Discover Arkansas: Six Great Regions To Explore and Play
There is a place for everyone in Arkansas, a state with a history and culture as colorful and diverse as its physical landscape. The deep woods of the Ozark Mountains, the wide-open farmlands of the Delta, the slow pace of small-town life or the conveniences and attractions of the big city – Arkansas has it all, including an endless supply of great food, good music, festivals, fishing, hunting, hiking and other recreational activities.
The state is divided into geographical regions, each with its own bit of excitement and history. To view photos of each region, log on to Arkansas.com and take the virtual tour of the state. Those with kids or grandkids in tow can check out fun facts and games about Arkansas at ArkansasKids.com.
More than 600,000 residents live in the central Arkansas area, which includes Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Jacksonville, Benton, Bryant, Conway, Cabot and Searcy.
At the heart of Arkansas you’ll find the capital city of Little Rock. The hub of the city is the downtown area, which is thriving with restaurants, bars, art galleries, museums, shops and fine hotels. State government, banking and financial centers and statewide media also have made their home in the area.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Center continues to bring hundreds of thousands of guests to town from around the world. While here, many visitors opt to take tours of important sites that Bill Clinton frequented during his term as governor of Arkansas. Adjacent to the center is the world headquarters of Heifer International, and Heifer’s newly opened Global Village – an education center, outdoor commons area and wetlands that introduces visitors to the possibility of a world without hunger or poverty.
With the rebirth of the River Rail Electric Streetcar system, which connects Little Rock and North Little Rock, visitors and residents have a unique opportunity to see the sights of both downtowns. Verizon Arena, an 18,000-seat coliseum located on the North Little Rock side of the river, plays host to a variety of sporting events and musical acts each month. Also on the north side of the river, Dickey-Stephens Park is the state-of-the-art home of the Arkansas Travelers, the AA affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.
There are numerous opportunities to golf, play tennis and bike in the area. Additionally, the Arkansas River, Pinnacle Mountain State Park and Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park provide plenty of other activities like fishing and hiking.
The history of the state can be relived as it comes to life at the Historic Arkansas Museum and several other museums in the area, including the Old State House Museum, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center and the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. Those visiting Greater Little Rock with young children can get all the ideas they need on family-friendly activities at Arkansas.com.
This geographic region runs along the entire east side of the state, most of which borders the Mississippi River. Agriculture, along with agribusiness, is the predominant industry in the Delta, with hundreds of thousands of acres of cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat grown each year.
Crowley’s Ridge Parkway, a National Scenic Byway, runs from the very northeast corner of the state at Piggott through Paragould, Jonesboro, Marianna and Helena-West Helena. Another National Scenic Byway, the Great River Road, begins in Blytheville and winds down through Osceola, Helena-West Helena, DeWitt, Dumas and Lake Village before ending in Eudora at the very southeast corner of the state.
Jonesboro is the largest town in the Delta, with more than 55,000 residents. Much of the area’s history is told through displays and exhibits at the Arkansas State University Museum on the ASU campus. Helena-West Helena is famous for its Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival, presented by the Sonny Boy Blues Society each October.
Duck hunters from across the nation flock to Stuttgart during the fall and winter months, and the little town is definitely the place to be on Thanksgiving weekend for the annual World Championship Duck Calling Contest & Wings Over the Prairie Festival. The festival includes a duck gumbo cook-off, a beauty pageant and an arts-and-crafts fair.
Arkansas’s first capital city, Arkansas Post – also the first European settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley – is located in the region. History buffs will want to seek out the Louisiana Purchase monument that marks the initial point for surveys of the 1803 deal.
Hot Springs, the largest city in the Ouachita area, is known for horseracing at Oaklawn Park and for Bathhouse Row, which consists of turn-of-the-century bathhouses. One of them, the Fordyce, currently operates as a museum where visitors can learn more about the colorful history that shaped Hot Springs – the only city in the nation to contain a national park. The city was named for the mineral waters that bubble up from 47 underground springs and maintain a consistent temperature of 143 degrees.
Magic Springs Amusement Park, combined with Crystal Falls Water Park, keeps families entertained for hours on end with thrilling rides and nationally known performers. The Mid-America Science Museum has entertained and educated schoolchildren for years.
A spot favored by locals and guests is Garvan Woodland Gardens on the 210-acre peninsula of Lake Hamilton. Peak time for the botanical gardens occurs during the months of March, April and May, but the grounds offer a variety of flora and fauna to see year-round.
