Contributing Writers: Jill Rohrbach, Kerry Kraus, Kim Williams and Zoie Clift
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
No plans for a spring break yet? Worried about the expense of a family trip? No sweat. There are many Natural State destinations and activities that offer budget friendly fun for the whole family or just a group of friends. Listed below are a few ideas to help you plan the perfect spring break in Arkansas without breaking the bank.
Geocaching Along the Great River Road – Why not hunt for treasure during spring break? Using clues and coordinates, geocaching provides fun for all ages and the thrill of finding the elusive cache. Grab your young “pirates,” your hiking boots and your GPS and head to Arkansas’s Great River Road for a geocaching escapade! The modern-day scavenger hunt promises hours or days of fun! The scenic byway runs along eastern Arkansas’s border along the historic Mississippi River and offers wonderful opportunities to experience Arkansas’s Delta. The 25 Arkansas Great River Road caches will take you to notable historical sites in Blytheville, Osceola, Wilson, Tyronza, West Memphis, Horseshoe Lake, Forrest City, Brinkley, Marianna, Helena-West Helena, Trenton, St. Charles, Arkansas City, Rohwer, McGehee, Dumas, Pickens, Jerome, Lake Village and Eudora. Along the way, experience some of the best barbecue, catfish and home cooking at diners, bistros and restaurants along the Great River Road. Whether you’ve got two days or just a couple of hours, log a few caches along this scenic byway.
Pine Bluff – For affordable spring break fun in The Natural State, head to Pine Bluff! Check out the Delta Rivers Nature Center, featuring exhibits on the natural history of the Arkansas Delta; a 20,000-gallon aquarium filled with native fish; and live turtles, snakes and alligators. The Arkansas Railroad Museum is home to Engine 819, the mighty locomotive built in Pine Bluff in 1942. The museum features a full-scale railroad depot and a variety of railroad memorabilia. The Arts and Science Center of Southeast Arkansas offers hands-on exhibitions for kids, live productions throughout the year, acting classes and theatre camps for kids, and works by local, regional and national artists. The Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historical Museum, located in a restored Union Station train depot, offers visitors a glimpse into Pine Bluff’s history. Exhibits include Civil War and World War I artifacts, antique dolls, and farming implements from the past. Learn more about the famous musicians, writers, and performers who called Arkansas home at the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame. See memorabilia including musical instruments, costumes, personal items and gold records of some of Arkansas’s native sons and daughters who took the world by storm! If you feel like doing a little fishing, check out Saracen Landing, located along the banks of Lake Saracen in downtown Pine Bluff. The $4.2 million park facility offers public fishing access and boat launch access. It’s also home to special events throughout the year, including the Pine Bluff Farmers Market. And don’t miss the cool fountain that shoots water 40 feet into the air!
Lake Chicot - A former main channel of the Mississippi River, Lake Chicot is the largest oxbow lake in North America. The lake and its environs are one of the state’s top-rated birding areas. Lake Chicot State Park, located on the northeastern shore of the 20-mile-long lake, offers cabins, campsites, a marina, boat rentals, levee and barge tours of the lake for sunset and wildlife viewing. The visitor center interprets the area’s history and natural resources through exhibits and programs. Bicycles and pedal boats are available for rent. On Ark. 144, eight miles northeast of Lake Village. For more information visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com or phone 870-265-5480.
Crowley’s Ridge Parkway National Scenic Byway - Created by water, wind and glacier action over the past 50 million years, the ridge is a series of tree-covered rolling hills stretching nearly 200 miles, north to south, in the midst of the great Arkansas delta. Geologists proclaim it one of the great natural oddities of the world. Since the arrival of settlers in the early 19th century the ridge has served as a recreational retreat. Crowley's Ridge Parkway National Scenic Byway is of only 125 distinct and diverse roads designated by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. From St. Francis to Helena, the route passes by or near the home where Ernest Hemingway wrote portions of A Farewell to Arms, six state parks, a national forest, Civil War sites, historic homes, museums, rich agricultural areas, and the Delta Cultural Center. Activities along the route include lake fishing, picnicking, hiking, geocaching, and boating. Cabins, campgrounds, bathhouses, playgrounds, and visitor centers can be found at the state parks. Jonesboro, the largest city on the parkway, has shopping districts, a historic downtown, a civic center, plus Arkansas State University with its public museum, art gallery and convocation center. Jonesboro is also home to the Crowley's Ridge Nature Center. The center offers self-guided trail walks that allow visitors to see plants and animals in habitats ranging from wetlands to prairie to forest. Don’t miss the video explaining the formation of Crowley’s Ridge. The parkway and Crowley’s Ridge end at Helena at the Mississippi River. Handsome antebellum and Victorian homes stand on the gentle slopes just before the ridge disappears into the delta. Lodging at hotels and bed and breakfast inns is also available. For information about the parkway visit www.deltabyways.com or call 870-972-2803.
