So you've found yourself in Arkansas, The Natural State. Whether a coast-to-coast road trip down I-40 brought you here by chance or you specifically set out to enjoy this mountainous home of a former president, replete with ghost stories, good food, unique shops, or even diamonds, there is a little something here for everyone, and it will be smothered in Southern hospitality to boot! Below, I'll outline just a few of the many towns and attractions worth seeing in this beautiful state.
This is my hometown, so it goes at the top of the list (at least when I'm the one making the lists). This small town is where former president Bill Clinton spent his childhood, and it has a charm unlike anywhere else. Nestled inside the Ouachita Mountains, this city is actually part of a national park. In fact, Hot Springs National Park is the oldest park managed by the National Park System! It's full of natural hot springs, great hiking trails, mountaintop lookouts, and even boasts a mountain tower where you can see the park and city. Hot Springs has a rich history from American Indians to gangsters and sports, historic hotels and a row of bathhouses, many of which are now renovated into museums and breweries. The downtown area hosts a gallery walk on the first Friday of every month and is home to the Valley of the Vapors music festival as well as a Jazz Fest, Hog Rally, and Documentary Film Festival every year. Just a few minutes down the road brings you to the Oaklawn racetrack where you can watch the horses or gamble in the game room, or you can travel instead to Garvan Woodland Gardens and see beautiful foliage and streams or a huge display of holiday lights in the winter. You can also drive out of the main town area and hike or swim and camp. On Lake Ouachita, you can even claim your own private island to settle down on for the night. Famous restaurants such as McClard's BBQ supply that delicious down-home taste, but if you're up for something more metropolitan, Deluca's Pizza will provide you with a little New York City flavor. Hot Springs really has it all.
This city is the state's capitol, and as such, it boasts a plethora of things to do and see. Of course it houses the Arkansas capitol building, a replica of the nation's capitol building in Washington D.C. There you can also see Testament, a monument to the Little Rock Nine. Another one of the most popular destinations is The River Market. Hugging the bank of the Arkansas River, it hosts a huge farmer's market with local art, jewelry, and, of course, food, and is also home to many shops, restaurants, and beautiful views of the pedestrian bridges and river. Little Rock is known for some delicious meals, and places like The Flying Fish and Southern Gourmasian do not disappoint. There's lots of drinking to do in town, too, if that's your thing. The Flying Saucer boats over 200 beers and delicious food and entertaining (and competitive!) trivia. Lost 40 Brewing has great brews and amazing food as well, along with the potential to tour of the brewery itself. The Clinton Presidential Center is a must-see if you're looking for a little education and culture on your trip, or Heifer International can be an excellent visit if you're interested in a more hands-on experience. In Little Rock, you'll never run out of things to do.
Eureka Springs is often called one of Arkansas' top LGBTQ-friendly towns. They have a fantastic pride parade every year and also hosts a large UFO conference annually, but as for year-round activities, you can't beat their quaint shops and friendly culture. The food at places like Devito's is to die for, and if you're in for a little scare, you can visit what's called "the most haunted hotel in the world," the Crescent Hotel. There's also the famous Christ of the Ozarks, one of the tallest statues in America, watching over the town, reminiscent of a scaled down Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. And when you're done looking up at that, you can also see what's down below in Onyx Cave, which is the oldest show cave in Arkansas and great for a unique experience. If you're looking for interesting things to do but also want that small Southern town vibe, Eureka Springs will be the perfect destination.
The Ouachitas Region
If your travels are taking you more toward the south, you can still find some gems that are more than worth the trip. There are a few things in the Ouachita Mountains region of the state that lead to big adventures. One is the famed Gurdon Light. It's an unexplained phenomenon that people travel far and wide to experience. You'll have to be up for some walking outside not be easy to scare, because when you're out there alone by the tracks, things can get a little eerie.
Arkansas has many "only in Arkansas" sort of places, but none has quite as much fame as the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro. Here, you can dig to find real diamonds and take them home! In fact, this is the only place in the United States where the public can go and find their own diamonds, and locals often see big finders in the news holding their sparkling prize.
This isn't the end to all the things Arkansas has to offer. In fact, it's only the beginning! We didn't cover the many hiking trails, mountains, swimming holes, or amazing cities and towns with their own unique flair. It would take days to read up on all the sights, food, and adventures Arkansas can offer its locals and guests alike, but this is a good place to start if you find yourself heading to the Natural State.