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Explore the Cities of the Ozarks
Home of the Ozark Mountains, northwestern Arkansas features a unique combination of rolling hills, towering forests, and charming metros ripe with things to do and must-see attractions. Head out on the Northwest Arkansas Tour and see what the Ozark Plateau and Arkansas River Valley have to offer. Hint: It’s a lot.
The first stop on your journey through northwest Arkansas is the fine city of Bentonville – found only a short drive from the Missouri-Arkansas border along U.S. Highway 71 and Interstate 49. Bentonville has reinvented itself in recent years from a small, sleepy Arkansas town, into a full-fledged cultural metro, featuring tons of museums, parks and recreation, and intriguing bits of history.
One of the most popular attractions here is the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, opened in 2011. The museum, sitting alongside a small body of water just north of downtown Bentonville, showcases an impressive collection of American heritage art – from Colonial through modern eras.
Museumgoers won’t find any shortage of enticing things to do and see – whether it’s the unique architecture, the permanent collections, the Walker Landing, the Eleven restaurant and coffee bar, or the full calendar of special events and temporary exhibits, there is truly something for everyone here. Even better, admission is free.
Looking for some retail therapy? Well what better way than by visiting the birthplace of the Walmart empire? Found in the Bentonville Town Square, the original Walton’s 5&10 and the Walmart Museum found inside the Terry Block building provide a unique look into the megastore’s humble beginnings.
It’s not all history here – visitors can grab a drink from the soda fountain, indulge in some delicious old-fashioned ice cream, and take home some souvenirs as well. Don’t miss Sam Walton’s old Ford truck permanently parked outside the 5&10 store.
Making its way though Bentonville, the Slaughter Pen Hollow Multi-Use Trail System is a favorite among locals and visitors alike for everything from hiking to mountain biking to jogging. The trail system has over 15 access points throughout northern Bentonville, featuring both paved and unpaved trails ranging from "easiest" to "most difficult."
If you’re near the City Square, make your way north to Park Spring Park, Compton Gardens, or the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art for convenient access to the trail system. From there, you’ll crisscross the northern reaches of Bentonville, exploring over 16 miles of forested trails just minutes away from downtown.
From Bentonville, head east on U.S. Highway 62 for just less than 40 miles until you reach Eureka Springs. Set in the heart of the Ozarks, Eureka Springs is a beautiful mountain city, often called “The Stairstep City” because of its setting atop the rolling, mountainous Ozark hillsides.
Don’t miss the city’s top attraction, the Thorncrown Chapel, on your way into town just off of US-62 and Van Buren. The chapel perfectly blends the pristine beauty of the surrounding Ozark forest with awe-inspiring architecture making for a unique sight-seeing experience.
Built in 1980, the chapel is considered one of the country’s most beautiful chapels, made only of native northwestern AR materials and wood. Named to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2000, the chapel is one of the most prized landmarks in Eureka Springs.
After visiting the chapel, make your way to downtown Eureka Springs, where you’ll be invited to shop, dine, and play just as the locals do. All along Main Street and Spring Street, local eateries like the Main Street Café, Eureka Daily Roast, and Silly Chile offer a true taste of the Ozarks.
And if it’s a little retail therapy you’re looking for, be sure to check out local boutiques like Hats, Hides & Heirlooms, the Eureka Market, and the Barn Shoppes.
One of the true scenic gems of northwestern AR is only a short drive from Eureka Springs – Beaver Lake and nearby Hobbs State Park provides visitors and residents with year-round outdoor reaction. From Eureka Springs, take a short trip along AR-23, AR-127, and AR-12 to find Beaver Lake. Once there, take your pick of things to do – everything from boating, fishing, hiking, swimming, and excellent sight-seeing are available nearly all year round.
About an hour southwest of Eureka Springs, the bustling city of Fayetteville makes a convenient home along I-49. Home to the University of Arkansas, “The Hill” as it’s affectionately known, is the third-largest city in AR.
First make your way to the Fayetteville Historic Square, found at the southwest corner of East Avenue and Center Street. This historic region features some of the most iconic and historic architecture found in the city, as well as an alluring and locally renowned garden found in the center of the square.
