The Best Places to Visit in Arkansas
Arkansas blends Midwestern and Southern hospitality with a mountainous backdrop of high-altitude beauty – a unique and aggressive landscape that manifests in an unrivaled tableau of karst cliffs, dark forests, and foaming white waterfalls. .
This setting is the soil from which a distinct folk culture develops, which has, in turn, been mythologized and satirized by outsiders. Traveling here offers you a chance to engage with both sides, which come together to create a state with a truly singular sense of place.
Let loose in Little Rock
Arkansas’ capital is the natural point of entry into the state for most visitors. With a population of approximately 200,000 spread across the Arkansas River and the Ouachita foothills, Little Rock is an accessible introduction to the state that will whet your appetite for more of what Arkansas has to offer, namely an overabundance of outdoor activities.
Before lacing up your hiking boots, be sure to visit the National Park Service Visitor Center at Little Rock Central High School, where the struggle for school integration has become a showdown between a mob and nine students, or the William J Clinton Presidential Center, a fascinating window into the life of an Arkansas native who later led the United States in the 1990s.
Soak in the hot springs
Drive an hour southwest from Little Rock in the Ouachita Mountain Ranges and you’ll be in Hot Springs, one of the oldest resort towns in the United States – although people came here to relax even before the founding of the country.
Hot Springs takes its name from the actual hot springs that flow in the nearby mountains. Some of these springs end in rock pools, others are pumped into ancient bathhouses that once hosted everyone from gangsters to politicians, but you’ll find them all inside Hot Springs National Park.
Even if soaking in mineral water isn’t your thing, there’s fun in wandering around the city’s well-preserved historic center or, you know, visiting a random Star Wars museum.
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Float out of time and mind on the Buffalo River
There are days on the Buffalo National River where you measure time by the height of the sun and nights by the stars in the sky — assuming you’ve left your smartphone in your waterproof bag.
Float trips on the Buffalo are the signature experience of many Arkansas trips and one of the great outdoor adventures of the American South. There are 138 miles of waterways to explore here; the Upper Ponca Buffalo, in particular, is framed by rock formations reminiscent of a host of smiling stone giants.
And you don’t just have to get in the water. The 40-mile Upper Buffalo Mountain Bike Trail, on the other hand, is a superlative route that deserves far more recognition.
Listen to traditional music in Mountain View
Because of its name, one would expect the small Mountain View (about 3000 inhabitants) to be a stopover for adventure tourism in the neighboring valleys. And to be fair, there are some great things to do in this town, like Loco Ropes, an outfit that allows guests to both traverse and zipline through forest canopies.
That said, the real draw here is the music. Scots, Irish, English, Germans and Native Americans all lived in these hills, and from these intertwined roots was born one of the country’s most distinct genres of folk music. Listen to mountain music at the Town Square, where free concerts are held frequently, or at the Ozark Folk Center State Park.
Cross the bridges in Bentonville
Now a charming little town with a pretty square, interesting shops and great restaurants, the place that gave Walmart the world has really taken off relatively recently.
As with much of the state, there’s world-class mountain biking here, but Bentonville’s most unexpected side is also its most stunning attraction: the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Huge, airy pavilions are connected by glass walkways, while artwork covering every visual milestone in American history lines the walls.
Once you’ve had your fill of the museum, lose yourself in the woods surrounding it, then peek inside (or stay at) 21c Museum Hotel – which doubles as a gallery space, it is more or less an accommodation extension of the museum.
Have fun in Fayetteville
They live the good life in Fayetteville. Natural beauty abounds in the surrounding Ozarks, and an overabundance of hiking trails weaves a web through the mountains. There’s theater galore and live music pretty much whenever you want it. There’s a college, and when there’s a college, there’s a bunch of smart, driven people who like to eat out, drink, and do fun things, and that’s all here as well.
Do a bit of everything in Eureka Springs
A narrow valley runs through the heart of Eureka Springs, surrounding it on either side with historic buildings and Americans of all stripes and political persuasions. It’s the kind of town that tried to protect the marriage rights of LGBTIQ+ citizens before the Supreme Court ruled on the issue – but it’s also a popular vacation spot for the good old boys and their trucks who come from Oklahoma.
Either way, Eureka Springs is a fascinating place. Walk the historic loop to better understand the city’s beautiful early 20th-century classical architecture. Connect with nature – and a higher power – at Thorncrown, a beautiful chapel that lets in both the spirit and environment of the Ozarks.
Spend a day getting lost on the trails that wind around Lake Leatherwood City Park, filled with excellent hiking and mountain biking trails. Or just have a good sunset stroll down Eureka Springs’ main street and soak up a cast of characters that truly speak to the state’s signature sense of independence.
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