WHY VISIT ARKANSAS
You may not know exactly where Arkansas is, but once you find it, this state will wow you with its phenomenal scenery and hidden hotspots.
Not quite the Midwest, not quite the Deep South, Arkansas packs in rollercoaster mountains, thick forests, extensive plains, snaking lakes, and meandering rivers. Outdoor adventurers can trek to remote cabins in the tree-swathed Ozark Mountains or paddle the Buffalo River by canoe, hurtling through white water and cooling off in natural swimming pools.
The mountain town of Eureka Springs is the stuff of postcards, where photogenic Victorian homes cling to hillsides and a raft of stores, cafés, and art galleries line the streets to relieve you of your dollars.
For over a century, bathers have been taking rejuvenating dips in the thermal springs at Buckstaff Bath House in Hot Springs National Park. Neighboring Superior Bathhouse is more a watering hole than a waterhole; it’s now a trendy brewery and distillery.
Arkansas has its share of contemporary cultural institutions too. The swanky Clinton Presidential Center overlooks the Arkansas River in Little Rock and houses a library, museum, and replica of the Oval Office. The Moshe Safdie-designed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville sits amid 50 hectares (120 acres) of leafy gardens and comes with its own Frank Lloyd Wright house (moved lock, stock, and barrel from New Jersey).
Arkansas also played a key role in the Civil Rights struggle, most famously in the case of the Little Rock Nine, a group of black students who enrolled in an all-white high school in 1957. Tour Little Rock Central High School to learn the full story – it may surprise you, just like Arkansas.
WHAT TO SEE IN ARKANSAS
- Little Rock: the capital of Arkansas is one of the best cities in the state to get some culture and fun while visiting. Its River Market District is a wonderfully renovated warehouse area along the river with new shops, bars, restaurants, and the Clinton Presidential Center. The River Rail Trolley is here, along with the Bicycling Walkway and loads of other star attractions. This is the hub of recreation in Arkansas, so try and plan a stay of a day or two to enjoy the urban amenities the state has to offer.
- Hot Springs National Park: America’s 18th national park became officially protected in 1921, but its natural mineral springs have been hot spots long before the Europeans arrived. Bathhouse Row features a number of historic mineral springs to soak in, both indoor and outdoor. There is also a visitor center to give you a history lesson and plenty of easy walks to waterfalls and cool swimming holes. Best of all, it’s just outside the tourist-friendly town of Hot Springs so it’s an easy drive and you won’t have to rough it.
- Old Washington Historic State Park: the town of Washington was founded in 1824, and today more than 30 original buildings have been restored to their original state. The effect is like walking through an Arkansas town at the beginning of its existence. You can tour all the authentic town structures and see the craftsmanship in action. Guides wander the village wearing period costumes to add to the atmosphere making it great fun for families.
- Blanchard Springs Cavern: Arkansas is blessed with a vast network of limestone caverns under its hills, and many of them are developed and open to the public. Blanchard Springs is a real gem, both in terms of accessibility and features. One of the great halls is the size of six football fields and other attractions include a huge hot spring and miles of hiking.
- Arkansas Art Center: to complement the natural attractions in Arkansas, spend an afternoon in the state’s biggest cultural venue in Little Rock’s historic MacArthur Park. Seven galleries showcase quality historic art from around the world alongside local folk art and other interesting native creations. The Arkansas Children’s Theater is also on site.
- Crater of Diamonds State Park: it’s hard not to want to spend a day at this sparkling state park. It’s the world’s only public diamond mine, which means whatever you find here you get to keep – and 25,000 folks have been lucky so far. Arkansas has a rich heritage of gemstones, and this popular area is one of the most amusing places in the state to try your luck. The visitor center has some cool exhibits displaying the history of diamonds in the state.
- Ozark Folk Center State Park: this unique site is dedicated to preserving the special folk traditions of the people who have lived in the Ozark Mountains for decades. The crafts, music, and folk wisdom of the hills and valleys are presented in vivid detail. Visitors can learn upwards of 20 different crafts from experts on site, purchase handmade treasures, and enjoy acoustic music in the outdoor amphitheater. It’s a memorable area that is the real deal – no overt tourist hype.
WHEN TO GO TO ARKANSAS
The best period to visit Arkansas is from May to September.
