36 budget-friendly things to do

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Mammoth Spring State Park
Mammoth Spring State Park

Some of the best things in life are free and they’re in Arkansas. The Natural State has unique locations that can be enjoyed for nothing but the time it takes to get there.

Here are 36 ideas in Northwest and North Central Arkansas waiting for exploration.

  1. In the Ozarks, the Buffalo National River with its towering limestone bluffs is America’s first national river. Hiking trails traverse historic farmsteads, quiet stream valleys, wooded mountainsides, and offer bluff-top vistas.
  2. Free folk music on the Stone County Courthouse Square in Mountain View have been a local tradition since 1963. Professionals and amateurs join together in laid back, impromptu performances on Friday and Saturday evenings during warmer months.
  3. Norfork National Fish Hatchery, located at the base of Norfork Dam east of Mountain Home, offers tours of facilities that produce millions of trout for Ozark streams. Children may try their luck at landing a trout from the waters of nearby Dry Run Creek.
  4. Peel FerryThe last public ferryboat operating in the state, Peel Ferry transports vehicles and passengers across a section of Bull Shoals Lake.
  5. Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs was named mango the top four buildings of the 20th century by the American Institute of Architects. The chapel uses 425 large panels of glass to showcase the natural beauty of the Ozarks. Designed by noted Arkansas architect E. Fay Jones, the non-denominational chapel is open from March through December.
  6. Take Altus exit 41 off Interstate 40 to AR 186 for a drive over St. Mary’s Mountain and past vineyards, wineries and St. Mary’s historic church. Several Arkansas wineries offer tours and wine tastings. Also visit the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum in Paris.
  7. Drive the Boston Mountain Scenic Loop, the only scenic loop in the state. From Fayetteville, take curve-hugging U.S. 71 over Mount Gayler past small gift shops and mountaintop lodging to Alma. From Alma, take Interstate 49 north through the rolling hills of a pastoral countryside and a tunnel through a mountain back to Fayetteville.
  8. At Devil’s Den State Park hiking and backpacking trails lead to backcountry areas where you can explore caves, crevices and bluff overlooks.
  9. Cradled by the bluffs of the War Eagle River in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, Withrow Springs State Park near Huntsville is a peaceful setting for exploring nature.
  10. For grand vistas, travel to the highest point in Arkansas (2,753 feet) at Mount Magazine State Park near Paris.
  11. Miss Laura’s Visitor Center is a restored turn-of-the-century brothel that is now Fort Smith’s visitors center. It offers family-friendly guided tours.
  12. Enjoy a self-guided driving tour or walk the one-mile Battlefield Trail at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Prairie Grove.
  13. Established in 1878 as a Benedictine Monastery, Subiaco Abbey now serves as a college preparatory school for boys. Pick up a brochure on site for a self-guided walking tour to view the dramatic stone architecture and manicured grounds. It also has a brewery.
  14. Beaver BridgeA rare example of a suspension bridge in Arkansas, Beaver Bridge was built in 1943 and is still in use today on AR 187, east of the town of Beaver.
  15. The twin towers of Old Main, completed in 1875, preside over the scenic campus of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Former President Bill Clinton once taught law on this campus. Stroll the grounds and view all the names of graduates carved into the sidewalks.
  16. The entire downtown of Calico Rock Historic District is on the National Historic register and has served as a movie set. See several antique shops, museums, and restaurants.
  17. Overlooking the Arkansas River Valley, 14 miles of hiking and biking trails encircle Mount Nebo, home to the state park of the same name located just seen miles west of Dardanelle on AR 155.
  18. Watch the working water-powered grist mill at War Eagle Mill, established in 1832. An 18-foot watershed splashes and mill stones going cornmeal daily from organically grown grain. It’s located in a pastoral setting that include the War Eagle River and bridge.
  19. Pick up a map at the Van Buren Visitor Center in the Old Frisco Depot for a self-guided walking tour of the well-preserved Main Street Historic District, which looks much like it did 100 years ago. The district has six blocks of art galleries, antique shops, historical attractions and restaurants located along a beautifully restore Victorian Main Street.
  20. White Rock Mountain Recreation Area near Mulberry offers some of the most scenic views in the state from its bluff; plus, it has hiking trails and a lake.
  21. In the Ozark Mountains, the 165-mile Ozark Highlands Trail has been rated one of the most scenic trails in the U.S. It’s great for day hiking, weekend adventures or extended backpacking.
  22. A herd of about 500 elk range in the north central portion of the state along the Buffalo National River. Catch a view of the magnificent beasts and other watchable wildlife in the pastoral setting of Boxley Valley.
  23. In Bentonville, The Walmart Museum contains exhibits tracing the formation and growth of Walmart stores and includes founder Sam Walton’s office and truck.
  24. Located 10 miles east of Rogers on AR 12, Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area covers 12,054 acres along the southern shore of Beaver Lake. It has a Visitor Center and undeveloped access to a diverse, 36-mile trail system with hiking, ADA, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails, and five primitive campsites.
  25. Enjoy ice skating, swimming, the gymnasium and numerous other activities at The Jones Center in Springdale.
  26. View Arkansas’s largest spring with an hourly flow of nine million gallons of water at Mammoth Spring State Park on U.S. 63 in Mammoth Spring.
  27. Jacob Wolf HouseThe Jacob Wolf House is believed to be the oldest standing structure in Arkansas. Overlooking the White River in Norfork on AR 5, the Jacob Wolf home was built in the early 1800s.
  28. Scenic AR 23, a National Scenic Byway connecting from U.S. 71 south of Booneville northward from Ozark to is junction with AR 16, is known as “The Pig Trail” to Razorback football enthusiasts.
  29. Virtually unchanged since the 1920s, the downtown district of Hardy has been transformed into a destination for enjoying the Spring River, artisans, cultural heritage and music. Old Hardy Town boasts several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.
  30. Visit Rapps Barren Settlement, a historic building in a village setting that illustrates Mountain Home’s early days.
  31. Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista, designed by famed Arkansas architect E. Fay Jones, is another awe-inspiring structure built of steel, glass and wood.
  32. Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge is located along the Arkansas River in Dardanelle. It protects over 7,000 acres of waterfowl, eagle and migratory song bird habitat and offers a wildlife driving tour with information panels.
  33. More than 30 large murals showcasing internationally acclaimed and local artists can be seen in downtown Fort Smith.
  34. Lake Dardanelle State Park in Russellville facilities include campground, swim beach, playground, lakeside visitor center with four aquariums and interpretive exhibits and more.
  35. Built in 1930, the Rainbow Bridge in Cotter is a rainbow-arched bridge (five arches) over the White River that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Don’t forget your fishing pole, there’s plenty of trout in the river.
  36. Indian Rock House in Fairfield Bay is nestled under a hillside. This natural sandstone grotto was the home of prehistoric cave dwellers.