Stone church at top of the rock in Branson, Missouri.

9 Coolest Small Towns In The Ozarks For A Summer Vacation

The Ozark region boasts a cornucopia of cool, small towns ideal for a summer vacation. Spanning an area of about 50,000 square miles that includes parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, the Ozark region is hands-down among the most picturesque regions of the United States. The article highlights some of the best small towns in this picturesque region to spend an ideal summer holiday.

Bentonville, Arkansas

Civil War Memorial Statue in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Civil War Memorial Statue in Bentonville, Arkansas. Editorial credit: RozenskiP /

Many people know the story. How Hellen Walton, the wife of American retail magnate Sam Walton, fell in love with Bentonville, with its small-town charm and allure, and convinced Sam Walton, founder of the world's number one retail chain Walmart, to set base in town. While both Sam and Helen have passed to their rest, many vacationers often visit Bentonville to enjoy its many attractions and rustic allure and to trace the footsteps of one of the most successful American businesspeople in history. While Walmart Museum is temporarily closed for renovation, and it will not be possible to see Sam Walton's office, his Ford 150 pickup truck, or his wife's wedding dress, Bentonville boasts many other summer vacation hotcakes, such as the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Scott Family Amazeum, one of the best children's museums in the country, and of course, 8th Street Market, a food lover's dream situated in the heart of the Market District.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Historic downtown Eureka Springs, AR, with boutique shops and famous buildings.
Historic downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas, with boutique shops and famous buildings. Editorial credit: Rachael Martin /

Framed by spectacular natural scenery in the rolling Ozark Mountains, Eureka Springs is not a vacation secret. The town has been attracting vacationers in droves for many summers in a row — and for a good reason. With "springs" as part of its name, visitors may want to bathe in one of the famous mineral springs that encircle this Arkansas charmer. While one can access up to 15 springs located within walking distance of the town, many will want to check out the 122-year-old Palace Hotel & Bath House, located at 135 Spring Street in the heart of the downtown historic district, the last of the original Eureka Springs bathhouses still in operation. Moreover, the town's Victorian-style architecture, with its amazing array of shopping and dining options, will be a particular draw. For avid spelunkers, however, the fact that the 6-mile-away Onyx Cave is the oldest show cave in Arkansas — is enough reason to make it a part of one's summer itinerary. While a bit under the radar, Thorncrown Chapel is a glass-enclosed wonder that will leave any onlooker completely blown away.

Mountain View, Arkansas

People enjoying a folk music program at Mountain View, Arkansas.
People enjoying a folk music program at Mountain View, Arkansas. Editorial credit: Travel Bug /

For those who love folk music and how it is so endearingly authentic, Mountain View is the place to backpack for. Known as the Fok Music Capital of the World, a summer vacation in Mountain View must involve enjoying tunes from a banjo, some of which have seen better days, fiddles, dulcimers, and guitars. The beauty is that many of these folk tunes will be played spontaneously by just regular people down the streets. Of course, to cap this fun-filled experience, it will be fitting to spend an hour or two at the Ozark Folk Center State Park, which could very well be the only state park in Arkansas dedicated to preserving the region's folk tradition. However, the splendid Ozark National Forest, with its numberless incredible attractions, will be at hand for outdoor fun. These include Blanchard Springs Caverns, a living cave that is one of the most spectacular in the country. Also worth checking out is the nearby Mirror Lake, a trout haven that is just as impossibly stunning.

Branson, Missouri

he vintage Branson Scenic Railway passenger train offers an excursion through the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.
The vintage Branson Scenic Railway passenger train offers an excursion through the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Editorial credit: Rosemarie Mosteller /

Branson is a Midwest hot cake that is located in the heart of the Ozark Mountains in southwestern Missouri. Boasting a population of about 13,100, Branson strikes a sweet spot between big-city glitz and small-town charm in a way that often leaves first-time visitors hooked for life. While one of the town's claims to fame is Silver Dollar City, which USA Today has voted the best theme park in the United States, Branson boasts numberless other draws. Aside from the world-famous theme park that plays host to the fastest and tallest spinning coaster on earth and the close-by Marvel Cave, first-time visitors will want to stroll through Branson Landing, an amazing shopping and dining stretch that sits right next to the picturesque Lake Taneycomo.

Van Buren, Missouri

Camp ground at the Van Buren, Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
Camp ground at the Van Buren, Ozark National Scenic Riverways at Van Buren, Missouri.

