By Kerry Kraus, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
Below is a sampling of Arkansas tourist sites available to disabled
persons who are planning wheelchair accessible vacations. Because the listed sites have varying degrees of wheelchair accessibility,
visitors are encouraged to call ahead before making travel plans.
Arkansas is blessed with many natural and man-made attractions that draw visitors from all over the United States. Your Arkansas vacation could include visits to two
mountain ranges, a national park, four national historic sites, a
national river, three national forests, 52 state parks, historic towns,
bustling cities full of excitement, festivals blanketing the state,
water parks, theme parks, botanical gardens - what more could a traveler
But for a tourist with a physical disability, these places aren't
always easy to visit. The tourism industry in Arkansas has made great
strides in making wheelchair accessible vacations possible with attractions, lodgings and restaurants that feature wheelchair accessibility since
the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990.
Few have made greater efforts in this area than the Arkansas State Park
system. Currently all 52 parks are accessible, and there are plans to
make more activities and structures available to disabled persons.
Petit Jean State Park,
the state's first, provides a perfect example of facilities being
retrofitted to meet the demands of modern society. When its original
facilities were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the
1930s, accessibility was not a major consideration. Today, however, one
rustic and four duplex cabins are now totally accessible. Both types
offer fireplaces, fully equipped kitchens and coffee makers, but no
television. The rustic cabin even boasts a hot tub. The park's Mather
Lodge has been outfitted with two accessible rooms, one with double
beds, the other a queen. Both have views of the surrounding woods and
satellite television – ideal accommodations for wheelchair accessible vacations to this beautiful park.
Even the park's centerpiece - Cedar Falls - is accessible. A
special boardwalk provides access to an elevated view of the natural wonder. The
alleged gravesite of the tragic heroine of the Legend of Petit Jean,
for which the park is named, also has an elevated boardwalk leading to
"Every state park that offers lodging, be it cabins or a lodge, has
barrier-free accommodations," said Greg Butts, Arkansas State Parks
director. "And as renovation work continues during the next few years,
there will be even more accessible facilities available."
Petit Jean and several other state parks, such as Cane Creek, Lake
Chicot, Crowley's Ridge, Lake Charles, Lake Catherine, Lake Dardanelle, Lake Frierson,
Davidsonville Historic and Pinnacle Mountain, have accessible fishing
piers. Parks with at least one barrier-free trail include Pinnacle Mountain,
Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources, Bull Shoals-White River, Crater of
Diamonds, Crowley's Ridge, Lake Catherine, Louisiana Purchase, Davidsonville Historic,
Parkin, Petit Jean and Toltec Mounds. Five parks have swimming pools
that can be used by the disabled, and there is a barrier-free firing
range at Beaver Lake State Park.
Many private and other public facilities around the state are also suitable for wheelchair accessible vacations. One of the most scenic trails in the state is The
Grand Promenade in Hot Springs National Park.
A National Recreation Trail, the promenade is one-third of a mile in
length and runs parallel to Bathhouse Row. Along the brick-paved path
skirting Hot Springs Mountain are benches, game tables, native and
ornamental plants, an abundance of birds, and the springs that gave the
park its name. Several scenic overlooks offer views of the resort town and the
surrounding Ouachita Mountains. The promenade provides wheelchair accessibility via steep
ramps at its south and north ends. A brochure and maps are available at
the National Park Visitors Center. For more specific information, call
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has provided an accessible trail to
explore the beauty of the Ozarks around Greers Ferry Lake. The Mossy
Bluff/Buckeye Trail, also a National Recreation Trail, is one-half mile
in length, a portion of which is wheelchair accessible. Located
downstream from the Greers Ferry Dam, the Mossy Bluff Trail meanders
along a bluff overlooking the Little Red River. The trail is mostly
level, except at each end, where mossy bluffs are crossed by flights of
stairs. The trail provides excellent views of the lake and river valley
from an overlook shelter at the dam. The Buckeye Trail was constructed
in conjunction with the Mossy Bluff Trail to provide a quality trail
experience for persons who are not physically able to negotiate the more
difficult areas. Displays are provided alongside these trails for
interpretation of interesting natural features. Call (501) 362-2416 for
Blanchard Springs Caverns
near Mountain View offers a subterranean adventure with spectacular glimpses of the underground
world. One of the cave's two trails, the Dripstone Trail, is open
year-round and is accessible to people in wheelchairs, provided they
have some assistance. This scenic tour covers seven-tenths of a mile in
about 90 minutes. It is not a strenuous walk, and there are two seating
areas along the trail. The few stairs that comprise a portion of the
Dripstone can be bypassed using alternate trails. The trail showcases
practically every type of calcite formation found in limestone caves,
from delicate soda straws to massive flowstones. The trail leads through
two major rooms in the upper level of the cavern system: the Cathedral
Room, big enough to hold more than three football fields; and the Coral
Room, which features many snow-white formations made of pure calcite.