Even better, if you’re visiting from early spring to early autumn, check out the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market hosted at the square each and every week. Otherwise, you’ll have to live with taking in the dazzling Christmas lights display set up in the garden during the winter. What a drag, right?
For some local fun and flare, head north on East Ave. for just a few blocks until you reach Dickson Street. Perhaps the most “happening” place in all of Fayetteville, Dickson Street features everything from boutique shopping to nightlight to delicious local restaurants and cafes.
Officially the West Dickson Street Commercial Historic District, Dickson St. is home to both the beloved Walton Arts Center and annual events like the Bikes, Blues & BBQ bike festival. Be sure to check out Dickson Street Social Club, “NW Arkansas’ Original Barcade.” It’s an absolute blast, if you’re into free, classic arcade games in a pub setting.
Looking for a little adventure without leaving the city? Hop on Thompson Street and head north until you come across the aptly named Lake Fayetteville. Here, over 800 acres of pristine, cool waters and scenic parkland serve as a playground for visitors and residents alike. Boating, fishing, hiking, picnicking – it’s all here. Plus, the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks conveniently makes a home inside the park. What more can you ask for?
Hop on I-49 and head south for about one hour, merge with the I-40, and you’ll find Van Buren, a riverside city set in the beautiful Arkansas River Valley.
One of the best ways to see this part of northwest Arkansas is by hopping aboard the train at the Wheels in Motion depot on Fayetteville Road. The three-hour ride travels from Van Buren to Winslow, a town just about 30 minutes north of Van Buren, offering colorful narration and a tasty meal along the way.
The train parallels Clear Creek for much of the journey, passing by thickets of tall trees, over high bridges, and through dark tunnels. Be sure to have your camera ready – there’s a ton of awesome scenery to check out. The ride takes a few hours, so plan your trip accordingly.
Be sure to explore the Van Buren Historic District for a glimpse into the city’s past and present. Stretched across 20 acres, the district is home to a number of historic buildings and landmarks, including the Crawford County Courthouse, Van Buren Confederate Monument, and Anheuser-Busch Building.
Stop at the Visitors Center for a closer look at the district’s heritage and for itinerary information. But no matter where you choose to explore, be sure and check out the King Opera House – it’s said to be haunted.
For a little fun under the sun, check out the Lee Creek Reservoir Trail and Crack in the Rock loop trail located just northwest of the city. The trails crisscross the surrounding creek-side landscape, offering spectacular scenery and plenty of adventure less than 10 miles from downtown Van Buren. Moreover, the trails are great for both hiking and biking and are available year-round.
Don’t go too far, though – From downtown Van Buren, simply hop on Broadway Street/AR-71 and cross the Arkansas River. In just a few short miles, you’ll be in downtown Fort Smith.
After arriving in Fort Smith, it’s paramount you take a quick trip over to the Fort Smith National Historic Site and Fort Smith National Cemetery on the west side of town. These two wonderful landmarks feature authentic and commemorative structures paying homage to the city’s military roots.
Specific must-sees at the site include Belle Point, the Trail of Tears Overlook and Riverwalk, and Commissary building. Stop in the visitor center for info on ranger-led tours and special events.
If you’re looking to do as the locals do, be sure to hit Garrison Avenue downtown. Many of the city’s best restaurants, cafés, pubs, and shopping areas are found either on Garrison Ave. or just stone’s throw from it. Local-favorite watering holes include the Old Town Feed and Grain, 21 West End, and Arlie Muck’s.
For some family-friendly fun on Garrison, check out the Park at West End – a charming urban park area featuring a 56-foot tall Ferris wheel, carousel, arcade, and the Boomagrang Diner, which is uniquely set inside a restored Pullman railcar.
Although a bit of a drive, Fort Smith Lake State Park is well worth the journey if you're looking to enjoy the outdoors. Simply hop back on I-40 in Van Buren and travel north on AR-71 to Lake Fort Smith Road. Once there – and it’s only about 30 miles – take advantage of the park’s 260 acres of recreation area.
The park offers plenty of boating, fishing, and swimming opportunities, as well as hiking and biking with the Boston Mountains and the Ozark National Forest as a backdrop. No boat? No problem – Fort Smith Lake offers boat and canoe rentals.