The Ozarks are a stunning region of rolling mountains, lush green forests, and diverse wildlife in the central US. The area spans over 45,000 square miles and encompasses much of southern Missouri, Northwest Arkansas, and parts of Oklahoma and Kansas. The landscape resembles the Appalachian Mountains in the East, with many small rural towns nestled throughout the hills. These rustic communities have a charming backwoods spirit with a rich historical heritage rooted in a deep respect for family life. Whether attending a mountain festival, fishing in a pristine lake, or hiking through an old-growth forest, these ten small towns can enhance your appreciation for the simple pleasures of rural living enjoyed by the friendly mountain folks who call the Ozarks their home.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Eureka Springs provides an excellent introduction to the Ozark area with its historic downtown, artistic vibe, and welcoming old-world charm. As one of the top tourist destinations in Arkansas, this small community is replete with old-style Victorian architecture built around the many natural mineral springs flowing from the hills. The Crescent Hotel (circa 1886) sits perched on the hill above the town, offering visitors a stately example of a turn-of-the-century resort. The hotel offers daily activities for all ages, from family games on the rear porch to spa treatments to nightly ghost tours if you dare.
Another stunning example of unique architecture is Thorncrown Chapel, nicknamed the "Glass Church" for the 425 giant glass windows. Nearby, eight excellent hiking trails offer scenic views of the Ozark mountains. Try the accessible 1.4-mile Harmon Park Loop Trail or any trails at Black Bass Lake that are perfect for fishing, canoeing, or a family picnic. Nearby, the Christ of the Ozarks Statue is open year-round, and the Great Passion Play is a popular summer attraction. Explore downtown boutiques like Wilson and Wilson Folk Art or pick up a scented hand-made candle at Spring Street Candle Company.
If you are a fan of hillbilly music, Branson, Missouri, is the perfect destination for you. Although the place gets crowded during summers, it has become a top resort spot in the Ozarks. Many famous entertainers have made this town their home and offer daily shows for their fans. Some popular shows include The Heygoods, Presley's Country Jubilee, and the Sight and Sound Theater. Silver Dollar City, located nearby, is a family-friendly amusement park that has an 1880s theme with good music, record-breaking roller coasters, and a down-home country vibe. The Titanic Museum is a must-visit, with several exhibits detailing the stories and artifacts of the tragic shipwreck.
Just a short distance from the museum, Table Rock Lake is a beautiful haven that attracts many campers and boaters looking for a place to drop a line. Spread across 43,100 acres, the lake is a great place to catch fish like smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill, or catfish. The Showboat Branson Belle offers a riverboat cruise of the lake with a delightful dinner cruise. Branson has a lot of excellent dining options, but the Pickin Porch Grill is worth a try for its mega-burger, and the Hungry Hunter Restaurant serves the best country-fried steak and mashed potatoes you will ever taste.
Jasper, Arkansas, is in Newton County, surrounded by the beauty of the Ozark Mountains near the Buffalo National River. This small village offers numerous outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, rafting, cave exploring, and rock climbing. The Round Top Mountain Trail is a 3.5-mile moderate hike that leads around the base of cliffs before rising to the top of a bluff for a scenic vista. The Triple Falls Trail is an easy hike for families leading to a picturesque 48-foot waterfall. Several companies like Lost Valley Canoe and Lodging offer excellent opportunities to navigate the Buffalo National River and experience the Ozark backcountry. Jasper has a quaint town square with several popular spots. Be sure to eat at the Ozark Cafe or tour Emma's Museum of Junk for a quirky collection of items you never knew you needed.
Van Buren, Arkansas
This small town is part of the Fort Smith metropolitan area, but the downtown district of Van Buren is filled with historical sites and buildings. The Drennan Scott House is a museum that details the history of the Van Buren area and early frontier life. The King Opera House is a Victorian-era performance hall in the downtown district that hosts various performances, concerts, and other activities. The Arkansas River flows nearby, with several trails to explore.
The Lee Creek Recreation Area is nearby, offering an excellent spot for family fishing or other water activities. Hikers should try the Crack in the Rock Trail for a 1.5-mile jaunt through the woods and mountain streams. Enjoy the shrimp and grits or chicken and waffles at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant. Arts on the Main is a beautiful venue helping individuals of all ages develop and foster their artistic talents, with a gallery worth stopping by.