For more information, contact the U.S. Forest Service at (870) 757-2211.
One the most popular attractions in The Natural State is Magic Springs Theme Park/Crystal Falls Water Park
in Hot Springs. Several of the rides at Magic Springs are classified as
accessible, as are three of the water attractions at Crystal Falls. The
park encourages disabled guests to have someone with them for
assistance if needed. A Disabled Guest Guidelines brochure is available
at the park office. Call (501) 624-0100 for more details.
A good portion of the hotels and motels around Arkansas provide some
type of accessible accommodations. Even some of the historic hotels
have been adapted to meet the needs of all travelers. It can be
difficult, however, to find a room for rent at a bed and breakfast inn that is accessible.
This is especially true when considering that more than two-thirds of
Arkansas's bed and breakfasts are located in structures listed on the
National Register of Historic Places and are therefore exempt from the
accessibility law unless they undergo major renovations.
More recently constructed bed and breakfasts are more likely to
provide barrier-free accommodations. One such establishment is the Mountain Thyme Bed and Breakfast Inn
in Jessieville. "Nancy's Room" provides wheelchair accessibility for visitors, including a private entrance with ramp, a
wheelchair-accessible shower with bench (no tub), and plenty of room to
navigate. According to owner and innkeeper Rhonda Hicks, the room has
been praised by customers with disabilities who have stayed in it,
including those in wheelchairs.
In Helena, the Delta Cultural Center
is another excellent example of a historic building being adapted for
modern-day use. The center is housed in a restored 1912 Missouri-Pacific
train depot. Located at 95 Missouri Street, the depot includes a
permanent exhibit highlighting Arkansas Delta themes, such as the Civil
War, Native American culture, Old Man River and the African-American
experience. Down the street at 141 Cherry, the Delta Cultural Center
Visitors Center includes a museum store, gallery space for temporary
exhibits, and an interactive exhibit featuring the music of the Arkansas
According to the
museum, the entire center is accessible. The depot has ramp access and
an elevator to the second floor. The visitors center is accessible by a
concrete sidewalk ramp. Call (870) 338-4361 for more information.
Little Rock's earliest structures are preserved through the Historic Arkansas Museum.
These structures were formerly called the Arkansas Territorial
Restoration since they dated to the state's territorial days. The
Hinderliter Grog Shop (circa 1826) is Little Rock's oldest building
still standing. The circa 1848 Brownlee house is a Federal style brick
house constructed in the late 1840s by Robert Brownlee. The Woodruff
Print Shop is a two-room brick structure built circa 1824. The McVicar
House, circa 1848, is a wooden house constructed of white oak logs and
square pegs. Also on the museum grounds is the Plum Bayou Log House,
The renovated and expanded main building of the museum
houses permanent displays of the state's outstanding collection of
furniture, silver, pottery, textiles, paintings and firearms, all made
by Arkansas artisans and artists over the past 200 years.
According to a museum spokesperson, all the buildings that comprise
the complex are barrier-free except for the second floor of the
Hinderliter Tavern. For more information call (501) 324-9351 or (501)
The history of the Grand Prairie and the German immigrants that
settled the east-central Arkansas town of Stuttgart can be found at the
Museum of Arkansas's Grand Prairie. The prairie's natural and cultural
heritage, the history of its rice production, and the popularity of duck
hunting in the area are all explained in exhibits. Another display
replicates Stuttgart's Main Street during the town's formative years,
featuring recreations of period businesses. An early prairie village
found on the museum grounds includes an authentic one-room schoolhouse, a
re-created home and a reproduction of Stuttgart's first Lutheran
church. The 20,000 square-foot main museum and all but one of the prairie
buildings are barrier-free. The contact phone number is (870) 673-7001.
One of the state's most enduring attractions is The Great Passion Play
in Eureka Springs, another popular family vacation destination. The focal point of the sprawling entertainment
complex is the play itself, which portrays Christ's final days on earth.
A re-creation of Jerusalem, the colorful market place, the crucifixion,
and the awe-inspiring ascension are all depicted in the outdoor
amphitheatre. Other attractions include the seven-story-tall Christ of
the Ozarks statue, the New Holy Land, the Sacred Arts Center, the Bible
Museum and the Smith Memorial Chapel. A spokesperson for the Elna N.
Smith Foundation, which runs the compound, said all facilities are ADA
compliant. For more information or to make reservations, call
With these current and future improvements, guests with a disability can enjoy creating memorable adventures in The Natural State.