Arkansas Holiday Planning Guide
With a diverse geography including mountains in the north, dense broadleaf forests in the south, and fertile lowlands in the east, Arkansas is aptly nicknamed the "Natural State." Still largely undiscovered by foreign tourists, the state hides a world of little-known lakes and rivers. Arkansas also includes vast state parks, offering visitors on vacation outstanding camping facilities in the middle of pristine natural areas sheltering blue herons, warblers, and bald eagles. Often stereotyped as little more than poor hillbilly country, Arkansas boasts a surprisingly diverse array of cultural attractions, including numerous museums, theaters, and cutting-edge sports venues. To learn about the real culture of Arkansas, explore its outstanding cuisine, traditional festivals, and lively music scene.
Places to Visit in ArkansasHot Springs
: Lying deep in the Ouachita Mountains and boasting fine examples of Neoclassical and Renaissance-revival style architecture, this city has been attracting visitors for hundreds of years, drawn to its natural thermal pools and, more recently, its standing as the hometown of President Bill Clinton.Eureka Springs
: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this characterful town packs a great deal of history, modern cultural entertainment, and architectural interest into its steep, winding streets.Little Rock
: A bustling and interesting state capital, this city attracts visitors with its abundance of outdoor activities, rich history, and well-maintained architectural heritage, making it a great choice for sightseeing in Arkansas.Bentonville
: The birthplace of an American institution and symbol of the country's entrepreneurial spirit, this town is where the story of Walmart began. Visitors also come for the city's contemporary culture, small-town-America vibe, and attractive setting in the Ozark Mountains.Mountain View
: The largest city in Stone County, Mountain View remains best known for its folk music heritage and culture, along with its ample outdoor activity opportunities and extensive, photogenic scenery.Mena
: Situated in the Ouachita National Forest, this small city has become known for its historical sites, attractive and invigorating setting, and proximity to some of the most popular attractions in Arkansas.Fayetteville
: The third largest city in Arkansas, this thriving college town attracts visitors with its love of all things sporty, relaxed yet entertaining vibe, and interesting history, from first European settlement to its importance in the birth of capitalism as we know it today.Fort Smith
: Situated on the Arkansas-Oklahoma state border, this city benefits from numerous historical sites of real significance to the development of the US, a thriving culture and artistic heritage, and surrounding scenery.
Things to Do in Arkansas
Popular Arkansas Tourist AttractionsCrystal Bridges Museum of American Art
: Offering a fine selection of some of the most famous US artists' works, this museum attracts visitors with its impressive permanent collection--featuring works by artists such as Warhol and Rothko--and interesting, informative displays, taking guests from the colonial to the modern era. William J Clinton Library and Museum
: Named in honour of Arkansas's most famous son, the library offers visitors precious insight into the life and times of the president commonly known as ‘Bill', with archive material including books, photographs, and documents, as well as life-size replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room, designed to look as they did during his presidency. Thorncrown Chapel
: Boasting a charming woodland setting, this critically-acclaimed building represents an impressive and welcoming place of worship, and a design that is sleek yet strong, as well as very popular--the chapel was named the fourth best building of the 20th century by the American Institute of Architects.Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
: Offering sanctuary to unwanted, abused, and otherwise neglected big cats, this refuge gives visitors the chance to get close to the impressive beasts and admire their behaviour and characters as they stalk, play, and feed in an environment that is safe and reminiscent of their natural habitat. Garvan Woodland Gardens
: The botanical garden of the University of Arkansas, the site is nestled in among the Ouachita Mountains and treats visitors to attractive, seasonal floral displays, a wealth of information on cultivation and sustainability in contemporary gardening, and scenic forest and lakeside paths. Museum of Native American History
: Offering an important and interesting perspective on the lives of the state's native communities, and the continuance of their proud culture to the present day, this Arkansas tourist attraction offers visitors an engaging trip through the Native American story, with a large permanent collection, changing exhibitions, and informative guided tours.The Walmart Museum
: Detailing the story of a world-famous business that is deeply linked to the creation of modern America as we know it, this museum offers visitors a thorough and interesting look at the company's history, its corporate values, and the characters that have given it its longevity.Magic Springs Theme and Water Park
: A fun addition to any Arkansas itinerary, this amusement and water park contains a great variety of rides and amusements, from thrilling roller coasters and gentle water rides, to family entertainment and a diverse set of food vendors.Hot Springs Mountain Tower
: A 68.5 m (245 ft) observation tower, this latticed steel structure gives visitors a towering perspective on the surrounding forest and mountain range and is itself an example of stylish and interesting architecture.Christ of the Ozarks
: Standing 20 m (65.5 ft) high, this monumental sculpture of Jesus overlooks the surrounding scenery and has become a local landmark, attracting visitors with its minimalist and modernist design.
