Garvan Woodland Gardens is open to revelers during the day



HOT SPRINGS – Necessity was a mother of invention during last year’s Christmas season at Garvan Woodland Gardens, who adapted to pandemic issues by rocking her ever-buzzing Christmas light show after dark .

Daylight hours make it easier to manage social distancing and other precautions during the tour, which takes place in Garvan almost entirely on foot. This contrasts with drive-thru setups that keep visitors in their vehicles during other year-end extravaganzas in Arkansas.

Creating a sparkling light show as the sun is shining can seem like a challenge. But Garvan’s staff pulled off the feat in 2020, thanks in part to the help of 48 interior design students from the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. The 210-acre Botanical Gardens, on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Hamilton, functions as a department of this school.

The light decorations always shone in the light of day, attracting enough satisfied paying customers for the 2021 reminder to begin on Saturday and end on December 31. This year’s event has a new name: Wonderland.

A giant mushroom adds a fairytale aura to the wonderland of Garvan Woodland Gardens. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette / Marcia Schnedler)
“Due to the lingering effects of covid-19, we want to ensure the safety and health of all of our guests,” said Bob Bledsoe, executive director of the Hot Springs Southern Fringe Botanical Gardens. “Due to our inability to receive the necessary infrastructure items to ensure the safety of guests and staff, the decision was made to do a one-day show again this year.”

Wonderland will feature nine main areas of light displays with distinctive holiday-focused themes. Some are recycled favorites from last year, including Lighted Mushrooms, Lodge Snowglobes, and James the Train. Others, including an iridescent jewel tree, are new to refresh the experience of 2021 visitors.

Besides the countless lights, Wonderland offers programs such as concerts, snacks, a daily scavenger hunt, a new event called Reindeer Games, and a number of holiday workshops. The activities are specified on the gardens website.

The reindeer games are scheduled from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Garvan Pavilion on November 22 and 23, as well as December 21 and 22. Live reindeer will be on hand for photos and feeding, along with cookies and ornaments to decorate, as well as Santa and his wife.

Photo Various areas of Garvan Woodland Gardens are decorated with illuminated Christmas trees. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette / Marcia Schnedler)
As was the case last year, there is a fitness benefit for visitors admitted during daylight hours who enjoy invigorating walks: all 210 acres of the land will be open. Visitors can hike the eight-kilometer trail, while only about a kilometer was accessible on night tours. Among the seasonal beauties on display is probably the flowering camellia.

A path leads to a year-round attraction popular with young people – Evans Tree House, which opened in 2018 in the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden. A year ago, there were sometimes lines of socially distant families waiting to enter and explore the 600 square feet of the three-level learning space.

Near the entrance to the gardens, the Chipmunk Cafe will be open for lunch and snacks from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Next door is the Sugg Model Train Garden, where multiple engines circling the tracks pull cars decorated with holiday touches – yet another reason to be merry.


  • What: A daytime version of a popular holiday display at Garvan Woodland Gardens.
  • Or: 550 Arkridge Road, Hot Springs.
  • When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday to December 31, except Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
  • Admission: $ 15 for adults, $ 5 for children aged 4 to 12 and for dogs on a leash; Free for children under 3 years. No online or advance sales. Last tickets sold at 5:30 p.m.
  • Information: (501) 262-9300;

Reindeer games

  • What: Live reindeer available for photos and feedings as well as other activities.
  • Or: Garvan Pavilion, Garvan Forest Gardens.
  • When: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. November 22-23; December 21-22
  • Admission: Games plus Gardens tickets $ 65, $ 50 for Garvan members.
  • Reservations required: (501) 262-9300.



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