101 Free Things to Do in Arkansas
By Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Some of the best things in life are free and they're in Arkansas.
The Natural State has unique events and locations that can be
enjoyed for nothing but the time it takes to get there.
Here are a few ideas -- 101 in fact -- that don't cost a dime.
For example, the blues are free, as are fish, wine tastings,
flowers, dazzling lights, unique architecture and history lessons.
All of these ideas titillate the senses. Some make for leisurely
drives, and others for nice walking tours where window shopping
doesn't require breaking into the kitty. Some provide educational
opportunities for children, or a good place to let them rid themselves
of excess energy. All of these ideas cure a bout of boredom or
fulfill the desire to experience something different from a usual
day without touching your purse strings or money clips.
1. At the largest free outdoor blues fest in the nation, the
King Biscuit Blues Festival, Delta blues
legends and national acts perform in the land where the music
was born. The event is held each October in Helena. www.kingbiscuitfest.org
2. In the Ozarks, the Buffalo National River
with its towering limestone bluffs is America's first national
river. Hiking trails traverse historic farmsteads, quiet stream
valleys, waterfalls and wooded mountainsides, and offer bluff-top
vistas. (870) 439-2502; www.nps.gov/buff/
3. Free folk musicals and dancing on
the Stone County Courthouse Square in Mountain View have been
a local tradition since 1963. Professionals and amateurs join
together in impromptu band performances every Friday and Saturday
night during warmer months. 1-888-679-2859; www.mountainviewcc.org
4. Scenic drives, walking paths and historic Bathhouse Row make
up the unique Hot Springs National Park set in the city of Hot Springs amid the Ouachita
National Forest. 1-800-SPA-CITY; www.hotsprings.org
5. Numerous cities showcase festive spirits with thousands of
holiday lights from Thanksgiving weekend through New Year's Day
in the Trail of Holiday Lights tour.
6. An authentic reproduction of a water-powered grist mill, The
Old Mill in North Little Rock appears in the opening scene
of the classic movie, "Gone with the Wind." Tour guides
available by appointment. (501) 758-1424; www.northlittlerock.org
7. Norfork National Fish Hatchery, located
at the base of Norfork Dam east of Mountain Home, offers tours
of facilities that produce millions of trout for Ozark streams.
Children may try their luck at landing a trout from the waters
of nearby Dry Run Creek. (870) 499-5255; http://norfork.fws.gov/index.html
8. Step into the magic of Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton
inspired the creation of the Arkansas State Parks system. (501)
10. The last public ferryboat operating in the state, Peel
Ferry transports vehicles and passengers across a section
of Bull Shoals Lake. (870) 743-2100.
11. The new $4.5 million Delta Rivers Nature
Center in Pine Bluff, located on 130 acres of woodland
"bottoms," features a 20,000-gallon ox-bow lake aquarium;
exhibits of live snakes, turtles and alligators; films; wetlands
exhibits; and a half-mile, paved hiking and wildlife observation
trail accessible to persons with disabilities. (870) 534-0011;
12. Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs
was named among the top four buildings of the 20th century by
the American Institute of Architects. The chapel uses 425 large
panels of glass to showcase the natural beauty of the Ozarks.
