26 Top Things to Do in Arkansas

Arkansas is rich not only in natural resources and scenic beauty — its nickname is the Natural State, after all — but also in history, given its prominent role in the civil rights movement and its extensive Native American history. You can dig for diamonds to take home at Crater of Diamond State Park, enjoy the thermal springs at Hot Springs National Park, hike throughout the Ozark Mountains or learn about the early days of the world’s largest retailer, Walmart.

Whether you’re looking for fun things to do or seeking natural, historical and cultural experiences, this guide can help you discover the top things to do as a visitor to Arkansas. (Note: Some tours and excursions may be affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Capacity restrictions, mask mandates and even closures may be in effect. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local tourism boards before making plans.)

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Set on 120 acres of Ozark forest in Bentonville, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is home to a world-class collection of art that spans five centuries, from early American history to the present. Some of the more prominent featured artists include Georgia O’Keeffe, Gilbert Stuart and Julie Mehretu. The museum was established by Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, and is free to the public. After you’re done perusing the exhibits, stop by the Eleven Restaurant and Coffee Bar, which is situated on a glass bridge overlooking two spring-fed ponds, for a bite to eat. You can also explore the 5 miles of walking trails, which feature various sculptures and link the museum to downtown Bentonville. The peaceful setting of the museum sets the mood early on, and visitors recommend spending some time on the walking trails to ensure you get the full experience Crystal Bridges has to offer.

Address: 600 Museum Way, Bentonville, AR 72712

Crater of Diamonds State Park

Located just outside Murfreesboro in southwestern Arkansas, Crater of Diamonds State Park is one of the world’s only diamond-bearing sites accessible to the public. The 37-acre field is the eroded surface of a volcanic crater where visitors can find a variety of gemstones and minerals, such as diamonds, amethyst, garnets, jasper, agate, quartz and more. You can bring your own tools or rent some from the park, and whatever you find you get to keep. People have unearthed more than 33,100 diamonds at this site since it became a state park in 1972 — including Uncle Sam, the largest diamond ever discovered in the U.S., and the Strawn-Wagner Diamond, which is regarded by some as the world’s only perfect diamond. In addition to the diamond field, the state park also has walking trails, picnic sites, campsites and Diamond Springs Water Park, which is open during the warmer months. Visitors say the park is worth a visit, even if you don’t find anything, and can be a great activity for adults and children alike.

Thorncrown Chapel

Tucked into the woods just outside of Eureka Springs you’ll find Thorncrown Chapel. This glass-enclosed sanctuary opened in 1980 and has been hailed as one of the most beautiful and inspiring chapels in the world. The structure is made from wood and over 6,000 square feet of glass across 425 windows. Even when you’re inside with the comfort of air conditioning, you’ll still feel like you’re in the midst of the Ozark forest. There’s no admission fee to get into the chapel — though donations are happily accepted — and the church has ample parking, including for buses and recreational vehicles. Even if you’re just making a short stop, the quiet setting can give you the chance to connect with nature. Thorncrown Chapel is also a very popular venue for weddings.

Address: 12968 U.S. Route 62, Eureka Springs, AR 72632

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge was designed as a lifetime haven for big cats — including tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, ligers, servals and bobcats — that have been abandoned, neglected or abused. In addition to the feline inhabitants, however, visitors will also be able to see some other animals up close, including bears, a coatimundi and a macaw. The 460-acre sanctuary in Eureka Springs focuses on animals that have been essentially rendered homeless as a result of the exotic animal trade; the refuge’s mission is to tighten regulations for big cat ownership and render sanctuaries like Turpentine Creek unnecessary. The refuge provides guided tours every hour on the hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. — though, given the limited capacity, reserving your spot online in advance is recommended. You can also take advantage of the summer camps, keeper talks, workshops and more. While some visitors say the refuge is too costly, others believe the fee is justified and note the animals appear to be well taken care of.

