16 Top Things to Do in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Located in the rolling green Ozark Mountains on the north edge of Arkansas, Eureka Springs is a hotspot for travelers. Visitors flock to the small urban area for both its charming Victorian-era city center and the natural beauty surrounding it, including a wealth of mineral springs for bathing in. Plus, in spite of its tranquil location, this destination is easily accessible by car from major Midwestern hubs like Kansas City (230 miles) and Oklahoma City (250 miles); cities like Springfield (Missouri), Tulsa and Little Rock are all even closer by. That makes Eureka Springs ideal for a weekend getaway, although there are plenty of reasons to stay longer, if you so choose. Here are the most interesting and fun things to do in the area.

(Note: Some of the following activities, attractions and locations may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)

Beaver Lake

While it may boast plenty of stunning natural beauty, Beaver Lake is actually an artificial reservoir, built in the 1960s by damming the White River. The eastern shore is about 10 miles northwest of Eureka Springs, and this lake contains more than 28,000 acres of water at full pool. Beaver Lake is thus a popular destination for outdoor activities: With numerous coves and inlets and nearly 500 miles of shoreline, you will find no shortage of scenic places to stake out for a hike through the woods or a swim in the blue waters. Picnic spots and boat launches dot the area around the reservoir, and the creation of Beaver Dam has made for a popular cold water fishing spot on the White River (striped bass is one common catch here). If you want more than just a daytrip, various cabins, hotels and campgrounds are scattered around the lake, making it a viable alternative to staying in Eureka Springs proper: Beaver Lake Cottages and Beaver Lakefront Cabins are two nearby options that are highly rated.

Thorncrown Chapel

Nestled in the tranquil woods less than 5 miles northwest of Eureka Springs sits this renowned architectural icon. Designed by famed Arkansan architect E. Fay Jones ? a one-time protege of Frank Lloyd Wright — to complement its natural surroundings, the woodland sanctuary stands 48 feet tall and features 425 windows. Thorncrown Chapel, set atop native stone and colored flagstone, was commissioned by Jim Reed, who wanted to share the beauty and views from his land with Ozark visitors. Since opening in 1980, this serene, nondenominational place of worship has welcomed more than 7 million visitors and was listed as one of the American Institute of Architects’ top 10 buildings of the 20th century. With Thorncrown Chapel described by its creator as a “place to think your best thoughts,” the public can visit for free and contemplate life’s issues, big and small.

The chapel is open daily from March to November, and visitors can also stop by for Sunday services from April to December; it’s closed in January and February. If you’re visiting in the afternoon, particularly on a weekend, you’ll want to call ahead, as the chapel can sometimes close early for weddings and other events.

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

Explore the historic downtown

Despite Eureka Springs’ relatively small population size of around 2,200 residents, its historic downtown is a major tourist destination. Many of the buildings date to the Victorian era and give the city a particularly quaint atmosphere: In fact, the entire downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places. The city’s location on numerous hills gives it a unique layout with winding streets and houses perched on cliffs. It’s worth strolling around Main and Spring streets just to soak up the ambiance, but downtown boasts plenty to do beyond checking out the Victorian architecture. Eureka Springs, home to myriad artists, features an abundance of art galleries for travelers to browse, as well as boutiques selling crafty gifts and souvenirs. In addition, an array of public art, including the notable Rainbow Stairs and Humpty Dumpty on a Wall, will impress visitors. The historic downtown also offers a wide selection of dining options alongside wine bars and live music venues.

Crescent Hotel Ghost Tour

For a frighteningly good time, take a tour of the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa, billed as “America’s Most Haunted Hotel.” The architecturally unique hotel opened in the late 19th century and mixes French Renaissance and Richardsonian Romanesque building styles: With turrets, verandas and other intricate building features, it’s the kind of spot with plenty of places for ghosts to hide. Experienced guides walk guests through some of the hotel’s most historic — and creepiest — rooms, as well as a former morgue on-site. Visitors say the tour guides in period clothing are entertaining as they share stories about people who died at the hotel — and whose ghosts have reportedly been spotted in the years and decades since. These tragic figures include a stonemason who fell to his death during construction, a 4-year-old who died of appendicitis and even a hotel cat buried on the property.

Tickets can be bought online or at the hotel, but advance booking is recommended, as tours can sell out. Featured on “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures,” the tours can get a little spooky and are recommended for children ages 8 and older; visitors 16 or younger must be accompanied by an adult. Alternatively, shorter, kid-friendly tours operate on select days.

