25 Things to Do in Arkansas

By Janet Benoir – December 21, 2023

Arkansas, often celebrated as ‘The Natural State’, due to its abundant wonders, offers a fantastic 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 glorious therapeutic qualities of the thermal waters at Hot Springs National Park.

As you plan your visit to Arkansas, you’ll find a rich eclectic mix of activities that cater to all, whether it’s delving into the state’s deep 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 amazing heartland, with its deep-rooted civil rights history and Native American heritage, alongside enormous opportunities for top quality recreation.

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 for the park’s natural beauty.

Chris Light, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Health-enhancing thermal springs will restore you, and several fountains 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 spas, 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, the architecturally stunning Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art boasts a renowned collection showcasing five centuries of American arts. Among these treasures, you will find works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Gilbert Stuart, and Julie Mehretu. Founded by philanthropist Alice Walton, it is free to visit and is a true Arkansas highlight.

Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Beyond the galleries, Eleven Restaurant and Coffee Bar offers culinary delights on a picturesque glass bridge spanning two beautiful 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 and you have a place that’ll stimulate both body and soul.

Crater of Diamonds State Park

In Murfreesboro lies an absolutely 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 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!

Doug Wertman, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Beyond the allure of potential treasures, the park also invites you to traverse fine 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. With a reputation for providing a rewarding experience regardless of the day’s finds, this destination promises a highly 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 artifacts from Bill Clinton’s tenure as the 42nd President. The Center boasts a huge array of exhibitions that include both permanent and rotating displays, featuring an extensive collection of an astonishing 100,000 items. These exhibitions offer invaluable insight into recent American history, and to President Clinton’s campaigns, his time at the White House, and his legacy.

Toniklemm, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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 genuinely unique, educational experience. Whether you hold a keen interest in political history or are simply in pursuit of knowledge, a trip here offers a stimulating encounter with the past.

Thorncrown Chapel

The Thorncrown Chapel offers a wonderfully serene retreat encased in glass. Built in 1980, this gorgeous 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. This beautiful chapel offers an immersive feeling of being enveloped by the Ozark forest itself, as you commune with the natural world.

EEJCC, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Free to visit, 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 highly sought-after location for weddings – understandably so, given its memorable beauty.

Mount Magazine State Park

Perched over 2,700 feet above sea level, Mount Magazine State Park serves as the pinnacle of Arkansas, offering an absolute 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.

Jason Ronza, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Should you prefer comfort over camping, The Lodge at Mount Magazine provides luxury accommodation. Outstanding facilities include a dining venue, an enclosed swimming pool, a fitness center, and a games room to relax after a day of adventures. Even a brief hike through this scenic park promises stunning vistas and world class photographic opportunities.

Little Rock Central High School

On September 23, 1957, a historically significant event in the life of the South 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.

Adam Jones, Ph.D., CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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 progress in American 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, the magnificent 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, water-floating, horse riding, canoeing, or exploring the river’s extraordinary rock caverns.

OakleyOriginals, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In the vicinity of the Lower Buffalo River resides Rush, a historic ghost town that stands as a moving and proud 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. The fantastic scenic views are a constant companion, thanks to minimal development in the areas surrounding the river. This truly is a natural haven.

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 bears, birds and other remarkable animals. Located on 460 acres in Eureka Springs, this wildlife haven addresses the consequences of the exotic pet trade by offering a safe environment for animals that have suffered abandonment, neglect, or mistreatment. It is a must-see for those who believe in supporting animals to survive.

turpentinecreek Instagram

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 and incredibly moving guided tours, book your place online.

Garvan Woodland Gardens

At the heart of a beautiful 210-acre peninsula on Lake Hamilton, you’ll find the serene splendour 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.

Samuel Grant, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

When the calendar turns to the holiday season, the gardens are transformed by an enchanting holiday lights exhibition. Staggeringly, more than five million lights gleam across 18 acres, creating a breathtaking spectacle. This is a horticulturalist’s and nature lover’s paradise.

Mammoth Spring State Park

Nestled on Arkansas’s northeastern border with Missouri, Mammoth Spring State Park boasts one of the world’s most voluminous natural fountains. This spring dispatches a staggering 9 million gallons of water every hour, creating a vast 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.

Brandonrush, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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 excellent 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 America’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.

Jason Ronza, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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 splendid Arkansas Arboretum stretches across 71 acres within the park. Although overnight camping is not an option, you have until sunset to enjoy the 14 miles of quality bike paths and picnic spots. A perfect place 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.

