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Adventures in the Natural State: 9 Weekend Getaways in Arkansas

Misconceptions abound when it comes to Arkansas, but in reality, it's a charming place to be. Start your adventure with these nine weekend getaways in Arkansas.

Glancing over the menu on the wall, I decide to go with my usual “hidden menu” choice of a cheesecake malt. Susie Q’s is busy this evening with all the lake traffic. The humid heat of an Arkansas afternoon makes me grateful when our number is finally called. We walk up to the window, grab our frozen treats and meander back to the car for a short ride out to Lake Atalanta.

Strolling along the lakeside, we watch the sunset as we sip on the cold, creamy deliciousness. There is nothing quite as beautiful as an Arkansas sunset with flames of red, orange, and yellow all throughout the sky. Light bounces off the ripples on the water, and suddenly, I remember how grateful I am to live in such a place as this.

There are numerous misconceptions about Arkansas, yet there are so many nooks and crannies to be explored here. It’s a charming state, the Natural State. To many visitors, it’s not what they expected.

If you’re looking for places to explore and get away in Arkansas, you’ve come to the right place. Here are nine weekend getaways in Arkansas that will leave you with some beautiful lifelong memories.

Bentonville and Northwest Arkansas (Rogers, Springdale, Fayetteville)

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Living in Northwest Arkansas (NWA) definitely has its perks. It has everything a weekend getaway could possibly need, whether you want to slow down and get outdoors or spend your time eating, shopping, and taking in a concert or theater production.

Spend a day on Beaver Lake, or choose from other smaller lakes in the area. Take a hike to Yellow Rock in Devil’s Den State Park where the end reward is the most stunning view of the Lee Creek Valley. If you’d rather take in the sights from your car, the Pig Trail is a popular destination drive, especially when fall colors offer spectacular views. Be sure to bring your bike, since NWA is home to miles and miles of mountain biking trails.

Explore the history of the region at the Shiloh Museum of the Ozarks in Springdale. Art enthusiasts will find both an indoor and outdoor oasis at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Shop for vintage treasures at NWA antique stores like Somewhere in Time and The Rose. Find a quiet corner and read a book at Dickson Street Book Shop in Fayetteville. Bentonville is home to the Walmart Museum, where you can get a glimpse of Sam Walton’s reconstructed office. While you’re there, enjoy an ice cream at the Spark Café.

When it comes to food, NWA has got it going on. There are food trucks on just about every corner for any kind of food you can imagine. One of my favorites is Priato Pizzeria in Bentonville. Grab a sandwich at Natural State Sandwiches, or get your fill on milk and cookies at Chunky Dunk. Take a little side trip to Garfield and stop in at the town gas station. Don’t let that trip you up, though, because Shortstop Grill is where you can get the biggest ice cream cone in probably all of Arkansas.

Finally, at the end of a long day, choose between theatre at the Walton Arts Center, or take in a double feature at the 112 Drive In. During baseball season, watch the Naturals play at Arvest Ballpark.

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Hotels in Bentonville

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Where to Stay in Northwest Arkansas

Just a short walk to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville is a boutique style hotel with a contemporary feel. Enjoy a quiet dinner at The Hive, where Chef Matt McClure creates dishes that reveal the true flavors of Arkansas.

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21c Museum Hotel Bentonville

Top rated
9.6 Excellent (1000 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.7 / 10
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Eureka Springs

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Located within Northwest Arkansas, Eureka Springs is a quintessential small town with the feel of a mountain escape. Tourists flock to Eureka Springs for its Ozark mountain atmosphere, history, and charm. Eureka Springs is home to many festivals. You may want to plan a getaway around events like Blues Weekend, their annual Fat Tire Festival, and Volkswagen Weekend.

Relax in the spa at the Crescent Hotel, or take a walk along Spring Street, stopping in at any shops that pique your interest. Dress in period costumes and have an old-timey photo taken at Judge Roy Bean’s Old Time Photos.

Don’t miss an opportunity for gorgeous scenic photo opps. Thorncrown Chapel sits surrounded by a forest of trees. Further up the road, you can capture another photo with the Little Golden Gate of the Ozarks in the neighboring town of Beaver. Fish along the banks of the White River, and if you’re feeling really adventurous, go for a ride at Ozark Mountain Ziplines.

Whether you’re looking for a slice of pizza or a sit-down restaurant, Eureka Springs has plenty of choices. Enjoy Italian cuisine at Café Amore or Ermilio’s Italian Home Cooking. The Rockin’ Pig Saloon hosts happy hour with a side of. Try various home cooked German and Czech dishes at Bavarian Inn Restaurant.