Address: 239 Turpentine Creek Lane, Eureka Springs, AR 72632

Little Rock Central High School

On Sept. 23, 1957, nine Black teenagers, known as the Little Rock Nine, were prevented from entering the all-white Little Rock Central High School by an angry mob’s protest against racial integration that soon turned violent. Though President Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped in later to have the Army escort these students into the school, this event forced Arkansas and the nation alike to grapple with the Southern defiance of the civil rights movement. Little Rock served as the first major test of how the country would implement the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to desegregate public schools in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case.

Now the school is a national historic site. Admission is free, and you can opt for a ranger-guided tour of the site, where you’ll learn about the Little Rock Crisis, the civil rights movement and desegregation. You currently cannot enter the school, which is still in use as an educational facility, because of coronavirus restrictions. Tours, which take you from the visitor center to the campus, must be reserved in advance; the National Park Service website has more information about availability. Past visitors say the building on its own is impressive, but they were particularly moved by the story of what happened there and how it furthered civil rights in the U.S. If you get there on a non-tour day or don’t reserve one beforehand, you can still peruse the exhibits in the visitor center, take a self-guided walk around the grounds, and stop by the Commemorative Garden, Elizabeth Eckford Bus Bench and Magnolia Mobil Gas Station.

Address: 2120 W. Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive, Little Rock, AR 72202

[See more of Little Rock: Things to Do | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos ]

Hot Springs National Park

The oldest U.S. national park, Hot Springs National Park predates Yellowstone by 40 years. Centered around Hot Springs Mountain, the park has 47 thermal springs. In addition to Bathhouse Row — another top thing to do in Arkansas in its own right — this Hot Springs attraction boasts 26 miles of hiking trails, which provide a beautiful and peaceful escape from the city. Visitors can also take advantage of the bike trails, spend some time bird-watching and learn about the history of the park, which extends far beyond its designation as a national park in 1832. While you can’t swim in any of the outdoor springs, you can drink the water and make use of several fountains where you can fill up a water bottle or jug. Visitors say the park is a great place to relax and enjoy the spa experience but also recommend getting out into nature and hiking. Keep in mind some portions of the park may be closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Check the National Park Service website before you plan your visit to find out which areas are open.

[See more of Hot Springs: Things to Do | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos ]

Bathhouse Row

Located within Hot Springs National Park, Bathhouse Row comprises eight historic bathhouses built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Water from the thermal springs feeds into these structures for a relaxing experience with various amenities. While some of the bathhouses have been converted into other venues, including a visitor center and museum, a cultural center, a brewery and distillery, and an emporium, two of them are still in use for thermal treatments: the Buckstaff and Quapaw bathhouses. Past visitors recommend taking your time to learn about the architecture and history of these buildings.

Address: 369 Central Ave., Hot Springs, AR 71901

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Located near Hot Springs, the Garvan Woodland Gardens site is the botanical garden of the University of Arkansas. This attraction spans 210 acres on a peninsula of Lake Hamilton, and visitors can walk among 128 species of native and ornamental shrubs and wildflowers, as well as 160 types of azaleas and an Asian garden. If you’re traveling with children, make sure to stop by the Evans Children’s Adventure Gardens for some interactive entertainment that includes a waterfall, a cave, 3,000-ton rocks and an impressively designed iron bridge. If you go later in the year, you may be able to catch the annual holiday lights display, when more than 5 million lights twinkle over 18 acres of the gardens. Just keep in mind that the gardens are closed during the month of January. Past guests call a visit here a tranquil experience, but note that admission is a bit steep, and the gardens can get busy if you go later in the day.

Address: 550 Arkridge Road, Hot Springs, AR 71913

Walmart Museum

In Bentonville’s central square, you can visit the original Walton’s five-and-dime store that Walmart founder Sam Walton acquired in 1951. That space has been preserved and since expanded to house the Walmart Museum. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the store and museum, where you can view artifacts such as the Medal of Freedom awarded to Walton, as well as his 1979 pickup truck and original office. Interactive exhibits teach travelers the history of how the world’s largest retailer became what it is today. After you traverse the museum, step over to The Spark Café Soda Fountain to grab some ice cream in a 1950s setting, a tribute to Walton’s love of the frozen treat. The Walmart Museum does not charge for admission, and visitors say it provides unique insight into how the corporation has transformed retail.

