15 Things to Do in Eureka Springs, AR
By Janet Benoir – December 21, 2023
Tucked away in the Ozark Mountains’ lush landscapes, Eureka Springs offers a unique blend of natural beauty and historical charm, making it a prime destination for travelers. Its quaint Victorian downtown is a delight to explore, with architecture that transports you back in time. Mineral springs, believed to have therapeutic properties, are a major draw, inviting you to relax in nature’s embrace. The town’s location provides the perfect escape for a weekend, given its proximity to several Midwestern cities.
If you’re looking for an array of experiences, Eureka Springs will not disappoint with its diverse attractions and activities suitable for families, couples, and solo adventurers. However, it’s important to navigate the town with consideration for its small size; expect narrow roads and parking limitations. Planning ahead is advisable, as events, top attractions, and experiences can be influenced by factors such as seasonal changes and pricing.
Crescent Hotel Ghost Tour
Should you yearn for spine-chilling encounters, venture through the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa’s ghost tour. This historic inn, an architectural marvel combining French Renaissance and Richardsonian Romanesque styles, boasts hidden nooks and grand verandas that might just host spectral residents. Guides garbed in historical attire will lead you through the hotel’s most eerie chambers, including an erstwhile morgue, as they recount the tales of the departed whose presences still linger.
The Crescent Hotel’s phantasmal fame extends to television, having been featured on “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures.” Prominent among the ghost lore is a stonemason who met his demise during the hotel’s construction, a young child lost to illness, and the beloved feline whose final resting place lies within the hotel’s grounds.
The Thorncrown Chapel emerges as a masterpiece of architecture. Crafted by the distinguished Arkansas architect E. Fay Jones, who drew inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright, the structure is ingeniously integrated with its wooded environment. Towering at 48 feet and enveloped in 425 windows, the chapel rests on a foundation of local stone and vibrant flagstones. It draws its name from Jim Reed’s desire to offer Ozark visitors the awe of the vistas from his estate.
This peaceful, all-inclusive chapel has been a beacon for over 7 million visitors since its doors opened in 1980. Recognized by the American Institute of Architects as one of the premier buildings of the 20th century, it has become a sanctuary for quiet reflection and inspiration. Free to the public, it invites visitors to ponder amidst its tranquility throughout most of the year.
The Great Passion Play
At 935 Passion Play Road in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, lies an opportunity to witness a captivating depiction of Jesus Christ’s final days on Earth through a dramatic portrayal. The performance takes place in an expansive outdoor amphitheater, capable of seating up to 4,100 spectators, and utilizing a 550-foot-wide multilevel stage enhanced by sophisticated lighting and a large cast.
While The Great Passion Play is a seasonal event, occurring from late spring to late fall, the experience extends beyond the play itself. Visitors can immerse themselves in biblical history by exploring the on-site Bible Museum and embarking on the Holy Land Tour. This tour guides you through reconstructions of significant sites from the scriptures, like the East Jerusalem Gate and Marketplace, crafted with historical precision.
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
Established by the compassionate Jackson family in the late 1970s, the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge offers a safe environment for nearly a hundred animals that have been rescued, with a notable number of tigers among them. The refuge isn’t just for tigers; lions, cougars, and leopards also find solace within this nurturing space, set far from the concept of traditional zoos, focusing instead on allowing these majestic creatures the dignity and freedom to roam within their habitats.
Following the tour, take time to independently explore designated areas of the refuge. Here, your connection with nature deepens – a drive-through experience is replaced by a pace that echoes the natural rhythms of its residents. The staff, well-versed in animal care and the history of each resident, enhance your visit with valuable knowledge, ensuring not just an encounter, but an education.
Quigley’s Castle stands out as a monument to creativity and a love for natural beauty, situated just south of Eureka Springs. This unique homestead, brainchild of Elise Quigley, showcases the fusion of architecture and flora in a breathtaking way. Its construction began with an unconventional act: the previous home was dismantled while her husband was at work, compelling him to partake in realizing her vision.