Designed by noted Arkansas architect E. Fay Jones, the non-denominational
chapel is open from March through December. (479) 253-7401; www.thorncrown.com
13. In Fayetteville, the National Cemetery
was established in 1867 to lay to rest the remains of Union soldiers
killed in the region. The Confederate Cemetery
is located just a few blocks away. (479) 521-1710; www.fayettevillear.com/
14. The "Lum 'N' Abner" radio program is remembered
at the Lum & Abner Jot 'Em Down Store and Museum in Pine Ridge, where pieces
of Lum 'N' Abner history preserve an important era in American
life. The museum is open March through November. Call in advance
for tours. (870) 326-4442; www.lum-abner.com/
15. Stroll through Eureka Springs, an
Ozark Mountain town known for its beautiful Victorian architecture,
winding mountainside streets and block after block of one-of-a-kind
shops, fine art galleries, and restaurants. (479) 253-8737; www.eurekaspringschamber.com
16. From noon on June 7 through midnight June 9 residents and
nonresidents of Arkansas may fish free
without fishing licenses or trout permits. A complete guide to
Arkansas fishing can be obtained by calling (866) 566-5727. www.agfc.com
17. The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational
Center in Piggott includes the home and barn studio where
Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote portions of "A Farewell
to Arms." Tours conducted weekdays and Saturdays. (870)
18. The beautiful Arkansas River valley is the setting for Arkansas
Wine Country, where four wineries on Ark. 186 S. offer
tours and wine tastings. Mount Bethel, (479) 468-2444; Post Familie
Winery, (479) 468-2741; Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, (479) 468-WINE;
Chateau Aux Arc, (479) 970-3868. And at Cowie Wine Cellars visit
the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum in Paris. (501) 963-3990; http://biz.ipa.net/cowie-wine-cellars
19. Drive the Boston Mountain Scenic Loop,
the only scenic loop in the state. From Fayetteville, take curve-hugging
U.S. Hwy. 71 over Mt. Gayler past small gift shops and mountaintop
lodging to Alma. From Alma, take Interstate 540 through the rolling
hills of a pastoral countryside and a tunnel through a mountain
back to Fayetteville.
20. The year 2003 will mark the bicentennial of the Louisiana
Purchase, which added the territory that would become Arkansas
to the U.S. The main feature of the Louisiana
Purchase Historic State Park, located near Brinkley, is
a 950-foot boardwalk into a rare headwater swamp, where sits
a marker denoting the initial point for the 1815 survey of purchase
lands west of the Mississippi. 1-888-AT-PARKS; www.lapurchase.org;
21. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Lake
Leatherwood Park in Eureka Springs is a 1,600-acre municipal
park with a 100-acre spring fed lake. Located off Ark. 62 at
the western edge of town, it is a place of natural serenity.
(479) 253-8624; www.cityofeurekasprings.org/leatherwood.html
22. Built in 1896, the Pillow-Thompson House
in Helena is one of the finest examples of Queen Anne architecture
in the South. (870) 338-8535; www.pccua.cc.ar.us/pillowthompson/
23. At Devil's Den State Park hiking
and backpacking trails lead to backcountry areas where you can
explore caves, crevices and bluff overlooks. (479) 761-3325;
24. Exhibits at the Arkansas State University
Museum in Jonesboro include Native American history, a
walk-through pioneer "town," military items, natural
history displays, a priceless glass collection, geology, mastodon
and other prehistoric fossils, plus traveling exhibits. (870)
25. Cradled by the bluffs of the War Eagle River in the heart
of the Ozark Mountains, Withrow Springs State
Park near Huntsville is a peaceful setting for exploring
nature. (479) 559-2593; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
26. At the Delta Cultural Center in
Helena a restored depot and storefront features gospel and blues
music heritage, Civil War history and the settlement of the Delta.
27. Ride the Fayetteville Trolley through
the city's beautiful square gardens and entertainment district.
Stop to shop and dine, then jump back on the trolley for a ride
to your car or downtown hotel. (479) 521-1710; www.fayettevillear.com
28. Learn about Arkansas's oil and brine industries and the 1920s
oil boom at the Arkansas Museum of Natural
Resources in Smackover. The museum's Oil Field Park has
genuine derricks and oilfield equipment. (870) 725-2877; www.cei.net/~amnr
29. The Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area
extends for 11 miles along the Cossatot River. The wild and scenic
river forms Cossatot Falls, a rugged and rocky canyon that challenges
the most experienced canoeist and kayakers. South of Mena. (501)
30. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail
is an east-west corridor extending from Pinnacle Mountain State
Park near Little Rock to Talimena State Park near Talihina, Okla.