Address: 105 N. Main St., Bentonville, AR 72712

Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum

Avid Ernest Hemingway readers may want to make a pilgrimage to Piggott in northeast Arkansas to visit the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center. The property includes the barn studio where Hemingway wrote portions of “A Farewell to Arms” and some short stories, as well as the family home of Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Visitors to the historic site can learn about life in the 1930s and the developments that took place in northeast Arkansas and around the world during the Great Depression and New Deal eras. Past guests at the museum note the guides are very knowledgeable and the museum is a must-see for fans of the renowned author.

Address: 1021 W. Cherry St., Piggott, AR 72454

Mount Magazine State Park

Located about 100 miles southeast of Fayetteville near the Arkansas city of Paris, Mount Magazine State Park is home to the state’s highest point, Mount Magazine, which reaches more than 2,700 feet. Outdoor adventurers can choose from an array of activities in the park, including mountain biking, horseback riding, backpacking, ATV riding, rock climbing and more. The mountain has more than a dozen campsites, but if you don’t want to rough it, consider staying at The Lodge at Mount Magazine, which features a restaurant, indoor swimming pool, fitness center and game room. According to past visitors, even short hikes in Mount Magazine State Park can offer some breathtaking views.

Arkansas Air and Military Museum

In Fayetteville, the Arkansas Air and Military Museum features a variety of aircraft dating all the way back to the golden age of aviation in the 1920s and ’30s. The museum’s collection includes Vietnam War-era helicopters, a Navy carrier fighter, world-famous racing planes, an early airliner and more. What makes this attraction unique is that many of the planes it displays still fly. The all-wood hangar housing the museum’s collection is a relic of World War II, during which it was used as a headquarters for one of the government’s aviator training posts — and it’s one of the few such hangars that still exists. Aircraft aside, guests will also get to see various military vehicles, patches, engines, uniforms, weapons and other historical artifacts. Visitors say the museum is a great place to see some unique planes, but you may be disappointed if you’re looking for a comprehensive history of U.S. aviation.

Address: 4290 S. School Ave., Fayetteville, AR 72701

Museum of Native American History

If you’re looking for a cultural journey in Bentonville, the Museum of Native American History promises to take you back 14,000 years to see what life was like for the Indigenous inhabitants of the Americas starting in the Paleo Period. The museum houses more than 10,000 artifacts that traverse five time periods, including a mammoth skeleton, tools, weaponry, pottery, headdresses, quillwork, beadwork, masks and more. This informative attraction also hosts various events, including monthly conversations about Indigenous culture, a storytelling program, art workshops and the annual Native American Cultural Celebration. The new Indigenous Medicine Garden, where visitors can learn about the Native American connection to nature, is currently being expanded into The Gardens of Indigenuity. This artistic exhibition, set for completion later in 2022, will include three teaching gardens focused on land, air and water. Past visitors appreciated the museum’s excellent representation of Native American peoples and world-class collections of artifacts. What’s more, admission to the museum is free.

Address: 202 SW O St., Bentonville, AR 72712

Fort Smith National Historic Site

Fort Smith, established in 1817, was the site of two frontier forts and the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas. Now a National Historic Site, Fort Smith in the 1830s was a stop along the Trail of Tears, a series of forced displacements of Native American communities across nine states in the southeastern U.S. At the Trail of Tears Overlook and River Walk, visitors today can stand on a portion of the trail and read panels about the five Indigenous tribes forcibly removed from the area. You can also see where soldiers from the Civil War and Mexican War drilled, visit the gallows where outlaws met their fate, and hear stories about the fort’s 19th-century inhabitants and visitors. Past guests say the historic site provides an informative window into the harsh realities of the Old West and has a lot of open space to walk and relax.

