The southern U.S. state of Arkansas is bordered by the mighty Mississippi River and is a favorite holiday destination for outdoor enthusiasts who come to take advantage of the numerous parks and wilderness areas. The diverse terrain includes beautiful rivers, hot springs, mountains, and caves, crisscrossed by numerous hiking and biking trails. For art, musical events and museums, visit Little Rock, Fayetteville, Hot Springs and Eureka Springs. Here are the best places to visit in Arkansas.
1. Hot Springs
© Hot Springs
Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains and surrounded by the natural hot springs from which its name derives, Hot Springs is an enticing holiday destination offering a diverse selection of attractions. The town has had a chequered past, which history buffs can learn about on a tour of the Gangster Museum of America and the 1888 Victorian Bath Houses on Bathhouse Row (where you can still soak in the natural hot water).
Families can have hours of fun at the Magic Springs Water and Theme Park or jump aboard a National Park Duck Tour or a Belle of Hotsprings Riverboat tour. Art lovers can go on the First Friday Art Walk through the Hot Springs Fine Arts District to visit dozens of galleries and studios, while nature lovers can enjoy fishing and water sports at Lake Ouachita State Park. Things to Do in Hot Springs
2. Little Rock
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Arkansas’ capital city Little Rock is an ideal vacation destination for the whole family, offering an excellent selection of attractions for all tastes and ages. History buffs will find plenty to see, including the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, the Little Rock High School National Historic Site (a significant site in the Civil Rights struggle), and the Old State House Museum.
If you love historic architecture, you can take a stroll through historic Quapaw Quarter and art lovers can immerse themselves in the vibrant arts scene by visiting the Arkansas Art Museum and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra or by watching a Broadway show. There are many family-friendly attractions, including a ride on the River Trail Trolley, a visit to Little Rock Zoo, and the wonderful interactive Museum of Discovery. Things to Do in Little Rock
The central Arkansas town of Bentonville was first established in 1836 and is probably best known as the headquarters of retail giant Walmart. In addition to visiting the interesting Walmart Museum, a stroll through the city will lead you to many other historic attractions such as the Bella Vista Historic Museum, the Museum of Native American History, and the beautifully preserved Peel Mansion Museum and Heritage Gardens.
Art lovers will find themselves surrounded by public art installations while a visit to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art offers a feast for the senses. The city is particularly well endowed with cycling routes and trails and there are several surrounding lakes and parks that cater to hikers and water sport enthusiasts. Things to Do in Bentonville
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The college town of Conway is situated about 30 miles northwest of Little Rock, surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty that attracts nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. Avid fishermen can cast a line at Lake Conway and Toad Suck Park, while water sports enthusiasts can have fun on Beaverfork Lake.
You can also enjoy boating as well as hiking and biking in the Cadron Settlement Park, a National Historic Site featuring a Cherokee Trail of Tears memorial. Art lovers can look forward to enjoying a wide selection of both visual and performing arts venues, including the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, the Baum Gallery, and the W. Reynolds Performance Hall, which is home to the Conway Symphony Orchestra. Things to Do in Conway
5. Fort Smith
© Fort Smith
Located on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border, Fort Smith started out as a military frontier post in 1817. Consequently, history buffs can spend hours uncovering the past by visiting the many historic sites, starting at Miss Laura’s Visitor’s Center, which is located in a former bordello in the historic downtown. Some of the must-see historic sites include the Fort Smith National Historic Site, the Belle Grove Historic District, and the Fort Smith Museum of History.
Children will enjoy jumping aboard the 1926 Electric Streetcar and visiting the Fort Smith Trolley Museum. Outdoor enthusiasts can head to the Devil’s Den State, where 20 miles of scenic hiking trails await. Once you have worked up a good appetite and thirst you can visit some of the local wineries and the farmers market. Things to Do in Fort Smith
© Mountain Home
If you love the Great Outdoors, then Mountain Home in the southern Ozark Mountains deserves a place on your vacation wish-list. The vast majority of visitors come to enjoy the wonderful variety of water sports on offer on the Twin Lakes and the three surrounding rivers, where you can spend hours fishing, boating, tubing, water skiing, and much more.
For a break from water fun you can step back in time at Mountain Village 1890 (a historical replica of an Ozark Mountain Village) and tour the fascinating Bull Shoals Caverns, which feature an underground river. You can also visit the Norfolk National Fish Hatchery or hike a few of the 20 scenic hiking trails. Round off your day with a show at the Twin Lakes Playhouse.
The quaint little town of Hope is situated in southern Arkansas and is famously the birthplace of President Clinton (and is also somewhat famous as the producer of the largest watermelons in the U.S.). You can tour the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home to see where the young Clinton spent his first four years.
