With its abundant lakes and lush forests setting, the Ozarks, and a plethora of natural springs, Arkansas is known as the “Natural State.”
These little towns in the state offer a broad choice of activities before setting out to enjoy the abundant wildlife around them, complete with historic downtowns and colorful streets.
When the Trimble and Lafferty families inhabited the area in the 1800s, Batesville, Arkansas’ oldest city, began to take shape around the White River in the north. Batesville later served as a key land office during the state’s settlement as an ex-populous river-port town with access to the interior of Northern Arkansas. Batesville, Arkansas’s oldest downtown and home to the state’s first urban farmland, is now filled with quaint craft stores and cozy cafes. The Mark Martin Museum for NASCAR fans is a must-see sight in the historically rich town. The Melba Theatre and the Old Independence Regional Museum provide additional cultural richness. After a morning of exploring and antique buying at the Southern Belle Flea Market, or a visit to the delightful Pocket Park on Batesville’s Main Street with its magnificent mosaics, head to the Triangle Cafe for a delicious brunch. Lyon College hosts the Arkansas Scottish Festival every year to honor the town’s Scottish history.
2. El Dorado
Despite its tiny size, El Dorado is an oil business hub in Arkansas, located just a short drive from the Louisiana, New Orleans border. It is home to the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission’s headquarters, as well as many refineries, and is regarded as “Arkansas’s Original Boomtown” of the oil boom in the 1920s. The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected its restored downtown district as America’s Best Downtown in 2009. It is full of southern charm and has lately undergone a resurgence. More artsy sights may be found on Jefferson Street, such as the Pottery House and the “originally London” red telephone box on the corner. The South Arkansas Arts Center and the 13 acres of botanical gardens at the South Arkansas Arboretum, with walking routes among the blossoming plant life, are among the region’s burgeoning arts and cultural centers. Also in town are the Southern Folk Festival and the Southern Food & Wine Festival.
A town with a name that delights all feelings must bring it, set among thick pine forests and a short drive westward from Lake Columbia. Magnolia exceeds expectations by exemplifying Americana in a variety of ways. The World’s Largest Charcoal Grill greets visitors as they enter the town, and the World Championship Steak Cookoff is held during the annual Magnolia Blossom Festival. The town’s distinct Southern charm and abundance of paintings pay homage to its history. To learn more about the city’s secret beginnings, take a tour around the beautiful old downtown and the quaint courthouse square, stopping at the Columbia County Jail and the South Arkansas Heritage Museum. The Logoly State Park, a must-see for nature enthusiasts, is a hiker’s and photographer’s dream, with wonderful scenic places dotting the scenic paths.
4. Eureka Springs
Eureka Springs, built into steep hillsides, started as a spa town in 1879, surrounded by over 60 natural springs. It is still a popular tourist attraction, with a breathtakingly beautiful mountain townscape in the Ozarks. Independent art galleries, the yearly Opera in the Ozarks festival, and the downtown, which is full of exquisite Victorian buildings along its winding lanes, make up the active arts scene. The Crescent Hotel, Basin Park Hotel, and Palace Bath House are examples of its affluence, while the spectacular wood and glass Thorncrown Chapel can be seen peeking through the hills. Many artists come to the springs to cleanse their auras and open their chakras, allowing inspiration to flow in and inspiring them to create in the beautiful and calming setting. The Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is well worth a visit if you want to see big cats and bears in their natural habitat.
5. Heber Springs
Heber Springs, located on a lake in the northern portion of the state, is a wonderful natural paradise for nature enthusiasts. The original Spring Park natural springs are still there, but the highlight now is a 31,500-acre artificial lake open for recreational use, which was founded in the mid-1800s as a health resort. Anglers from all over the country flock to Greers Ferry Lake and the Little Red River, which are recognized for their excellent fishing. The large county courthouse, the classic town square, and various art galleries and antique stores can all be found in the historic downtown. For different afternoon pleasures, there’s the wonderful, leafy Spring Park for picnicking and strolling, a museum, and a restored theatre to catch a show. In such a small town, the yearly Heber Springs Fireworks Extravaganza, which features one of the state’s largest fireworks displays, and the annual World Championship Cardboard Boat Races draw large crowds.
6. Hot Springs
With the town’s name and the game being hot thermal water, many people come for the therapeutic springs and different soothing aquatic operations, such as thermal baths and luxury spas, but many stay for the other attractions. There are a variety of museums, galleries, and theme parks, such as Funtrackers Family Park and Magic Cove, to choose from. The Bathhouse Row is recognized for its gorgeous structures, while the Grand Promenade, a half-mile-long brick boardwalk parallel to it, provides a true sense of the town through nightly strolls of people watching. Despite its name, Central Avenue is a pedestrian-only path with a unique perspective at an offset elevation site. It provides a welcome break from the bustling main streets, allowing for peaceful strolls and observation of the backs of Bathhouse Row’s bathhouses. The Ouachita National Forest, which lies nearby, is noted for its fantastic walks through ancient deep woods.
The tiny and picturesque town of Jasper is located in the Ozark Mountains on the Buffalo National River, which was the first waterway in the United States to be designated as a national river. The area is known for its natural beauty, which can be observed in the lush forest, which is home to elk. The Buffalo River Elk Festival in Jasper commemorates their reintroduction every year. Jasper is also close to several important historic sites, and its charming downtown is home to quirky antique shops like Emma’s Museum of Junk and historic homes like the 1934-built Arkansas House Inn hotel. The “dry town’s” walkable main road is nonetheless strewn with wonderful tiny stores and eateries to visit. The Arkansas Grand Canyon, the Dr. Hudson Sanitarium Agricultural Building, the Round Top Mountain Trail, and the Little Bear Cave Hollow are just a few of the neighboring natural attractions and hiking trails for a true escape from the steel city.