Little Rock/North Little Rock - The big city hosts numerous attractions, including the Historic Arkansas Museum, the Arkansas Arts Center, the Old State House Museum, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, and the Museum of Discovery. The River Market District offers fine accommodations, dining and shopping. New to the area is Heifer Village, a $13.5 million project, an interactive global education facility which is designed as a sustainable and environmentally sensitive building. Adjacent wetlands, which support native species, complement the building’s design. More than 700 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are on display at the Little Rock Zoo. Don’t miss the chance to ride a one-of-a-kind antiquity, the restored Over the Jumps Carousel, the only one of its kind still in existence and located at the zoo.
You can take your own Black History tour of Little Rock by visiting Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and accompanying museum across the street, EMOBA-The Museum of Black Arkansans, Testament: the Little Rock Nine Memorial on the State Capitol grounds, and Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.
Across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum now has a replica of a ship’s bridge just for kids. It contains a combination of controls from an ocean-going ship and a river tugboat. The museum is also home port for the USS Razorback submarine, open for tours. Not far away is the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, located on the ground level of Verizon Arena.
The Junction Pedestrian Bridge downtown and the Big Dam Bridge in west Little Rock allow visitors to amble, run, hike or walk from one town to the other. For more information on Little Rock visit www.littlerock.com or phone 800-844-4781. For more information on the Little Rock Zoo visit www.littlerockzoo.com or phone 501-666-2406. For more information on North Little Rock visit www.northlittlerock.travel/ or phone 501-758-1424.
Big Time Movies – Looking for a way to have some spring break fun indoors? How about taking in an IMAX show? Little Rock offers two opportunities for such viewing. The original IMAX, a part of the Arkansas Aerospace Education Center, has a six-story-high screen and six-channel sound system that plops you right in the middle of award-winning documentaries. Before or after the showing, explore the education center with its nine aircraft, Apollo space module and other displays. The EpiSphere Digital Dome – a 55-foot suspended dome screen – lets the show happen all around you. The Arkansas Aerospace Education Center and IMAX is located at 3301 East Roosevelt Road. For more information visit www.aerospaced.org or phone 501-376-4232. The IMAX 9, in west Little Rock, shows both Hollywood features and documentaries in a three-dimensional auditorium with digital sound. It is located at 17825 Chenal Parkway. For more information visit www.dtmovies.com/ or phone 501-821-2616.
Exploring Nature – Two Little Rock facilities provide visitors with opportunities to discover the complexity and beauty of The Natural State’s natural world. The Central Arkansas Nature Center is located on 3.4 acres in Little Rock, within Riverfront Park overlooking the Arkansas River. Exhibits highlight the role of fish and wildlife management and many of the projects conducted throughout the history of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The riverfront location provides many watchable wildlife opportunities within an urban area, including basking water turtles, butterflies and migrating pelicans. A portion of the Arkansas River Trail crosses the grounds offering more options for exploration. Beds of native plants found throughout the state are a major part of the landscaping, while the main building includes an exhibit hall, aquariums, a gift shop, a theater and a venue for special educational programs. For more information visit www.centralarkansasnaturecenter.com/ or phone 501-907-0636. The Little Rock Nature Center is an Audubon facility surrounded by Fourche Creek wetlands and the unique soils and plants of Granite Mountain in adjacent Gillam Park. The 2,000-acres available for use offer a vast and richly diverse outdoor lab for young people to learn about conservation, restoration, wildlife and plants. Trails designed for a variety of learning experiences surround the Center. For more information visit www.ar.audubon.org/naturecenterlr.html or phone 501-244-2229.
