Hot Springs, the key city in the Ouachita area, is known for horseracing at Oaklawn Park and for Bathhouse Row, which consists of turn-of-the-century bathhouses. One of the bathhouses, the Fordyce, currently operates as a museum where visitors can learn more about the colorful history that shaped Hot Springs — the only city in the nation to contain a national park. The city was named for the mineral waters that bubble up from 47 underground springs that maintain a consistent temperature of 143 degrees.
Magic Springs Amusement Park, combined with Crystal Falls Water Park, keeps families entertained for hours on end with thrilling rides and nationally known performers. The Mid-America Science Museum has entertained and educated schoolchildren for years.
A spot favored by locals and guests is Garvan Woodland Gardens on the 210-acre peninsula of Lake Hamilton. Peak time for the botanical gardens occurs during the months of March, April and May, but the grounds offer a variety of flora and fauna to see year-round.
The region is known for its Diamond Lakes, including lakes Ouachita, DeGray, Hamilton and Catherine. Full-service resorts and other amenities, as well as ample opportunities for camping, fishing, boating, horseback riding and golf, can be found on the lakes or in surrounding areas. After a spin on one of the lakes, be sure to dig for diamonds at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro. The largest diamond ever found in North America — at 40.23 carats — was discovered here.
Drive the scenic route along the rugged roads of the backcountry in Ouachita National Forest, and take in all the beautiful surroundings. The Talimena National Scenic Byway winds 54 miles through the Ouachita Mountains from Mena to Talihina, Okla. While you’re in Mena, visit Queen Wilhelmina State Park with its 223-mile recreation trail.
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