Planning a Arkansas Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Arkansas with Kids
The sprawling state of Arkansas offers plenty of things for children to do, with its diverse set of destinations offering all the awe and adventure of big-city life, small-town USA, and rich, rugged wilderness. Head to Eureka Springs
on your Arkansas vacation for a great range of outdoor activities in a mountainous landscape often called "Little Switzerland of America." Pay a visit to Little Rock
for a state capital boasting numerous engaging museums and wildlife centers, introducing younger visitors to the natural and human histories of the area. Mena
, with its proud folk music heritage, offers kids the chance to experience firsthand traditional American culture and the passion of ordinary US citizens, united in their enjoyment of creative endeavours and the preservation of their town's creative spirit.
Things to Do in Arkansas with Kids
A vast array of attractions dot Arkansas, spread across its big cities, smaller settlements, and the lush, diverse landscape in between. Introduce the younger members of your party to Native American culture and history at Museum of Native American History
. The museum's interactive and engaging exhibitions bring the philosophies, traditions, and stories of America's indigenous people to life, with colorful displays and important artifacts. Kids love the complete wooly mammoth skeleton on display here, along with a great array of weapons and tools used long ago by hunters and warriors. For a change of pace on your Arkansas trip, visit Magic Springs Theme and Water Park
, a popular amusement and water park offering rides suitable for kids (and adults!) of all ages. Blanchard Springs Caverns
represent a great opportunity to inspire children with the mysteries and evocative atmosphere of the natural world, as they travel underground and admire the interesting and attractive rock formations. The romance and power of American presidents is captured at William J Clinton Library and Museum
, with its full-size replicas of Bill Clinton's Oval Office and Cabinet Room giving young visitors the chance to imagine life as "The Most Powerful Person in the World." A switch from powerful humans to powerful animals, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
allows you get up close and personal with a large creatures like lions, tigers, and bears.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Arkansas
The main urban areas of the state offer a lot of enriching experiences for young visitors who want to learn about the place they are visiting, with renowned museums and galleries making for a thriving and proud heritage sector. The streets of the towns and cities are often home to sites of historic and cultural significance, so walking tours and family trips provide kids with treasured perspectives on the land and its people. Out of town, activity and amusement parks complement the lush and diverse scenery, giving young visitors exciting experiences in locations surrounded by mountains, forests, and lakes. The scenery itself deserves exploration by its younger guests, with extensive walking and cycling routes taking you and your kids through the natural wonders of the state, ideal when enjoying an active, yet relaxing family holiday in Arkansas.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Arkansas
Cuisine of Arkansas
The lives and industry of settlers and of more recent migrants to the area have both influenced the diverse and rich food and drink culture in the state. You'll find hearty, traditional Southern cuisine in Little Rock
, with fried chicken seasoned according to recipes passed down from one generation to the next. Try a cookery class in the city to learn the cultural history of local dishes and the tricks, techniques, and recipes used by local chefs and home cooks. Up in Eureka Springs
, discover Ozarkian cuisine, like throwed rolls covered in locally-sourced honey, and products made with a famed local delicacy, sorghum molasses. For some refreshments visit Altus
, a town with a rich winemaking heritage dating back to the late 19th century, when immigrants trained on the vineyards of Switzerland and Germany brought their knowledge and passion to America and established wineries and breweries that still attract visitors to this day.
Shopping in Arkansas
The urban areas of Arkansas have a diverse array of chain stores, superstores, and local businesses to help you find what you need to make your stay a pleasant and enjoyable one. After all, the state is the birthplace of Walmart, one of the world's largest and most famous retailers. Walmart remains something of a local institution, particularly for the inhabitants of Bentonville
, the place where it all began. Head to Eureka Springs
for traditional Ozarkian produce, and visit The Eureka Market
for colorful displays of locally grown food and authentically cooked regional delicacies. Add Altus
to your Arkansas tour for an introduction to the region's winemaking heritage, and don't miss Post Familie Vineyards
, where the attentive staff will happily help you find your new tipple of choice.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Arkansas
History of Arkansas
The social history of Arkansas begins with Native Americans, the first inhabitants of the land now encompassing the state. Hunting wooly mammoths until their extinction around the end of the last ice age, indigenous tribes lived off the land, developing philosophies and practices that emphasized a respect for nature and a deep spiritual life. Explore the idiosyncratic ways and history of the Plum Bayou Native Americans at Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park
, a landscape of man-made mounds, created for religious, ceremonial, and political purposes, and now a designated National Historic Landmark. Also, be sure to visit the Museum of Native American History
for a world-renowned collection of artifacts relating to the Native American experience.