Cruisin’ Conway – Cadron Settlement Park explores frontier Arkansas with a recreated blockhouse, a historical mural, and Cherokee Trail of Tears exhibits. Kiddie Land, a petting zoo, music, antiques and a fudge factory make Pickles Gap Village just north of Conway a great place to visit.
Buffalo National River - Spring and early summer are the prime times to float the Buffalo National River, although the lower section can be floated year-round. The first stream to receive the designation (1972), the Buffalo flows roughly 150 miles and includes nearly 95,000 acres of public land along its corridor. The river descends nearly 2,000 feet through layers of sandstone, limestone and chert. Hidden away, ready for discovery, are other geologic marvels, springs, caves, waterfalls, natural bridges and box-like canyons, where trails are abundant. Numerous outfitters (for canoeing, rafting, horseback riding and fishing) service the river, and there are several campgrounds, cabins, motels and other lodging options nearby. For more information visit www.arkansas.com/outdoors/canoeing-rafting-kayaking/ or phone 870-741-5443.
Arkansas North by Northwest - A glittering gem of northwest Arkansas, Beaver Lake’s 28,000 acres of clear water attract thousands of water sport lovers, fishermen, hikers and birdwatchers. The lake is surrounded by forests, tall bluffs and meadows crisscrossed by hiking trails. Campgrounds, resorts, marinas, outfitters, restaurants and shops serve the lake area, which is located in the Ozark Highlands near Rogers, Eureka Springs, Springdale and Fayetteville. Trout fishing on the White River is popular below Beaver Dam. Rogers has a variety of retail stores in its historic downtown district that covers eight square blocks. Brick-paved streets lead to old-fashioned storefronts filled with unique furniture, antiques and gifts, to cafes, and to the Daisy International Air Museum and the Rogers Historical Museum. Springdale is the place to catch a ride on the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad in a beautifully restored turn-of-the-century passenger car. Its downtown is also home to the Shiloh Museum, which offers Ozark history and buildings dating back to the 1850s. The Fayetteville square is known for its colorful gardens and Farmer’s Market that runs three days a week beginning in spring. Just blocks away, Dickson Street is the hip place for unique shops, dining locales and tons of live music venues. Completing the scene are symphony concerts and dance and theatrical performances at the Walton Arts Center. For more information on Rogers visit www.rogerslowell.com or phone 479-636-1240. For more information on Springdale visit www.springdale.com or phone 479-872-2222. For more information on Fayetteville visit www.experiencefayetteville.com or phone 800-766-4626.
Eureka Springs – Haunted hotels, great food, unique shops, natural springs and homes built on the sides of rock cliffs make up this picturesque town. Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, Eureka Springs’ entire downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s packed with attractions such as gardens, caves, an exotic wildlife ranch, a doll museum, live music, and train excursion rides. Unique boutiques offer everything under the sun – antiques, fine art, contemporary and vintage clothing, handmade crafts and more. A portion of history is uniquely preserved through ghost tours at the Crescent Hotel and Basin Park Hotel, two of the historic hotels. Eureka Springs has been named one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For more information visit www.eurekasprings.org or phone 1-800-6EUREKA.
Mount Magazine State Park – Near Paris, the highest point in Arkansas rises from the Arkansas River Valley to an elevation of 2,753 feet. It offers hang gliding, rappelling, rock climbing, horseback riding, camping and hiking. The mountain’s main road has bicycle lanes, and from its eight scenic overlooks visitors can see hundreds of miles of beautiful forested lands and mountains. It is also known for its outstanding butterfly population. A visitor center has an exhibit gallery and gift shop. Thirteen cabins, a 60-room lodge with restaurant and conference center, plus an indoor swimming pool, exercise room, and gift shop make it a perfect place to take a break. Nearby, Blue Mountain Lake offers more camping and outdoor recreation. Mount Magazine Scenic Byway leads travelers across the top of Mount Magazine and past the Cove Lake Recreation Area and the Cove Lake Trail. For more information visit www.MountMagazineStatePark.com or phone 479-963-8502.
