The hometown of Bill Clinton and Billy Bob Thorton, Hot Springs is a tourist resort town that is an hour west of Little Rock, Arkansas. The area is famous for its 43 natural water springs that come out of the ground at temperatures of 143 degrees F. The city has a resident population of 39K, but each year it entertains an estimated 1.5 million tourists. With a size of 38 square miles, the city has an urban feel, especially during the busy tourist months.
There is no doubt that the Hot Springs, Arkansas area is a great place to visit as a tourist. However, this article will try to shed light on what it is like as a year-round resident of the city.
Note, the below article covers the city of Hot Spring, which surrounds the Hot Springs National Park. This should not be confused with a separate town, 30 minutes north, called Hot Springs Village, which is a retirement community. Hot Springs Village is not discussed in the following article and the Village may have different pros/cons.
The Benefits of Living in Hot Springs, Arkansas – Pros
1. Easy Year-Round Access to the Famous Springs
Residents of Hot Springs can take advantage of the springs any time they choose; they can begin every day with a spring bath if they want.
Note, the thermal pools are not accessible outside. To take a dip, you have to visit one of the Bathhouses on Bathhouse Row, where waters from the hot springs are supposedly pumped into the swimming pools inside these historic buildings. They offer shared pools for $20 per person per day, or private baths for a bit more.
There are several springs that can be reached in the outdoors of the park, but you can’t go for a swim in them. However, you are allowed to fill up bottles of free drinking water. The area has both hot and cold water springs.
Scientists think each drop of water goes through a 4,000-year cycle, starting as rain, slowly seeps into the deep underground, gets heated up by the Earth, and then gets pushed back up for our enjoyment.
2. Hiking in the Natural State
Arkansas is nicknamed the “Natural State” and for good reason. Within Arkansas’ borders are 7 national parks and 52 state parks.
The list of hiking locations right near Hot Springs is endless. Top hiking attractions include:
- Ouachita National Forest (1.8 million acres with 700 miles of trails)
- Hot Springs National Park (26 miles of trails)
- Hot Springs Mountain (10 miles)
- Lake Catherine State Park (7 miles)
- Garvan Woodland Gardens (5 miles)
- Hot Springs Creek Greenway Trail (3 miles)
- Grand Promenade (1 mile)
3. Boating in the Natural State
The state of Arkansas is home to 9,700 miles of waterways and 600,000 acres of lakes.
The Hot Springs area is home to several freshwater lakes, including:
- Lake Ouachita (40,000 acres)
- Ouachita River (605 miles)
- Lake Hamilton (7,460 acres)
- Lake Catherine (1,940 acres)
- Several smaller lakes (Balboa, Coronado, Cortez, Desoto, and more)
These lakes and rivers provide a long list of water recreational activities, whether you own your own boat or choose to rent:
- Water Skiing
- Jet Skiing
- Kayaking and canoeing
- Party barges and pontoons
- Even scuba diving
4. World-Class Fishing
With all of the water around the Hot Springs area, it is of little surprise that the area would be a mecca for fishing. Lake Ouachita is known worldwide for trophy-size largemouth bass and striped bass reaching over 50-pounds in size. The lakes in the area are also known for crappie, bream, catfish, and walleye. The Ouachita River is stocked with rainbow trout and offers excellent fly fishing opportunities.
5. World-Class Horse Racing
Hot Springs is not only known for its waters, but it is also famous for being the home of Oaklawn Park (now called Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort). Operating since 1905, Oaklawn is a Grade I thoroughbred horse racetrack and has been ranked as one of the top tracks in America. It is best known for being one of the eight major prep races ahead of the Kentucky Derby.
All of this means there is some serious thoroughbred horse business taking place in the Hot Springs area. The area is home to a large number of horse stables offering riding, lessons, training, boarding, breeding, and more.
6. Good Food Options
Our list of pros finally moves away from the natural wonders of the Hot Springs area to the other factors that can make or break living in a location.
Yelp lists 236 restaurant options in Hot Springs, at least half of which are locally owned. Not only does the city offer some great southern BBQ choices, but also a wide variety of ethnic foods like Mexican, Vietnamese, Greek, Japanese, and more.
7. Low Cost of Living
Overall, Hot Springs has a cost of living that is 20% lower than the national average, driven mostly by the fact housing is 41% lower than elsewhere. The Median House price in Hot Springs is only $122K, a full $100K less than the national average of $217K. Average rent in the city is also less expensive at $727 per month versus the national $1,062.
8. Low Property Taxes
At 0.61%, Arkansas has the fifth-lowest property taxes in America. When combined with the low cost of housing (Pro #7), the average property tax payment in the state is only $699, the third-lowest in the nation.
