16 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Arkansas
Arkansas is one of the least-visited states in the continental United States. You don't have to be a hiker or adventurer to fall for its intriguing scenery and friendly people. Yet Arkansas has a surprising number of state parks and national monuments, along with so many interesting towns with interesting stories to tell.
The state's most famous tourist attraction is the wonder of the Natural World: The Ozarks. Here are the best places to visit in Arkansas.
Arkansas State Capitol
Arkansas's state capitol, located in Little Rock, is a magnificent beaux-arts style building, designed by French architect Jules Henri Degen. Its Italian marble lobby and public hallways host a variety of exhibits, and there are a number of educational facilities, including the National Museum of Natural History. The museum houses exhibits of dinosaurs, along with sculptures and displays of flora and fauna. The Arkansas Department of Health & Human Services, located at the capitol, houses an exhibit on the state's medical history, as well as displays of artwork, including bronze sculptures of famous Arkansans, a large tapestry of the famous Osage Indians, and large murals illustrating historical scenes. The capitol grounds are heavily wooded and contain a number of historic buildings, including the Governor's Mansion and the state offices. There are several museums within Little Rock's city limits that are worth visiting. The Arkansas State Capitol Museum, in the building's main lobby, has exhibits on Arkansas's history, from Native American artifacts to space exploration and contemporary art. There are also displays of documents, photographs and artwork from the life of former state governor William Fulbright. Little Rock's River Market, in downtown's River Market Square, has more than 100 food vendors and more than 20 restaurants, a 4,000-seat performance center and a wide variety of crafts stores, along with specialties like clog-making, leatherwork and pottery.
The town of Fort Smith was once a major fortification in America. Founded in 1836, it was important not only as a haven from the Indians, but also as a protective line in the Great Plains where the fate of the west was decided. Most of what you see in this town today, however, has been constructed over the past 160 years, when it was made the state capital in 1844. During this time, the town expanded, and today it is one of the most important cities in Arkansas. Fort Smith is easy to explore, and two rivers, the Arkansas and the Ouachita, surround it. Highlights include the Truman Show Center, the Malco Theatre, the Fort Smith Museum of Art, the Hot Springs Heritage Museum and the stunning outdoor Butler Bowls at W.C. Blair Park.
Hot Springs National Park
Located on the plains of south-central Arkansas, Hot Springs National Park was established in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a showcase for the conservation of America's natural and cultural resources. Highlights include the spectacular Thermal Springs Baths, where temperatures vary from 92-104 degrees Fahrenheit. Although swimmable year-round, the water in the pools is best in the late spring and summer when the surface temperature reaches 98-99 degrees Fahrenheit. For the fully relaxed traveler, the park has facilities, activities and events that include golf courses, miniature golf, dancing, and live music. It also boasts a bathhouse and its own bed-and-breakfast resort.
White River State Park
Located in north-central Arkansas, White River State Park is best known for its towering white sand dunes. These 'Pleistocene' sands are made up of crushed rocks and silt, originating in mountain erosion, and are extremely rare in the United States. On the main road leading to the park, the White River Canyons Geological Area offers many interpretive displays, including the "Dunes in Time" exhibit, which details the Earth's geology through the dunes. Visitors are given short instructions on how to get the most out of the exhibit and learn about the park's geography and plant life. Some of the dunes have signs posted, giving directions on where to look for certain plants and animals. The area is most definitely a do-it-yourself affair. You are welcome to hike the trails that cut across the dunes, or use the main road to access the river or camp along the river. Tents and picnicking are also allowed, but please observe the rules of the National Park Service. This is one of the best parks in the United States in which to experience first-hand what the term 'old west' refers to. There are many picnic areas along the two scenic river canyons, and several RV campsites along the river, as well as several lakes and trails for hikers and bikers.
Little Rock National Park
The state of Arkansas has plenty of scenic spots, and the beautiful natural attractions found at Little Rock National Park should be high on your list. The park, located near the tiny town of Lake Hamilton, is one of Arkansas's more popular parks for its lush scenery, including the Arkansas River, Long Lake, and Cedar Lake. It also has historic sites, such as the America's Largest Trees in the National Register of Historic Places, Dickson Mounds, and Fort Smith. Activities include boating on one of the lakes, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, and walking. The park is open all year, but the visitor center is closed when there is inclement weather.
Fayetteville is a pleasant college town with a proud, Old South feel and architecture. It was established in 1811, making it the oldest city in the South, and remains on the edge of dramatic and rich farmland, most notably the Ozark National Forest. Fayetteville has a notable assortment of historical and cultural attractions. The Warren Bernard History Center is a two-story museum which exhibits over 8,000 items in the National Park Service's permanent collection. The center also provides hands-on exhibits, research and educational programming. The Old Capitol Museum is located on Capitol Street in the original Old State Capitol building. With 20,000 objects that demonstrate Arkansas's history since the Native American era, the museum displays the original windows, doors and keystones from the state's early government buildings. A visit to nearby Lost Maples State Park is highly recommended. The park displays native habitat and natural beauty. Visitors can swim, picnic, explore natural woodlands and wetlands, or venture on short or longer hikes. There are a few restaurants and cafes in Fayetteville. Try the Eatery and Bar, a local favorite since 1983, and try the superb greens from the famous Fayetteville-Crosby Produce Company.
Hot Springs, AR
Arkansas is a state famed for its winemaking and touring the south Arkansas area, including Hot Springs National Park and the Ouachita National Forest, is an easy day trip. Hot Springs, on the shores of the famous Crystal River, is known for its thermal springs, which have created a spa resort since the 1800s. The park offers hiking trails, kayaking, and guided kayak tours, which are possible at any time of year. The crystal-clear waters make it a favorite for swimming, while a hillside on which visitors can climb for stunning views of the canyon makes the area ideal for bird-watching.
