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Ultimate Arkansas Road Trip

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
March 28, 2019
A popular overlook at Ozark National Forest, Arkansas.
Benjamin King/Dreamstime
From the big-city culture and cuisine of Little Rock to the natural beauty and folk arts of the Ozarks, with plenty of stops in between, it’s time to hit the road in The Natural State.

Road trip season is on its way, and we can’t think of a better way to enjoy the open road than to head to Arkansas, within driving distance from much of America’s heartland and boasting endless opportunities to savor American history, culture, food, and natural wonders. Here, some of the highlights of the ultimate road trip from the capital, Little Rock, to the wild beauty of the Ozark Mountains.

Culture & Food in Little Rock

Little Rock is one of America’s affordable gems, a bustling metropolis packed with natural beauty, culture, and great food. Hit the River Market District to sample classic southern comfort food, distinctive regional fare, and imaginative culinary fusion from local chefs—and you can get to the River Market District via METRO Streetcar. History buffs will want to spend some time getting to know the Clinton Presidential Center & Park, beautifully designed with an eye toward limiting environmental impact. Many visitors to Little Rock are surprised to find nature at every turn, and the Central Arkansas Nature Center and Clinton Presidential Park Wetlands allow for wildlife viewing and quiet moments right in the middle of town. Every well-traveled kid should see the Museum of Discovery with its hands-on learning activities for all ages.

The Delights of Eureka Springs

Visitors to Arkansas will savor a stop in Eureka Springs, a town truly like no other. Here, classic Victorian homes are situated along winding mountainside streets; downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places and boasts award-winning restaurants and exceptional shopping featuring unique, local items at boutiques, art galleries and studios, and craft shops. (Public art is also on display all around town, spotlighting the community’s commitment to creativity.) But Eureka Springs’s charms don’t end in town—situated in the heart of the Ozarks, there are ample opportunities for fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and much more. And those looking for a relaxing spa experience will find a number of local hotels that offer access to soothing springs.

History & Art in Bentonville

Here in the foothills of the Ozarks, the town of Bentonville may be best known as the headquarters of Walmart (you can even visit the original Walmart 5&10 from 1950), but the relatively small community packs much more into a tidy package. Don’t miss the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, covering five centuries of American art from colonial days to the present. Art fans will want to continue exploring Bentonville at 21c Museum and Hotel, which combines more than 12,000 square feet of art galleries with an adjacent 100+ room boutique hotel. Kids of all ages will relish an afternoon at Scott Family Amazeum, where you’ll never hear the words “don’t touch”—it’s all about playing and learning. And you mustn’t depart Bentonville without immersing yourself in one of the south’s most significant collections of Native American artifacts at the Museum of Native American History.

Folk Music & Crafts in the Ozarks

We love that music can be heard just about everywhere you go in Mountain View. Here, locals join visiting musicians to entertain crowds—and one another—with traditional mountain music in the town square during the warm months (which, here in Mountain View, go from mid-April through late November). Founded in the 1870s, Mountain View has become a major center of traditional Ozark culture and music. The epicenter of folk music and crafts here is the Ozark Folk Center, where you’ll experience demonstrations of a range of crafts such as pottery-making and blacksmithing, not to mention traditional music—you can get lessons on a classic mountain instrument such as the autoharp or dulcimer, and even learn to dance a jig.

Easy Outdoor Adventures in St. Francis National Forest

Quick: Where’s the only National Forest that includes Mississippi River shoreline? It’s Arkansas’s own St. Francis National Forest, on the east central region of the state. Covering more than 20,000 acres, the hardwood forest is a mecca for wildlife observers. Here, the woods are teeming with turkey, rabbit, whitetail deer, and a plethora of waterfowl. Abundant game fishing includes striped and largemouth bass and, of course, catfish. St. Francis National Forest is a place to enjoy low-impact, low-stress outdoor adventures. Bear Creek Lake offers opportunities for swimming, boating, and camping. More adventurous visitors may enjoy four-season pursuits in the St. Francis and Ozark National Forests, where cycling, canoeing, horseback riding, and even ATV rides are popular. The Ozark and St. Francis National Forests offer such an abundance of natural beauty, in fact, that they are crossed by six U.S. Scenic Byways.

Don’t Miss These Natural Wonders

There’s a reason that Arkansas is nicknamed The Natural State. Here, an array of parks, forests, mountains, and more attract road trippers from across the U.S. Some don’t-miss natural highlights include lakes and rivers situated in more than 20 state parks. As mentioned above, the Ozark and St. Francis National Forests boast a number of lakes just waiting for vacationers. Natural springs abound in Hot Springs, Eureka Springs, and other “hotspots.” And be sure to have your camera or smartphone at the ready for the Instagrammable mountain ranges, waterfalls, natural bridges, flowers, and wildlife you’ll encounter along the route of your ultimate road trip!

To learn more and plan your road trip, visit arkansas.com.

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