoppe. Their “pupcakes” come in a variety of flavors like Banana Cream and Snickerdoodle. They are gluten-free and vegan, and can be eaten by humans too!

Now is a perfect time for traveling with our pups. Not only do they offer unconditional love and support, but they also encourage us to spend more time outdoors, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. So pack up your pooch and head to the Spa City for a tail-waggin’ good time in America’s First Resort.

 Leslie Fisher is a media professional with a passion for travel and adventure. She has covered Hot Springs and the surrounding areas for over a decade and enjoys being a tourist in her hometown.