Exploring The Hot Springs Arkansas Historic Baseball Trail

Unless you’re deeply immersed in baseball history, you might not realize the profound connection Hot Springs, Arkansas holds to the sport’s earliest origins. It not only birthed spring baseball but also served as a training and rejuvenation destination for many baseball Hall of Famers.

It’s also where Babe Ruth’s legendary status as a home run hitter began.

The Hot Springs Arkansas Historic Baseball Trail provides visitors with an opportunity to explore these significant sites. Below, I’ll provide you with everything you need to know before heading to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

What is the Hot Springs Arkansas Historic Baseball Trail?

The Hot Springs Arkansas Historic Baseball Trail is a collection of 33 sites in Hot Springs, Arkansas, that help tell the story of when Hot Springs was a sought-after destination for Major League Baseball spring training and exhibition games.

The trail includes locations such as Whittington Park, where Babe Ruth hit his first home run as a professional baseball player during spring training in 1918, and a series of plaques that tell the story of individual players, such as Cy Young. Other sites include hotels, bathhouses, and bars.

You can enhance your experience by utilizing a free app designed to guide you through these locations with photos and short narratives. By the end, you’ll delve deeper into the city’s broader history, making it a worthwhile activity for those who don’t have a passion for baseball.

Note: Having a vehicle makes it a lot easier to get around and easily see these sites in a day. If you choose to walk, you’ll be getting in A LOT of steps.

The connection of baseball to Hot Springs

Hot Springs, Arkansas has a fascinating history intertwined with baseball, notably recognized as the birthplace of spring ball. Back in the early days (late 1800s), teams, mainly located in the north, encountered difficulties training outdoors due to the cold weather during February and March.

Wanting their players to be in top shape for the upcoming season, there arose a need to find a warmer training spot. Thus, in 1886, Albert Goodwill Spalding, president of the Chicago White Stockings of the National League, made the decision to train in a milder climate.

During their stay in Hot Springs, the National League team utilized a field situated behind what is currently the Garland County Courthouse on Ouachita Avenue.

Additionally, the Avenue Hotel, later known as the Majestic Hotel, located on Park Avenue near the intersection of Central and Whittington Avenues, provided accommodations for the visiting Chicago team.

Hot Springs majestic hotel sign

After seeing the success of this Chicago team, a migration occurred as both major and minor league teams gravitated towards the spa city from 1886 through the 1940s.

Among these teams were the Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Highlanders (later renamed the Yankees), and numerous others.

The decision to choose Hot Springs wasn’t solely based on its warmer climate; other factors played a significant role. The allure of the Hot Springs themselves, renowned for their medicinal benefits, provided players with opportunities for recovery and potentially fostered a mindset focused on maintaining health and moderation in habits like drinking.

Hot Springs in arkansas

Additionally, the scenic locale offered avenues for hiking in the mountains, enjoying fresh air, and priming their legs for the upcoming season. Over time, a comprehensive system of exhibition games, calisthenics, and training routines developed within the city.

Hot Springs mountains view

Hot Springs welcomed a plethora of Hall of Famers to its baseball scene, boasting a lengthy roster of renowned players.

Among these luminaries, Babe Ruth stands out, making numerous visits to the city and becoming a familiar sight around town, especially at the golf course and at the races at Oaklawn Park (now Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort).

Other big figures include: Bill Dickey, Buck Ewing, Cy Young, Hank Aaron, and many others.

Around the early1940s, several major league teams gradually transitioned their spring training bases to other regions across the country. By the time of World War II, the majority of teams had shifted their training grounds to locations in Florida, Arizona, or California.

Reasons for this included the warmer climate, less rainfall, and superior practice facilities.

Currently, fifteen major league teams partake in spring training in Florida, forming what is known as the “Grapefruit League.” Similarly, another fifteen teams conduct their spring training in Arizona, constituting the “Cactus League.”

How to experience the Hot Springs Arkansas Historic Baseball Trail

If you’re keen on delving into the baseball history here, your first step should be downloading the app (found here). This application will pinpoint all the significant locations for you and even send notifications and auto-play the narration when you’re in proximity to them (just be sure to allow the app to do so).

At each stop, you can delve into detailed information and view in-app photos that bring the history to life. It’s an incredibly informative tool that offers a wealth of insights into the old baseball days.

It’s worth noting that apart from some of the iconic hotel and casino structures, not much remains standing from those bygone eras in terms of baseball facilities.

For instance, the original spring training field situated at the intersection of Wachete Avenue and Hawthorne Street has since vanished, as have the other fields. But that doesn’t mean that you still can’t appreciate the history!

Below are some of the spots I would recommend not missing out on although there are plenty more spots to check out. Again, I would suggest downloading the app mentioned above to see the full list of sites.

And also, consider that even if you are not a hard-core baseball fan there’s still a lot of interesting history that will help you understand the city better so I highly recommend spending some time visiting the stops.

