The "Natural State" of Arkansas stands behind its name with bountiful lakes and dense woods scene, the Ozarks, and the myriads of natural springs around. Complete with historic downtowns and vibrant streets, these small towns of the state offer a full range of activities before heading out to explore the bountiful nature around.
Batesville, Arkansas' oldest city, started taking shape around the White River in the north when the Trimble and Lafferty families settled the area in the 1800s. Later, an ex-populous river-port town with access to the interior of Northern Arkansas, Batesville served as a major land office during the state's settlement. Home to the first urban farmstead and the oldest downtown in Arkansas, Batesville today is filled with cute craft shops and homey cafes. The historically-rich town is a must-visit with attractions like the Mark Martin Museum for NASCAR fanatics. More cultural enrichment can be gained at the Old Independence Regional Museum and the Melba Theatre. The atmospheric Triangle Cafe with great breakfast options can be followed by an afternoon of browsing and antiques-shopping at the Southern Belle Flea Market or visiting the lovely Pocket Park on Batesville's Main Street with beautiful mosaics. Lyon College annually commemorates the town's Scottish heritage by playing host to the Arkansas Scottish Festival.
Set in southern Arkansas, only a short drive from the Louisiana border, El Dorado is an oil industry mecca of the state, despite its small size. Known as the "Arkansas's Original Boomtown," in reference to the oil boom in the 1920s, it is home to the headquarters of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, among many refineries. Full of southern charm and recently undergone a renaissance, its revitalized downtown district was named America's Best Downtown by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2009. The lovely Jefferson Street features more artsy attractions, such as the Pottery House and the "originally-London" red telephone booth at the corner. A thriving arts and culture center of the region, its mega spaces include the South Arkansas Arts Center and the 13 acres of botanical gardens at the South Arkansas Arboretum, with walking trails among the blooming plant life. The Southern Folk Festival and Southern Food & Wine Festival are also in town.
Set among lush pine forests, with the Lake Columbia a short drive westward, a town with a name that pleases all senses must bring it. Magnolia delivers expectations masterfully by exemplifying Americana in many ways. Upon entering the town, one is greeted by a quirky roadside attraction, the World's Largest Charcoal Grill, while the annual Magnolia Blossom Festival includes the World Championship Steak Cookoff. The uniquely southern charm and plentiful murals throughout the town celebrate its heritage. One must stroll along the charmingly historic downtown and the quaint courthouse square, stopping at the Columbia County Jail and the South Arkansas Heritage Museum to discover more hidden roots. A must-visit destination for nature lovers, the Logoly State Park is a hiker's and photographer's dream with beautiful picturesque spots dotting the scenic trails.
Built into steep hillsides, Eureka Springs began as a spa town in 1879 in the surroundings of over 60 natural springs. To this day, it is considered a fashionable destination, comprising a stunningly picturesque mountain townscape in the Ozarks. Its vibrant arts community consists of independent art galleries, the annual Opera in the Ozarks festival, and the downtown-full of beautiful Victorian architecture along its winding streets. Some of its wealth includes Victorian buildings such as the Crescent Hotel, Basin Park Hotel, and Palace Bath House, while the stunning wood and glass Thorncrown Chapel can be seen peeking through the hills. Many artists come to visit the springs to cleanse auras and open chakras for inspiration to seep in and create in the picturesque and relaxing environment. There is also the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge with big cats and bears in their natural habitat worth visiting.
Set lakeside in the northern part of the state, Heber Springs comprises the destination for nature lovers as true natural heaven. Founded in the mid-1800s as a health resort, "Sugar Loaf," the original Spring Park mineral springs is still there, but the centerpiece today comprises a 31,500-acre artificial lake open for recreational use. Anglers from around the nation flee to the small town known for prolific fishing on the Greers Ferry Lake and the Little Red River. The historic downtown is home to the grand county courthouse, the traditional town square, and numerous art galleries and antique stores to peruse. There's the lovely, leafy Spring Park for picnicking and strolls, a museum, and a restored theatre to catch a show for varied afternoon pastimes. The beloved Annual Heber Springs Fireworks Extravaganza featuring one of the state's biggest fireworks, and the annual World Championship Cardboard Boat Races, get crowded in such a small town.
