5 Reasons to Add Arkansas to Your Bucket List

There are thousands of reasons visitors flock to Arkansas every year, and no matter what you’re into, the Natural State is certain to have something you’ll love. Here are five reasons we think you should add visiting Arkansas to your bucket list:

1. Quaint Small Towns

With a statewide population smaller than most major U.S. cities, Arkansas is comprised of a lot of rural areas and quaint small towns. In fact, the largest metropolitan area in the state, Little Rock, boasts a little less than 200,000 people, which to most urban dwellers wouldn’t qualify as a city at all.  If you’re looking for a big city escape, away from the smog and traffic, look no further than Arkansas. Its Mayberry-like towns have it all: brick buildings, tree-lined avenues, cozy bed and breakfasts, antique shops, and local diners offering apple pie a la mode. To read more about Arkansas’ best small towns, click here.

2. The Outdoor Experiences

Arkansas is after all the Natural State, so it’s no wonder that so many outdoor enthusiasts flock here for its ample hiking, biking, kayaking, and fishing opportunities. With 52 state parks and two national forest areas, the options for getting your outdoor fix seem endless. Dubbed the flagship of the state park system, the Petit Jean State Park, which sits about an hour and a half northwest of Little Rock, may be the best place to start your outdoor adventures. This expansive 3400-acre park has lots to explore and do, including 21 miles of hiking trails, fishing on Lakes Bailey and Roosevelt, incredible lookouts over the Arkansas River Valley, and accommodations at the historic Mather Lodge. Make sure you hike the Seven Hollows Trail, which was named the best hiking trail in the state by Arkansas Outside.

This picture was snapped at Devils Den, one of Arkansas' 52 state parks.

This picture was snapped at Devils Den, one of Arkansas’ 52 state parks.

3. Hot Springs

Bubbling up from the ground at a toasty 143 degrees, Arkansas’ natural hot springs first attracted visitors who came to bathe in their healing and therapeutic waters over 200 years ago. Eventually, luxurious and ornate bath houses were built to house the thousands of vacationers who descended on the area between the late 19th and early 20th century. Today Bathhouse Row is preserved as the focal point of Hot Springs National Park, the nation’s smallest National Park where visitors can stroll through the old bathhouses and even take a dip in the curative waters themselves.

4. Camping

Whether you’re a granola crunchy tent-lover or more of the Tiffin luxury motorhome type, Arkansas has plenty of places for camping that get you a front-row view of nature. Just one of many incredible options, Buffalo River Trail is a popular path for backpackers, with bluff-top campsites that offer jaw-dropping views which are particularly stunning during the peak of fall foliage. For the RV enthusiast, we of course must recommend our own accommodations right in the middle of the Ozark mountains. Our lakefront camping area has full hookups and gorgeous new facilities for the use of our guests. One look and you’ll see why RV dealers from all over the country are recommending Arkansas as a top RV travel destination for 2016.

Whether you bring your RV or just a tent, there are plenty of places to camp in this beautiful state.

Whether you bring your RV or just a tent, there are plenty of places to camp in this beautiful state.

5. Arts

Arkansas boasts some of the finest small arts towns in the country. Chief among them is Bentonville, home to the stunning Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which was funded by the Walton Family Foundation (the family behind Walmart). This must-see art museum not only boasts works from well-known American artists including Andy Warhol, Normal Rockwell, and Georgia O’Keefe, but the building and grounds are art in and of themselves. If you plan to visit, do note that the museum is closed on Tuesdays and on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. In addition to this world-class museum, Arkansas’ Eureka Springs and Hot Springs are both well-known art areas. Both have a number of art galleries containing works from local artisans. Each May, Eureka Springs hosts a Festival of the Arts, with exhibits the craftsmanship of artists along with delicious local cuisine, music, and special events.

Take a Trip to Eureka Springs

If you’re planning to do some sightseeing while you’re here one destination you should definitely put on your must-see list is Eureka Springs.  Nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, Eureka Springs is a National Historic Landmark and an America in Bloom winner.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation also selected it as one of America’s Distinctive Destinations.  Eureka Springs has a thriving arts community that is unmatched anywhere else in the United States.