Lake Hamilton State Park
Founded in 1948 by the Nature Conservancy, Lake Hamilton State Park is a two-hour drive east of Fort Smith and is surrounded by Ouachita National Forest. The park offers more than 130 miles of hiking, biking, and fishing trails. Lake Hamilton State Park is a favorite spot for camping, and the campgrounds feature electric hookups and bathhouses with showers. Sites are available year-round, but on some summer weekends you may have to camp in designated overflow areas. Facilities and activities at the park include a fishing lodge, a fishing pier, bathhouses with showers, a gift shop, and a dock and boat launch. A wide variety of events are staged at the campgrounds throughout the year.
Although Arkansas may not be a first choice when travelers think of states with great state parks, it has to be one of the most underappreciated parks in the US. Pine Bluff State Park (Arkansas) has some of the best park wildlife areas in the state. There are many things to do at the park including boating, hiking, fishing, nature trails, picnicking, and camping. Pine Bluff State Park is home to the Fall Line trout fishery. Fished from a boat, this is a good way to spend a few hours. There are also canoe and kayak rentals available to explore the park's many small lakes and winding backcountry streams. Travel to Pine Bluff State Park: There are four main entrances to the park, but the nearest one is the Smokey Mountain Visitor Center. Entrance is a little hard to find, but there are directions provided at the entry to the park. The Smokey Mountain Visitor Center provides visitors with maps, information about activities, and much more.
Arkansas State Capitol Building
In Arkansas State Capitol Building, the official state capitol of Arkansas, visitors can see exhibits on the history of the United States and the former Confederate States, the Arkanas state flag, Native Americans and tourism. Adjacent to this building is Arkansas State Museum, which has more than 3,000 exhibits from history.
Fort Smith National Historic Site
Fort Smith is a picturesque collection of a carefully restored 19th-century U.S. Army fort, located in eastern Arkansas. In addition to tours of the fort, the park's visitors center has exhibits that describe the history of Fort Smith and the trading activities that took place at the nearby Choctaw village of Cahokia. Outside the visitors center, enjoy strolling along the Fort Smith National Historic Trail, a paved, wheelchair-accessible path that connects the fort and Cahokia. As part of the trail, walk through the Enslaved Indian Mound, a burial site of the Cahokia village. The mound is open and educational and is considered one of the largest mounds found in North America.
Not to be confused with Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, the current museum is in the heart of Lake Charles, Louisiana, 2 miles east of the border with Texas. Built in 1943 to defend the U.S. Army's central supply area in the South, the site is now under the control of the Army Corps of Engineers. It was used as a post housing 2,000 soldiers, most of whom were National Guard. During this time, the base covered 1,720 acres. Following the Gulf War, the Army realized that the facility was in need of considerable expansion, and it now covers a whopping 37,000 acres. Today, visitors can stroll through the base's several museums and visit various important buildings and historic structures including the southern blockhouse, guard tower, chapel, airport, barracks, mess hall, and other amenities. There are also extensive wooden boardwalks through the many areas that are accessible to visitors.
Little Rock Central High School
Built in 1926, Central High School in Little Rock was the first to integrate schools in Arkansas, enrolling its first African-American students in 1959. Now a tourist attraction, the school has become the backdrop for one of the civil rights movement's most important events, as part of the fiftieth anniversary commemorations of the 1963 racial protests in Little Rock. The school has been designated as a historic landmark by the Arkansas Preservation League, and tours of the building take place during the day, as well as school-related and civil rights-era events, including a "Rally to Return" in April of 2013.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is the most famous geological wonder in the world, drawing thousands of visitors from across the globe each year. Beginning at the town of Grand Canyon, a narrow dirt road snakes for 14 miles down the South Rim to the park's South Rim Drive. Both the rim and the inner canyon are accessible and each has its own topography and distinctive color palette. The 18-mile South Rim Drive is the most developed portion, lined with lodges and hotels, roads, a bicycle trail, and the South Rim Village where park staff sell food, postcards, and maps. The South Rim Trail offers many scenic views of the canyon and wildlife, and a quick way to get to the rim is via a funicular railway. Both the trail and the railway are wheelchair accessible. Inside the Grand Canyon National Park is Horseshoe Bend, one of the most popular places to take photographs of the park. It's also where the South Rim Road terminates and joins the Bright Angel Trail, which travels more than 15 miles to the Lower, or West, Rim. You can also visit, via a shuttle bus, a suspension bridge that crosses the Colorado River, linking the West Rim with Phantom Ranch, one of several backcountry lodges.
Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport
Located in the small city of Fayetteville, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is the city's primary airport. Notable for its long runway of just over 4,700 meters, the airport is also popular for its central location. For Fayetteville visitors and residents, traveling to or from this airport can be convenient. Facilities in Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport include a 24-hour gas station and an Information Desk that can help travelers find things to do and find out the airport's flight schedule.
Bentonville is the capital of Benton County and the largest city in the state of Arkansas. Its name was derived from Jesse Benton, the first governor of the state. Named after Bentonville, the first incorporated town in the county, the town was incorporated in 1858. The buildings in Bentonville have an eclectic style. The large city hall has extensive public spaces. One of the most interesting structures is the Chalet, where the public works department has its offices. It was built in the Queen Anne style with large turrets at the corners and is one of the oldest buildings in Bentonville. Things to see in Bentonville include the Chalet, where many of the area's museums are located; beautiful Bentonville Lake, which is located near the Visitor's Center; and the Ole Miss Riverboat, which has several attractions including the Food Court and a scenic deck that overlooks the river. For visitors who have interest in shopping there is also the Heritage Center, where one can shop for antiques. There is an airport in Bentonville and visitors can fly from there to many locations in Arkansas, along with other states.