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Hot springs, politics & more: An exploration of Arkansas

Arkansas offers an array of experiences to visitors, from mouth-watering barbeque to outstanding recreational opportunities.

Clinton Presidential Library
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum (Credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism)

Arkansas offers an array of experiences to visitors, from mouth-watering barbeque to outstanding recreational opportunities. This short five-day trip will take you from the bustling capital of Little Rock to Hot Springs—once a boomtown and gathering spot for world-famous athletes and mobsters, now a national park—and up into the mountainous northern portion of the state before returning to the charming state capital.

Day 1 – Little Rock

Morning: Fly into Clinton National Airport

Visit the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum

Learn about the life of a president at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, located in the heart of Little Rock. The museum features historical exhibits, special events and educational programs. Visitors will find a replica of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room, as well as many interactive exhibits and rare documents, photos and other memorabilia.

Afternoon: Explore Little Rock’s River Market

For live music and food from across the world, it doesn’t get better than the Little Rock River Market. Situated on the banks of the Arkansas River, the River Market is the city’s unofficial cultural center, home to worldwide cuisine, artwork and demonstrations from skilled Arkansas artists and live music.

Evening: Dinner and drinks at the Capital Bar & Grill

Little Rock’s Capital Hotel has been the center of the city’s political and business life for more than a century, and the Capital Bar & Grill has welcomed lawmakers and movers and shakers to enjoy food and drinks for just as long. Signature dishes include fried chicken and red beans and hand-made charcuterie.

Other ideas: Little Rock Central High School was a key location in the story of the desegregation of public schools in the United States, and the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site shares the story of the brave students who led the way for equality. Sample some authentic Arkansas barbeque at Whole Hog Café or Sim’s Bar-B-Que.

Day 2 – Little Rock to Hot Springs

Morning: Drive to Crater of Diamonds State Park

Head southwest of Little Rock for a truly one-of-a-kind experience at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro. Crater of Diamonds is the only diamond-producing site in the world where the public can search for diamonds—and visitors get to keep what they find. Hunt for diamonds on a 38-acre (15 hectare) plowed field, the eroded surface of an ancient, gem-bearing volcanic crater. Several diamonds weighing six carats or more have been found at the site.

Afternoon: Lunch at McClard’s Bar-B-Que

Want to sample some of President Bill Clinton’s favorite food? Make a stop at McClard’s Bar-B-Que, a longtime family-owned restaurant that serves ribs, beef, pork, tamales and other delicious dishes.

Explore downtown Hot Springs, including Bathhouse Row

Hot Springs and Hot Springs National Park owe their existence to an array of springs that still supply naturally heated water for thermal baths. The historic Fordyce Bathhouse, located on famous Bathhouse Row, serves as the park’s visitor center. Hot Springs is also home to live thoroughbred racing and gaming at Oaklawn, Garvan Woodland Gardens and the Gangster Museum of America.

Evening: Visit the historic Ohio Club

Located on Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs, The Ohio Club is the state’s oldest bar and was once a hangout for gangsters (like Al Capone) and baseball players (including Babe Ruth) who visited the area seeking rejuvenation from the local hot springs. The Ohio Club offers live music seven nights a week.

Other options: Get a bird’s-eye view of Hot Springs at Hot Springs Mountain Tower, which takes guests 1,200 feet above sea level on top of Hot Springs Mountain. Marvel at the natural beauty of Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountain region at Garvan Woodland Gardens, a noteworthy botanical garden.

Day 3 – Bentonville

Morning: Drive to Bentonville, AR (330km, 3 hours, 45 minutes)

Afternoon: Visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

You might not expect to find a world-class art museum in northwest Arkansas, but that’s just what visitors will discover when they go to Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville. The museum, founded by Alice Walton—the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton—offers free admission and houses an impressive collection of art from U.S. artists, including Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell and Jackson Pollock.

Evening: Visit the Walmart Museum

Head to Bentonville to Visit the Walmart Museum and learn all about the history of Sam Walton’s ever-expanding company. The museum, which recently underwent an extensive renovation, includes several exhibits about the history of Walmart, as well as Walton’s 5&10, the original variety store opened by Sam Walton.

Other options: In Bentonville, learn about the indigenous peoples of Arkansas at the Museum of Native American History. If you’re traveling with kids, head to the Scott Family Amazeum to find fun interactive science exhibits and hands-on displays. Or, head south to the city of Fayetteville, which is home to the University of Arkansas. There, you’ll find numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation, several craft breweries and other fun diversions.

Day 4 – Mountain View

Morning: Drive to Mountain View, AR (275km, 3 hours, 30 minutes)

Afternoon: Explore Ozark Folk Center State Park

Arkansas’ unique Ozark Folk Center State Park is America’s only facility that works at preserving the Ozark heritage and sharing it in an entertaining way. Catch a live concert or explore the old-time stores and shops at the folk village.

Tour of Blanchard Springs Caverns

A hidden gem in northern Arkansas, Blanchard Springs Caverns is located in the Ozark National Forest near Mountain View. This active cave is open for tours, and the beautifully lighted rooms feature handrails and paved trails for easy accessibility. For more adventurous visitors, a “Wild Cave Tour” takes explorers through narrow passages and up steep slopes.

Evening: Dinner at Gaston’s White River Resort

Gaston’s White River Resort offers some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the country, but it also provides a beautiful dining experience. Patrons can sit at a table by floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the White River and sample some of the local trout. Guests at the resort can even bring in their own fish to be prepared by the restaurant’s chef.

Other options: Explore the massive Bull Shoals Lake for a fishing trip or a scenic boat ride. Head out on a canoe or kayak on the Buffalo National River.

Day 5 – Little Rock

Morning: Drive to Little Rock (170km, 2 hours)

Afternoon: Depart from Clinton National Airport