Thanks to its southerly location, Arkansas experiences relatively mild weather most of the year. No matter which month you visit, you can expect generally pleasant weather unless you are up in the mountains or the far north. The state has four distinct seasons, so visitors can choose the climate they want and plan accordingly.
Though conditions range widely between the mountainous regions, the north and southern end of the state, January sees statewide average temperatures of around 50?F during the day. July and August, on the other hand, average 90?F during the day and with the typically high humidity, can get a bit uncomfortable. Arkansas is known for its volatile weather, with thunderstorms, hail, tornadoes, and snow storms regular features of the annual climate. Tornadoes are a possibility during the summer months.
Precipitation is between 40 and 60 inches per year throughout the state. More rain falls in the south than in the northern region. But in the north, rain often becomes snow in the winter. In the Ozarks and Ouachita Mountains, the snowfall is significantly higher than in the lowland valleys. South of Little Rock, winters bring sleet and freezing rain.
WHAT TO DO IN ARKANSAS
Soak in America’s first national park
Technically, Yellowstone was the first formal National Park. However, in 1832, the land that would become Hot Springs National Park in 1921 was set aside as America’s first federal nature reserve. The natural hot springs birthed an entire city of bathhouses and grand hotels, known as Bathhouse Row, which became America’s first wellness destination. Many of the historic buildings are still there today, two of which still offer operational soaking baths, and one of which boasts the only brewery inside a National Park.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Arkansas.
- Riverfest Arts and Music Festival: Little Rock’s most popular (and biggest) festival of the year arrives each May at the Julius Breckling Riverfront Park. There’s hardly a better venue for this fantastic event that covers food, art, and music. More than 100 bands from all genres fill the stages day and night during the festival, including plenty of big-name headliners.
- Native American Wildlife Festival and Powwow: visitors can get a taste of the traditions of Arkansas’ Native American tribes at this annual powwow that happens every mid-June at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. The weekend events include inter-tribal dance competitions, dance performances, storytelling, and artistry.
- Cleburne County Fair: celebrating its 121st year, this fair is one of the country’s oldest traditions. It’s held just a short drive north of Little Rock and is really something to experience. Fun amusement rides, great home cooking, livestock shows, and music are just some of the things on the menu each September in Cleburne.
- Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival: every October, around 80,000 fans of traditional blues music make their way to the small town of Helena for one of the state’s top music festivals. For three days, Main Street sets up five stages for live blues musicians. The event is dedicated to the late legend Sonny Boy Williamson.
- Bikes, Blues, and BBQ: each September or October, Fayetteville becomes a hub for bikers, blues music, and insanely good barbecue. A solid weekend of fun includes bike parades, races, outdoor concerts, and food cook-offs. Over 100,000 people attend this hugely popular autumn festival each year.
- Ozark Folk Festival: annually on October 31st, one of the state’s most popular festivals comes to Eureka Springs. For four days, this wonderful event ushers out the fall with loads of live music, amazing food, folk dances and crafts, and fun competitions. In its 65th year now, it’s America’s longest-running folk festival.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH ARKANSAS
None of Arkansas’ cities are large enough to warrant an inner-city train service, but the Amtrak national rail network runs through the state. The Texas Eagle line travels from Chicago to Dallas, stopping off at Little Rock and Texarkana along with several smaller towns along its way through the state, from northeast to southwest. If time is not an issue, train transportation is a fun way to see the state and soak in its lovely mountain scenery. The seats are comfortable and roomy, and amenities like a dining car add to the fun of the trip.
Nearly all of Arkansas’ larger towns like Hot Springs, Huntsville, and Little Rock have public bus systems that are useful for moving around the inner city. But they rarely venture far out of town, so few tourists bother with them. To travel between cities in Arkansas, the Greyhound bus company has affordable fares and routes that seem to stop at even the smallest hamlets between their main routes. If you don’t rent a car, the bus is the cheapest and easiest way to travel between towns. Greyhound buses aren’t known for their luxury or amenities, but they are comfortable enough for journeys of a few hours.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON ARKANSAS
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-6 (-5)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN ARKANSAS
Typical food in Arkansas
- Fried green tomatoes
- Deep fried chicken
- Fried okra
- Cocolate gravy
- Possum pie
Souvenirs from Arkansas