Address: 301 Parker Ave., Fort Smith, AR 72901

Mammoth Spring State Park

About 80 miles northwest of Jonesboro in northeast Arkansas, right on the border with Missouri, you’ll find Mammoth Spring, one of the largest natural springs in the world — it pumps out 9 million gallons of water every hour. The spring forms a 10-acre lake that feeds into the Spring River, a stream known for its Ozark trout and excellent for floating. Visitors can take kayaks and pedal boats out on the lake or float down the crystal-clear water of the Spring River. The park also features a restoration of the state’s oldest railroad station, a playground and a hiking trail. Visitors marvel at the scenic park’s quiet beauty and activities for all ages. While you’re there, you can also check out the Mammoth Spring National Fish Hatchery, one of the oldest of its kind in the country. The hatchery runs various programs to educate the public, recover endangered and threatened species, and promote conservation.

Magic Springs Theme and Water Park

Located in Hot Springs, Magic Springs Theme and Water Park offers fun for every member of the family. The water park includes a variety of slides, an adventure river, a playground, a family splash zone, a wave pool, a boogie boarding area and many other attractions. Visitors who want some private space and VIP treatment can rent a cabana. On the theme park side you’ll find an assortment of roller coasters, a drop tower, a log flume, bumper cars, a pirate ship and eight rides specifically for young kids. The park also sometimes hosts concerts, which are free with your admission, and other special events. Visitors say the park, while a great place to take your kids, can feel overpriced if you have a lot of people in your party; they also caution the park sometimes experiences multiple closures of attractions. Tickets give you access to both parks, so you can spend a little bit of your day at each. Magic Springs is typically open from early May through late October.

Address: 1701 E. Grand Ave., Hot Springs, AR 71901

William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock has both permanent and temporary exhibits showcasing more than 100,000 items and works of art related to Bill Clinton’s life and presidency. Visitors can learn about President Clinton’s campaign, inauguration, policies, work and life in the White House via a collection of documents, videos, photographs and interactive exhibits. You’ll also be able to see replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room. Past visitors found the library and museum were worth a stop, even for those not particularly interested in politics. Vaccination against COVID-19 is required for entry.

Address: 1200 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, AR 72201

South Arkansas Arboretum

If you find yourself in El Dorado, Arkansas, or you’re just driving through, you can stop by the 12-acre South Arkansas Arboretum. This botanical garden features plants native to the state’s West Gulf Coastal Plain, as well as some exotic species. Along the paved walking trails you’ll spot camellias, azaleas, dogwoods, shortleaf and loblolly pines, magnolias, white ash trees, American sycamores and much more. Plenty of benches line the path, so you can sit and relax under the forest canopy, a great place for bird-watching, or bring a picnic to eat at the pavilion. While the arboretum is managed by South Arkansas Community College — and visitors say it is well maintained — it has no staff on-site.

Address: 1506 Mount Holly Road, El Dorado, AR 71730

Kenda Drive-In

In Marshall, about 100 miles north of Little Rock, you can step back in time with a visit to the Kenda Drive-In, which first opened in 1966. In addition to single and double features of select latest releases, the outdoor theater hosts a free Throwback Thursday event on the last Thursday of every month from April through September. Only vehicles manufactured in the 1980s and earlier are allowed on the field during the event, but you can park outside and bring your lawn chairs in to catch a screening of a classic film. The drive-in has a full concession stand that patrons rave about, with burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, snacks, popcorn, drinks and sweets. Both locals and visitors to Marshall highly recommend the experience, adding that the prices are reasonable and the atmosphere on Throwback Thursday nights makes it a unique experience.