At the end of a long day, it may be time to relax in an outdoor setting with the Great Passion Play. Nighttime is also when Eureka Springs gets really interesting; book a ghost tour at either the Crescent Hotel or Basin Park Hotel.

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Hotels in Eureka Springs

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Where to Stay in Eureka Springs

You’ll find comfort, relaxation, and romance with luxury suites at Arsenic & Old Lace. Take in the view from your seat on the wrap-around veranda, and enjoy a delicious breakfast before you venture out to explore.

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Arsenic & Old Lace

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9.3 Excellent (100 reviews)
Excellent Service 9.4 / 10
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Gamaliel and Mountain Home

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Adventure awaits in Mountain Home and beyond, where water sports and fishing are king. Visitors come from far and wide to enjoy the waters of Norfork and Bull Shoals Lake, the White River, the Buffalo National River, and the North Fork River. Camp along the banks of a stream filled with trout in Bull Shoals-White River State Park. Take a hike along part of the Ozark Highlands Trail, a 230-mile trail that stretches from Lake Fort Smith State Park to Lake Norfork.

Mountain Home was formerly Rapps Barren Settlement. Get a glimpse into Ozark life way back when as you walk through gardens and amongst cabins and other historical buildings.

Down the road from Mountain Home is the tiny town of Calico Rock. The Calico Rock Museum is a history museum that’s definitely worth a stop. Sign the guestbook and explore Ozark history through the ages, including a Native American history exhibit, where you can browse through artifacts left behind by Native Americans who lived in the area, things like pottery, arrowheads, clothing, and a stone tablet with the Cherokee alphabet.

Further down the road is Mountain View, where you’ll find Ozark Folk Center State Park. Listen to the music of the Ozarks, and watch demonstrations of various crafts and gardening skills. While in Mountain View, experience treetop adventure at Loco Ropes, and explore the depths of the earth at Blanchard Springs Caverns.

Skipper’s Restaurant in Mountain Home has been voted Best Catfish in Town. Family owned and operated, they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you make the trip to Mountain View, the Ozark Folk Center serves Southern country cuisine at the Skillet Restaurant, and BBQ, sandwiches, and fried pies at Smokehouse.

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Hotels in Gamaliel

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Where to Stay near Mountain Home

This lodge is on a Norfork Lake peninsula. It’s convenient to marinas, boat ramps, restaurants, and all sorts of outdoor activities. The Norfork Lake Ozark Mountain Lodge also offers campsites and hiking on its 79 acres.

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Norfork Lake Ozark Mountain Lodge

8.4 Very good (42 reviews)
Excellent Location 8.7 / 10
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Helena

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Helena is a historic town situated on the banks of the Mississippi River in the Arkansas Delta. Located between the river and Crowley’s Ridge, Helena was the site of a Civil War battle and is still the home of King Biscuit Time, a blues radio show that’s been on the air since 1941.

Walk through Freedom Park and learn about this National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site. In addition, there are many historic homes and churches that warrant a tour of this beautiful port town. Walk right up to the river on the boardwalk in Helena River Park. Enjoy nature as you go on a bike ride through St. Francis National Forest. Go shopping in downtown Helena, where you’ll find gift shops, boutiques, and more.

Home to King Biscuit Time, Helena is a hub for blues enthusiasts. Plan your getaway around the King Biscuit Blues Festival, held annually every October on the banks of the mighty Mississippi.

A visit to Helena would not be complete without a canoe ride down the Mississippi River. Ride in a handmade Quapaw canoe with a guide and learn all about the history and the landscape of this mighty river. The history of Helena dates back to 1541 when the explorer Hernando DeSoto crossed over the river into Arkansas. Both the city of Helena and the river were strategic locations during the Civil War.

Serving Chinese and soul food, August Moon is said to have the best fried chicken. You can grab a sandwich at the Corner Market. Or you can grab a beer with your meal and eat in the 100-year-old Lewis Supply Building at Bailee Mae’s. Pasquale’s serves up tamales, muffalettas (sandwiches), and chili pies at their concession stand. If you’re in the mood for the best soul food in town, head to Rosie’s Diner where you’ll find a good home cooked meal.

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Hotels in Helena

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Where to Stay in Helena

Built in 1904, the Edwardian Inn is like a step back in time. The Inn is a shining example of the Victorian style historic homes in Helena. Relax in your room at the end of a long day, and wake up to a delicious home cooked breakfast of pancakes, chocolate gravy and biscuits, Eggs Benedict, or French Toast.