You can see lush, tropical plants thriving, having been planted in the gaps exactly where the floors meet the walls, reaching towards the second story. Over the years, Quigley’s passion for botany and unusual artifacts can be witnessed as you explore the house’s interior and the surrounding gardens. The display of assorted rocks and eclectic décor adds to the allure of this extraordinary property, which remained a focus of Elise Quigley’s attention up until her demise in the 1980s.
Onyx Cave Park
At a distance of under 10 miles to the northeast from Eureka Springs, you will encounter Onyx Cave Park, a geological marvel with layered formations crafted from flowstone. This formation, born from minerals deposited by water movement, boasts an intricate, wavy design that is often compared to drapery. Interestingly, despite its name, the cave doesn’t contain actual onyx.
For a nominal fee, you can partake in a self-guided excursion through the cave’s interior. You’ll be provided with audio headsets to enrich your experience with interesting facts about the cave. This establishment prides itself on being a family-friendly venue, so rest assured that exploring the cave doesn’t call for specialized gear. Keep in mind though, the internal temperature maintains a constant chill around 57 degrees, so wearing something warm is advisable.
Blue Spring Heritage Center
At Blue Spring Heritage Center, you find yourself stepping into an expansive 33-acre landscape steeped in both natural wonder and cultural significance. The area, once a bustling Native American trading post, also served as a haven for the Cherokee during the arduous Trail of Tears. The titular Blue Spring captivates visitors with its vivid hue and remarkable output, discharging an impressive 38 million gallons of water daily.
Enveloped by a garden that showcases a diversity of native flora, the serene setting is home to a vibrant lagoon, inhabited by trout and frequented by helmeted guinea fowl. To gain a deeper understanding of the site’s historic layers, particularly the stories tied to the spring, a visit to the on-site visitor center is essential.
Downtown Eureka Springs
Your exploration of Eureka Springs’ heart reveals an eclectic fusion of Victorian architectural masterpieces, perhaps a testament to its recognition on the National Register of Historic Places. Navigating through the city’s hilly terrain, you’ll encounter Main and Spring streets, distinguished by their elegant aesthetic and historic significance. These areas are home to an impressive collection of art galleries, each offering a window into the creativity of local artists.
Amidst these historic charms, you’ll experience a vibrant dining and shopping scene. Unique boutiques offer an array of handcrafted jewelry and rare gems, tempting even the most discerning shoppers. For culinary delights, indulge in the wide variety of restaurants, from cozy cafes serving the Daily Bread Doppelbock to taprooms pouring local IPAs. This district doesn’t just cater to the art aficionado—beer enthusiasts will also find their palate satisfied by the craft beers on offer in this cultural hub.
Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway
In the midst of the Ozark Mountains, the Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway awaits to take you on a memorable journey. Aboard a classic 1940s diesel locomotive, the one-hour Excursion Train ride provides an insightful conductor’s commentary. Alternatively, you could indulge in a meal while traveling; the railway offers both lunch and dinner options in a dining car reminiscent of the 1920s.
The railway operates seasonally, welcoming passengers most frequently from the heart of May through the end of October. The Off-peak season, comprising April and early May, features a reduced schedule. If you yearn for a glimpse into an earlier era while enjoying the tranquil beauty of Eureka Springs, this railway experience distinctly focuses on creating an atmosphere over the sophistication of dining.
Created in the 1960s, Beaver Lake is a man-made body of water, spanning more than 28,000 acres when at full capacity. Situated roughly 10 miles northwest of Eureka Springs, this reservoir is encircled by nearly 500 miles of picturesque shoreline, featuring secluded coves and various inlets ideal for an array of outdoor pursuits.
The region is not just a haven for day visitors; it offers ample accommodations for an extended stay. Choices range from rustic to refined, with options like Beaver Lake Cottages or Beaver Lakefront Cabins offering highly rated experiences. Besides lodging, the area caters to anglers seeking the thrill of cold-water fishing on the White River. For those inclined to water sports, kayak rentals are accessible, along with venues for stand-up paddleboarding amidst the Ozark Mountains.