The Hope Visitor’s Center and Museum is also worth a visit – it is situated in the restored Missouri-Pacific Railroad Depot, where you can see a variety of local history exhibits. Other nearby attractions to visit include the Paul W. Klipsch Museum of Audio History, the Historic Washington State Park (where the entire town of Washington has been turned into a state park), and the Crater of Diamonds State Park.
8.Arkansas tourist attractions: Buffalo National River
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The Buffalo National River is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower U.S., meandering freely for 135 miles through the beautiful Ozark Mountains. This National River is a favorite haunt of nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts and offers a variety of activities besides simply floating and fishing – landlubbers can have just as much fun as water-sport enthusiasts and can choose from hiking, camping, picnicking, fishing, hunting, and horseback riding.
The river is divided into an upper, middle, and lower district, each of which has its own special charm. There are numerous campgrounds to spend the night and concessions where you can book guided floats or hire all you need to go it alone.
9.Places to Visit in Arkansas: Lake Ouachita State Park
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Located close to the spa city of Hot Springs and surrounded by the natural beauty of the Ouachita National Forest, Lake Ouachita State Park beckons all nature lovers and outdoor adventurers.
The waters of the lake are pristine and you can fish for a variety of species, including bream and largemouth bass, on the open waters or along a multitude of quiet coves and inlets along 975 miles of shoreline. Visitors flock to the lake to enjoy swimming, scuba diving, boating, and other water sports or to go hiking and wildlife watching along the two trails. You can rent a fully equipped cabin or book a campsite to fully appreciate the park.
10.Petit Jean State Park
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The Petit Jean State Park in central Arkansas is the oldest state park in the state and has been welcoming nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and even history lovers for decades. Much of the infrastructure of the park was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) starting back in 1933 and today you can explore three National Historic Districts containing structures, paths, and bridges within the park.
The terrain is beautiful and rugged and the hiking trails will lead you through meadows, canyons, streams, and mountains overlooked by steep craggy bluffs that conceal highlights like Cedar Falls, Seven Hollows, and Bear Cave. There is a large swimming pool, playgrounds, picnic areas, and fishing and boating on Lake Bailey and Lake Roosevelt.
11.Arkansas points of interest: Beaver Lake
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Beaver Lake is surrounded by the impressive natural beauty of the Ozark Mountains in northwest Arkansas and attracts many visitors who come to enjoy a wide selection of active outdoor activities. The expansive 487 miles of beautiful shoreline can be explored along paved roads and there are no less than 12 parks where you can enjoy camping (650 campsites in total), swimming, hiking, biking, boating, and a lot more.
There are several marinas where you can launch your own boat, or you can hire everything you need to enjoy the lake from one of several on-site outfitters. Beaver Lake has particularly pristine water and is well known for providing wonderful fishing opportunities.
12.Arkansas tourist attractions: Grand Promenade
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The Grand Promenade is a brick-paved recreational trail in the Hot Springs National Park, which forms part of the town of Hot Springs. The half-mile loop trail was originally intended to be an extension of the Hot Springs’ historic bathhouse and winds through some of the most interesting sites in the park, such as the Arlington Lawn, the Hot Springs cascade, and the Hot Springs historical downtown area.
As you make your way along the pleasantly shaded trail (considered to be a moderate hike), you will find new views around every corner; if you would like to linger awhile, there are comfortable benches and picnic areas along the route.
13.Places to Visit in Arkansas: Big Dam Bridge
© Big Dam Bridge
The Big Dam Bridge spans the Arkansas River and the Murray Lock and Dam between Little Rock and North Little Rock and is the longest purpose-built pedestrian and cycling bridge in the country. This unique structure was specifically intended to provide cyclists and pedestrians with an incentive to get out and get active against an impressive backdrop.
The bridge spans 4,226 feet and rises 90 feet above the waters of the river, connecting over 14 miles of scenic cycling and hiking trails on both sides. From the top of the bridge you can get a fabulous bird’s-eye view of the entire river valley, Downtown Little Rock, Emerald Park, Two Rivers Park, and Pinnacle Mountain.
14.Hot Springs Mountain Trail
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Hot Springs National Park is an exciting destination for hikers and offers 27 miles of trails for all fitness levels. The Hot Springs Mountain Trail is 1.7 miles long and is considered to be one of the most rewarding trails in the park (easy to moderate). The trail starts at the Pagoda Shelter just below Hot Springs Mountain Tower.
As you leave the picnic area you will start to descend through a very attractive forested area, and the going gets progressively steeper as you reach the lower slope, however you will be rewarded for your efforts by some excellent views. After reaching the base of the slope, you will need to hike up the western slope of Hot Springs Mountain to make your way back to the picnic area.
