Essential Arkansas RV Travel:
The Natural State Amazes With Architecture
That Capitalizes On Its Lush Setting
by Suzanne Wright
It’s almost unfair. Arkansas is fortunate with its diverse terrain—wilderness areas, hot springs, lakes, lowlands, mountains, and rivers—the entire state is literally a playground. Equally captivating are its cultural assets. There’s the ageless, soulful heritage of Appalachian highland communities, and the forward-looking architectural attractions that have sprouted in her cities. Arkansas also grows leaders; President Bill Clinton and Walmart founder Sam Walton both hail from the 25th state. Need more incentive? We’ve rounded up a few surprises: the nation’s only diamond mine, possum pie, and Bigfoot’s cousin.
Hot Springs & the Ouachita Mountains
The mineral-rich, thermal waters of Hot Springs, in central Arkansas, are famed for their healing powers. Hot Springs National Park, the oldest and smallest of our nation’s parks, dates to 1832, 40 years before Yellowstone was federally protected. The entire “Bathhouse Row” area is a National Historic Landmark District. Take to the restorative baths at one of these locations. The Gangster Museum of America offers a glimpse into the rowdy past when bootlegging and gambling ruled, while the Hot Springs Mountain Tower boasts breathtaking panoramic views of the Ouachita Mountains. If you’re a collector, an eclectic array of antique shops and art galleries will tempt you with take-home treasures. Two man-made lakes on the outskirts of Hot Springs, Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine, offer boating, fishing, and water-skiing possibilities. The South's oldest national forest is the 1.8-million acre Ouachita National Forest, which spills over into Oklahoma. Fishing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, and rockhounding are among the outdoor pursuits.
Where to Stay:
Just five minutes outside of downtown, Gulpha Gorge Campground in Hot Springs National Park, offers limited first come, first-served camping. All sites have full hookups, plus picnic tables, pedestal grills, and water. There are modern restrooms but no showers. Pet-friendly Catherine’s Landing scores big with campers for its Ouachita River location, full hookups, grills, picnic tables and fire rings, Wifi, fitness center, playground, and pool. Additionally, you can rent kayaks and pontoon boats.
Eureka Springs and The Ozarks
This region is the spiritual heart of the state. Picturesque Eureka Springs is renowned for its Victorian architecture and the grandeur of The Passion Play, performed in an outdoor amphitheater that seats more than 4,000 guests every May through October. The ultra-modern, seven-story tall Christ of the Ozarks, built by one of the sculptors of Mount Rushmore, can be seen from miles around. Under a sapphire sky it’s an inspiring vision. The rugged Ozarks are dominated by the unbroken and mist-shrouded beauty of oak and hickory forests laced with crystal-clear streams, and dense understories of dogwood and redbud that erupt in ecstatic bloom in the spring. The Buffalo River is one of the few undammed rivers in the U.S., making it a favorite for paddlers. It’s also an excellent dark-sky destination. The Ozark Highland Recreation Trail is one of the premier long-distance hiking routes in the country. A triumph of organic and religious architecture, the stunning Thorncrown Chapel is nestled in a pristine wooded setting atop native flagstone. The wooden construction soars 48 feet skyward, contains 425 windows, and 6,000 square feet of glass.
The Ozark Folk Center State Park, in Mountain View, is dedicated to preserving the music, crafts, and culture of the Ozarks. Stroll through the Heritage Herb Garden, a living classroom of old-time, medicinal herbal remedies. Working artists demonstrate and sell handmade items such as baskets, candles, copper jewelry, knives, leather goods, quilts, and wood carvings at the Craft Village. The mountain sounds of autoharp, dulcimer, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin are a toe-tapping pleasure. The park is also home to Loco Ropes, a state-of-the-art treetop adventure park experience, where you'll find rope course challenges to test your nerve, endurance, agility, and strength. Beyond the Ozarks, in the rolling hills of Crowley’s Ridge, in Helena and Jonesboro, white southern gospel music and soul music traditions live on.
