Ask most people from out of state what they think of Arkansas, and they don’t tend to have an opinion, positive, negative, or otherwise. It’s a shame because Arkansas really does have a lot of hidden gems, both literal and figurative.
10. Crystal Bridges Museum
Spearheaded by Alice Walton, Crystal Bridges has become a cultural beacon of Northwest Arkansas with modern looks that belie its love of Americana. The gallery houses American artists from Rockwell to Pollock. A collaboration with the Louvre, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Terra Foundation for American Art has also resulted in an enormous cultural exchange and a chance for art from all over the world to tour the state.
9. Crater of Diamonds
This state park has a unique draw – yes, you really can find diamonds here. Somebody finds one just often enough to remind people that the park is here, and that the diamonds aren’t all gone. Located near Murfreesboro, Arkansas, the park also holds lesser pieces of geological curiosity, as well.
8. Float the Buffalo River
The Buffalo is enormous. Flowing freely for 135 miles, it’s one of the few undammed rivers in the contiguous U.S. Canoe rentals are available allowing you to take advantage of the serene, empty stretches as well as the quick rapids. Arkansas foliage is some of the most beautiful in the country, and the river is one of the best ways to take it in.
7. Johnny Cash Boyhood Home
Johnny Cash grew up here. His family moved in when President Roosevelt carved out a farming colony in Mississippi County as part of the Great Depression rehabilitation. The house has been lovingly restored by Arkansas State University and contains exhibits about the social experiment that led the Cash family to the area. The building was even featured in the movie ‘Walk the Line.’
6. Toltec Mounds
(image via Wikimedia)
“Toltec Mounds” is actually a bit of a misnomer. The owner of the property, Mrs. Gilbert Knapp, believed the Toltecs to have built the mounds here, but research indicates that they were actually pre-historical structures, built by members of the indigenous Plum Bayou culture. Used as gathering places for religious and ceremonial purposes, these mounds form a key part of our understanding of early life on the continent.
5. Thorncrown Chapel
Eureka Springs is sort of a hippie enclave in the middle of Arkansas. It’s home, for instance, to a robust treehouse hotel scene. It also houses this beautiful church. Thorncrown contains some 6,000 square feet of glass, was designed in accordance with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School aesthetics, and was built using only local Northwest Arkansas materials.
4. Bathhouse Row
Hot Springs is known for its bathhouses. The mineral water here doesn’t carry the sulphur stench most natural hot springs do, and the town trades almost as much on the history of the area as they do the springs themselves. In the roaring ’20s, Hot Springs legalized gambling, and mobsters like “Lucky” Luciano and Al Capone sought refuge and good times here, where they became an integral part of the cultural landscape.
3. Blanchard Springs Caverns
It’s hard to describe the beauty of caves to people who haven’t experienced them. From the lack of light to the bizarre calcite formations, being in a cave feels like stepping into another world. Blanchard Springs offers three trails to explore and is considered a “living” cave, as the limestone formations are still in progress.
2. Arkansas River Trail
The Arkansas River Trail is a network of biking and walking trails and bridges that circles both sides of the Arkansas River and cuts right through the downtown area. Apart from the beauty of the scenery and the Big Dam Bridge, the River Market area boasts the main campus of Heifer International, the Clinton Presidential Center, and some of the best dining in the state.
1. Mount Magazine and Lodge
The tallest mountain in the state looks out over river valleys teeming with trees, a view that stretches for miles in every direction. The lodge is a mixture of luxury accommodations and a destination for ATV riders and hang gliding. The only thing better than watching the canyons give way to the river from your balcony at the lodge is looking at the same thing in the air from a hang glider.