15.Ozark Folk Center State Park
© Ozark Folk Center State Park
The Ozark Folk Center State Park is a unique destination where you can immerse yourself in the music, arts, crafts and heritage of the Ozark Mountains region. The park is situated close to Mountain View and offers visitors the chance to see blacksmiths, potters, and dozens of other craftsmen in action. You can join a variety of classes and learn how to make music on an autoharp, dance a jig, or start your own herb garden.
Once you have enjoyed learning about all the crafts you can have a treetop adventure at Loco Ropes or visit the Flying Pig Zipline or the Blanchard Springs Caverns. Music lovers can head to downtown Mountain View to tap their feet in the legendary “Folk Music Capital of the World.”
16.Arkansas points of interest: Christ of the Ozarks
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Christ of the Ozarks is an enormous sculpture of Jesus situated on top of Magnetic Mountain, close to Eureka Springs. The statue was erected in 1966 and forms the center-point of a religious “theme park,” which includes a large amphitheater where The Great Passion Play is performed from May to October.
Even if you are not religious, the site is interesting to visit and besides admiring the 65.5-foot modernistic statue (erected mainly by Emmet Sullivan, who also assisted in the work at Mount Rushmore) there are several other attractions, including a genuine section of the Berlin Wall, an Israeli bomb shelter, a Cultural and Biblical History Museum, and much more. You can also go hiking along several trails and see the animals that feature in the passion play.
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17.Mount Magazine State Park
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Located on the tallest mountain in Arkansas and surrounded by some of the most impressive natural beauty in the state, Mount Magazine State Park is a mecca for adventure-sport enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Daredevils come from near and far to enjoy excellent rock-climbing, rappelling, hang-gliding, and technical climbing on Mount Magazine, while those who prefer more sedate activities can go hiking along miles of trails, enjoy mountain biking, horse riding, and nature observation. You can view some interesting interactive exhibits at the visitors center and spend a few nights in a cabin or campsite. In addition to all the above, the park also offers ATV adventures.
18.Riverfront Park, Little Rock
© Riverfront Park, Little Rock
The Riverfront Park stretches for 11 city blocks along the south bank of the Arkansas River in Downtown Little Rock, offering locals and visitors alike a 33-acre recreational green space. Not only can you come to the park to relax and unwind, but you can also see some historic sites, such as the Little Rock Civil War Marker and the Riverfront Park History Pavilion, as you stroll through the park.
Other Riverfront Park attractions to uncover include the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center, and the First Security Amphitheater. The Clinton Presidential Park Bridge links the north and south banks of the river, giving hikers and cyclist access to a 14.2-mile loop trail, while the Peabody Splash Park and playground will keep children happy for hours.
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19.Lake Catherine State Park
© Lake Catherine State Park
At 1,940 acres, Lake Catherine forms the highlight of Lake Catherine State Park in the heart of the Ouachita Mountains in Hot Springs County. The lake provides an ideal playground for fishermen and water-babies – the marina stocks everything you need to catch a big one for your supper as well as rental boats, kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, and row boats can be rented during the summer.
There are several accommodation options – you can rent a cabin or bring your tent or RV to one of the campgrounds and enjoy a magical back-to-nature family holiday. Hikers have four trails to choose from, which vary from easy to moderate, and guided hikes, horseback riding, nature trails, and lake tours are available.
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20.Places to Visit in Arkansas: Mammoth Spring State Park
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Mammoth Spring is Arkansas’ larges natural spring, pumping a staggering nine million gallons of water per minute into Spring Lake, which in turn feeds Spring River, an idyllic spot to fish for trout.
You can learn about the early history of Mammoth Spring State Park at the visitors center and you can also visit the park’s 1886 Frisco depot to see an authentic 1900s train station and caboose and check out the remains of a historic mill and hydroelectric plant. Besides fishing on the lake and in the river, you can rent a canoe, kayak, or paddle-boat at the marina, go hiking, or enjoy a picnic surrounded by the beautiful scenery.
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21.Hawk’s Bill Crag Trail (aka Whitaker Point Trail)
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You will find the Hawk’s Bill Crag Trail along the Buffalo National River in the Ozark National Forest south of Harrison, Arkansas. If you are looking for something more than just a pleasant walk in the park, Hawk’s Bill Crag Trail could be just what you are seeking. The trail is a little under 3 miles long and takes around 3 hours (round trip).
It is considered easy to moderate, but what makes this trail really special is that it leads you to one of the most memorable and photographed viewpoints in the state at Whitaker Point, which towers hundreds of feet high overlooking some of the most stunning Ozark Mountain scenery. The hike is good in any season but witnessing the fall foliage adds another dimension.