In 1541, Hernando de Soto led the first european expedition to reach Arkansas. Though various groups soon followed in his wake, it wasn't until after the end of the Revolutionary War and the Louisiana Purchase (1803) that concerted settlement of the area began. With the rise in population and urban areas, conflicts between Native Americans and settlers increased, resulting in events that blighted so much of the colonial era with violence and discord. Enrich your Arkansas vacation by visiting Fort Smith National Historic Site
, a center relating the story of colonial settlement of the area, the effect this had on the native population, and the introduction of modern juridical and legal apparatuses by the settlers.
Struggles of culture and identity in the state continued through the era of slavery, with Arkansas' white middle classes finding great profit through the cultivation and sale of cotton, based on the abusive--yet, at the time, legal--treatment of black men, women, and children. Thought-provoking reminders of the period remain at Lakeport Plantation
, an antebellum house belonging to a slave-owning family that made their fortune in the cotton industry.
After the Civil War, the right to own people as property formally ended with new laws upheld across the nation. A historic location of one of the war's many bloody battles, Pea Ridge National Military Park
displays weaponry, clothing, and other artifacts from the time in engaging and informative displays.
Race relations still caused suffering and strife in the 20th century, with desegregation leading to violence, inequality, and cultural tensions. Little Rock Central High School
became the scene of a major episode of the 1950s. After the school's board voted for desegregation in the classroom, segregationist protesters blocked several black students from entering the school. President Eisenhower deployed the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock and federalized the Arkansas National Guard to ensure the students' safe passage into the building. A museum at the school site gives visitors a wealth of information on this landmark moment in the quest for equal rights.
Relations and state pride went some way towards being healed and rejuvenated under the governorship of Bill Clinton, who served two separate terms as state governor before being elected president in 1992. Still a character of great importance in Arkansas' cultural and political life, Clinton was honored with the establishment of the William J Clinton Library and Museum
, a major Arkansas attraction.
Landscape of Arkansas
The landscape of Arkansas features a mountainous north and a flatter south, with the Mississippi Alluvial Plain providing fertile land for agricultural activity. Head to Ozark Mountains for great walking and mountain biking tracks, resort towns, and historical sites. Similarly, Ouachita National Forest
represents an enjoyable stop for those seeking an active Arkansas vacation, linking the terrains of the north and south with lush, green forests, hills, and mountains. Head out on the water at Lake Ouachita
, a large man-made reservoir surrounded by tall evergreens. Visit the southern lowlands to discover the impressively maintained and naturally abundant Garvan Woodland Gardens
. One of the most popular natural attractions in the state, Blanchard Springs Caverns
offer adventurers of all ages an exciting and memorable trip below the surface in mysterious and extensive caves, filled with beguiling rock formations.
Holidays & Festivals in Arkansas
Arkansas celebrates the same public holidays as the rest of the country. Major holiday include New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Monday in January), Memorial Day (last Monday in May), Independence Day (4th July), Labor Day (first Monday in September), Columbus Day (second Monday in October), Veterans' Day (11th November), Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November), and Christmas. In addition, the state celebrates the lives of local characters of historical and cultural importance on Robert E. Lee Day (19th January) and Daisy Gatson Bates Day (3rd Monday in February).
For an excellent folk festival, head to Mountain View
, hosting a celebration of the state's musical heritage through performances, events, and installations. Celebrate St Patrick's Day in Hot Springs
if you wish to take part in a popular street parade during your Arkansas holiday. For contemporary music, art, and food, visit Little Rock
on Memorial Day Weekend, when the city puts on an arts festival that attracts over 250,000 revellers each year.
Arkansas Travel Tips
Climate of Arkansas
Broadly speaking, Arkansas has a humid subtropical climate with hot summers and cold, slightly drier winters. Extreme weather includes occasional thunderstorms, tornadoes, heavy snowfall, and hail. Set back from the coast, the state doesn't get the full brunt of hurricanes reaching American shores, but its proximity to tropical systems coming to the mainland means that heavy rainfall and small tornadoes can reach Arkansas as remnants of aggressive storms elsewhere. Prepare for your Arkansas holiday by packing for the season, but also bring adaptable clothing suitable for changeable weather conditions.
Transportation in Arkansas
Arkansas boasts four primary commercial airports, making it easily accessible by direct and connecting flights from many international locations. The Amtrak Texas Eagle passenger train provides a good option for travel across the state, as well as interstate arrivals and departures. Interstates and highways connect the main towns, attractions, and cities in a convenient way, making day trips, coach tours, and individual exploration on your Arkansas vacation simple and stressfree. The main cities and towns enjoy modern and regular bus services, making crosstown journeys efficient, and urban exploration enjoyable, convenient, and easy.