Find These 31 Hidden Gem Cities of Arkansas
Stake your claim to these charming towns, urban hubs and rural hideaways that can only be found in Arkansas.
IF “UNIQUE” IS WHAT YOU’RE GOING FOR
There are some communities that defy description and proudly so; these communities march to the beat of their own drum and wear individualism on their sleeve. It’s hard to put these rare birds into a certain category. When it comes to one-of-a-kind cities, the unquestioned leader of the pack is Eureka Springs, which is a potpourri of arts, nature, music and attractions, set to a daily rhythm as unique as the people who live there. One look at the double-decker Main Street carved into the scenic Ozark mountainside and you know you’re in an extraordinary place.
Other Rare Birds
Walnut Ridge: In 1964 the Beatles made a surprise stop in Walnut Ridge. The town has never forgotten that brush with rock ‘n’ roll royalty; there’s a music festival and permanent exhibit to mark the event.
Searcy County: Known as the “Chocolate Roll Capital of the World,” this North Central county is famous for unique beauty, an immense elk population, historic small towns and gems like the Kenda Drive-in Theater in Marshall.
Murfreesboro: Visit the Crater of Diamonds State Park, the only place in the world where you can dig for diamonds on the surface of a volcanic crater and keep what you find.
A WINE LOVER’S DREAM
Imagine living near lush, rolling vineyards and spending weekends tasting local, hand-crafted wines in a scenic lodge. But you’re not in Sonoma or Napa Valley, you’re in Arkansas’s River Valley. At the center of the River Valley lies Altus, a charming rural community and a hub of the wine industry. Six wineries reside in or around Altus and provide endless opportunities for tastings and tours. Don’t miss the annual summer Grape Festival, celebrating the area’s German-Swiss heritage and viticultural past.
A Stone’s Throw from Wine Country
Ozark: Take in the renovated riverfront area or test your motorcycling skills on the legendary Pig Trail (Scenic Highway 23). 8 minutes from Altus
Paris: If beer’s more your thing, check out Prestonrose Organic Farm & Brewing Co. in the quaint valley community of Paris. 31 minutes from Altus
Russellville: This fast-growing community offers a vibrant downtown and big-city amenities, in addition to tournament-quality fishing in the surrounding lakes. 45 minutes from Altus
WHEN IT’S TIME TO RETIRE
Where better to retire than a city surrounded by gleaming waters and verdant terrain? When it comes to natural beauty and leisure in the great outdoors, few communities compare to Fairfield Bay. Situated on Greers Ferry Lake, this community regularly celebrates life on the water through festivals, highlighted by the annual Surf the Bay and Boati Gras. Hike Sugar Loaf Mountain, ride the trails through the surrounding woods or just kick back and watch the sun set over the water.
Nestled up to the Ouachita Mountains and multiple lakes, Hot Springs Village lures retirees from across the country. The village boasts great golf – nine courses, in fact – along with fun on the water and natural beauty lining the 30 miles of walking trails. From lakeside beaches to movies to pickleball and concerts in the park, there’s always something going on.
Also Great for Your Golden Years
Both Bella Vista, located in Northwest Arkansas, and Cherokee Village in North Central were founded with retirees in mind. Each are in prime position beside sparkling lakes and scenic mountains. These communities are top picks for Arkansas retirees, and rightfully so. They’re both ripe with amenities such as golf (Bella Vista boasts six courses), tennis, swimming, parks, local events, and diverse clubs and organizations (Cherokee Village has more than 125 different clubs). These two towns are proving equally attractive to families too, especially given their proximity to major universities and corporate headquarters.
WHERE THE ACTION HAPPENS
If it’s autumn, Northwest Arkansas is the place to be for all things Hog. On home-football Saturdays, thousands of Razorback fans make the trek to this scenic corner of the state. In Fayetteville the best amenities of the region come together; it’s home to the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, which competes in the elite Southeastern conference, and a growing food and craft beer scene. It’s also surrounded by the lush natural beauty of the Boston Mountains. U.S. News & World Report has ranked Fayetteville “No. 1 Most Affordable” (2016) and “No. 5 Best Place to Live” (2017). There’s also a popular Ale Trail that tours 11 area breweries and more than 200 miles of mountain biking trails that host dozens of events annually.
Best Bets for Hustle & Bustle
Bentonville: Walmart put this surging city on the map, but now it stands out on its own. Bentonville is home to the world-class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, a remarkable museum hotel (21c Museum Hotel), and hundreds of miles of trails including an IMBA ride center. The food scene is a flurry here too, garnering national attention.
Hot Springs: Once a hideout for Al Capone and his gangster cronies, Hot Springs has a ribald and romantic past that still stirs the imagination. It’s thriving with three busy lakes, multiple shopping districts with big city retailers and restaurants, unique arts venues and festivals, and a lively gaming area and racetrack—Oaklawn Park, one of the premier Thoroughbred racing venues in the country.
