Misty November Morning on the Buffalo River in Jasper, Arkansas.

Arkansas's 9 Most Underrated Towns to Visit in 2024

Arkansas is an American gem. Literally. The state is known as the only one in the nation where diamonds have been discovered. These diamond-bearing sites are found at a state park and are open to the public for digging. Similarly, Arkansas’ small towns, which are equally as accessible, are as lovely as they are plentiful. Known as the Natural State, Arkansas is a place where visitors can find a wonderful blend of the new, the old, and the really old. From the Ozark Mountains down to the Arkansas Delta snug against the Mississippi River, Arkansas always has something new in store.

Elm Springs

Pier in Elm Springs, Arkansas
pier in Elm Springs, Arkansas. Image credit https://www.elmsprings.net/.

Found straddling Benton and Washington Counties, the underrated town of Elm Springs is an absolute delight. This gorgeous town has not only the rolling Boston Mountains on one side, but also the majestic and tranquil Springfield Plateau of the Ozarks on the other. Visitors to the town will find Elm Springs to be framed by natural beauty. Less than 20 minutes away by car, tourists can also find the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, which features 12 themed gardens across eight acres of flora.

There are so many trails to explore on these aforementioned mountains, but there is more to see at Elm Springs than the greenery, however. History buffs and Civil War enthusiasts may be interested in visiting the two historic markers in the town’s downtown area regarding its Civil War history. The town was a training camp for two years during the war, and over 10,000 Confederate soldiers stayed at the camp.


Buffalo River in Jasper, Arkansas.
Buffalo River in Jasper, Arkansas.

Small but beautiful, Jasper is a tiny town that punches well above its weight class. The town comes alive in the summer especially, and the Buffalo National River, a glorious swimming hole actually designated as the first national river in the U.S., is much beloved. With more than one-third of the county Jasper sits within owned by a government entity like the National Park Service, it is very clear that Newton County has natural beauty to spare.

Known as the Elk Capital of Arkansas, there is even a herd of roughly 450 elk that are known to roam the Buffalo River. The town itself is lovely as well, with its courthouse and many gazebos as standouts. Those interested would be best served driving about 25 minutes west to the Boxley Valley. For tourists looking for a place to stay, the Horseshoe Canyon Guest Ranch offers disc golf, archery, and zip lining to its guests.

Calico Rock

White River and Ozark National Forest in Calico Rock, Arkansas.
White River and Ozark National Forest in Calico Rock, Arkansas. Image credit Bonita R. Cheshier via Shutterstock.

Calico Rock was once the largest town in the county until the 1960s. The town has approximately 1,500 residents today but there is still a cool town worth exploring and some incredible scenery nearby. The town has many assets, but one of its best is the Ozark National Forest. The forest is 1.2 million acres and offers everything from scenic hiking trails 

to bike trails and the Arkansas River Valley. The Norfork Dam and Lake are approximately 15 miles north of town, while the Blanchard Springs Caverns, chock full of gigantic stalagmites, lie about 15 miles south.

Calico Rock’s historic Main Street is well-preserved and full of whimsy. Brick-faced buildings transport the town’s many visitors backward through time to the boom town’s heyday. The Calico Rock Museum builds on the area’s geological history, while East Calico Rock is a veritable ghost town that is sure to raise goosebumps with its spooky derelict buildings.


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.

As one might guess from its name, Mountainburg is found in the scenic Boston Mountains. There are less than 700 people who live within the Mountainburg city limits, but do not let that scare you off. All that means is there is plenty of Arkansas natural splendor to go around. The nearby Mulberry River is an excellent place to fish, swim, and even spot black bears. 

The western terminus of the Ozark Highlands Trail also starts in Mountainburg for hiking enthusiasts looking to explore the vast Ozark trails. Shutterbugs looking for that perfect scenic shot will want to visit Artist Point and its overlook. Mountainburg can be seen equally well by car as on foot. U.S. 71 bears motorists down a windy curvy route full of incredible views through the stunning Boston Mountain range.


Morrilton, Arkansas, Big Boy 4014 Union Pacific Steam Engine.
Morrilton, Arkansas, Big Boy 4014 Union Pacific Steam Engine.