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Edwardian Inn

8.8 Excellent (39 reviews)
Excellent Service 9.2 / 10
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Hope and Historic Washington State Park

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Travel through time to Historic Washington State Park where it’s easy to feel like you’ve traveled through time. Tour Washington State Park with guides dressed in period costume and get to know the history of a town that was not only founded on George Washington’s birthday in 1824 but also became a rest stop for pioneers, like Sam Houston and Davy Crockett, making their way to Texas via the Southwest Trail.

Visit homes and historic buildings, though it’s important to know that certain buildings are only open on certain days. The Blacksmith Shop is a highlight of your tour, as it’s where James Black forged an original Bowie knife back in the early 1830s for James “Jim” Bowie — a knife fighter who died fighting in the Battle of the Alamo. Browse through a collection of knives and guns at the B.W. Edwards Weapons Museum. Get hands-on experience dipping candles you can actually take home in the Candle Shop.

The Williams’ Tavern Restaurant is the official restaurant for Historic Washington State Park. Historic atmosphere, old-fashioned foods, and the friendliness of the staff make this a great place to stop for a bit and enjoy a good meal.

The park hosts several events, exhibits, programs, and workshops throughout the year. You’ll find a wide variety of events to choose from, like the Reading and Signing of the Declaration of Independence, “Hands-On” Candle Making Workshop, Gardening Basics for the Fall, their Annual Watermelon Weigh-Off, Dancing with the Stars “Washington Style,” a Trial by Jury Dinner, Frontier Days for Homeschools, and Cast Iron Cooking.

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Where to Stay near Historic Washington State Park

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Stay in comfort about a 15 to 20-minute drive away from the state park. Holiday Inn Express Hope offers a comfortable place to stay with full breakfast included. When you’re not exploring, spend a little time relaxing poolside.

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Holiday Inn Express Hope

8.3 Very good (363 reviews)
Excellent Service 9 / 10
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Hot Springs

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Hot Springs, formerly Hot Springs Reservation, became a national park in 1921. It’s home to natural hot springs; in fact, the hot springs here produce almost a million gallons of water every single day. It’s also home to Bathhouse Row. Whether you want to relax in a warm bath or grab adventure by the proverbial horns, Hot Springs has everything a weekend getaway could possibly need.

Ride a roller coaster or zip down a water slide at Magic Springs Water and Theme Park. Book a trail ride at Bar Fifty Ranch. Explore Garvan Woodland Gardens; mid-November through the end of December is especially magical when Holiday Lights take over the gardens.

Take a stroll downtown and you’ll find boutiques, art galleries, antique shops, and plenty of opportunity for retail therapy. Satisfy your sweet tooth at Rocket Fizz, an old time soda pop, and candy shop.

If you’re looking for relaxation, you’ve come to the right place. There are several places to soak in a warm bath or take full advantage of the most relaxing spa treatments. Buckstaff Bathhouse Company, on Historic Bathhouse Row, has been in operation since 1912. They offer mineral baths, sitz baths to relieve discomfort or pain, and more. And the best part is, no reservations are required.

When it comes to food, Hot Springs offers a wide variety of options, from down-home BBQ to decadent French cuisine. A fourth-generation family business, McClard’s Bar-B-Q has been around since 1928. Choose from mouthwatering ribs, tamale plates, beef or pork plates, and a variety of sandwiches, all in a small, vintage, corner café like atmosphere. Experience traditional French cuisine at Alexa’s Creperie, the perfect stop for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. If you’re traveling with kids, Purple Cow is a must; grab a burger and one of their famous hand-dipped purple vanilla milkshakes.

Nightlife is alive and well in Hot Springs. Grab a drink at Superior Bathhouse Brewery. Go for a haunted walking tour, or take in a live show at Pocket Community Theatre.

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Hotels in Hot Springs

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Where to Stay in Hot Springs

Located on Lake Hamilton, Long Island Lake Resort offers king, double queen, or deluxe double queen rooms with in-room kitchenettes and boat rentals. Relax in the comfort of your room or head outdoors for boating, tubing, fishing, and swimming.

Long Island Lake Resort

8.8 Excellent (191 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.2 / 10
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Little Rock

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Little Rock is a hub of culture, history, delicious food, and amazing adventures waiting to be had. It’s a city with the feel of a small town, especially Downtown Little Rock where the city meets the Arkansas River.

Relive history with the Arkansas Civil Rights History Tour, where you’ll visit more than 35 sites, like Central High School, which played an integral role in the desegregation of public schools. Get to know people who lived, worked, and met the struggle for racial equality head-on. While here, visit the Clinton Presidential Center, which houses the Presidential Library and Museum; browse through exhibits, including a replica of President Clinton’s oval office and his presidential limousine.

Go inside the USS Razorback on the Arkansas River, and get a feel for what life in a submarine was really like. I would be remiss to talk about Little Rock without a mention of Heifer International, headquartered in Little Rock. They operate Heifer Village, which gives an inside look at world hunger, poverty, and how they’re working to eliminate both.

