K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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The “Natural State,” as Arkansas is known, offers everything from healing spring waters and beautiful mountain lakes renowned for outstanding fishing to cozy cabin rentals. If you’re thinking about vacationing here, these are some of the best places to base your stay for truly experiencing Arkansas and all that it has to offer.
Founded in 1879 as a spa town, Eureka Springs is one of the most charming towns in the U.S. The pretty Ozark Mountain town is built into the steep hillsides and surrounded by more than 60 natural springs. History lovers will appreciate its historic downtown district with its winding streets lined with magnificent Victorians. With over 100 shops and galleries, it’s a shopper’s paradise too. Other highlights include the opportunity to ride a steam train or soar across a zip-line on a two-hour tour through the forest, and then after dark, catch a play, music or magic show.
Fort Smith is known as the city where the Old West meets the New South. Being the second largest city in Arkansas and having a large population of young people, there’s bound to be lots of excitement here, and there is. It offers a hopping nightlife and a thriving arts and culture scene, as well as a diverse selection of eateries that represent cultures from across the globe. Plus, visitors have the chance to relive 200 years of history while also enjoying plenty of modern attractions. This musical wonderland is home to the Fort Smith Chorale, the Fort Smith Community Brass Band, the Fort Smith Symphony, and lots of great venues to enjoy a wide array of popular music too.
This northern Arkansas destination is a haven for nature lovers. Greers Ferry Lake and Little Red River are two of its biggest draws, attracting anglers from throughout the region with a number of world record-breaking catches here. Some of the state’s premier resorts are located on the wooded shorelines of the lake and river, and, in addition to fishing, visitors come to play championship golf courses, enjoy camping, hiking nature trails and more. Heber Springs’ historic downtown area hosts a wealth of art galleries, antique stores and other unique shops, along with picturesque Spring Park.
Mountain Home may be a small city, but it certainly knows how to bring on the fun in a big way. Tucked in the southern Ozarks near the border of Missouri, this tranquil town is sandwiched between two beautiful lakes, Norfork Lake and Bull Shoals Lake, offering an ideal spot to base a stay for exploring the scenic beauty of the Ozarks. In town, the streets are lined with historical buildings like the magnificent 1870s Case-Shiras Dearmore House, as well as a number of outstanding restaurants offering a variety of cuisine. Visitors can also enjoy a vibrant nightlife at the Arena Sports & Grill, as well as shopping at locally-owned boutiques.
Hot Springs offers the chance for a relaxing spa escape along with plenty of adventurous pursuits too. For hundreds of years, Native Americans and early European settlers flocked to the area’s natural hot springs to soak in the healing waters – and today, visitors arrive from all over the world to enjoy the well-preserved springs. After a day of play out on one of the many surrounding lakes, there are few things better than relaxing in one of the heavenly mineral baths. Lake Catherine is renowned for fishing, and both boats and canoes can be rented at its marina. On Lake Hamilton, jet skiing, water skiing, tubing, fishing and boating are all popular, and the Belle of Hot Springs riverboat operates here too. The town itself enjoys the most music venues per capita and the third most nightlife per capita in the state and ranks high when it comes to non-fast food eateries too.
Just a few miles from the border of Louisiana in southern Arkansas, El Dorado is nestled in the Arkansas Timberlands. An entertainment hub popular for its rich regional arts and culture, it hosts popular events like the Southern Food & Wine Festival and the Southern Folk Festival. It’s also home to the South Arkansas Arts Center and the South Arkansas Arboretum which houses 13 acres of botanical gardens with brilliant plant life and scenic walking trails. El Dorado’s revitalized downtown district was named the Best Downtown in America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, although with nearly a third of the population between the ages of 18 and 34, you can expect to find a vibrant nightlife too.
This beautiful northern Arkansas town is surrounded by the Ozark Mountains and is especially proud of its unique culture as the folk music capital of the world. It counts legendary musician Jimmy Driftwood among its former residents, while folk concerts are often hosted on the porch of the Mountain View Music Store. It’s also a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with one of the country’s top mountain bike trails, the Syllamo, found here, and the White River, which is world-renowned as a trout fishing habitat. Other area activities include horseback riding, golfing and caving at the stunning Blanchard Springs Cavern. The town’s center features a living museum dedicated to preserving traditional Ozark culture, as well as a number of quirky gift and craft shops.
This lovely town tucked among the lush pine forests of south-central Arkansas boasts a charming small-town America feel. Its historic downtown is covered with unique and colorful murals that depict its history and culture. A multitude of restaurants and shops surround Magnolia’s courthouse, while the town’s stately trees that gave the town its name highlight the square. The town hosts popular events like the Magnolia Blossom Festival and the World’s Championship Steak Cook-off that draws thousands every year, while nearby, 3,000-acre Lake Columbia is a popular spot for fishing and a variety of outdoor activities. Southern Arkansas University, a liberal arts college, also offers a variety of events throughout the year and tours of its Agricultural and Horticultural Farm.
Fayetteville is an especially lively city, home to the University of Arkansas, and the most nightlife per capita in the state, including lots of outstanding music venues for rocking the night away. Its eateries offer some of the best barbecue around, particularly at Sim’s Bar-B Que and the Whole Hog Cafe. The city’s brewing scene is becoming increasingly popular too, with eight breweries found here, all offering their own unique specialty brews from lagers and pale ales to stout and wheat beers. Fayetteville also has quite a diverse art scene. In addition to live music venues, there are galleries, theater, festivals and museums. See local artists at the Art Walk on First Thursdays or visit one of the many local art galleries including the Fayetteville Underground on the Downtown Square. In the summer, the drive-in theater is a popular attraction too.
Bentonville offers a small-town feel with big-city amenities, including lots of outstanding museums like the Museum of Native American Artifacts and the world-renowned Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton. You can also visit the Walmart Museum, housed in Sam Walton’s original variety store, which now traces the origin and growth of Walmart. Established in 1836, Bentonville has managed to maintain a lot of its historic character too, with more than 70 historical buildings and homes within the city limits, including the 1875 Peel House Mansion and Historical Gardens. Visitors can also enjoy a wealth of art galleries, public gardens, relaxing spas and outdoor adventures like rafting, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking and fishing throughout the surrounding area.