Eureka Springs is home to a unique collection of 66 cold mineral springs, renowned for their historic reputation of possessing restorative properties. These springs emerge in various serene city parks and gardens, thoughtfully established to conserve them. On a leisurely exploration through the city, you have the opportunity to witness these natural wonders by visiting numerous parks, or by creating a self-guided tour to discover up to 15 springs within walking distance from the city’s core.
In the bustling epicenter, Basin Spring Park features a spring, once venerated as a source of healing by Native Americans, which now supplies a charming fountain. Other well-frequented springs you may encounter include Crescent Spring, celebrated for its ornate Victorian gazebo and stone structures, and Sweet Spring, nestled amid vibrant flowers. To assist in your journey, the city provides a map that conveniently highlights accessible springs to enhance your experience.
Within the captivating confines of a chapel-inspired venue, you’ll witness an array of stunning performances that defy explanation. At the helm, illusionist Sean-Paul and the insightful Juliana Fay enchant audiences with a repertoire that spans levitation acts, humorous interludes, and bewildering magic tricks. Engaging with the tightly-knit crowd of merely 100 spectators ensures an up-close experience, making every seat in the house a window to the wonders on stage.
Visitors have applauded the intimate nature of the theater for offering an optimal vantage point from every angle, with interactive elements that make each show a distinctive encounter. Securing your spot for this sought-after entertainment is a prudent move due to the venue’s cozy capacity. Revel in this exclusive setting at 80 Mountain Street, Eureka Spring, where the ordinary is left behind, and the extraordinary takes center stage.
St. Elizabeth Catholic Church
Nestled near the landmark Crescent Hotel, St. Elizabeth Catholic Church captivates visitors with its exceptional entrance through the bell tower, a feature highlighted by Ripley’s Believe It or Not! The church’s architectural inspiration comes from the iconic Hagia Sophia, offering a unique visual experience. Inside, the marriage of marble and a crystal-laden chandelier casts a serene glow on pink-hued ceilings, crafting a heavenly ambiance within the sanctuary.
Attend regular services to embrace the community’s spirituality, or visit during off-hours to soak in the tranquility and artistic splendor. Remember to explore the quaint gift shop located on the premises, where a variety of keepsakes, religious artifacts, and assorted items await. Your journey to Eureka Springs is not complete without witnessing the serene beauty of St. Elizabeth, located at 30 Crescent Drive.
Ozark Mountain Hoe-Down Music Theater
At the Ozark Mountain Hoe-Down Music Theater, you’ll experience a blend of music and laughter that has captivated audiences for almost four decades. Located in Eureka Springs, the theater serves up a selection of country and gospel tunes, interlaced with family-oriented comedy, four nights a week from April through November.
Leading the variety show is Mike Nichols, a comedic force who introduces the crowd to a host of amusing characters, from Uncle Posture Pedic to Tator “Chip” Patches. The performances are praised for their engaging content that delights diverse age groups. Your visit guarantees a spirited evening where laughter melds with melodious performances to craft a memorable experience.
Eureka Springs Historical Museum
Located in a quintessential Victorian house dating back to 1889, the Eureka Springs Historical Museum presents a comprehensive narrative of the town’s rich past. The museum documents the discovery of the area’s healing mineral springs by Native Americans and follows the town’s transformation into a wellness destination before becoming a hub for artists and counterculture. The museum boasts an extensive assortment of over 10,000 artifacts, from travel souvenirs to historical photographs, and musical instruments.
At 95 S. Main St., you can explore the captivating array of exhibits that include works by local creatives and a noted mural restored by artist H. Louis Freund. Visit year-round to gain insights into the evolution of Eureka Springs. And before departing, drop by the museum’s gift shop to find unique artifacts that celebrate the city’s historical and cultural essence.