Sunny view of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

7 Most Underrated Towns In the Ozarks

The Ozark Mountains are the rugged topography you see on the map between the Appalachians and the Rockies, peaking at the Boston Mountains in Northwest Arkansas at over 2,000 feet. It is an acclaimed destination for fresh air, alpine vistas, pristine lakes, and meandering rivers. There is easy access to the Ozarks via scenic state highways from big cities, but the small town hideouts just off the road in the foothills and the creases are often overlooked.

Choose a town with tranquil vibes and fresh mountain air to enjoy chillaxing with only those who matter. Enjoy the region's relatively cool and temperate climate, perfect for summertime hikes, as a way to unwind on a respite from the hot southern cities. Chill out with scenic vistas by a lake in a rented cabin, or choose camping and trek through the expansive stretch of the pristine Ozark National Forest's refreshing nature with views of the spectacular range.

El Dorado, Arkansas

Main Street El Dorado
Main Street in El Dorado, Arkansas. Image credit: Chris Litherland, via Wikimedia Commons

El Dorado is really an "extra" underrated town in the Ozarks, with 16,741 welcoming residents, a wholesome vibe, and attractions. It is the county seat of Union County and a cultural hub for the region, with streets full of shopping, dining, and nightlife. The larger town guarantees chill time spent in immersive pursuits in the Arkansas Timberlands. Stop by the South Arkansas Arts Center on your cultural stroll and check out the South Arkansas Arboretum, with serene trails for 13 rolling acres, to unwind amid colorful blooms.

The Oil Heritage Park and Mattocks Park are verdant greenscapes for great picnicking, while the Newton House museum reminisces of bygone days. The south-of-the-state oil boom town from the 1920s boasts a fresh downtown area, named America's Best Downtown by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2009. Immerse yourself in the iconic southern glory, near the border with Louisiana, and dive into its regional arts and culture during the Southern Folk Festival or the popular Southern Food & Wine Festival with the best dishes and fun atmosphere.

Fort Smith, Arkansas

Into the Territories" by Harold T Holden is a statue of Bass Reeves, a former slave and one of the first black US Deputy Marshals west of the Mississippi.
Into the Territories" by Harold T Holden is a statue of Bass Reeves, one of the first black US Deputy Marshals west of the Mississippi, in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Chill out cowboy style in the Old West-spirited town of Fort Smith. Stroll through Fort Smith National Historic Site to experience the life of the frontier town firsthand in the early 1800s, with two forts and the bluntly named jail, "Hell on the Border." Peek inside Judge Isaac Parker's iconic courtroom, whose devotion and character popularly appear in Western movies.

The powerful Arkansas River hugs the town in the north, while Creekmore Park, right in the heart, is lovely for a picnic at the doorstep. Don't miss a stroll through the vibrant fare decorated with street art for the annual urban art project, "The Unexpected," which draws big-name artists from around the globe. The delightful 1920s-style soda fountain in an old pharmacy will induce a nostalgic vibe and temptation for an old-fashioned ice cream float.

Hochatown, Oklahoma

The beautiful Broken Bow Lake in Hochatown.
The beautiful Broken Bow Lake in Hochatown.

This unique town in the eastern sliver of Oklahoma is one of the few in the windswept plains state with the breathtaking scenery of the western Ozarks. With a telling nickname of "Moonshine Capital of Oklahoma," Hochatown will chill you out in any way you like. Join the pre-Prohibition ethos of the fun-loving culture along the shores of Broken Bow Lake, or head on a mountain adventure that will intoxicate you with fresh air, domineering sights, and scenery from above for the conquerors. The resort town is popular among nature lovers for chilling with a fishing rod, in a boat, or at a lakeside cabin stay.

Stretch your muscles over some watersports or rough it out by camping; it's the best way to get rid of your last frustrations from the city. Dine simply deliciously on tacos, pizza, and cheeseburgers with a southern accent, and stop by the Hochatown Whisky Distillery or the Hochatown Saloon for a cheap brew, a friendly crowd, and the stage for honky tonk blues. Hochatown is the best place to discover Oklahoma's largest Native American population in the lower forty-eight states at the Cherokee National History Museum and buy Native art.

Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas

Horseshoe Bend Airport in Horseshoe Bend, AR
Horseshoe Bend Airport in Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas. Image credit: Civil Air Patrol, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This largest, centrally located town in Izard County, with only 2,180 residents, is northern Arkansas' best-kept secret place to chill. Nestled scenically amid the Ozarks, Horseshoe Bend beckons you from the banks of the Strawberry River to find your rest, recreation, and a set of immersive activities in nature's glory all around. The crown jewel, Crown Lake, is a 640-acre fishing hole and a freshwater oasis for swimming. Enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding, water skiing, and tubing on Crown Lake, and check out the area's smaller fishing lakes, Diamond, Pioneer, and North.

Needless to say, Horseshoe Bend will chill you out with scenic nature, but find downtown pursuits like several stores and restaurants, a library, three resorts, a community theater, and a spa for evening entertainment. There are also two par-3, 18-hole golf courses for more fun in the sun, as well as bowling, miniature golf, and the Music in the Mountains show every third Saturday of the month. Feel part of the Ozark culture at the local farmers' market on Wednesdays, and join in the Dogwood Days on the second Saturday of May. Don't wait to start chilling at this different pace and scenery of gorgeous views and laid-back southern charm, with easy access via the state's scenic highways.

Mountainburg, Arkansas

Waterfalls on the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas near Lake Fort Smith State Park Hiking Trails.
Waterfalls on the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas near Lake Fort Smith State Park Hiking Trails.

This town with a telling name is an awe-inspiring place to chill out in the Ozarks in any season. Nestled quaintly along the foothills, Mountainburg boasts a prime location right on the Boston Mountains Scenic Loop with easy access from I-49 and US 71. The town is strewn with attractions for all groups and ages, like its dinosaur scene displayed proudly in the city's park and ranches around calling out to families.

Lake Fort Smith State Park, minutes away, is a photographer's, water fan's, and outdoorsman's heaven, with amazing views from Artist Point. It is an ideal camping spot for one-on-one time with nature and the western terminus of the Ozark Highlands Trail. Enjoy the natural beauty all around, chock full of valleys and lakes for fishing and hiking adventures. Rough it out in a tent along the banks, or choose a cabin or a retreat stay. Take an easy Boston Mountains Scenic Loop drive through the foothills and feel part of the picture-perfect scenery from the comfort of your seat.

Ponca, Arkansas

A kayaker is floating down the Buffalo River near Ponca, Arkansas.
A kayaker is floating down the Buffalo River near Ponca, Arkansas.

The unincorporated community of Ponca is an unreal base into a whole other natural world for hikers, photographers, and sightseers. Looking to chill in a small-town atmosphere? With some 100 locals, you can chillax with the Buffalo River National River and mountain views as your only company. There is every kind of Buffalo River adventure or relaxation along the banks while sighting antlers through the trees in this part of the Buffalo National River wilderness.

Visit in the summer to trek along some of Arkansas's best hiking trails in the Ozarks and sight those Western Elks brought in to replace the extinct Eastern Elk. Rent a cabin for a vacation and stay until the leaves start turning into scenic fall foliage. Explore the miles of picturesque mountain roads on a road trip with a pit stop in town, or unplug during a camping trip in the park's real embrace of Mother Nature.

Tontitown, Arkansas

St. Joseph Catholic Church in Tontitown, Arkansas.
St. Joseph Catholic Church in Tontitown, Arkansas. Image credit: Valis55, via Wikimedia Commons.

This winsome little town, settled by the Italians, boasts vibrant vestiges of its illustrious past, along with love for agriculture and wine brought over from the old continent. Enjoy the chill, bucolic vibes, and cultural sights amid the mountainous air of the scenic Ozarks around you. The essence of this once grape-producing town and tied forever to Italian heritage, lives on through the spectacular Grape Festival in Tontitown, celebrated with all the Italian flair with fruit, craft, and drinks.

Visit Tontitown any time for free nightly entertainment and authentic places to eat pasta and pizza, and you will leave happier, chillier, and fuller than you have ever felt in your life. The picture-perfect town with its Tontitown Winery, in operation since 1923, is a wine connoisseur's dream come true to experience the generations-perfected winemaking art through the rich flavors you can "Taste the Tradition!" of today.

The Ozarks extend across Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Illinois, particularly northern Arkansas. These six Natural State towns and one in "Ooooklahoma" boast prime locations amid the Ozarks, which makes them rightfully underrated. 

With easy access to their off-the-grid placement, you will enjoy the coolest time and spectacular scenery, like the natural and historic Mark Twain National Forest, in these Ozark mountain towns. There is plenty to do outdoors, like chasing waterfalls, peak sizing, and caving, while you can always head downtown for a relaxed evening in a brewery get-together, over wine tasting, or visiting a distillery.

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