Culturally rich and endowed with abundant natural resources, Arkansas offers a blend of historical and natural attractions. Hot Springs National Park has a long history almost as steamy as the water that fills its bathhouses, and visitors to the Crystal Bridges Museum can’t help but notice the lush Ozark landscapes that surround the five decades of American art. From the wild waters of the Buffalo River to the hallways of Little Rock Central High School, along with the replica Oval Office at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, you’ll find an abundance of things to do spread throughout Arkansas.
1 Hot Springs National Park
These hot springs in the Ouachita Mountains have long been a source of interest to people living in the area and were believed by American Indians to have healing properties. The park was established in 1921, but visitors have been coming here for much longer. The park contains lovely old bathhouses that are still in use today in various forms, including the historic Fordyce Bathhouse, which is now the park’s visitor center. There are several other attractions within the park, including an observation tower, hiking trails, and plenty of opportunity to experience the different hot springs that define this natural retreat
2 Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
This historic school was where desegregation began. The army escorted nine black teenagers to their first day of school here in 1957, without incident. The event was noted as being an important moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Besides a historic site, Little Rock Central High School is still an active education space with more than 2,500 students enrolled. The only way to tour Little Rock Central High School is with a ranger-led tour that must be reserved at least 24 hours in advance.
3 William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
The Clinton Presidential Center stands on the edge of the Arkansas River in Little Rock, surrounded by a 28-acre public park. It serves as a presidential library and museum, as well as an occasional venue for local events. Permanent and rotating exhibits include insights on the life and career of the 42nd president and first family, including artifacts, photos, and a full-scale replica of the Oval Office. The concept behind the building, which is meant to resemble a bridge, came from the six bridges over the Arkansas River. Metaphorically, it stands as a bridge between the past and future.
4 Buffalo National River
Buffalo National River is an unpolluted, free-flowing river. It has three designated wilderness areas within its boundaries. Running through the Ozark Mountains, Buffalo National River is a protected area and home to deer, bobcats, and a variety of other wildlife. Popular things to do around the lake include hiking, camping, and horseback riding, while kayaks, canoes, and tubes can be found floating in the water throughout the summer and shoulder-season months. Information on the area can be obtained from the Tyler Bend Visitor Center.
5 Arkansas Air Museum
On display at the Arkansas Air Museum in Fayetteville are the 1920s and 30s racing planes, biplanes, and information on the history of military aviation and civilian air travel. The building that houses the museum is a 1940s-era aircraft hangar. Many of the vintage aircraft on display at the museum are in flying condition. Besides the massive airplanes that are hard to miss, permanent exhibits here include a large collection of military ground vehicles and artifacts from the Golden Age of air racing. Visitors will also find a tribute to the second-most famous American female pilot, Louise McPhetridge, who was born in the nearby city of Bentonville.
6 Mammoth Spring State Park
Located within the town of Mammoth Spring, the Mammoth Spring State Park is home to one of the largest springs in the USA. Water flow is approximately nine million gallons per hour. Also located in the park is a restored 1886 train depot and a Frisco Railroad caboose. Visitors can check out most of the action via an interpretive hiking trail, including a pathway across the dam and an out-of-service hydroelectric station. Covered pavilions are available for use, and can be rented ahead of time for large groups.
7 Crater of Diamonds State Park
Crater of Diamonds State Park, in southwestern Arkansas, a short drive from Murfreesboro, is the only source of natural diamonds in the United States that is open to the public. Since 1906, more than 75,000 diamonds have been uncovered, including the Strawn-Wagner Diamond. Visitors can still find diamonds here today ranging in color from white and brown to yellow. Whatever you find at Crater of Diamonds is yours to keep. The site became an Arkansas state park in 1972. The park also features a museum, a water playground, and a tree-shaded campground.
8 Thorncrown Chapel
Thorncrown Chapel, in Eureka Springs, is a uniquely designed glass and wood structure located in a beautiful natural woodland setting. The high glass walls look out on the surrounding forest, giving the feeling of being right in the woods. The chapel is 48 feet tall and has more than 6,000 square feet of glass. Sunday services are held at 9 am and 11 am throughout the summer, with one 11 am service in the winter. Admission is free, and tourists are encouraged to visit during operating hours.
9 Mount Magazine State Park
On the state’s tallest mountain in northwest Arkansas, Mount Magazine offers a wide variety of outdoor activities and indoor comfort. Popular outlets for adventure include a campground, hiking trails, overlooks, and a picnic area. The visitor center and lodge at Mount Magazine feature an exhibit gallery, gift shop, and the Skycrest Restaurant complete with large bay windows that look outside. A variety of interpretive programs on the flora, fauna, and natural and cultural history of Mount Magazine are available at the visitor’s center. Extreme sports enthusiasts also find their fill at Mount Magazine, and the more adventurous can go rock climbing, hang-gliding, mountain biking, or horseback riding.
10 Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
This museum in northwest Arkansas was founded in 2011 by Alice Walton and the Walton Foundation. Featuring one of the largest collections of American art under one roof, the temporary and permanent exhibits span the last five decades of American art. Notable pieces include works by Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The architecture and surrounding natural space at Crystal Bridges blend together for an aesthetically pleasing viewing experience. Crystal Brides maintains more than three miles of trails throughout their 120-acre forested property that are worth exploring, including a leisurely stroll along the aptly-named Art Trail.
11 Garvan Woodland Gardens
About 10 miles south of Hot Springs National Park, Garvan Woodland Gardens is the botanical garden of the University of Arkansas. Originally spurred to life in 1956 by Verna Cook Garvan, an influential business leader of Hot Springs, the gardens have grown to include a wide array of different plots, overlooks, and scenic structures. The Pratt Welcome Center is a great place to begin exploring the grounds and a fun spot to appreciate the resident peacocks. Other visitor favorites include the Evan Children’s Adventure Garden, the on-site Chipmunk Café, and the Anthony Chapel with floor-to-ceiling windows.
12 Blanchard Springs Caverns
Located in northern Arkansas and within the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, Blanchard Springs Caverns are a great example of the dynamic natural systems found underground. The caverns themselves have been growing and changing for thousands of years, and visitors today can witness moving water still carving its way through the cave. The only way to explore Blanchard Springs Cavern is through one of three ranger-led tours, including the popular 1.2-mile Discovery Trail. Outside the cave and above ground, the surrounding landscape is also fun to explore, especially Blanchard Spring itself, which is a picturesque Ozark Mountain waterfall.