Blanchard Springs Caverns – Ranked among the most beautiful underground discoveries of the 20th Century, Blanchard Springs Caverns is located deep in the Ozark National Forest, 15 miles north of Mountain View. It is the only developed cave system operated by the U.S. Forest Service and is open throughout the year. Lighted walkways lead to stunning limestone formations and massive rooms, one as long as six football fields. For the more adventurous, Blanchard Springs also offers guided hikes into undeveloped reaches of the federally protected underground system. Helmets, lights, gloves and kneepads are provided for the four-hour tour, which is limited to eight persons. Reservations are required for the Wild Cave Adventure. (Reservations are recommended, but not required, for normal cave tours.) Blanchard Springs Recreational Use Area provides scenic campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails, a massive natural spring and a trout-stocked lake. Located off Ark. 14 near the town of Fifty-Six. For more information visit www.BlanchardCaveTours.com or phone 1 (888) 757-2246.
White River and Bull Shoals Lake – Another favorite family destination, Bull Shoals has almost 1,000 miles of rugged shoreline. People come to fish, scuba dive, houseboat, water ski, camp, hike and relax. Camping and picnic facilities can be found around the lake. Fishing on Bull Shoals is excellent all year with peak action in March, April and May. Internationally famous for its beauty and great fishing, the White River flows through the Ozark Mountains and across the Delta (over 700 miles) before joining the Mississippi River. Trout fishing below the dam, which is the fifth largest concrete dam in the U.S., is a major draw. Resorts and full-service marinas are available as are many accommodations and guide services. For more information visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com or phone the Corps of Engineers at 870-425-2700 or the State Park at 870-431-5521.
River Valley Vineyards - Four wineries – Post Familie Vineyard and Winery, Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, Mount Bethel Winery, and Chateau Aux Arc – operate in the Altus area and Cowie Wine Cellars operates in nearby Paris. Each offers tours and tasting rooms. Some offer extra amenities such as a gift shop, a restaurant, or an RV park. You can take a self-guided tour, or even better, let someone else drive. Mount Magazine State Park offers a tour of wine country each Saturday. So, jump in the van and enjoy yourself while someone else shows you around. Don’t underestimate the small town shopping opportunities available at the base of the mountain in towns like Booneville and Paris. You’ll find antiques and small boutiques, and even the parent company of the Warren’s shoe chain. For more information visit www.Arkansas.com.
The Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival – Lasting from March 17-21 in Hot Springs, this multi-day festival takes place in various venues around town each night. The event attracts bands from around the world and organizers are saying it's becoming a pit stop for those making the trek to or from the South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX. For more information visit www.valleyofthevapors.com.
The 42nd annual Jonquil Festival takes place March 19-21 in Washington at Historic Washington State Park. This three-day festival heralds the coming of spring to southwest Arkansas. Thousands of jonquils welcome crafters, entertainers, and visitors to the park. More details can be found at historicwashingtonstatepark.com
Hot Springs – The First Ever Sixth Annual World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade takes place on March 17 in Hot Springs. The parade is held annually on Bridge Street, which became famous in the 1940s when Ripley’s Believe It or Not designated it “The Shortest Street in the World.” The celebrity grand marshal will be Bo Derek.
Hot Springs, the boyhood home of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, also hosts a national park, a Thoroughbred racetrack, a 210-acre botanical garden, and a thriving arts community. Fishing, water-skiing, sailing, boating, and scuba diving are popular lake activities. Three area lakes – Hamilton, Catherine and Ouachita – accommodate water-based recreation, private resorts and two state parks. Oaklawn Park offers live racing from late January to mid-April and simulcast races during the rest of the year. The Tulip Extravaganza takes place at Garvan Woodland Gardens March 24-April 4. Approximately 100,000 vibrantly hued tulips will line the Flowering Border and Camellia Trail. This lavish floral display is one of the most anticipated events of the year for the gardens. Hot Springs and Hot Springs National Park owe their existence to an array of springs that still supply naturally heated water for thermal bathers. The Fordyce Bathhouse, located on famous Bathhouse Row, serves as the park’s visitor center. For more information on Oaklawn Park visit www.oaklawn.com or phone 1-800-OAKLAWN; for more information on Garvan Woodland Gardens visit www.garvengardens.org. The Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau provides information on other attractions and area lakes at www.hotsprings.org or by phone at 1-800-SPA-CITY.