Address: 75 Prospect Ave., Eureka Springs, AR 72632

Tour the mineral springs

As its name suggests, Eureka Springs encompasses 66 cold mineral springs, which were historically thought to have healing powers. (If you’re looking for springs of the hot variety, you’ll want to drive about 200 miles south to the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas.) A number of these cold springs bubble up to the surface in peaceful city parks and gardens, which were established by Eureka Springs to preserve them. For a relaxing jaunt around the city, consider a stop at least one of these parks, or build your own walking tour around the 15 different springs that sit within easy walking distance of the city center. Basin Spring (formerly known as the Indians’ Healing Spring), which now feeds a fountain in Basin Spring Park in the heart of the city, is one of the most notable. Other popular springs include Crescent Spring in its namesake park, which is known for its Victorian gazebo and rock walls, and Sweet Spring, set in a park amid the flowers. The city has a helpful map pointing out the springs you can walk to.

Bathe in the healing waters at a local spa

Unfortunately, you can’t just jump into the mineral springs dotted about Eureka Springs; many of them are, after all, in small public parks. To soak in those mineral-laden waters, you’ll need to head to a local bathhouse or spa. For a unique experience, the Palace Hotel & Bath House is a good bet. This historic property has been in the wellness business for over a century and still offers some of the same services it did back in the day, such as mineral soaks in claw-footed tubs and eucalyptus steam treatments in wooden barrels. Past guests call the hotel a wonderful way to pamper yourself, complete with relaxing massage services.

Eureka Springs Historical Museum

Trace the evolution of Eureka Springs at this museum downtown. Its location in a classic three-story Victorian-era home built in 1889 is ideally suited to a history museum. The Eureka Springs Historical Museum covers major ground, from when Native Americans first discovered mineral springs in the area to when Eureka Springs morphed into first a “health resort” and then a countercultural town for artists. This attraction houses a collection of more than 10,000 artifacts, including musical instruments, travel memorabilia and photographs. Naturally, patrons can browse exhibits showcasing local artists, along with a restored mural by H. Louis Freund. Recent visitors say the interesting displays and exhibits make this museum worth a stop year-round.

Address: 95 S. Main St., Eureka Springs, AR 72632

St. Elizabeth Catholic Church

Adjacent to the historic Crescent Hotel you’ll find this intriguing church, which has earned several mentions in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! publications. The reason? The sole entry point to the St. Elizabeth Catholic Church is through its bell tower. But the unique entrance isn’t the only reason to visit this place of worship: Its architecture, inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, is truly distinctive. The interior is decked out with marble surfaces, and the pink-tinted ceilings combined with a chandelier made of thousands of crystals give an ethereal sort of lighting to the church’s auditorium. Travelers appreciate the beauty of St. Elizabeth along with the gardens and tranquil setting, stating the church merits a visit and makes for a lovely stroll from the Crescent Hotel.

The church still holds regular services you can attend but opens to visitors outside of those times. A small on-site gift shop sells souvenirs, religious items and more.

Address: 30 Crescent Drive, Eureka Springs, AR 72632

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge

Here’s one for cat people: Drive about 10 miles south of Eureka Springs and you’ll hit this refuge for big cats. A family-run nonprofit, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge was founded in 1978, when three members of the Jackson family took in an 8-month-old lion cub that had been chained to a tree. More than 40 years later, this feline-focused haven houses nearly 100 rescued animals, with an emphasis on tigers, lions, cougars and leopards.

Turpentine Creek isn’t a zoo but rather a home for animals in need, aimed at treating them with dignity and compassion while letting them roam. So while activities like touching or feeding the wildlife are off the table, recent visitors enjoy the opportunity to see what this refuge is doing for the rescued animals, adding that the tours are educational and the staff is knowledgeable. Entry includes an hourlong tour around the refuge on a tram, and visitors can wander freely in a self-guided discovery area afterward. Turpentine Creek even has on-site accommodation, so you can make the experience feel like a safari with a stay in an eclectic range of lodges and tents.

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

The Great Passion Play

Add a spiritual side to your vacation with a trip to this epic open-air theater, which puts on a reenactment of the last days of Jesus Christ’s life. With its multilevel set, intricate lighting design and cast of over 100, recent attendees say the visual effects are impressive and the performance appeals to all ages; some even attend the show multiple times per year. The Great Passion Play is performed in a large outdoor amphitheater with 4,100 seats and a 550-foot-wide stage that has multiple levels. Beyond the show, travelers can check out the on-site Bible Museum as well as the Holy Land Tour, which will take you through important biblical sites such as a historically accurate, full-size re-creation of the ancient East Jerusalem Gate and Marketplace. Since this is an outdoor venue, the play typically only takes place from late May to late October. However, in the off-season, you can still visit the Holy Land and Bible Museum.

Address: 935 Passion Play Road, Eureka Springs, AR 72632

Ozark Mountain Hoe-Down Music Theater

For a knee-slapping good time after dark in Eureka Springs, consider this nightly variety show at a theater on the east side of town. Running for nearly 40 years, the Hoe-Down offers up a must-see mix of both country and gospel musical numbers, alongside family-friendly comedy skits. The cast is led by charismatic comic Mike Nichols, who brings characters like Uncle Posture Pedic and bumbling janitor Tator “Chip” Patches to the stage, accompanied by a professional troupe of actors and musicians. Shows run four nights a week from April to November, and you’re typically advised to buy tickets in advance. Recent attendees say the shows are a refreshing mix of comedy and music that entertain a wide range of ages.