This mountain trail offers hikers a wide range of opportunities
from scenic vistas and upland hardwood and pine forests to clear
streams, high ridges and wide valleys.
31. Set in the oldest surviving state capitol west of the Mississippi
River, the Old State House Museum in
Little Rock has been designated a National Historic Landmark,
though it is probably best known throughout the country as the
scene of President Clinton's 1992 and 1996 election-night celebrations.
32. A scaled-down replica of the nation's Capitol, the Arkansas
State Capitol in Little Rock took a dozen years to build
and was completed in 1911. Located on the grounds are several
monuments. Self-guided and guided tours available. (501) 682-5080;
33. For grand vistas, travel to the highest point in Arkansas
(2,753 feet) at Mount Magazine State Park, complete with a new visitors center. South
of Paris. (479) 963-8502; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
34. Pose with one foot in Texas and the other in Arkansas on
State Line Avenue in Texarkana.
35. On the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville, the
Tommy Boyer Hall of Champions Museum in Bud Walton Arena and the Jerry
Jones/Jim Lindsey Hall of Champions Museum in the Frank
Broyles Center display a century of Arkansas sports memories.
36. The 50-mile Wolf Pen Gap ATV trail
near Mena is the first formal trail system in the Ouachita National
Forest specifically for four-wheelers and dirt bikes. (501) 394-2382;
37. See and feel the history of this important civil rights landmark,
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, and learn about
the "Little Rock Nine." (501) 374-1957; www.home.swbell.net/chmuseum
38. Go for a hike atop Arkansas's second-highest peak at Queen
Wilhelmina State Park, a cloud-capped hideaway reigning
above the Ouachita Mountains. (501) 394-2863; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
39. Little Rock Campaign Driving Tour
outlines the 1863 advance by Union forces who seized the state
capital and includes detailed exhibit panels at roadside pullouts
that are accessible from Interstate 40 between Little Rock and
Lonoke. For a brochure, call (501) 370-3290.
40. Miss Laura's Visitor Center is a
restored turn-of-the-century brothel that is now Fort Smith's
visitors center. 1-800-637-1477; www.fortsmith.org
41. Enjoy a self-guided driving tour or walk the one-mile Battlefield
Trail at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Prairie Grove. (479) 846-2990;
42. Established in 1878 as a Benedictine Monastery, Subiaco
Abbey now serves as a college preparatory school for boys.
Pick up a brochure on-site for a self-guided walking tour to
view the dramatic stone architecture and manicured grounds. Scenic
Ark. 22; (479) 934-1000; www.subi.org
43. A rare example of a suspension bridge in Arkansas, Beaver
Bridge was built in 1943 and is still in use today. Ark.
187, east of Beaver.
44. Take a driving or walking tour of the Quapaw
Quarter Historic District, a historic downtown area with
restored antebellum and Victorian structures including a park
named for General Douglas MacArthur, who was born in Little Rock,
and the Villa Mare, featured in the opening of "Designing
Women." (501) 371-0075; www.quapaw.com
45. The twin towers of Old Main, completed in 1875, preside over
the scenic campus of the University of Arkansas
at Fayetteville. Former President Bill Clinton once taught law
on this campus. (479) 575-2000; www.uark.edu
46. The entire downtown of Calico Rock Historic
District is on the National Historic register and has
served as a movie set. See several antique shops and restaurants.
(870) 297-4129; www.arkansas.com
47. Overlooking the Arkansas River Valley, 14 miles of trails
encircle Mount Nebo, the state park seven miles west of Dardanelle on Ark. 155.
(479) 229-3655; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
48. Watch the working water-powered grist mill at War
Eagle Mill. An 18-foot waterwheel splashes and mill stones
grind cornmeal daily from organically grown grain in a pastoral
setting that includes the War Eagle River and bridge. (479) 789-5343;
49. Boutiques, shops, the historic square and the restored art
deco Rialto Theatre are part of the El Dorado
Downtown Historic District. The area contains a significant
collection of 1920s and 1930s architecture. 1-888-921-BOOM; www.boomtown.org/recreation/default.html
50. Talimena Scenic Drive, a National
Forest Scenic Byway winding 54 miles from Mena to Talihina, Okla.,
offers breathtaking panoramas of the surrounding countryside
from peaks of nearly 3,000 feet.