Step outside and explore over 17 miles of the Arkansas River Trail, which runs alongside the Arkansas River. It also connects to the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge and the Big Dam Bridge. Pack a lunch and head to the Old Mill, a romantic setting famous for being in the movie, Gone with the Wind. Pinnacle Mountain State Park in West Little Rock offers 40 miles of hiking trails to explore, as well as the Arkansas Arboretum.

Shop in the River Market District by day; enjoy live entertainment at night. Enjoy Southern cuisine and sophisticated entertainment at South on Main. Laugh it up at the Loony Bin Comedy Club in Midtown. Curb your sweet tooth with a visit to Loblolly Creamery for seasonal flavors of deliciously creamy ice cream; or grab a slice of pie at Honey Pies where they like to say that “every pie is made from scratch and baked with love.”

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Hotels in Little Rock

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Where to Stay in Little Rock

Embrace elegance at The Empress of Little Rock, a boutique hotel that opened in 1888. Sleep in luxurious featherbeds, eat a gourmet breakfast and relax in the spa. Relax the afternoon away in a hammock before making a short trip to the River Market District for a night out on the town.

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The Empress of Little Rock

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9.4 Excellent (124 reviews)
Excellent Service 9.4 / 10
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Marshall / Buffalo National River

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When most outdoor enthusiasts think of Arkansas, their first thought might be the Buffalo National River in all its natural beauty. Winding on for 151 miles, the Buffalo River is comprised of the Upper Buffalo, the Middle Buffalo, and the Lower Buffalo.

Most people plan to float the river. While it’s important to check water levels before you embark on any float trip, you can float on kayak, canoe, or tube. The Upper Buffalo is said to be more challenging and geared toward more experienced kayakers.

Various outfitters offer rentals and excursions, including Buffalo River Outfitters, where you can rent a canoe and a cabin. Of course, if you have your own canoe or kayak, you can enjoy multiple days on the river, camping along your journey. Backcountry camping is allowed without a permit.

If you prefer to stay on dry ground, take a hike along Lost Valley Trail, through a box canyon to a tumbling waterfall. Take in the view and reflect on your journey at Hawksbill Crag. Be sure to pack your binoculars for epic bird watching opportunities and see if you can spot a herd of elk in Boxley Valley.

There’s nothing quite like a good burger, and Ozark Café in Jasper serves up the best burgers and shakes. Of course, you may want to give their chocolate gravy a try, too, especially if you stop in for breakfast. Lunch at Ferguson’s Country Store in St. Joe, will fill you up with down-home cooking. Their cinnamon rolls and homemade fruit cobbler are not to be missed.

End your day with stargazing. The stars on the Buffalo are mesmerizing. Unhindered by city lights, they light the night sky with their brilliance. If you find yourself leaning toward a night on the town instead, take a ride back in time and catch a flick at Kenda Drive-in.

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Hotels in Marshall

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Where to Stay on the Buffalo National River

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Victory Ranch Cabin sits on 130 acres just 5 miles away from the Buffalo River. Enjoy a relaxing evening playing horseshoes or simply watching Netflix from the comfort of the sofa. They also provide kayaks and canoes for rent.

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Welcome To Victory Ranch Cabins Or Ask Us About Victory Ridge Retreat!

9.4 Excellent (156 reviews)
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Mena and the Ouachita Mountains

Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Running from east to west, the Ouachita Mountains are a veritable haven for any outdoor enthusiast. While in the mountains, you’ll likely enter the Ouachita National Forest at some point or another, giving you 1.8 million acres to explore. Two types of forest exist in the Ouachitas — hardwood in the north and pine/oak in the south.

The Talimena National Scenic Byway starts in Oklahoma but stretches through Arkansas all the way to the small town of Mena. Stop along the way to take photos of gorgeous mountain vistas. Camping is also an option with both established campgrounds and dispersed camping available. Toward the end of the Byway, stop for lunch and a sweeping view at Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

Take a hike on the 223-mile Ouachita National Recreation Trail. If you’re not quite up to backpacking just yet, you may enjoy shorter trails like the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail or Eagle Rock Loop. Be sure to pack binoculars for both wildlife and bird watching.

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Hotels in Marshall

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Where to Stay in the Ouachita Mountains

This charming 1900 bed and breakfast offers three king suites as well as three other properties in the area, including a cabin, cottage, and a vacation retreat. Guests of the Sassafras Inn are provided a continental breakfast before heading out to explore.

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Sassafras Inn

9.0 Excellent (93 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.2 / 10
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Feature image courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism