25 Things to Do in Arkansas
By Janet Benoir – December 21, 2023
Arkansas, often celebrated as the Natural State due to its abundant natural wonders, offers an array of both natural and cultural attractions. If you’re inclined towards adventure, you could unearth your own diamonds at the Crater of Diamonds State Park or bask in the therapeutic qualities of the thermal waters at Hot Springs National Park.
As you plan your visit to Arkansas, you’ll find an eclectic mix of activities that cater to various interests, whether it’s delving into the state’s rich history and cultural legacy or just seeking out fun and engaging experiences. This journey through the Natural State is sure to enrich your understanding of America’s heartland, with its deep-rooted civil rights history and Native American heritage, alongside opportunities for recreational fun.
Hot Springs National Park
Nestled around the Hot Springs Mountain, this park is renowned for its 47 naturally heated sources. With over 26 miles of walking trails and additional bike paths cutting through the landscape, the park offers a serene retreat amidst nature. Ziplining and bird-watching are among the activities you can indulge in to get a true feel of the park’s natural beauty. This park’s origins extend well before it was officially recognized in 1832.
You’ll find the thermal springs are not for swimming, but you can still experience their benefits. Several fountains located throughout the park allow you to fill bottles or jugs with the fresh spring water. While the park is a favored spot for those seeking leisure in its spa-like environs, you are also encouraged to lace up your hiking boots and discover the surrounding nature’s wonders.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Nestled within the lush Ozark forest in Bentonville, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art boasts a renowned collection showcasing five centuries of American artistic endeavors. Among these treasures, you will find works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Gilbert Stuart, and Julie Mehretu. Founded by philanthropist Alice Walton, it welcomes visitors at no charge.
Beyond the galleries, Eleven Restaurant and Coffee Bar offers culinary delights on a picturesque glass bridge spanning two ponds. The museum’s outdoor appeal includes 5 miles of trails adorned with sculpture, connecting you to Bentonville’s charm. Embrace the tranquility of its natural environment for a comprehensive visit.
Crater of Diamonds State Park
In the vicinity of Murfreesboro, Arkansas, lies a unique treasure hunting ground: the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Spanning 37 acres, this park sits atop an ancient volcanic crater’s eroded surface, giving you the chance to uncover not only diamonds but also various other gemstones like amethyst, garnets, and quartz. Bring your personal digging tools or opt to rent them on-site, and remember, any gems you find you can take home.
Beyond the allure of potential treasures, the park offers more to enhance your visit. Traverse the walking paths, enjoy a meal at the picnic areas, set up a tent at the campsites, or cool off at the Diamond Springs Water Park during the summer months. With a reputation for providing a rewarding experience regardless of the day’s finds, this destination promises a memorable outing for both adults and children.
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
Located in the heart of Little Rock, the Clinton Presidential Center is a repository of significant historical artifacts from Bill Clinton’s tenure as the 42nd President of the United States. The Center boasts a comprehensive array of exhibitions that include both permanent and rotating displays, featuring an extensive collection exceeding 100,000 items. These exhibitions offer invaluable insight into President Clinton’s campaigns, his time at the White House, and notable policy decisions.
Visitors to the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum can immerse themselves in a detailed reconstruction of Clinton’s Oval Office and Cabinet Room. These life-size replicas, along with a diverse array of multimedia, documents, and photographs, facilitate a unique, educational experience. Whether you hold a keen interest in political history or are simply in pursuit of knowledge, a trip to 1200 President Clinton Ave. promises a thought-provoking encounter with the past.
The Thorncrown Chapel offers a serene retreat encased in glass. Built in 1980, this woodland sanctuary stands as a remarkable feat of architecture, boasting a predominantly wooden structure complemented by an impressive expanse of over 6,000 square feet of glass divided into 425 individual windows. The chapel bestows an atmosphere where the comforts of modern air conditioning are met with an immersive feeling of being enveloped by the Ozark forest itself.
Should you visit, there is no fee required for entry. The site is equipped with substantial parking facilities that can accommodate a range of vehicles, including buses and RVs. The tranquil environment presents an ideal opportunity for reflection or a brief respite to appreciate the natural surroundings. Beyond its role as a peaceful haven, Thorncrown Chapel is a sought-after location for matrimonial ceremonies. It resides at 12968 U.S. Route 62, Eureka Springs, AR 72632.