DeGray Lake – The 13,800-acre lake, about eight miles north of Arkadelphia, is home to the only resort state park in Arkansas. The 96-room lodge at DeGray Lake Resort State Park is on an island accessible via a causeway. The park also includes a 7,200-yard golf course, a riding stable, campgrounds and hiking trails. Visitors can rent watercraft at the park marina or can launch their own craft for free. Sailing, fishing, jet-skiing, and boating are popular DeGray activities. Also located on the lake are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreational areas, most of which have campsites. Iron Mountain Lodge and Marina has fully-equipped lakeside cottages and its own full-service marina stocked with ski boats, party barges, small fishing boats and houseboats. In Arkadelphia, visitors will find a variety of restaurants and, between the town’s two universities, a planetarium, galleries and available theatrical and musical performances. Also in Arkadelphia, a driving tour highlights several homes listed on the National Register, some of which date to the 1840s. For more information on the State park visit www.degray.com or phone 501- 865-2801. For more information on Corps of Engineers sites phone 501- 246-5501. For more information on Arkadelphia phone the Chamber of Commerce at 870- 246-5542.
Crater of Diamonds State Park – North America’s largest diamond (40.23 carats) and more than 70,000 other diamonds have been found in a field southeast of Murfreesboro since farmer John Huddleston discovered the first gems in the field in 1906. Now the eroding surface of a volcanic pipe located about three miles southeast of Murfreesboro is preserved as Crater of Diamonds State Park, the world’s only site where anyone can dig for diamonds and keep what they find. Diamond displays and exhibits detailing the site’s history and geology can be found in the park’s visitor center. The park also has a campground, a hiking trail, a picnic and play area, and a seasonal “Diamond Springs” water park. Of note, the campground is currently closed while undergoing a total renovation. It is expected to reopen in mid-summer. A rainbow-trout fishery is located on the Little Missouri River below the Narrows Dam around nine miles north of the park. For more information visit www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com or phone 870-285-3113.
Lake Ouachita - Arkansas’s largest reservoir at 40,000 acres, Lake Ouachita offers fishing for striped and largemouth bass and other sport fish in the midst of outstanding scenery. It is also a popular destination for scuba diving, boating, sailing and water skiing. A number of private resorts with marinas are located on its shores. Lake Ouachita State Park has a marina, rental cabins, campsites and hiking trails and interpretive programs. Numerous U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreation areas are also located on the lake, which was formed by the completion of Blakely Mountain Dam in the early 1950s. For more information on the resorts visit www.mtidachamber.com or phone 870- 867-2723. For more information on Lake Ouachita State Park visit www.ArkansasStateParks.com or phone 501-767-9366. For the Corps of Engineers phone 501-767-2101.
Queen Wilhelmina State Park – Sitting atop Arkansas’s second highest peak and located on the byway 13 miles west of Mena, Queen Wilhelmina State Park’s lodge accommodates travelers with 38 rooms, a restaurant and gift shop. A miniature golf course, miniature train rides and hiking trails, lined with colorful wildflowers in the spring, provide family activities. Guests using the park’s campground often include hikers traversing the 223- mile Ouachita National Recreation Trail which runs through the park. For more information on Queen Wilhelmina State Park visit www.queenwilhelmina.com or phone 479- 394-2863.
Ouachita National Forest - Within the 1.8 million-acre Ouachita National Forest (est. 1907) are back roads and hiking trails that provide visitors with an up-close experience of the aged mountains. The forest hosts six wilderness areas (five in AR and one in OK) and two Wild and Scenic Rivers. The Talimena National Scenic Byway winds along the top of Winding Stair and Rich Mountains on its way into Arkansas. Other highlights in the forest include the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, which traverses a lengthy 223 miles across the region, and the Womble Trail, one of the most popular single-track mountain bike routes in the nation. For more information visit www.fs.fed.us/r8/ouachita. For more information on the Talimena Scenic Byway visit www.talimenascenicdrive.com
Need more budget friendly ideas? Check out www.arkansas.com for a list of 101 Free Things To Do, listed under the Things To Do tab, or go to www.arkansas.com/calendar/ for a complete list of events, festivals, and attractions around the Natural State.
To find all the entertainment and vacation options available in these locations and other parts of the state, call (501) 682-7777 for a free vacation kit or pick one up at an Arkansas Welcome Center. Thirteen Welcome Centers are operated at points of entry into the state, plus one in Little Rock. Trained travel consultants from the state tourism division provide suggested tour routes, an Arkansas Tour Guide, and other literature on places of interest. Check www.arkansas.com/attractions/tourism_centers.aspx for a map showing locations of the center.