22.Places to Visit in Arkansas: Pinnacle Mountain State Park
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Pinnacle Mountain State Park is an extensive (2,356-acre) day-use park situated just west of Little Rock. The center-point of the park is the towering cone-shaped Pinnacle Mountain and one of the highlights of any visit is hiking to the summit of the mountain to enjoy sweeping views over the superb landscape.
There is a variety of trails for hikers, including two 1.5-mile summit trails and a longer base loop trail. The park is dedicated to environmental education and you can join guided interpretive hiking, canoeing, or boating tours. In the east of the park there are two trails suitable for mountain biking and equestrians can book a guided horseback ride with Chief Whitehorse Trail Rides.
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23.Blanchard Springs Caverns
© Blanchard Springs Caverns
If you are planning to be travelling anywhere near the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest in northern Arkansas, you should not miss the chance to explore the Blanchard Spring Caverns. The Dripstone Trail tour is open all year round and has paved pathways with handrails that enable visitors with wheelchairs and strollers to access a significant section of the beautifully lit caverns and see a variety of crystalline formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, and columns.
If you are fit, you can choose the Discovery Trail instead (June to August only), which includes over 700 stairs and explores the middle level of the cavern system. Daredevils can try their hand at real spelunking on the guided Wild Cave Tour.
24.Hemmed-in Hollow Falls
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Hemmed-in Hollow Falls are located in the Ponca Wilderness Area of the Buffalo National River in the Ozark Mountains. At 250-feet tall, this waterfall is one of the highest you will find anywhere in the state and it is well worth your while to make the fairly strenuous 5-mile hike from the trailheads along State Highway 43 to see them, particularly if you come in spring or early summer when the water volumes are at their best.
The setting of the waterfall in an enclosed valley surrounded on three sides by towering 200-foot bluffs is impressive to say the least, even when the water volume is low. If you are exploring the Buffalo National River by boat or raft, the falls are easily accessible via a short hike from the river.
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Magnolia Falls can be found in the Upper Buffalo River Wilderness of the Ozark Forest and are something of a well-kept secret. To reach the falls you will need to hike a 2.5-mile trail that is considered to be easy to moderate and will lead you along a very scenic area of towering bluffs and rock features that follow the edge of a creek.
The waterfall is around 26 feet high and cascades over three ledges into a lovely pool at the base. If you visit during the winter, you can expect to see the interesting rock formations covered by glistening ice “curtains.” There are a further two waterfalls along the trail but the second section of the hike is considered to be moderate to difficult and should only be attempted by seasoned hikers.
25 Best Places to Visit in Arkansas
- Hot Springs, Photo: Hot Springs
- Little Rock, Photo: Courtesy of Katherine - Fotolia.com
- Bentonville, Photo: Bentonville
- Conway, Photo: Courtesy of poutnik - Fotolia.com
- Fort Smith, Photo: Fort Smith
- Mountain Home, Photo: Mountain Home
- Hope, Photo: Hope
- Arkansas tourist attractions: Buffalo National River, Photo: Courtesy of benjaminjk - Fotolia.com
- Places to Visit in Arkansas: Lake Ouachita State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Carmen - Fotolia.com
- Petit Jean State Park, Photo: Courtesy of kanonsky - Fotolia.com
- Arkansas points of interest: Beaver Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Wirepec - Fotolia.com
- Arkansas tourist attractions: Grand Promenade, Photo: NPS Photo
- Places to Visit in Arkansas: Big Dam Bridge, Photo: Big Dam Bridge
- Hot Springs Mountain Trail, Photo: NPS Photo
- Ozark Folk Center State Park, Photo: Ozark Folk Center State Park
- Arkansas points of interest: Christ of the Ozarks, Photo: Courtesy of michael langley - Fotolia.com
- Mount Magazine State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Riverfront Park, Little Rock, Photo: Riverfront Park, Little Rock
- Lake Catherine State Park, Photo: Lake Catherine State Park
- Places to Visit in Arkansas: Mammoth Spring State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Pakhnyushchyy - Fotolia.com
- Hawk’s Bill Crag Trail (aka Whitaker Point Trail), Photo: Courtesy of khlongwangchao - Fotolia.com
- Places to Visit in Arkansas: Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Photo: Courtesy of leekris - Fotolia.com
- Blanchard Springs Caverns, Photo: Blanchard Springs Caverns
- Hemmed-in Hollow Falls, Photo: Courtesy of madajar - Fotolia.com
- Magnolia Falls, Photo: Courtesy of watcherfox - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com