Barbecue Road Trip to Hot Springs Arkansas

My wife and I took our first vacation in two years this week and ended up at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.  Our plan was to explore the National Park, hike some great trails and refuel our tanks with plenty of delicious food.

The First Day

Before we headed out we did a little research and found that one of the best hiking trails in the Hot Springs region was the Falls Branch Trail at Lake Catherine State Park.

Lake Catherine is only about 10 miles outside of Hot Springs and there was no admission charge.  The Falls Branch Trail was a delightful 1.7 mile hike on a trail that was well maintained and clearly marked.  At the end of the trail was a wonderful little waterfall and pool that was perfect for taking a break and cooling off!

Waterfall at Lake Catherine State Park

After our big hike we went into Hot Springs to find someplace great for lunch.  I had never been to the town before so I did some searching and found this list of Great Places to Eat in Hot Springs.  We followed the recommendation to try Ronaldo’s (it is across the street from Bathhouse Row) and we absolutely loved the patio! The staff was friendly and the margaritas are excellent!

Rolando Patio

After hiking and margaritas we headed over to our Air BnB rental for a well deserved nap 🙂

The Second Day

We spent the rest of our trip hiking the trails at the National Park and exploring more places to eat.

Seeing the hot spring pouring down the mountain side was pretty incredible.  The trails at the park were all well maintained and we were surprised by how few people we saw.  This was the least crowded National Park we have ever seen.

Since I am a barbecue guy I had to check out one of the famous local bbq joints, McClard’s BBQ.

BBQ Wall

McClard’s is a small Mom and Pop type joint with an eclectic menu.  It looks like if you want any smoked chicken then you have to get in line early because they only make a few and that is only on Wednesday!

Menu for BBQ in Hot Springs

I ended up ordering the Beef Plate, sliced with two sides.

The Cole slaw was cool, delicious and refreshing.  The portion of fries was generous.

The beef was….

Beef Plate with Slaw

The people beside us ordered the ribs and those looked pretty tasty.

The Biggest Surprise of the Trip

I have loved horse racing for a heck of a long time but I never connected the dots to figure out that Oaklawn race course is located in the middle of Hot Springs.

It turns out, according the the Tourist Guide magazine I was reading, that Oaklawn is the largest tourist attraction in Arkansas.  What was strange to me is that the town of Hot Springs does not appear to embrace the track.

  • There is plenty of nostalgia around town about the fact that there used to be a tie to Major League baseball.
  • There is plenty of nostalgia around town about the fact that there used to be gangsters and illegal gambling.
  • There is plenty of promotion about the local lakes.
  • There is plenty of promotion about Gavin Gardens.

But when it comes to seeing any reference about thoroughbred horses, jockeys and modern day wagering the town was pretty much crickets.


We had a great time in Hot Springs!

The hiking was just right, the Bathhouses were extremely cool and the Hot Springs were amazing.

Stick this place on your list of places to visit.  I am sure you will have a great time!