Mount Magazine State Park
Perched over 2,700 feet above sea level, Mount Magazine State Park serves as the pinnacle of Arkansas, offering a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Your exploratory spirit can embrace mountain biking, horseback riding, and backpacking, while the more adventurous can take on ATV trails and rock climbing. With over a dozen camping spots available, the park caters to those seeking an intimate connection with nature.
Should you prefer comfort over camping, The Lodge at Mount Magazine provides luxury accommodations. Facilities include a dining venue, an enclosed swimming pool, a fitness center, and a game room to relax after a day of adventures. Even a brief hike through this scenic park promises stunning vistas that previous park-goers have celebrated.
Little Rock Central High School
On September 23, 1957, a significant event unfolded at Little Rock Central High School, marking a pivotal moment in America’s journey toward educational equality. A group of nine African American students, famously recognized as the Little Rock Nine, faced a fierce crowd opposed to the desegregation of this previously all-white educational institution. Their attempt to attend school set off a confrontation that symbolized the resistance to the Civil Rights Movement across the Southern states.
Ultimately, federal intervention was required, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower deploying Army forces to safeguard the students’ entry, thus enforcing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decree from the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case which ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Currently, the school stands as a beacon of history, designated as the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.
Buffalo National River
Flowing through the rugged terrain of the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas, Buffalo National River stretches over 135 miles as one of the last unblocked rivers in the lower 48 states. Your craving for adventure can be satiated with a variety of activities such as trekking along the river trails, mountain biking, floating on the water, horse riding, paddling a canoe, or exploring caverns.
In the vicinity of the Lower Buffalo River resides Rush, a historic ghost town that stands as a testament to zinc mining days from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. The area is equipped with four campgrounds for those who wish to stay overnight, as well as several spots designated for day use. The scenic views are a constant companion, thanks to the minimal human development in the areas surrounding the river.
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Sanctuary
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Sanctuary serves as a secure home for an array of majestic big cats, including tigers, lions, and leopards, as well as a diverse mix of other creatures such as bears and birds. Located on 460 acres in Eureka Springs, this haven addresses the consequences of the exotic pet trade by offering a safe environment for animals that have suffered abandonment, neglect, or mistreatment.
Its core mission targets the enhancement of ownership laws for these magnificent species with the ultimate aim of negating the need for such refuges. Your visit not only educates but directly supports these conservation efforts. To guarantee your participation in the refuge’s intimate daily guided tours, book your place online beforehand. Your experience might also include educational summer camps or interactive keeper talks.
Garvan Woodland Gardens
At the heart of a sprawling 210-acre peninsula on Lake Hamilton, you’ll find the serene beauty of Garvan Woodland Gardens. This idyllic retreat, associated with the University of Arkansas, showcases a rich tapestry of flora with 128 varieties of native shrubs, decorative wildflowers, over 160 azalea types, and an elegant Asian-inspired garden.
When the calendar turns to the holiday season, the gardens are transformed by an enchanting holiday lights exhibition. More than five million lights gleam across 18 acres, creating a breathtaking spectacle; although, plan your visit thoughtfully as the gardens are not open in January.
Mammoth Spring State Park
Nestled on Arkansas’s northeastern border with Missouri, Mammoth Spring State Park boasts one of the globe’s most voluminous natural fountains. With an impressive rate, the spring dispatches over 9 million gallons of water hourly, creating a sprawling 10-acre lake that contributes to the Spring River. Famed for its Ozark trout, this river is a prime spot for kayaking, pedal boating, and embarking on a serene float along its crystalline courses.
Adding to the allure, you’ll find the refurbishment of Arkansas’s oldest railroad depot within the park’s confines. The site also offers a variety of amenities including a playground and a scenic hiking trail, ensuring enriching experiences for visitors of every age. Moreover, the adjacent Mammoth Spring National Fish Hatchery, one of the nation’s longstanding aquaculture institutions, supports species recovery and public education on ecological preservation.
Pinnacle Mountain State Park
Your adventure at Pinnacle Mountain State Park awaits just 15 miles northwest of Little Rock. This exceptional park is anchored by the imposing Pinnacle Mountain, which towers over a thousand feet above its surroundings, offering some of the most stunning panoramic views of central Arkansas. Your excursions can include a visit to the Trail of Tears National Historic Site, a testament to the park’s historical significance.
The park boasts over 20 miles of hiking trails suited for both the seasoned explorer and those new to hiking, ensuring everyone can experience the natural beauty of the area. Additionally, the Arkansas Arboretum stretches across 71 acres within the park, showcasing a diverse range of native plants. Although overnight camping is not an option, you have until sunset to enjoy the 14 miles of bike paths and picnic spots perfect for a day’s retreat.