Mountain View, Arkansas
Mountain View, Arkansas, boasts of being the "Folk Music Capital of the World," with its rich legacy of preserving southern bluegrass music. The quaint town attracts folk and musicians from all over the nation every spring. The Arkansas Folk Festival is a must-visit, fun-filled weekend everyone will enjoy, with some of the best banjo performances anywhere.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Blanchard Springs Caverns offers visitors tours of this perfectly preserved "living" cave, where hikers can stroll through beautifully lit underground rooms with paved trails and handrails. The Ozark National Forest has numerous attractions, including hiking trails like the accessible Mirror Lake Trail or the White River Bluff Trail. For dinner, travelers must try the pizza at Tommy's Famous.
Driving Scenic Highway 19 leads to the charming community of Eminence, Missouri, a perfect oasis for any outdoor enthusiast wanting to escape the grinds of everyday life. The Alley Spring Grist Mill is a historic and picturesque location where visitors can enjoy a peaceful picnic or take stunning photos. Hikers can explore Montauk State Park or Echo Bluff State Park, offering a variety of activities such as floating, swimming, and fishing. There is also a herd of wild horses roaming the Echo Bluff State Park, so keep your eyes open for them. If you're up for an easy hike, you can visit the Blue Spring, which houses a beautiful natural pool with crystal-clear blue water. The Current River is nearby and boasts one of the best-floating rivers anywhere in the nation. Foodies will want to try Rollin Bolins during the summer season for a unique food truck experience.
Mammoth Springs, Arkansas
Trout fishing is the primary appeal for this small piece of heaven located on the Arkansas/Missouri line. As its name suggests, this location houses one of the world's largest natural springs, releasing nine million gallons of water hourly. The spring flows into a ten-acre lake and onto the Spring River, where trout fishing is some of the best anywhere. The Mammoth Springs State Park houses an old hydroelectric plant and mill, a historic 1886 Frisco train depot, and a museum. The Interpretive Trail is an easy family walk that will hit all the high points. The Penny Loafers Cafe is best for a beignet and early morning latte. For great catfish, try Fred's Fish House, a local hangout.
Osage Beach, Missouri
The Missouri town of Osage Beach is in the northern part of the state's Ozark region and acts as a gateway to the scenic Lake of the Ozarks. With abundant outdoor activities, many tourists flock to the region for a time of relaxation on the water. The Lake of the Ozarks State Park has four campgrounds with 166 sites near a picturesque cove. Golfers will enjoy the many championship courses in the area, like those featured at Bear Creek Valley Golf Club or the Tan-Tar-A resort. The Rocky Top Trail is a pleasant short hike near the lake. The Honey Run Trail is 11 miles through pristine forests for those needing an increased challenge. For a classic example of award-winning Missouri Ozark Barbeque, wrap your lips around some ribs at Wobbly Boots BBQ. The Ozark Distillery and Brewery is a popular choice for authentic Ozark Corn Moonshine if you prefer something more robust.
Camdenton, Missouri, is southwest of Osage Beach and features some of the most unique attractions in the Ozarks. Cave lovers will thoroughly enjoy Bridal Cave with its spectacular rock formations and constant temperature of 60 degrees. The Ha Ha Tonka State Park is also part of the Lake of the Ozarks, featuring the stone ruins of a turn-of-the-20th-century mansion that towers over the water. History buffs will enjoy the Camden County Historical Museum, which has many exhibits highlighting local history. The Trophy Room at the Old Knderbrook Resort is an award-winning restaurant with over 1,000 five-star reviews. This small town also has an excellent place for pizza, Pepperoni Bills, on the square in downtown Camdenton.
This small town is one of the Ozarks' best-kept secrets. The Dogwood Canyon Nature Park is a 10,000-acre nature preserve open for hiking, biking, and fishing. There are 6.5 miles of paved trails that take visitors past cascading waterfalls, splashing over the rocks into freshwater pools below. The unspoiled terrain offers glimpses of local, protected wildlife on the Tram Tour. The Fillin' Station is a beautiful home-style diner with great prices and ample portions. The Persimmon Hill Farm is a famous u-pick farm featuring blueberries and blackberries during the season. With its proximity to Table Rock Lake, plenty of fishing guides can be hired to lead you to their favorite fishing holes.
The Ozarks, with their small towns, offer various outdoor experiences for travelers. Visitors will appreciate the abundance of tall bluffs, unspoiled forests, and flowing rivers. These quaint communities show a strong sense of family and loyalty to traditional rural living, highlighting the value of a simpler life. In a world that continually moves faster than it should, these small towns provide a place of peace and rest, away from the hustle and bustle of city life.