9. Schools are OK
One of the downsides of having low property rates (Pro #8) is that funding schools can become more challenging. Arkansas spending per pupil is ranked 35th in America.
Despite this low funding, Hot Springs schools are ranked in the Top 10% of Arkansas and the Top 20% of America.
10. The Weather is OK
Hot Springs is in a Humid Subtropical Climate. Temperatures are moderate with summers typically staying below 90 and winters staying just above freezing. The area is wet and humid year-round, receiving 57 inches of rain per year, which is 50% more than the US average of 38 inches (I guess we know why the area has so many lakes and rivers).
Hot Springs gets 215 days of sunshine each year which is slightly higher than the US average of 205 days. So the city does not get more days of rain, rather the rain just falls harder when it does come.
Folks looking to avoid harsh winters of the North and extreme heat of the South may enjoy the Hot Springs area. Just prepare yourself for the high humidity.
11. The Hospital is Good
Hot Springs is home to St. Vincent Hospital, which has earned a 5-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It is the only hospital in Central and Southwest Arkansas to receive this rating and is an honor given to only 10% of hospitals in America.
In addition to the local St Vincent, the city of Little Rock is an hour away and has about 20 hospitals available.
The Downsides of Living in Hot Springs, Arkansas – Cons
12. Low Pay and Poverty
The average income of a Hot Spring resident is only $20K per year, which is below the national average of $29K. The median Hot Spring household income is only $31K per year, nearly half of the US average $53K.
A salary of $20K amounts to about $10 per hour, which was the Arkansas minimum wage in the year 2020. This data is consistent with comments from residents that indicate most of the jobs available in Hot Springs are low-paying positions related to tourism and retail.
As a result of this low income, the city of Hot Springs has a poverty rate of 24%, nearly double the national poverty rate of 14%.
Better paying jobs are available in Little Rock, but the commute data shows that very few people make this one-hour drive. Perhaps folks are not eager to take the 30-minute drive to the nearest interstate.
13. Low Education Among Residents
Only 27% of Hot Springs residents have a 2 or 4-year college degree. 13% of residents dropped out of high school. Comments from residents indicate that many young folks go off to college, but due to a lack of decent jobs, they move away from town after graduation.
14. Super High Crime Rates
- Violent crime is nearly double: 37/100 versus the average 22/100
- Property crime is nearly triple: 95/100 versus 35/100
The data also shows Hot Springs is well above average in specific crime categories on a per capita basis:
- Assault (nearly 50% higher)
- Murder (nearly 5 times higher)
- Rape (more than 2 times higher)
- Robbery (a little less than average)
- Burglary (nearly 4 times higher)
- Theft (more than 2 times higher)
- Vehicle Theft (2 times higher)
Hot Springs has the highest crime rates in America for a town of its size.
15. Air Pollution
Despite being surrounded by forests and farms, Hot Springs suffers from air quality that is worse than the US average. The cause of this pollution is the coal-burning electrical plants used in Arkansas to generate electricity.
According to a recently settled Clean Air Act lawsuit, the state has two coal-burning plants that have been operating for over 30 years without modern pollution controls. The emissions from these two plants create an ozone smog that is 4-times greater than what is considered healthy. These plants are ranked the 6th most polluting power plants in the country.
As part of the lawsuit settlement, these two coal-producing plants will be shut down by 2030.
16. Tornado Risk
Most folks have heard the term “Tornado Alley” to describe parts of the Midwest Plains. Hot Springs is located in the middle of the lesser-known “Dixie Alley”. The tornados of the Dixie Alley actually produce more deaths than Tornado Alley, most likely due to the South being more densely populated and having more mobile homes.
The State of Arkansas averages 33 tornadoes per year and has more tornado-related deaths per square mile than any other state.
17. Flood Risk
Considering the amount of water that surrounds Hot Springs, it is of little surprise to learn that the downtown area suffers a major flood on average every 12 years. It seems about 10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period is enough to cause major flooding. Downtown streets get covered in up to 10-feet of water while basements flood from floor to ceiling. Lake levels rise and dams overflow. The last flood of Hot Springs was in 2008, so based on past averages, the town is due for another flood.
Final Thoughts on Living in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Based on tourist reviews, there is no doubt Hot Springs is a great place to visit on vacation. The natural resources around the area are impressive, as are the many restaurants in town. However, resident reviews paint a picture of a town struggling with low employment opportunities, poverty, and crime. Folks thinking of moving to Hot Springs need to research job options and consider what year-round life will be like in a town dedicated to entertaining tourists.