Where to Stay:
Convenient Wanderlust RV Park is just five minutes from downtown Eureka Springs, and has been voted #1 by Reader’s Digest. It features full hookups, Wifi, shower and laundry facilities, a pool, plus a book and DVD swap. Pets are welcome. In Oak Grove, near the Missouri border, the Ozarks Luxury RV Resort, boasts full hookups, and great amenities including a bathhouse, laundry facilities, a dog park, hot tubs and pools, golf, tennis, and a marina.
Little Rock & Bentonville
The capital city, Little Rock, has been home to the impressive Clinton Presidential Center since 2004, but that’s just for starters. The city’s deep connection to the Civil Rights movement is expressed at a number of historic sites like the Central High School National Historic Site, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, and on the Little Rock Civil Rights self-guided audio tour. Kids clamor for the nationally ranked Museum of Discovery and the Little Rock Zoo. The progressive city also has itineraries with LGBTQ interests in mind.
Cheese dip is said to have originated in Arkansas, so pop a Lactaid and dig into a bowl at the Heights Tacos & Tamale Co. They secured a culinary win for their Ark-Mex staple. Or try Chef Mark Abernathy’s version at Red Door. The modest Lassis Inn is the place to try fish ribs from freshwater buffalo fish. The flaky meat is similar to catfish, fried with a thin bone that can be easily slid out. The spectacular Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville showcases five centuries of American artworks, with an emphasis on underrepresented artists. The trails and grounds are an integral part of the experience, and there’s a café that dishes up beans and cornbread. The four-season mountain bike trails are among the best in the U.S.
Where to Stay:
In the heart of North Little Rock, the Downtown Riverside RV Park has room for 61 RVs. There’s 50-amp service, sewer and water hookups, a clubhouse with washer and dryer, restrooms, and a boat ramp. You can walk to many attractions. In the center of Bentonville, the deluxe Creeks Golf & RV Resort caters to newer, bigger rigs with concrete pad sites with full hookups on city water and sewer, Wifi, and cable TV. There’s also an 18-hole championship golf course, a clubhouse, and bar and grill. They welcome long-stay guests.
The flat, gentle lowlands of the Mississippi River occupy the eastern third of the state, with he western coastal plain extending southward from the Ouachita Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. If you’re a birdwatcher, you’ve hit pay dirt. Located on the Mississippi Flyway, Arkansas is a seasonal way station for migratory ducks, geese, and shorebirds. It’s also the year-round residence of 300 native birds, including bald eagles, barn owls, blue jays, cardinals, flycatchers, and assorted hawks. Sightings of the majestic ivory-billed woodpecker, believed to be extinct, have been reported in the wooded wetlands. The rice fields and reservoirs attract a variety of game birds and animals, such as deer, opossums, quail, rabbits, squirrels, and turkey. Feral hogs, locally known as razorbacks, are dispersed throughout the state. Some of the most enjoyable cycling routes are here.
Where to Stay:
Twenty miles long, Lake Chicot is the largest natural lake in Arkansas and the largest oxbow lake in North America. Its beautiful waters are a favorite with anglers, and its proximity to the Mississippi River makes it a great choice for birders, too. There are 122 campsites with full or partial hookups. Levee tours are offered, there are kayak, boat, and barge rentals, and a seasonal swimming pool.
Bizarre and Beguiling Arkansas
No one can explain why The Dover Lights occur in an uninhabited valley of the Ozark Mountains. The illumination that defies explanation is said to be visible from a neighboring overlook. Local legend says it’s the restless spirits of Spanish soldiers who died looking for treasure. The Fouke Monster, also known as the Beast of the Boggy Creek or the Southern Sasquatch, first came to attention in 1971. Rumored to be seven feet tall and 300 pounds, the hairy cousin of Bigfoot has been alleged to destroy farmland and livestock. Possum pie sounds like roadkill. But it’s actually a delicious dessert in these parts, a decadent chocolate cream pie layered with cream cheese icing and pecans all beneath toasted meringue. Try a slice at Honey Pies in Little Rock. A 37-acre field in Murfreesboro, the Crater of Diamonds State Park, is the only place in America where the public is invited to search for diamonds at their volcanic source. About 1,000 are found annually.