Creative Arts

Artists since the 1800’s have been drawn to Eureka Springs and right now it is home to more than 200 working artists and more than 20 art galleries for you to browse through.  Surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, the town offers a creative place for artists of all types including painter, photographers, sculptors, metal workers and potters just to name a few.  There are several artist coops that provide subsidized housing and studio space for the budding artist.  Back in the 1930’s Elsie and Louis Freund established an art school in the downtown area and the Eureka Springs School of the Arts continues the tradition with various classes open to everyone.

Writing

Writers are also most welcome in Eureka Springs, writers from across the globe come to the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow to work on creative projects and perfect their craft.  Younger writers are encouraged to experience creative education and self expression at the Lane House.  There are also after school programs there for teens that put on several performances throughout the year, with an annual fundraiser at the dinner theater.

Live Theater

While you’re here take in a live performance at the Eureka Theater Company.  The City Auditorium originally opened in the Historic Downtown 75 years ago, the theater underwent major renovations in 2004 thanks to a grant from the National Parks Department “Save America’s Treasures” program.  With excellent acoustics in a small intimate setting there have been performances there by the likes of Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, Ricky Skaggs and Allison Kraus and the Union Station.

Film and Music

For the film lovers among you Eureka Springs has been the backdrop to a few independent films productions including “Chrystal” that starred Billy Bob Thornton and Lisa Blount, placing second at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004.  Eureka Springs also hosts an annual Digital Film Festival that offers several workshops for those that want to learn the craft.

Classical music and opera fans take note The Inspiration Point Fine Arts Colony has celebrated more than 50 years of developing and teaching young opera singers and orchestral players from around the world.  Each summer the venue puts on “Opera in the Ozarks” and has won acclaim among the opera community all over the world.

Spend a day or two seeing everything that Eureka Springs has to offer, you won’t be disappointed!

Visit the Blanchard Springs Caverns

To truly grasp the beauty of the Blanchard Springs Caverns you have to see them in person.  With four different trails to choose from and all tours led by knowledgeable Forest Service guides it is truly a site to behold.  The guides will take you through passages carved by water, an underground river and the world’s largest flowstone.  If you are visiting in the summer it is a great way to get out of the heat, the temperature stays at a comfortable 58F all year round.  Often called a “living cave” because of it changing and growing all the time, visit annually and you will see the differences.

The Dripstone Trail

The Dripstone trail is open year round and the tour runs roughly an hour and covers almost half a mile, be warned though it is very humid in the caves.  There are plenty calcite formation in the limestone caves from the massive flowstones and stalagmites to the hollow soda straw formations.  You will also catch sight of a salamander or two and plenty of crickets.  The upper level of the cave system has two rooms for you to see.  First is the cathedral room, the room is HUGE!  It has enough room for 3 football fields and then some.  The other room, the coral room is filled with pure white calcite formations that took thousands of years to form.   Here is a video tour of the cathedral room to whet your appetite.

The Discovery Trail

The Discovery Trail is another tour that you can check out.  This one is a little longer and there are over 700 stairs on this tour so it’s not for the faint of heart.  The Discovery Trail covers the lower portion of the caverns and you’ll take the same route as the early cave explorers did, you can even see campsites from their expeditions.  You will be able to see the underground springs that helped create the formations in the caves.

The Wild Cave Tour

The last tour for you to check out is the Wild Cave Tour, here you will be able to see the undeveloped sections in the middle level.  There are a couple of requirements for this tour, you must be in good physical condition and you need to have a good pair of hiking boots on with good tread.  Not having boots means not getting on the tour so come prepared.  This tour is roughly 5 hours long so pack a lunch and plan to be gone for the day.  There are steep slopes to climb, low ceilings and crawling on hands and knees to get to the next part of the tour.  You are provided with a hard hat, lights, gloves and knee pads for the tour and participation is limited to no more than 12 people in a group so book early.

While the caverns are truly a sight to behold, you are also surrounded by the Ozark National Forest with lots more for you to experience.