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Image of the state capitol building in Little Rock, Arkansas
Photograph: ShutterstockLittle Rock, Arkansas

The 10 best things to do in Arkansas

From scenic mountains to national landmarks, the best things to do in Arkansas tend to be easy on the eyes

Written by
Gerrish Lopez
Contributor
Justine Harrington
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They don’t call it the “Natural State” for nothing: the best things to do in Arkansas tend to be showstoppers thanks to the state’s endless landscape of wilderness. With 2.5 million acres of national forest, natural splendor soars from the famous Ozark Mountains to the Ouachitas, where you’ll find anything from hot springs to caves, rivers, waterfalls, and exceptionally-preserved parks everywhere you turn.

But don’t let the natural wonders fool you, because there’s plenty of culture to explore, too. Cities like Hot Springs, Bentonville, Fayetteville, and Little Rock all offer an assortment of noteworthy excursions from must-visit museums and landmarks to historic streets with centuries-old architecture.

Ready to see it for yourself? Check out our guide for the best things to do in Arkansas, and prepare for nature in all its beauty.

RECOMMENDED: the most scenic national parks in the U.S.

Best things to do in Arkansas, ranked

Despite its stunning architecture (we’ll get to that in a bit), it’s the inside that counts at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Here, in Bentonville, the world-class collection spans five centuries of American masterworks from the Colonial era to present day. Founded by the Walton Family Foundation in 2005, the museum attracts millions of visitors from near and far, but if visitors aren’t there for the art, we can’t blame them: the museum’s drop-dead gorgeous buildings are reason enough to visit. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie and consisted of glass-enclosed bridges and a series of interconnected pavilions, the museum’s windows frame remarkable views of the surrounding Ozark forest and landscape. Best of all? The permanent collections are free to visit.


This collection of hot springs, tucked in the lush Ouachita Mountains, was discovered by Native Americans 3,000 years ago and used for their purported healing properties. Naturally, a scene of bathhouses eventually sprang up nearby (some built more than 100 years ago) and many are still in use, including the famous Fordyce Bathhouse, which features stained glass ceilings that bathe interiors in warm light. Be sure to spend ample time strolling along Bathhouse Row, a cluster of elegant, historic buildings lining Central Avenue that’ll send you back in time.

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Situated in scenic southwestern Arkansas, this is the only diamond mine in the world where you can keep what you find. Treasure hunters and jewelry aficionados will love exploring Crater of Diamonds State Park, one of the world’s largest diamond-bearing volcanic craters, located near Murfreesboro. Tens of thousands of stones have been found by visitors, while a handful of famous stones were found at the Crater including the 4.25-carat Kahn Canary gem (once worn by Hillary Clinton) as well as the 40.23-carat Uncle Sam (the biggest diamond ever unearthed in the country). It’s been said that, on average, two diamonds are found here per day.

Arkansas’ finest natural beauty, the Buffalo National River, is flanked by majestic limestone bluffs and dotted with dozens of waterfalls. It’s ideal for hiking, camping. and soaking up the state’s unspoiled wilderness. But the best way to explore the river is, well, on the river: rent a canoe, raft, or kayak during float season, which starts on the upper Buffalo in early spring.

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The Bill Clinton museum is one of Arkansas’ most popular tourist attractions, not to mention one of its most notable historical sites. Surrounded by the 30-acre Clinton Presidential Park, the library is chock-full of permanent and rotating exhibits that provide rich insight into Clinton’s life and the American presidency. Note that there are several free admission days every year, including the Fourth of July and Presidents’ Day (of course).

This state park boasts sweeping vistas of distant mountains and fertile river valleys – as you might imagine, there’s no shortage of hiking trails and lookouts in the area with stunning views. Mount Magazine is also an ideal weekend getaway spot for outdoor lovers who don’t want to sacrifice comfort for nature: stay at the stately Lodge at Mount Magazine or one of several cabins strung along the mountain’s south bluff and enjoy the wildy beautiful views from your room.

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This regional history museum in northwestern Arkansas explores the roots of the state’s pioneer Ozark community. Located in downtown Springdale, the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History provides a fascinating look at the Northwest Arkansas Ozarks through the lens of centuries-old relics, interactive permanent and temporary exhibits, contemporary objects, and historical replicas. For an insightful look at Arkansas’ deeply entrenched folk history and traditions, the Shiloh Museum is a must-visit.

The site of the 1957 desegregation crisis is now recognized as a symbolic landmark of the civil rights movement. In the late 1950s, during the desegregation of the formerly all-white Central High School, nine African-American students — the Little Rock Nine — attended classes, escorted by the army. Today, this historic school serves as a poignant reminder of America’s past and ongoing struggles with systemic racism. The only way to tour Central High School is by booking a ranger-led tour at least 48 hours in advance.

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Built in 1980 by superstar architect E. Fay Jones, this remarkable church is made almost entirely of organic materials taken from the surrounding wilderness. The majestic Thorncrown Chapel, located in Eureka Springs, is an exquisitely designed wood-and-glass structure containing 425 windows that use more than 6,000 square feet of glass — tucked away in a serene woodland setting, you don’t need to be pious to appreciate this masterpiece.

This charming downtown area, located near the University of Arkansas campus, is the heart and soul of Fayetteville. Prettier than a postcard, the historic street is home to dozens of hip bars, galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. With no shortage of history, you’ll find Dickson St. Bookshop, an old-school independent store that stocks over 100,000 books, plus George’s Majestic Lounge, the oldest live music venue in Arkansas. Pro tip: the colors here in fall are lovely, so plan your visit around the foliage if you’re keen for epic scenery.

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