Little Rock & North Little Rock: From the daily pulse of the River Market to the quiet, cool green of its walkable neighborhoods, Little Rock is the heartbeat of The Natural State—clean, friendly and poised for the future. Sister city North Little Rock is a lovely mix of architectural charm, restaurants, performance venues and a baseball stadium.
BEST CITIES FOR FAMILIES
Arkansas is an ideal place to raise a family. Several large corporations have headquartered here, and communities have invested heavily in parks, education and infrastructure to provide fun opportunities for all ages.
Rogers has been ranked among the top family-friendly cities by websites like NerdWallet, Niche and Movoto. Money Magazine recently named it one of Arkansas’s best places due to low crime, above-average reading and math scores, and annual job growth projected at 10 percent. U.S. News & World Report ranked Rogers High School fourth in the state.
Meanwhile in El Dorado, parents appreciate the promise of free college tuition for their students. The El Dorado Promise is a scholarship program established and funded by Murphy Oil Corporation, which is headquartered here. All graduates of El Dorado High School receive a scholarship covering tuition and mandatory fees that can be used at any accredited two- or four-year, public or private educational institution in the United States. Better yet, the city is undergoing major revitalization. There is a deep focus on music and the arts, and locals and tourists alike come out in droves to downtown events like the annual Juneteenth Festival.
More Gems for Families
Bentonville: With annual growth of 18 percent, Bentonville is young (average age 32), family-friendly (average family size 2.67) and prosperous (average income $79,000). Livability.com ranked it No. 8 on its list of best places for families; NerdWallet ranked it fifth best for working parents.
Maumelle: Ranked “No. 1 for families” by Movoto.com. Maumelle features outstanding public parks, athletic facilities and one of the highest per capita income areas in the state.
PERFECT FOR PEACE & QUIET
Sometimes, all you want to do is just be still and soak it all in — tranquil lakes, unique wildlife, gorgeous sunsets. Maybe you want to stroll through the woods, tend to your garden or have a leisurely game of golf with friends. If that sounds like your idea of good time, then Arkansas has just the ticket for you with many small towns known for their restful way of life.
Northwest Arkansas neighbors, Dardanelle and Morrilton are small towns with charm. Petit Jean Mountain offers residents ample recreation and a beautiful view from their backyards. There’s quiet, for sure, but the proximity to Fort Smith, Fayetteville and Little Rock give locals access to it all.
Top Tranquil Hamlets
Arkadelphia: With two small universities, this close-knit community cherishes good, old-fashioned family values and down time in the beautiful Ouachita Mountains.
Bull Shoals: Enjoy quiet time on Bull Shoals Lake and the White River below the dam, which are the pinnacle of the state’s largemouth and black bass fishing. Bassmaster Magazine ranked the impoundment one of the country’s top 100 lakes. This retirement and vacation community is also popular for birding, caverning, horseback riding and hiking.
Lake Village: This Delta hideaway can be found on the Great River Road National Scenic Byway and lies on the curving shore of Lake Chicot, a 20-mile long abandoned channel of the Mississippi River.
FAVORITE FARM TOWNS
Meet the city of Wilson. This Upper Delta town is undergoing a rebirth so noteworthy The New York Times wrote about it. Under new leadership, this up-and-coming community is now a Southern treasure for folks looking for a slower pace and lovers of hunting, fishing and all the recreational offerings of the mighty Mississippi River. Plans for a museum and many new events are in the works, but Arkansans are already flocking to the Wilson Cafe, perhaps the cornerstone of the entire town.
More Farm Towns to Love
Stuttgart: The “Duck Hunting Capital of the World” is as famous for its rice fields as it is for its waterfowl.
Marianna: You can’t have the blues without barbecue, and Jones’ Bar-B-Q Diner is considered one of the best in the nation with 100 years and a James Beard Award to its credit.
Dyess: The newly-restored Dyess Colony houses the boyhood home of Johnny Cash and hosts the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival in the fall.
BEST FOR MOVERS & SHAKERS
When it comes to cities on the verge of big things, it’s hard to beat El Dorado. With millions being invested downtown, the community built on oil is now a major stop on the concert and music festival circuit. Big things are also in store for Arkansas’s second largest city, Fort Smith. The city’s Old West mystique, a city-wide murals project and the forthcoming U.S. Marshals Museum combine to create a one-of-a-kind community.
Conway: This central Arkansas city has been near the top of the fastest-growing Arkansas communities list for more than a decade. Three colleges and the city’s quality of life have attracted a wave of new businesses in the health care, retail and technology sectors. Over the past 10 years, the area has added more than 8,000 jobs and 1,000 new businesses.
Little Rock: The capital city is investing millions in a revitalized Main Street and Creative Corridor, as well as welcoming innovation and technology hubs that are growing jobs and the city’s cache.
Northwest Arkansas: No. 5 on U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 list of “Best Places to Live” is Fayetteville. Reasons cited include “an active local food movement, live music venues and a dynamic festival scene.” It gets this ranking in large part thanks to job-rich Bentonville.