Address: 107 Westwood Drive, Marshall, AR 72650

Old State House Museum

Little Rock’s Old State House Museum sits inside the original capitol building for the state of Arkansas and enjoys the designation of the oldest standing state capitol west of the Mississippi River. Guests of the museum can learn about the state’s history through various exhibits and artifacts. You’ll also be able to learn about the building’s other uses over the years, including stints as the Arkansas War Memorial, home of the Arkansas State Police and a medical school. Visitors love that admission is free and note the museum is a great place to learn about the complex history of the 25th state.

Address: 300 W. Markham St., Little Rock, AR 72201

Hampson Archeological Museum State Park

Close to the Tennessee border — about 45 miles north of Memphis — you’ll find the Hampson Archeological Museum State Park in Wilson, Arkansas. The museum focuses on the archaeological discoveries of Dr. James K. Hampson from the Nodena Site, where an Indigenous farming community thrived on the Mississippi River from the years 1400 to 1650. The museum’s collection, which is free to experience, includes a visualization of what the village might have looked like, as well as various artifacts such as preserved whole ceramic pottery. Those who have seen it were impressed by the quality of preservation and the artwork.

Address: 33 Park St., Wilson, AR 72395

Castle Rogue’s Manor

Just 7 miles north of Eureka Springs, travelers can visit Castle Rogue’s Manor in Beaver, Arkansas. With a property spanning 20 acres in the Ozark forest, the 15,000-square-foot castle is situated on the limestone cliffs that tower over Table Rock Lake and the White River. The medieval manor, which took 20 years to build, is so unique it was featured on HGTV’s “Home Strange Home” series in 2007. Visitors can take a guided tour for a fee by appointment only by calling 479-981-6816. Castle Rogue’s Manor is a popular venue for weddings, receptions, reunions and other special events. Past tour guests enjoyed the down-to-earth yet eccentric experience of the castle.

Address: 2272 state Highway 187, Beaver Township, AR 72613

Pinnacle Mountain State Park

Pinnacle Mountain State Park, a geographically diverse destination about 15 miles northwest of Little Rock, is centered on Pinnacle Mountain, which rises more than 1,000 feet above the valley. The park, which is certified as a Trail of Tears National Historic Site, features more than 20 miles of hiking trails and the Arkansas Arboretum, a 71-acre botanical garden that exhibits the state’s native flora. The park is day-use only, so you can’t camp, but up until sunset you can make use of its 14 miles of bike trails and an area for picnics and gatherings. Visitors say Pinnacle Mountain promises the best views of central Arkansas and is possible to reach even for inexperienced hikers.

Buffalo National River

Winding for 135 miles through the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas, the Buffalo National River is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the 48 contiguous states. Adventure activities are abundant, with river hiking, mountain biking, floating, horseback riding, canoeing and caving being the most prevalent options. You can also check out Rush, a ghost town situated on the Lower Buffalo River where zinc miners made their living throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The area has four campgrounds, along with some day-use areas. Past visitors love the lack of development along the river combined with the pleasant scenery wherever you go.

The Old Mill

During your trip to Little Rock, swing by the Old Mill at T.R. Pugh Memorial Park in North Little Rock. This structure is an authentic reproduction of the water-powered gristmill that was built in 1933 and featured in the opening scene of the 1939 film “Gone with the Wind.” The surrounding area is adorned with flowers that bloom throughout the year, as well as concrete bridges, benches and baskets that are all sculpted to look like real wood. The grounds are well maintained, according to past visitors, and the atmosphere feels like an oasis in the city.

Address: 3800 Lakeshore Drive, North Little Rock, AR 72116

Fayetteville Downtown Square and Gardens

The downtown square of the college town Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas, features one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants and historic buildings. The central space also boasts gardens and plants around the Old Post Office and other businesses and serves as the location for the Lights of the Ozarks festival during the winter holiday season. Depending on when you visit, you can also peruse the farmers market that takes place in the gardens every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from April through November. Visitors have marveled at landscaping at Fayetteville Downtown Square and Gardens and recommend visiting any time of the year, but particularly when the lights festival takes place.

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26 Top Things to Do in Arkansas originally appeared on usnews.com

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