Fort Smith National Historic Site
At the heart of Fort Smith stands an emblematic site, repurposed as a beacon of history. Reconstructed from two military forts initially founded in 1817, this locale has transformed into a National Historic Site. Your journey through the 19th century begins here, where Fort Smith also functioned as the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas.
Absorb the narratives of the indigenous tribes uprooted from their homes and delve into the rich tapestry of the site’s former residents. This historic site, nestled at 301 Parker Ave., Fort Smith, AR, offers not just a wealth of knowledge but also serene expanses where you can roam and reflect on the echoes of bygone eras.
Located in Piggott, Arkansas, the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center is a significant landmark for those interested in the life and works of Ernest Hemingway. Here, nestled in the northeast corner of the state, you have the chance to explore the converted barn studio where the storied writer crafted parts of his novel “A Farewell to Arms” and a selection of his short stories.
As you walk through the Pfeiffer family residence—once the abode of Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer—you will gain insights into the 1930s era. The site encapsulates regional history during the turbulent times of the Great Depression and the transformative New Deal period. Visitors frequently commend the museum staff for their extensive knowledge, making the museum an essential visit for admirers of the iconic literary figure.
Located in the heart of Bentonville’s town square lies the original Walton’s five-and-dime, the very location where Sam Walton laid the foundations for the global enterprise of Walmart back in 1951. This historic site not only has been kept intact but also transformed into the Walmart Museum. You’ll have the opportunity to encounter Walton’s personal effects, including his esteemed Medal of Freedom and a vintage 1979 pickup truck, alongside the office where he orchestrated the growth of Walmart.
The museum offers a variety of interactive displays that unveil the journey of Walmart, evolving from a modest retailer to the colossal name it is today. After absorbing the history, you’re invited to join in a nostalgic experience at The Spark Café Soda Fountain, where you can relax with an ice cream, reminiscent of the 1950s—all while celebrating Walton’s fondness for this sweet delight.
The Old Mill
When visiting Little Rock, make your way to the Old Mill located in T.R. Pugh Memorial Park, nestled in North Little Rock. Constructed in 1933, this mill replicates the historical gristmills operated by water power, and it was once showcased in the classic film “Gone with the Wind.”
The park’s ambiance resonates like a serene retreat amidst the urban landscape, boasting a variety of year-round floral displays. Explore the convincing wood-like concrete structures, including bridges, benches, and baskets, which enhance the charming scenery. Regulars note the area’s meticulous upkeep, crafting an inviting atmosphere.
Arkansas Air and Military Museum
Located in Fayetteville, the Arkansas Air and Military Museum showcases an impressive collection of aircrafts from the historic period known as the golden age of aviation, the 1920s and ’30s. This extensive selection includes helicopters from the Vietnam War period, a carrier-based fighter jet from the Navy, renowned racing aircraft, and one of the earlier passenger planes.
Besides these flying machines, the museum also exhibits a range of military paraphernalia, including vehicles, various patches, engines, service uniforms, armaments, and other artifacts tied to historical events. While it’s an excellent spot for viewing distinctive aircraft, those seeking an exhaustive exploration of American aviation history might find the scope limited.
Magic Springs Theme and Water Park
At Magic Springs Theme and Water Park, situated in Hot Springs, you will discover a plethora of activities to engage all age groups. Your adventures begin with the water park, which boasts an array of slides to suit thrill-seekers or those just looking for a gentle glide. The Adventure River invites you to meander through its gentle currents, while the Wave Pool emulates an oceanic experience.
For a more exclusive experience, consider renting a cabana, granting you a private slice of paradise amidst the excitement. Transitioning to the adrenaline-fueled side, the theme park offers high-speed roller coasters, the exhilarating free-fall of a drop tower, and refreshing splashes on the log flume. Bumper cars offer a bumping good time, and the pirate ship brings swashbuckling fantasies to life. Younger guests aren’t forgotten with eight dedicated rides.
Old State House Museum
Housed in the original Capitol building of Arkansas, the Old State House Museum is recognized as the oldest surviving capitol structure west of the Mississippi River. This distinct museum provides you with a rich tapestry of Arkansas’s history through a vast array of exhibits and historical artifacts. It represents a pivotal space for understanding the story of the 25th state.