Even those who have never heard of President Van Buren — the "Little Magician" who served as the 8th president of the United States — will have good things to say of the Missouri town named for him. Van Buren is among the coolest small towns in the Ozarks for many reasons. For starters, this Missouri stunner is nestled on the banks of the Current River. And as if the gasp-inducing beauty of the Current River is not enough, Big Spring rises from a dramatic limestone cliff just about five miles away — and is a bright-blue water marvel reputed to be the biggest spring in Missouri — and among the biggest in the United States. Also, the surrounding area, which makes up the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, for its breathtaking miles of water, features some of the best paddlings in the Midwest. If water makes a place cool, Van Buren is hands down one of the coolest small towns in this part of the country.

Mammoth Springs, Arkansas

A dam on a large spring in Arkansas.
A dam on a large spring in Arkansas.

If Arkansas is the "Natural State," Mammoth Springs, located on the rolling mountains of northern Arkansas, could just be the best representation of that evocative moniker. Boasting a population of less than 1,000, Mammoth Springs is hidden on the Arkansas-Missouri border at the head of the Spring River. Once a major stop on the railroad, Mammoth Springs was incorporated in 1889 and will be quite a temptation to a summer vacationer. This is because this town is home to the largest spring in Arkansas and the second-largest in the Ozarks. This water wonder is located in the Mammoth Spring State Park, a gorgeous Sylvan park with mind-bending scenery and picturesque trails. The town is also home to one of the oldest fish hatcheries in the country.

Warsaw, Missouri

Harry S. Truman dam in Warsaw, Missouri used to control flooding in the Osage River Valley.
Harry S. Truman dam in Warsaw, Missouri, used to control flooding in the Osage River Valley.

A town that is nestled between two sparkling lakes, many will agree, will rank among the coolest. And that is just how Warsaw is. This Missouri charmer is sandwiched between Truman Lake and the Lake of the Ozarks. On a visit to this Missouri gem, one should never pass up the chance to explore the Drake Harbor Recreation Area, wander through its fantastic trail system, walk across the Swinging Bridge Of Warsaw, feel the wind slightly swaying it, sit down to a roast beef sandwich at the Dam Restaurant & Lounge that overlooks the sparkling waters of Truman Lake, then come back to the town's charming downtown area—which in 2020—was featured among the Great Places in Missouri.

Camdenton, Missouri

A boat on the Lake of the Ozarks at Ha Ha Tonka State Park, in Camdenton, Missouri. Editorial credit: Logan Bush /

Nestled on the western side of Lake of Ozarks, Camdenton's location naturally imbues it with a bucolic allure that will immensely delight nature lovers. A summer visit to Camdenton should include a trip to the improbably spectacular Bridal Caves just about three miles from town. Even those who have been to many caves will find that Bridal Caves, with its colorful stalactites and stalagmites, and rooms filled with beautiful mineral deposits, is a one-of-a-kind allure. Bridal Caves is also an ideal place to escape from the summer heat. This is because the temperature inside the cave is always a constant 60° Fahrenheit. Then of course, there is the chance to cap a summer vacation by exchanging vows, as more than 4,000 couples have done, either inside the iridescent caves— or in the pavilion overlooking Lake of the Ozarks's sparkling waters.

West Fork, Arkansas

Geese play in Lee Creek as it spills acrtoss Lee Creek Dam, at Devil's Den State Park, in Arkansas.
Geese play in Lee Creek as it spills acrtoss Lee Creek Dam, at Devil's Den State Park, in Arkansas.

Though a bit under the radar, West Fork, Arkansas, is another Ozark jewel that will easily cast its spell on any first-time visitor. And since summer is the time to plunge into some refreshingly clear waters and enjoy other numerous water pleasures, West Fork's Riverside Park, located on Main Street at the White River, will be worth looking for. Besides, West Fork boasts nice walking trails, a kid-friendly playground, pavilions ideal for picnicking, and a spectacular river. Still, a visit to the Devil's Den State Park should be on the menu to reap the maximum benefit from a West Fork trip. Though located about 14 miles away, the cool caves, fabulous waterfalls, and picturesque trails inside Devil's Den — will more than compensate for the hassle. 

The Takeaway

The glory of the Ozarks region lies in its dramatic natural backdrop, its sparkling lakes and streams, its heavily-forested mountains, and its lush cascading valleys. Also known as the Ozark highlands, this region's breathtaking scenery can be explored from a collection of several small towns that are just as charming. From Eureka Springs, perhaps the most beautiful Ozark small town, to little-known gems such as West Fork, Ozark's small towns are hands-down some of the coolest in the country.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 9 Coolest Small Towns In The Ozarks For A Summer Vacation

More in Places