Whittington Field

One of the intriguing spots to explore is the home plate situated in the parking lot, marking the location where Whittington Field once stood.

It was here on March 17, 1918, that Babe Ruth made a pivotal transition from pitcher to batter, astonishing everyone with a towering home run estimated to exceed 500 feet. This moment essentially began his legendary status as a home run hitter, making it a truly captivating piece of baseball history.

It’s also where the most baseball in Hot Springs took place.

Bathhouse Row

The health advantages of “taking the baths” served as a key motivator for baseball teams to visit Hot Springs, so naturally you’ll want to visit the bath houses.

Players often engaged in heavy drinking and held the belief that they could “sweat out” impurities from their system. The Buckstaff, which remains operational as a bathhouse to this day, was constructed in 1912 and welcomed numerous prominent players.

Additionally, the Fordyce Bathhouse, established in 1915, accommodated the gym where many players trained. It now serves as the National Park Visitor Center, and you absolutely should visit this historic building! Pretty cool to think about all the athletes that would have come through this gymnasium.

Fordyce Bathhouse gym

The Ohio Club

During training trips to Hot Springs in the early 20th century, lots of the Major League players enjoyed gambling activities.

The city boasted several popular casinos, including the Southern Club, established in 1893, and the Ohio Club, constructed in 1905. In addition to the athletes, infamous figures like Al Capone, “Lucky” Luciano, “Bugsy” Siegel, and Frank Costello were among the mobsters known to frequent these establishments.

The Ohio Club is certainly a must-visit spot, where you can immerse yourself in its rich historical ambiance. Whether you’re looking to enjoy a drink or indulge in a meal, this establishment offers a delightful experience. From burgers to tasty sides and appetizers like spicy fried green beans, there’s something to satisfy every craving on their menu.

the Ohio Club

National Baptist Hotel

Originally constructed in 1923 under the name Woodmen of the Union Building, the National Baptist Hotel emerged as a hub of African American culture within Hot Springs.

Serving as both a hotel, bathhouse, and entertainment venue, it hosted a plethora of esteemed Negro League players and entertainers who graced the city, including Jackie Robinson who of course was famous for breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

Notably, renowned entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was among the guests who lodged here and he gained a reputation for for leading parades through town, dancing the entire route.

During my visit, I had a meaningful encounter with a black woman who randomly pulled up and took the time to educate me about the history of the building and its once thriving surroundings, formerly known as “Black Broadway.”

Our conversation was enlightening, and I gained insights into the connections between the area and the Brown v. Board of Education case, which was particularly intriguing given my recent visit to that historic park in Topeka, Kansas. (The couple who ran the “doll study” lived down the street.)

National Baptist Hotel


Thoroughbred racing held a special appeal for many of baseball’s legendary figures.

Oaklawn, founded in 1905, was a beloved spot for baseball icons like John McGraw and Rogers Hornsby. The racetrack also attracted luminaries such as Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, and Babe Ruth, among numerous other Hall of Famers.

Even if you have no clue how horse racing works (we didn’t) it’s a lot of fun to visit and it’s actually really easy to place a bet. I’d recommend giving it a shot if you are visiting when the races are taking place (you don’t have to dress all fancy). There’s also a pretty large casino and resort there making it a popular spot on weekends.

Baseball card mural

Another cool sight is the baseball card mural featuring icons like Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson. It’s only a couple blocks from the main city visitor center.

hot springs baseball mural

Happy Hollow/mountain trails

Cy Young was known to traverse the trails in and out of Happy Hollow, often wielding an axe as he walked. He famously remarked, “Put me out in a good piece of timber on a frosty day and I’ll get in shape quicker than I could in the finest training quarters on earth.”

Similarly, another iconic Hall of Fame pitcher, Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators, would commence his daily workout routine with a journey up the mountain, always accompanied by a companion for a game of catch.

Other teams trekked the long 12 miles through the mountains as part of their initial conditioning routine.

I personally really enjoyed hiking around Hot Spring Mountain and getting a little work out in my legs just like the baseball players did back in the day. There are also some great views along the way as well!

Apart from these highlights, you’ll find yourself hopping around to various plaques, each offering a brief glimpse into the history of different fields and players. While the plaques provide some insight, the app will undoubtedly enrich your experience with more detailed information, so I highly recommend using it.

Final word

Hot Springs, Arkansas is brimming with captivating history, but for fans of America’s favorite pastime, the allure is even greater. As a casual baseball enthusiast myself, it was a lot of fun delving deeper into the stories of the many legends I grew up idolizing, including Babe Ruth.

The creators of this experience have done an excellent job of providing an app that allows you to locate these significant places and uncover their stories.

What’s more, the history extends beyond baseball, enriching your appreciation of the sites once you delve into their backstories. It’s a truly immersive experience that adds depth to your exploration of Hot Springs’ rich heritage.

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