51. Pick up a brochure at the Chamber of Commerce office in the
Old Frisco Depot for a self-guided Van Buren
Walking Tour featuring 52 interesting stops. The Van Buren
Downtown Historic District has six blocks of art galleries, antique
shops, historical attractions and restaurants located along a
beautifully restored Victorian Main Street. 1-800-332-5889; www.vanburen.org
52. Pick a lane for a spring drive on a scenic
wildflower route: in north Arkansas U.S. Highways 62,
412 and 63 from Eureka Springs east through Powhatan; in eastern
Arkansas from Jonesboro south along U.S. 49 to Brinkley; south
of Little Rock along U.S. 167 to El Dorado; southwest Arkansas
on U.S. 70 from Hot Springs southwest to the junction of U.S.
71, and on U.S. 270 from Hot Springs to Mena; in western Arkansas
on U.S. 71 from Interstate 40 north to Fayetteville, along Scenic
Byway 7 from Hot Springs to Harrison, and U.S. 70 from Carlisle
east to Hazen.
53. White Rock Mountain Recreation Area
near Mulberry offers some of the most scenic views in the state
from its bluffs, and it has hiking trails and a lake. (479) 667-2191;
54. Visit the sites related to former President
Bill Clinton, such as his boyhood homes, high school,
favorite hamburger hangout and more. Call the Hot Springs Convention
and Visitors Bureau for self-guided brochures. 1-800-SPA-CITY;
55. In the Ozark Mountains, the 165-mile Ozark
Highlands Trail has been rated one of the most scenic
trails in the U.S. It's great for day hiking, weekend adventures
or extended backpacking. (479) 968-2354; www.fs.fed.us/oonf/ozark
56. A scenic 200-mile route atop the Delta's only "highlands,"
Crowley's Ridge Parkway passes by or near five state parks, a national
forest, Civil War sites and more. (870) 910-8080; www.byways.org
57. The first permanent European settlement on the lower Mississippi
River (1686) and Arkansas's first territorial capital are commemorated
by the Arkansas Post National Memorial and Arkansas Post
Museum. The Memorial is located on Ark. 169 and the museum
is on U.S. 165 in Gillett. (870) 548-2634; www.nps.gov/arpo;
58. Pick up a brochure at the Arkadelphia Chamber of Commerce
for the Arkadelphia Historic Homes Tour, a driving tour of several homes listed
on the National Register, some of which date from the 1840s.
59. The Hillcrest Historic District
in Little Rock includes a National Register-listed collection
of some of the city's early residential areas. 1-800-844-4781.
60. Tour one of the world's largest fish hatcheries, Joe
Hogan Fish Hatchery, on U.S. 70 near Lonoke. (501) 676-6963;
61. A herd of about 450 elk range in the northwest portion of
the state along the Buffalo National River. Catch a view of the
magnificent beasts and other watchable wildlife in the pastoral setting of Boxley Valley on Ark.
62. In Bentonville, the Wal-Mart Visitors Center
contains exhibits tracing the formation and growth of Wal-Mart
stores and includes founder Sam Walton's desk. (479) 273-2754;
63. Find flamboyant fall foliage on
Ark. 309 from Paris across Mount Magazine to Havana; on the "Pig
Trail" from Ark. 23 north of Ozark to its junction with
Ark. 16; on Ark. 21 north from Clarksville to the Buffalo River;
and on Ark. 5 and 14 from Calico Rock and Allison to Blanchard
64. Join all of Little Rock in the biggest block party around
in the months of May and September for Big
Downtown Thursdays at the River Market. Enjoy exciting
live music, great food and plenty of fun. 1-800-844-4781; www.littlerock.com
65. Located 10 miles east of Rogers on Ark. 12, Beaver
Lake State Park is within Hobbs State Management Area,
covering 11,750 acres along the southern shore of Beaver Lake.