With the hot thermal water as the town's name and game, many visit for the healing springs and various relaxing aquatic procedures, such as thermal baths and luxury spas, but stay for other attractions. There are eclectic museums, including the Gangster Museum, galleries, and theme parks, like the Funtrackers Family Park and Magic Cove. The Bathhouse Row is known for beautiful buildings, while parallel to it is the half-mile-long brick boardwalk, Grand Promenade offering the real-feel of the town via evening strolls of people watching. Despite its name, the Central Avenue, is a pedestrian-only path at an off-set elevated location with a unique perspective. It offers a respite from the crowded main streets, for joyous strolls in solitude and admiration of the backs of the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row. In the vicinity, the Ouachita National Forest is known for wonderful hikes through the ancient dense woods.
The tiny and scenic Jasper is nestled in the Ozark Mountains in the vicinity of the Buffalo National River comprising the first waterway in the US with a designated national river status. The area is all about the natural beauty, seen in the lush wilderness roaming with elk. Their reintroduction is annually celebrated through Jasper's Buffalo River Elk Festival. Jasper is also set near several prominent historic landmarks, while its quaint downtown plays host to quirky antique stores like Emma's Museum of Junk, and historic properties like the Arkansas House Inn hotel that opened in 1934. The walk-able main thoroughfare of the "dry town" is still sprinkled with wondrous small shops and restaurants to enjoy. Many natural points of interest and hiking trails nearby for a true getaway from the steel city, include the Arkansas Grand Canyon, the Dr. Hudson Sanitarium Agricultural Building, the Round Top Mountain Trail, and the Little Bear Cave Hollow.
Set in the lower delta along its "mascot," Lake Chicot, there is a legend and a true story behind this oxbow lake on the Mississippi River, the largest of its kind in North America. Apparently, the remains of Hernando de Soto are buried under the lake, while facts state that in 1923, Charles Lindbergh made his first night flight over it. Today, the scenic lake offers prolific fishing in the large-mouth bass department, earning the village claim to fame as the "Home of Good Fishing." Among the natural explorations around, one can wander through the extensive marshes, and visit the Lake Chicot State Park. There's the Lakeport Plantation bountiful with history, the Ditch Bayou Battlefield, and the Guachoya Art Center for cultural gain. The in-town "escapade" includes shopping at the unique Nonie's Antiques, downing a burger at the LJ's Cafe, and visiting the Bait Shop, before heading out for that large bass.
Nestled near the border with Missouri, in a sandwich between the stunning Norfork Lake and Bull Shoals Lake, Mountain Home is a must-visit for those seeking peace away from reality. Acting as a getaway into the Arkansas Ozarks, the idyllic town is also full of beauty and history to explore within. Its historic downtown is filled with 19th-century buildings, such as the Case-Shiras-Dearmore House built in the Plain Traditional style, among the locally owned boutiques and various cute restaurants calling to take a seat and let tranquility seep in. The town's Cooper Park is wonderful for an afternoon full of swimming and picnicking near a mountain lake, while the art fans must visit the museum and art installations at Duane Hada's Rivertown Gallery. There are also hiking and biking trails at David's Trail HWY 1010 Trailhead South, with eagle nests around.
First visited by Native Americans for their healing powers, the growing popularity of the springs feeding the Sager Creek prompted finding the Siloam Springs town in the early 1880s, right at the border with Oklahoma. The Lakeside hotel was built in 1881, while the job to span-out tourism was done so well that the springs fell behind-the-scenes of the new beating heart of the small town, its gorgeous historic downtown. Filled with beautiful old buildings, including the first hotel, renamed the Crown Hotel, the lively cosmopolitan-style streets around come with unique boutiques and hip restaurants. A visit to the local Siloam Springs Farmers' Market can be followed by a day of pure relaxation at the scenic Sager Creek winding through town or the luscious parklands around.
Originally settled by Italian immigrants who moved out to the Ozark Mountains, the lovely town is known for agriculture and wine from back in the day. Named after an Italian explorer, Henri de Tonti, the memory of its founders lives on through ongoing grape cultivation, while the spectacular Grape Festival in August also keeps the Italian heart beating. The festival comprises a country-fair feel, with arts and crafts, free nightly entertainment, and authentic Italian cuisine on the streets. For shopping, there's the Tontitown Flea Market and the Antique Mall, while the Tontitown Historical Museum teaches about the fascinating cultural roots. A must-visit for the Italian culture lovers, there is wine tasting at the Tontitown Winery and the Mama Z's authentic Italian cuisine, while renting a rustic mountain cabin can transport one right into the Dolomites.
These small towns act as the epicenters with the wilderness at the door for one's next must-visit destination in Arkansas. Comprising truly peaceful getaways into a whole other world of natural tranquility and healing, one will feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle life back in the city upon return.