Photolitherland, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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 offers not just a wealth of historical knowledge, but also serene expanses where you can roam and reflect on the echoes of bygone eras.

Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum

Located in Piggott, the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum is a significant literary national 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 globally renowned writer crafted many of his best known works, including his classic novel “A Farewell to Arms”.

Public Domain

As you walk through the Pfeiffer family residence, once the home of Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, you 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. The museum really is an essential destination for admirers of this iconic literary figure.

Walmart Museum

Located in the heart of Bentonville’s bustling 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 truly historic site has not only been kept intact but has been 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.

sarahhellamarvel Instagram

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.

The Old Mill

When visiting Little Rock, make your way to the lovely 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.” It is a truly beautiful spot.

Public Domain

The park’s ambiance resonates and is 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 scene. It is all meticulously well-maintained; a quiet little Arkansas beauty!

Arkansas Air and Military Museum

Located in Fayetteville, the Arkansas Air and Military Museum showcases an impressive collection of aircraft from the historic period known as the golden age of aviation, the 1920s and ’30s. This extensive selection also includes helicopters from the Vietnam War period, a carrier-based fighter jet from the Navy, renowned racing aircraft, and one of the earliest passenger planes.

Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The museum also exhibits a range of military paraphernalia, including vehicles, various patches, engines, service uniforms, armaments, and other artifacts tied to military history.

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 and those just looking for a gentle glide. The Adventure River invites you to meander through its gentle currents, while the Wave Pool emulates a wilder oceanic experience!

Jeremy Thompson, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

For a more exclusive experience, consider renting a cabana, granting you a private slice of paradise amidst the excitement. 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 pirate ships bring swashbuckling fantasies to life. There are also eight great rides specially designed for children.

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. This excellent museum provides you with a rich tapestry of Arkansas’s history through a vast array of exhibits and historical artifacts. It is a pivotal space for understanding the story of the 25th state.

Roman Eugeniusz, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

During your visit you’ll uncover the diverse past of the building itself. It has served various roles, from the Arkansas War Memorial, to the headquarters of the Arkansas State Police, and even a medical school. The museum’s free admission is an added bonus!

Fayetteville Downtown Square and Gardens

In the heart of Fayetteville, a city known for its proud educational hub – the University of Arkansas – you’ll discover a thriving town center. This bustling square is lined with unique boutiques, eateries, and buildings steeped in history. The area is enhanced by lush gardens surrounding the venerable Old Post Office, complemented by a myriad of local businesses.

Brandonrush, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The square transforms into a winter wonderland during the Lights of the Ozarks festival, and is blanketed in a dazzling display of festive illuminations. Should your visit coincide with the warmer months, from April to November, the gardens play host to a great 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 an absolute highlight not to be missed!

South Arkansas Arboretum

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 fascinating exotic plant species.

arkansasstateparks Instagram

You will likely discover 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 truly lovely place to enjoy.

Kenda Drive-In

A sweetly nostalgic experience awaits you at Marshall’s Kenda Drive-In, a charmed destination situated roughly 100 miles from Little Rock. This famed outdoor cinema, operational since 1966, presents a blend of modern single and double features.

kendadrivein Instagram

During special 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! Refreshment options are plentiful, and include hearty burgers and sandwiches, and classic movie treats like popcorn and candy.

Museum of Native American History

The Museum of Native American History in Bentonville serves as a wonderful portal to explore 14,000 years of America’s indigenous past. With a brilliant 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 incredible and imposing mammoth skeleton, and a varied array of artifacts, such as pottery, ornate headdresses, and intricate beadwork.

Ethan.jarrett, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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 visitors’ cultural understanding, while the Indigenous Medicine Garden offers insights into native plants.

Hampson Archeological Museum State Park

Located in Wilson, 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 treasures, including exceptionally well-preserved ceramic pottery.

Thomas R Machnitzki, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

You can explore the museum free, where you’ll discover an interpretive reconstruction of the historical village, giving you a 3D glimpse into the daily lives of its people. The richness of the displays and the care put into preservation are truly impressive.

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 a design so distinct that it captured the attention of HGTV’s “Home Strange Home” in 2007.

Brandonrush, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Considered an ideal locale for various events, the manor serves as a picturesque backdrop for weddings, social gatherings, and celebrations. It is a great place for glorious photography!