In its initial development, the state park currently offers nature
study and undeveloped access to the 28,000-acre lake. (479) 789-2380;
66. View fine art and traveling exhibits at the Arkansas
Arts Center in Little Rock. (501) 372-4000; www.arkarts.com
67. Enjoy ice skating, swimming, the gymnasium and numerous other
activities at the Jones Center for Families
in Springdale. (479) 756-8090; www.jonesnet.org
68. Climb and hike at Pinnacle Mountain State
Park in Little Rock and enjoy the Arkansas Arboretum,
a 71-acre site exhibiting examples of native flora that represents
Arkansas's six natural divisions. (501) 868-5806; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
69. Two of Arkansas's natural divisions come together at Cane
Creek State Park in Star City -- the Mississippi Delta
and the hills of the West Gulf Coastal Plain. (870) 628-4714;
70. The Aerospace Education Center in
Little Rock has displays such as a Wright Flyer and Sopwith Camel
airplane and a full-size replica of Apollo command module. (501)
71. At Walnut Hill, an 11-acre historic site makes up Conway
Cemetery State Park, which preserves the final resting
place of Arkansas's first Governor, James Sevier Conway. www.ArkansasStateParks.com
72. Pedestal Rocks (2.2 miles) and Kings
Bluff (1.7 miles) trails offer
up-close looks at Ozark Mountain geology. Both trails in the
unique area feature easy hiking, but border high cliffs with
steep drop-offs. There are picnic areas and parking available.
Take Ark. 7 to Pelsor, turn right (east) on Ark. 16 and go 6
73. Take Altus exit 41 off I-40 to Ark. 186 for a drive over
St. Mary's Mountain and past vineyards,
wineries and St. Mary's historic church.
74. Lake Catherine State Park is nestled
on the shores of 1,940-acre Lake Catherine, one of the five popular
diamond lakes in the Hot Springs area. (501) 844-4176; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
75. A restored 1901 historically-furnished home, the Dr.
A.G. Anderson House in Eudora serves as the town's visitors
center and museum. (870) 355-8443.
76. Anglers and nature lovers enjoy Lake Charles
State Park's 645 acres of spring-fed waters in the Ozark
foothills near Powhatan. (870) 878-6595; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
77. Visit Phillips County Museum in
Helena for which Mark Twain helped raise funds. (870) 338-7790.
78. Enjoy the great outdoors at North Little
Rock's Burns Park. At 1,575 acres, it is one of the largest
city parks in the nation and even has a covered bridge. www.northlittlerock.org
79. At Lake Chicot State Park, the Mississippi
Delta's captivating beauty and recreational opportunities come
together at Arkansas's largest natural lake. The 20-mile-long
oxbow lake was formed centuries ago when the Mississippi River
changed its course. (870) 265-5480; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
80. Three state historic sites commemorate the battles of Poison
Spring, Marks' Mills and Jenkins' Ferry, all part of the Union
Army's "Red River Campaign."
81. Lake Frierson State Park 10 miles
north of Jonesboro on Ark. 141 is known for its springtime blaze
of dogwoods, picnic sites, playground and self-guided trail.
(870) 932-2615; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
82. In El Dorado, take a walk through the South
Arkansas Arboretum, a 13-acre site that exhibits plants
indigenous to Arkansas's West Gulf Coastal plain region. (870)
862-8131, ext. 170.
83. View Arkansas's largest spring, with an hourly flow of nine
million gallons of water, at Mammoth Spring
State Park on U.S. 63 in Mammoth Spring. (870) 625-7364;
84. On a clear day, you can see three states (Arkansas, Texas
and Oklahoma) from the 85-foot-high Rich Mountain
Fire Tower, located 12 miles west of Mena and open Memorial
Day until the second week of November. (479) 394-2912.