Address: 3140 E. Van Buren, Eureka Springs, AR 72632

Onyx Cave Park

Less than 10 miles northeast of Eureka Springs lies this cave with layered rock formations made of natural flowstone. This rocky material is formed from minerals left behind by flowing water, which, in a setting like Onyx Cave Park, takes on a beautifully textured and rippled shape that can resemble curtains. Flowstone is sometimes known as “cave onyx,” but visitors should take note that no real onyx can be found here.

For a small entry fee, visitors can take a self-guided tour through the cave complex, equipped with radio headphones that give you all the details you’ll want to know. This family-friendly attraction requires no specialty caving equipment — but be sure to bring a jacket or sweater, as the temperature hovers around 57 degrees in this subterranean space. Once you’re out of the caverns, other activities on-site include ax throwing and gemstone panning; if you’re good with the pan, you’ll hopefully walk away with some gemstones to take home with you. The park hours vary by season, so check its Facebook page for exact open dates and times before your visit.

Address: 338 Onyx Cave Lane, Eureka Spring, AR 72632

Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway

Amtrak might not stop in Eureka Springs, but you can hop aboard this train for a scenic 4.5-mile ride into the Ozarks aboard a vintage 1940s-era diesel locomotive. You have several options for your ride on the Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway. The Excursion train, for example, lasts an hour and features commentary from an on-board conductor. You can also opt for one of the lunch or dinner trains in a 1920s-style dining car without narration; both of these come with a full meal served in an ornate dining car. The dinner trip is a fancier affair, with dishes like prime rib on offer — and it’s recommended you dress up. Children under 5 cannot take the dinner train, but they’re welcome on the shorter and more affordable lunch trip. Recent riders appreciate the ambiance of a bygone era but note the lunch and dinner rides are more about the experience than the cuisine.

The Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway is a seasonal attraction: It runs regularly from mid-May to late October, while in April and early May it operates on a much more limited schedule.

Address: 299 N. Main St., Eureka Springs, AR 72632

Intrigue Theater

Mix together an illusionist, a medium, and a stunning church-like theater with stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings, and you get this stellar night of entertainment in Eureka Springs. The dynamic duo of illusionist Sean-Paul and private investigator-turned-clairvoyant Juliana Fay have performed everywhere from the USS Oklahoma submarine to the main stage on “America’s Got Talent” — but their home is the Ozarks, where they put on a show up to five times a week before an intimate audience of 100 people. The pair’s talents, which include everything from levitation to comedy sketches to other magic tricks, make for an eclectic event.

Recent attendees enjoyed the performance, saying the small size of the theater gives everyone a good view and the audience participation provides a unique magic show experience. Given the theater’s size, however, buying tickets in advance is highly recommended.

Address: 80 Mountain St., Eureka Spring, AR 72632

Quigley’s Castle

Billed as “the Ozarks’ strangest dwelling,” this oddball home south of Eureka Springs is the product of a nature-loving woman who designed her house to have maximum room for greenery. On top of that, the creator of Quigley’s Castle demolished her previous house while her husband was away at work so he would be forced to help build her dream home.

Quigley’s Castle features large gaps between the flooring and walls where designer Elise Quigley planted flowering tropical plants that now stretch up to the second story. Quigley continued to collect plants and natural objects and integrate them into the house and garden through to her death in the 1980s. Both inside the house and outdoors you’ll find numerous rock formations and plenty of other decorative odds and ends. Recent visitors state that the garden, unique architecture and historical details make this “castle” a truly one-of-a-kind place to visit.

And visit, you can: Quigley’s grandchildren now take care of the site, which is open regularly from April to October; travelers hoping to head there in March and November should call ahead to confirm opening days and times.

Address: 274 Quigley Castle Road, Eureka Spring, AR 72632

Blue Spring Heritage Center

A must-see for anyone interested in nature or history, this beautiful 33-acre outdoor attraction was a trading post for Native Americans. Later, it became a stopover point and respite for the Cherokee people during their forced migration known as Trail of Tears; they were drawn to the blue-tinged natural spring found here given its prominence in Indigenous stories. Blue Spring is still active and releases some 38 million gallons of water per day. The land around the spring-fed trout-filled lagoon hosts a garden filled with native plants and flowers, and you may well spot some helmeted guinea fowl walking around the grounds. Stop by the on-site visitor center to learn about the historical importance of Blue Spring.

Blue Spring Heritage Center is situated less than 10 miles northwest of Eureka Springs. The center is typically open from mid-March to late November, before closing for the winter months.

Address: 1537 County Road 210, Eureka Springs, AR 72632

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16 Top Things to Do in Eureka Springs, Arkansas originally appeared on usnews.com

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