The region is known for its Diamond Lakes, including lakes Ouachita, DeGray, Hamilton and Catherine. Full-service resorts and other amenities, as well as ample opportunities for camping, fishing, boating, horseback riding and golf, can be found on the lakes or in surrounding areas. After a spin on one of the lakes, be sure to dig for diamonds at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro. The largest diamond ever found in North America – at 40.23 carats – was discovered here.
Drive the scenic route along the rugged roads of the backcountry in Ouachita National Forest, and take in all the beautiful surroundings. The Talimena National Scenic Byway winds 54 miles through the Ouachita Mountains from Mena to Talihina, Okla. While you’re in Mena, visit Queen Wilhelmina State Park with its 223-mile recreation trail.
Along Scenic Byway 7 are several photo op stops between the towns of Dover and Harrison, many close to the Buffalo National River near Jasper. Canoe trips are popular down parts of the 150-mile river. The 95,000 acres of public land surrounding the river offer campgrounds, cabins and other lodging as well as springs, caves, waterfalls, natural bridges and walking and hiking trails.
A favorite destination in the Ozark Mountains is the quaint Victorian town of Eureka Springs. The entire downtown district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Popular attractions include Thorncrown Chapel and The Great Passion Play, which includes a variety of species of live animals. AmericanStyle magazine has repeatedly named Eureka Springs as one of the top 25 art destinations in the small cities and towns category.
Each year, thousands of folk music enthusiasts gather in Mountain View for the Folk Music Festival. Many of the activities take place at the Ozark Folk Center, a state park where musicians and craftspeople showcase their skills. The center offers events, crafts and educational opportunities year-round.
The metropolitan area of the Ozarks region includes the towns of Fayetteville, Rogers, Springdale and Bentonville. This growing urban area attracts thousands of University of Arkansas fans each fall to watch their beloved Razorbacks toss around the pigskin at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Ozark Mountains are a fisherman’s delight, with great trout fishing on the White River and largemouth bass in Bull Shoals Lake. Another favorite spot is Greers Ferry Lake near Heber Springs. Golfers enjoy the greens near the lake, while shoppers discover great finds at the antique stores in the area.
The River Valley
The highest point in the state can be found in this region at Mount Magazine State Park. Views from this elevation at 2,753 feet above sea level are spectacular. Outdoor adventures offered at the park include hang gliding, rappelling, rock climbing, camping and hiking. Other prominent mountains in the area include Petit Jean, near Morrilton, and Mount Nebo, near Dardanelle. These three points gave the River Valley area the nickname the Tri-Peaks Region.
The largest town in the River Valley region is Fort Smith, originally established in 1817 as a military post to keep peace between the local Native American tribes and those forcibly moved to the area by the federal government. In the town’s early years, it was a jumping-off place for California-bound forty-niners; then, it became the seat of justice for the taming of the Indian Territority after the Civil War.
Around the early 1880s, federal judge Isaac C. Parker became infamous for hanging scores of desperados brought back from Indian Territory by U.S. marshals. His restored courtroom and reconstructed gallows are popular visitor attractions.
Soil is fertile in the valley near the towns of Paris, Ozark and Altus, where vineyards took root in the late 1800s when Swiss-German immigrants settled in the area. This area is known as Arkansas Wine Country, which includes Chateau Aux Arc, Mount Bethel Winery, Post Familie Vineyards & Winery, Wiederkehr Wine Cellars & Vineyard, and Cowie Wine Cellars. Each offers a variety of wines, tastings and other specialty products including jellies and vinegar.
Timber continues to be a major component of the economy in south Arkansas, although papermaking has largely replaced lumber as the principal industry. Paper mills can be found in Pine Bluff and Ashdown. There also is a Georgia-Pacific plant in Crossett.
Pine Bluff is the largest town in the Timberlands region and also is the commercial hub of the area. Local attractions include the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame, the Band Museum, the Arkansas Railroad Museum and the Delta Rivers Nature Center. The center, run by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, features animals and wildlife native to the region with several live animals including fish, snakes, turtles and alligators.
A regional favorite is Hope, best known as the home of former President Bill Clinton. Guests are invited to tour Clinton’s first home, where he was raised by his grandparents. Hope is also known for its watermelons – the Hope Watermelon Festival is held each August.
The oil boom in Arkansas, which occurred in the 1920s and ’30s, can be experienced at the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources in Smackover. Nearby El Dorado also sprung up as a result of the oil boom. Restaurants, shops and history can be found in downtown El Dorado.
Deer hunters flock to the woods of Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge, a forest preserve between El Dorado and Crossett. The refuge is the region’s top recreational draw.