Called one of the most underrated travel destinations in the country back in 2023, Morrilton is a wonderful town just outside of Little Rock between Conway and Russellville that is known for being a great escape from the hustle and bustle of big-city living. Petit Jean State Park and Cedar Falls Trail are two must-see highlights where fresh mountain air, thick harborage, and endless enjoyment are in no short supply. Petit Jean is the state’s preeminent state park and is not to be missed.

Morrilton is also home to the University of Arkansas Community College. There is a palpable college town vibe in Morrilton and an unmistakable youthful energy. There is also the Museum of Automobiles with its 50 vintage vehicles and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute which is constantly attracting top talent for corporate retreats. Lastly, anglers will want to visit Lake Overcup, a renowned crappie hotspot.

Mountain View

Folk Music Capital of the World, Mountain View, Arkansas.
Folk Music Capital of the World, Mountain View, Arkansas.Image credit Travel Bug via Shutterstock.

The town of Mountain View is known as the “Folk Music Capital of the World,” and it does not rest on its laurels. The music is very much alive in this mountain town found within the Ozark National Forest. Beginning in April, musicians join in with locals to jam and play live music long after sundown near the Mountain View town square. This musical tradition is one of the best things about the town making it an absolute Arkansas treasure.

The town is thirty minutes by car south of Calico Rock and visitors to Mountain View can also easily visit the prestigious White River, the geological wonders of Blanchard Springs Caverns, and the Ozark Folk Center Park where the dulcet tones of mountain music are hard not to come by.


A street-level view down Main Street (Mena Street), Mena, Arkansas
A street-level view down Main Street (Mena Street), Mena, Arkansas. Image credit Gina Santoria via Shutterstock.

Mena and its surroundings are renowned for the opportunities they provide for thrill seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. Make no mistake, however, Mena is not a one-trick pony. There is plenty to see and do here, ensuring that everyone and anyone can find something enjoyable to do. Rich Mountain is one of the points of interest here. The mountain is the state’s second-highest peak. The views from Queen Wilhelmina State Park are exceptional, and there is even a miniature train departing from Mountain Glory Station for visitors to ride around the park.

For those looking to experience Arkansas’ natural beauty by car, the Talimena National Scenic Byway comes highly recommended. This scenic route arcs and winds between historic towns and lush valleys. There is plenty to do in town also. The Mena Silver Screen Theatre is a refurbished vintage cinema perfect for winding down a day of hiking Rich Mountain.


Historic Washington State Park, Arkansas, USA
Historic Washington State Park, Arkansas. Image credit Timothy L Barnes via Shutterstock.

The town of Washington is absolutely dripping with Arkansas history. A visit to Washington in general, and Washington State Park in particular, is sure to be an educational experience that cannot come highly recommended enough. The town was founded on the rough and rugged Southwest Trail and became known as a place to rest for travelers heading west. Today, the town wears its frontier history on its sleeve and encourages visitors to learn.

During the Christmas season, the town is bathed in candlelight after sundown and horse-drawn carriages can be heard across Washington. Historic Washington State Park is one of the biggest draws here. There are an incredible amount of preserved buildings like a blacksmith shop, a weapons museum, a print museum, and more lying in wait to be discovered.

El Dorado

Street view in El Dorado, via Christmas Spirit Thrives in El Dorado | Arkansas.com
Street view in El Dorado, via Christmas Spirit Thrives in El Dorado | Arkansas.com

This former boom town was a hotbed of investment activity back in the 20s as people flocked to El Dorado thanks to its oil reserves. Though no longer the economic powerhouse it once was 100 years ago, El Dorado is far from a shadow of its former self. The town is larger than most on this list and provides plenty of amenities. There is a vibrant music scene here and the town features live music acts in its downtown area throughout the year. 

El Dorado also has three golf courses to its credit, so remember to pack your nine irons. If artificial turf is not your thing, there is plenty of natural grass here as well. Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge, the South Arkansas Arboretum State Par, and Moro Bay State Park are all nearby. These wilderness areas and parks are teeming with wildlife and Arkansas's finest scenery.

It is safe to say they do not call Arkansas the Diamond State on a whim. The rugged topography of the Ozarks engenders mystery and majesty in equal quantities. Visitors to this region are sure to find the nearly endless acreage of white oak and shortleaf pine intoxicating, as are Arkansas’ many lovely towns. Some preserve the state’s history going back to the Civil War era, and some lovingly preserve the way they were at their boomtown peak, but all have something unique to offer. When planning your trip to Arkansas, consider these underrated gems.

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