During your visit to the location at 300 W. Markham St., Little Rock, AR, you’ll uncover the diverse past of the building itself. It has served various roles, from the Arkansas War Memorial to the headquarters for the Arkansas State Police and even a medical school. The museum’s complimentary admission is an added bonus for visitors eager to explore Arkansas’s multifaceted heritage.
Fayetteville Downtown Square and Gardens
In the heart of Fayetteville, a city known for its educational hub—the University of Arkansas—you’ll discover a vibrant town center. This bustling square is lined with unique boutiques, eateries, and structures steeped in history. The area is further enhanced by the lush gardens surrounding the venerable Old Post Office, complemented by a myriad of local businesses.
The square transforms into a winter wonderland during the Lights of the Ozarks festival, blanketed in a dazzling display of festive illumination. Should your visit coincide with the warmer months, from April to November, the gardens play host to a farmers market, a must-see for a taste of local culture and produce. The Fayetteville Downtown Square and Gardens warrants exploration any season, with each offering its particular charm—however, the light festival is a highlight not to be missed.
South Arkansas Arboretum
Located at 1506 Mount Holly Road, the South Arkansas Arboretum offers a serene 12-acre haven in El Dorado for plant enthusiasts and casual visitors alike. Stroll along the paved pathways to observe a diverse collection of flora, such as the regionally characteristic West Gulf Coastal Plain vegetation, alongside an array of exotic plant species.
In your exploration, you will discover a variety of blooming camellias, azaleas, and magnolias, as well as towering pines and graceful sycamores. The arboretum, maintained meticulously by the South Arkansas Community College, features numerous benches perfectly placed for you to pause and enjoy the surroundings, perhaps engage in some bird-watching, or unfold a blanket for a leisurely picnic in the dedicated pavilion area.
A nostalgic experience awaits you at Marshall’s Kenda Drive-In, a charmed destination situated roughly 100 miles from Little Rock. This outdoor cinema, operational since 1966, presents a blend of modern single and double features. Monthly, from April through September, the theater transforms for Throwback Thursday, a special event offered at no charge.
During these evenings, only vehicles from the ’80s or before are permitted within the theater grounds. If your vehicle is more recent, parking is available outside the premises, and you’re welcome to carry in your lawn chairs to enjoy a classic movie. The drive-in’s concession, boasting a reputation among patrons, serves an array of refreshments. Options range from hearty burgers and sandwiches to classic movie treats like popcorn and candy, complemented by a variety of beverages.
Museum of Native American History
The Museum of Native American History in Bentonville serves as a portal to explore 14,000 years of America’s indigenous past. With an extensive collection of over 10,000 items chronologically displayed, you can witness the evolution of tools, weapons, and ceremonial items across distinct eras. Highlights include an imposing mammoth skeleton and a varied array of artifacts such as pottery, ornate headdresses, and intricate beadwork.
This Bentonville attraction not only showcases tangible history but also actively engages visitors through educational events. Enjoy monthly discussions on Indigenous culture, narrative-driven storytelling, and creativity-inspiring art workshops. An annual celebration deepens cultural understanding, while the Indigenous Medicine Garden offers insights into native plant uses. Visitor reviews frequently laud the museum for its impactful representation of Native American heritage.
Hampson Archeological Museum State Park
Located in Wilson, Arkansas, this unique state park lies near the banks of the Mississippi River, a short journey northward from Memphis. It is dedicated to showcasing the findings from the Nodena Site, an ancient agricultural settlement that prospered between 1400 and 1650. The museum proudly presents an array of artifacts, including exceptionally conserved ceramic pottery that speaks to the artistry and skill of the original inhabitants.
You can explore the museum without any admission fee, where you’ll discover an interpretive reconstruction of the historical village, giving you a glimpse into the daily lives of its people. The richness of the displays and the care put into preservation impress upon visitors the significance of these archaeological treasures.
Castle Rogue’s Manor
Nestled 7 miles north of Eureka Springs and bordered by the Ozark forests, Castle Rogue’s Manor stands majestically on limestone cliffs. This colossal structure, with its 15,000 square feet, presents a striking view above Table Rock Lake and White River. Built over two decades, this medieval estate boasts of a design so distinct that it captured the attention of HGTV’s “Home Strange Home” in 2007.
Considered an ideal locale for various events, the manor serves as a picturesque backdrop for weddings, social gatherings, and celebrations. Its homely yet unique appeal has consistently impressed visitors. You’ll find this enchanting haven at 2272 State Highway 187, Beaver Township, AR 72613.