85. A variety of year-round feathered inhabitants and eagles
in the winter makes bird watching popular at Millwood
State Park in Ashdown. (870) 898-2800; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
86. The Wolf House Museum is believed
to be the oldest standing structure in Arkansas. Overlooking
the White River in Norfork on Ark. 5, the Jacob Wolf home was
built in the early 1800s.
87. Scenic Ark. 23, a National Scenic Byway connecting from U.S.
71 south of Booneville, northward from Ozark to its junction
with Ark. 16, is known as "The Pig Trail" to Razorback football enthusiasts.
88. Enjoy the hiking trails and recreation areas that are part
of the hallmarks of the 7,000-acre Village
Creek State Park. (870) 238-9406; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
89. Virtually unchanged since the 1920s, the downtown district
of Hardy has been transformed into a shopping destination for
antiques and crafts. Old Hardy Town boasts 43 buildings on the National Register of Historic
Places. (870) 625-7364 or (870) 856-3571.
90. Rich in wildlife, White Oak Lake State
Park near Bluff City offers regular sightings of great
blue herons, egrets, ospreys and green herons and wintering eagles.
(870) 685-2748; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
91. View the original soda fountain at Poor
Richard's Gift and Confectionery Shop in Rogers. This
1907 restored drugstore is listed on the National Register of
Historical Places. (479) 631-7687.
92. Tour authentic and re-created structures from Arkansas's
Grand Prairie region at the Stuttgart Agricultural
Museum. Learn about the German settlers who gave the town
its name and how rice farming came to the state. Exhibits include
farm equipment, pioneer life and duck hunting. (870) 673-7001;
93. Enjoy environmental education and interpretation at the visitors
center of the 65,000-acre Felsenthal National
Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is the world's largest green-tree
reservoir consisting of the 15,000-acre Felsenthal Pool that
increases in size to 36,000 acres during winter flooding. It
is located five miles west of Crossett on Ark. 82. (870) 364-3167.
94. Housed in a vintage downtown Pine Bluff building, The
Band Museum is the only museum in the country devoted
to band instruments and the history of the band movement in America.
The collection includes hundreds of vintage and antique band
instruments, dating back to the early 1700s. (870) 534-4676;
95. Interpretive exhibits tell the story of the development of
the River Valley at the Arkansas River Visitors
Center. It also offers wildlife exhibits, a slide tape
presentation, some hands-on exhibits and a great location for
watching barges pass through the locks. Off of Ark. 7 on Lock
& Dam Road at Russellville. (501) 968-5008.
96. Visit Rapps Barren Settlement, a
historic building in a village setting that illustrates Mountain
Home's early days. 1-800-822-3536.
97. Surrounding the monument to Private Herman Davis, an Arkansas
farm boy and WWI hero, is Herman Davis State
Park on Ark. 18 in the community of Manila. www.ArkansasStateParks.com
98. Tracing the progression of Dallas County's early plantation
life, which was dominated by the timber industry, the Dallas
County Historical Museum in Fordyce also tells the stories
of the people who worked the land. 1-800-352-7202
99. The predominately wooded footpath of Bell
Slough Nature Trail covers 2.25 miles in the Arkansas
Game and Fish Commission's Bell Slough Wildlife Management Area
south of Conway. The nature trail is great for birding. 1-877-470-3650
100. Natural history, archaeology and human history are all represented
in fascinating exhibits that include fossils, zoological specimens,
prehistoric Native American artifacts, dinosaurs and meteorites
at the University Museum at the University
of Arkansas at Fayetteville. (479) 575-3466; www.uark.edu/~museinfo
101. Take a moderate hike to Eden Falls.
From Ark. 43 between Boxley and Ponca, turn onto the road to
Lost Valley, which is part of the Buffalo National River. Follow
the marked trail to the bluff shelter. Eden Falls is located
at the far end of the massive overhang.