Some of the world’s most compelling natural wonders are just north of us in Arkansas – breathtaking mountain ranges, pristine turquoise waters and healing thermal springs. Adding to this unforgettable experience is a wealth of enthralling history, the tales of which unfold throughout the state. Here are some must experiences and sites throughout this captivating state. For more information visit arkansas.com.
Arkansas is just a few hours’ drive from Louisiana, and there’s now a direct flight from New Orleans to Little Rock, thanks to GLO Airlines’ one-hour nonstop flight to Little Rock. GLO has Little Rock promotional fares at $149 from the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. GLO has no baggage fees; you can check in three bags and bring one carry-on. This airline also offers passengers four to five inches of extra leg room and beverages, including PJ’s coffee, and local brand snacks Zapp’s Potato Chips.
Buffalo National River
The meandering 135-mile Buffalo National River, one of the few undammed rivers in the United States, ushers blue-green waters through a spectacular primal scene of towering bluffs and rolling hills.
The Buffalo River’s descent begins with rapids amidst the majestic Ozarks. Around every bend are new discoveries: there’s Big Bluff, a multi-colored 525-foot cliff at one extreme, and crystal-clear pools at the other. The diverse topography changes as the Buffalo River winds through four Arkansas counties, and showcases lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and historic homesteads.
Flora meets fauna on a regular basis here, and elk graze in the river-banked meadows year round. The water-formed Natural Bridge can be found along the Buffalo River, as can Hemmed-in-Hollow Falls which, at 209-feet, is the highest waterfall between the south Appalachians and the Rockies.
Downstream, you can stand atop an overlook to see Richmond Valley, or you can gently float through the eye sockets of the stunning Skull Bluff, where the water’s reflection is a near-perfect mirror. Nearby is the popular Buffalo Point campground, which is where you’ll find the captivating Indian Rock House, a bluff shelter once used by prehistoric Indians.
On the banks of the Lower River is a snapshot of a bygone era. The Rush Historic District, a zinc mining ghost town with ruins dating back to 1880, is dotted with the hollows of homes, mines and a general store (Note: this frozen-in-time community is on the National Register of Historic Places).
For lodging, (1) you can pitch your tents along the river; (2) camp at various developed or primitive campgrounds, or (3) try the rustic 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corp cabins. If these sound too primitive, there’s (4) a number of modernized cabins and lodges.
You can enter the Buffalo River at several access points along its winding course, or you can explore by foot and hike paths of varying degrees of difficulty.
The highest point in the entire state, at 2,753 feet, is the colossal Mount Magazine. This prehistoric wonder is so unique, it has its own climate; an average day is 10 degrees cooler than down in the valley.
The journey to Signal Hill, the peak of Mount Magazine, is a picturesque ride on Scenic Byway 309. Once there, the luxurious multi-million dollar Lodge at Mount Magazine has an indoor pool, fitness center, and the Skycrest Restaurant which provides a stunning view of both the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake.
On the north side of Mount Magazine, you will find the town of Paris, which is home to several local wineries.
Eureka Springs (population 2,200) has been labeled “The Little Switzerland of America” and the “Stair Step Town” because of the alpine terrain and unusual winding, up-and-down track of its steep narrow streets and walkways. Spiral roads, with no streetlights, wrap around the entire town in a continuous historic five mile loop, and the community is laden with Victorian homes and cottages.
Many structures were built into the hillside of the limestone bluffs, and because of that, have street-level entrances on more than one floor. Each floor of the seven-storied 1905 Basin Park Hotel has a ground floor, and the fascinating St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church is the only church in the world that you can enter through the bell tower door. These structures are all listed in Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
A visit to Eureka Springs would not be complete without visiting the historic Crescent Hotel, known to many as the most Haunted Hotel in America. Back in the late 19th century, as thousands flocked here in search of fresh mountain air and supposedly healing waters, the Crescent, built in 1886, was the place stay. Today, the hotel has nightly ghost tours 365 days a year, but – and how’s this for balance – also annually hosts 300 wedding events. This lends credence to why Eureka Springs is called “The Wedding Capital of the South”.
Next to the hotel, sitting high atop Magnetic Mountain is the Christ of the Ozark Statue, the second-largest Jesus statue in the world. Erected in 1966, Christ of the Ozark is seven stories tall and stands on the grounds of the famed Great Passion Play. (Note: Emmet Sullivan, who worked on Mount Rushmore, sculpted the colossal statue).
The list of sights is endless in Eureka, and a visit will have you wanting more. “When you get here, the world vanishes and the town that time forgot captures you and becomes your own town,” says Bill Ott, Director of Marketing and Communications for Eureka’s Landmark Hotels.
A 39-minute drive from Eureka to Bentonville will bring you to the stunning Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art which has a permanent collection that spans five centuries.
Arkansas may be the “Natural State,” but a stop in the capital city of Little Rock will captivate visitors with history. A tour of the River Market District downtown is where you can get up close and personal with several historical sites, all within walking distance. “You can study Arkansas history from pre-territorial days through President Clinton’s presidency within just six blocks,” says Little Rock historian Bob Razer.
A stop at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park is worth the trip. This 68,000 square-foot library holds the largest archives of all presidential libraries, and inside are artifacts from Bill Clinton’s years as commander-in-chief (plus there’s an exact replica of the Oval Office and cabinet room from the Clinton administration).
A few miles south of the downtown area is the national historic landmark, Little Rock Central High School, where the Little Rock Nine faced an angry mob as they were escorted into the school by police in 1957. There’s also a visitor center with an interpretive film on the Little Rock integration crisis.