Discover 11 Wonders of Arkansas
Six national parks. Two and a half million acres of national forests. Seven national scenic byways. Three state scenic byways. Fifty state parks. More than 600,000 acres of lakes and 9,700 miles of streams and rivers. It’s no mystery why Arkansas is called The Natural State. That’s not all this Southern state offers, though. Find everything from the birthplace of Walmart and a statue of cartoon character Popeye to wonderful artisans and festivals revolving around the watermelon. Take a look at some of the state’s surprise offerings. All photos courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism.
By: Jennifer Frazier
Funny Name, Great Lake in Mountain Pine
Ouachita, pronounced WAH-shi-tah, is clearly no easy word to tackle. When it comes to this Arkansas beauty, a bit of a tounge-twister is worth it, though. Located outside Hot Springs, Lake Ouachita is technically a reservoir, created by the damming of the Ouachita River by Blakely Mountain Dam. The largest lake completely housed in the state, it boasts more than 690 miles of shoreline, including 40,000 acres of water, and is completely encased by the Ouachita National Forest. Odd fact to keep in mind before diving in: Lake Ouachita is home to some rare jellyfish and sponges (found in only very few of the cleanest freshwater lakes). The good news is they don’t sting (so scientists say).
Bath Time in Hot Springs
This historic site, designated as a national reserve in 1832 and admitted to the national park system in 1921, is where you go to find healing at its finest. Bathhouse Row, a collection of bathhouses and gardens, is anchored on thermal waters, which maintain a constant 143 degrees. The belief is that these are magical waters that provide elements of healing, thus the draw of visitors from all over the nation who come to "take the waters."
Befitting a President in Little Rock
When it comes to the Clinton Presidential Center, all votes are for this combination of library, foundation and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Housing the largest collection of presidential papers and artifacts in U.S. history, this attraction, the presidential library of Bill Clinton, is known for its impressive Clinton-era replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room. Be prepared to be impressed by the architecture, including the attraction’s main building, which has a sustainable green roof that cantilevers over the Arkansas River and echoes Clinton's campaign promise of "building a bridge to the 21st century."
Finder’s Keepers in Murfreesboro
Since diamonds are a girl’s best friend, then this must be girl’s best state park. At Crater of Diamonds State Park, you can dig for diamonds and learn all about this gem. The only diamond-producing site in the world open to the public, this attraction offers more than 37 acres of plowed field to mine. While diamonds are the true treasure, there are 40 types of rocks and minerals found here, including lamproite, amethyst, banded agate, jasper, peridot, garnet and quartz. We dig it.
Rate Your Melons in Hope
For more than 35 years, Hope has grown record-breaking watermelons. That’s what all Southern states say, right? Well, this Arkansas city owns this claim. This tiny town produced 100-plus pound watermelons, as well as a watermelon water tower, a replica watermelon (that once held the world record) in the visitor’s center, not to mention a president of the United States of America (Hello, Mr. Clinton). The city celebrates this assertion yearly with the Hope Watermelon Festival, held every August. Starting in 1977, the event features seed-spitting contests, live music, games, watermelon activities and even arm wrestling.
Walk the Line in Dyess
With no money down in 1935, Ray Cash was given 20 acres of land, as well as a five-bedroom building, as part or President Roosevelt’s administration. To say the least, the structure was modest, but it was home. In fact, it was home to legendary country crooner Johnny Cash. Visit the boyhood place where the musician grew up, and the very spot that was later (many years later) seen in the big-screen flick "Walk the Line." Visit today to see photographs and memorabilia of the restored structure, which is now owned by Arkansas State University.
Start Your Engines in Batesville
Nascar, Shmass-car. This is a new kind of racing and once you check it out, you’ll be hooked. After you finish cutting your grass, make your way to this attraction at Bay Motor Speedway, a head-to-head event featuring your lawn mower. Er, a race featuring your lawn mower? This form of motorsport is exactly as is implies: folks on their riding mower, racing to the finish line. Unexpected? Yes. Entertaining? Absolutely — and totally Arkansas.
Climb Every Mountain in Paris
Imagine it: French explorers are traveling through an unknown territory and a landslide occurs on a mountain. The noise that results is so deafening that one explorer likens it to the explosion of a magazine. This is what happened on this very spot, hence its name, Mount Magazine. The tallest mountain in the state and the home of Mount Magazine State Park, expect a flat-topped plateau with two peaks, Signal Hill, which is often identified as the tallest point in Arkansas, and Mossback Ridge, which reaches 2,700 feet.
Strong to the Finish in Alma
He’s everyone’s favorite sailor man. Located in Alma’s town square, this bronze, eight-foot-tall statue of Popeye represents this tiny town’s claim as "The Spinach Capital of the World." Visit in April to enjoy the annual Spinach Festival, and make sure to also check out the town’s water tower, which, of course, looks like a giant can of spinach.
A Joyful Nest in Fayetteville
If you are in search of happiness, look no further than this Arkansas art studio. Home of the Original Bluebird of Happiness, see where these classic, small, blue glass birds are made. While there, learn the story behind these collectibles, the brainchild of artist Leo Ward, and visit the numerous other artisans that call Terra Studios home.
A Crowning Jewel in Eureka Springs
Designed by legendary and nationally renowned architect E. Fay Jones, Thorncrown Chapel is a true work of art. Anchored by wooden beams holding up extensive glass, this chapel blends the indoors with the outdoors, making it a place to enjoy nature and the Ozark woodlands to the fullest. If you don’t believe us about what a treasure this place is, the chapel was chosen in 2001 as one of the Top 10 Designs of the 20th Century by The American Institute of Architecture and it also won the Institute's Design of the Year for 1981 and Design of the Decade for the 1980s.