Fort Smith is great staycation city

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Mural in Fort Smith, Arkansas
Mural in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Fort Smith, Ark. ranked No. 6 in WalletHub’s list of best cities for staycations, a vacation spent at home or nearby.

Citing 2020 as a likely year for people to take a staycation, WalletHub compared more than 180 cities - including the 150 most populated U.S. cities, plus at least two of the most populated cities in each state - across 15 key metrics to determine the best places for a fun-filled yet wallet-friendly staycation.

“There are some very impressive cities all down this list,” Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau, said. “WalletHub really did a great job of setting up this criteria. We’re pleased to get the recognition and let the world know."

Two key dimensions were recreation and rest and relaxation. Additionally, WalletHub’s data set ranges from parks per capita to the average home square footage and the idealness of summer weather, according to WalletHub.com.

Overall, Fort Smith ranked No. 6 and Little Rock ranked No. 22. Fort Smith came in No. 1 on the category for “Lowest Average Price of Pizza & Burgers” and at No. 4 for “Lowest Average Beer & Wine Price.”

While you can buy pizza, burgers, beer and wine for a good price because of the low cost of living, Legris said there’s much more behind the ranking.

Staycation activities include historical, cultural and outdoor destinations. Legris added that new public/private partnerships have added amenities to the city over the last few years as well.

Riverside Rides bike rentalsFor example, a public/private partnership created Riverside Rides, a new bike rental facility along the Greg Smith River Trail that opened May 29. The trail runs along the river and wraps around to a park in the northern part of the city for a length of 7.5 miles.

Thus, residents and those who live nearby have plenty of attractions to discover and rediscover.

Fort Smith has long held a Wild West appeal. True West magazine selected Fort Smith as the Top True Western Town for 2013 and it has remained high in the rankings each year since. Fort Smith celebrates its Wild West history at museums like the National Historic Site, with an impressive 25-foot-statue of U.S. Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves, through preservation of numerous historic homes and with annual festivals such as its Old Fort Days Rodeo, held each spring.

Fort Smith also boasts one of the most unique Welcome Centers in the country.  “We always encourages guests to make our Center their first stop for information, maps and a tour to learn about our destination,” says Legris.  The turn of the century Victorian mansion is a former bordello from frontier days and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.  “We have a dedicated group of volunteers ready to share information and stories about our colorful past and exciting future.”

Fort Smith National Historic Site“The National Historic Site is the number one attraction,” Legris said. The historic site contains the remains of two frontier forts, Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Federal Judge Isaac C. Parker’s courtroom, re-created 1886 gallows, “Hell on the Border” jail, and exhibits on the army, Trail of Tears, federal court, marshals and outlaws.

In addition to its frontier spirit, Fort Smith offers a modern art movement that people can enjoy via self-guided tours. More than 30 large murals can be seen downtown on the sides of buildings, plus there are several sculptures.

“Maps of sculptures and murals are available all around town,” Legris said. People walk and/or drive to take in all the unique and large works of art.

Located on the banks of the Arkansas River, Fort Smith’s outdoor excursions can be found at city parks containing hiking and biking trails. The Arkansas River Valley Nature Center features interactive exhibits and educational programs showcasing the nature, environment, history and features of the surrounding area. Fishing opportunities abound with the Arkansas River, Navigation System which has created scores of quiet inlets and bayous filled with many kinds of native Arkansas fish. These areas are also good bird sanctuaries.

The Parrot Island Water Park is open in Ben Geren Regional Park, also home to a golf course, sports fields, tennis courts, bike trail, backwoods trails, playgrounds, picnic pavilions, disc golf, miniature golf and go-karts. Nearby Chaffee Crossing continues to develop its offerings of outdoor activities, museums and a historic district.

Additionally, Legris said Fort Smith is in a prime location to serve as a hub to other vacation spots.

More outdoor recreational opportunities such as hiking and canoeing can be found nearby at Fort Smith State Park, Devil’s Den State Park, Mount Magazine State Park and the Mulberry River.

The A&M Railroad scenic excursion takes off from the train depot in Van Buren, located just five miles away. “I’ve taken it in the fall and in the summer and they’re completely different trips,” Legris said. “You see different scenery depending on the season.”

Arkansas wine country is 45 minutes east, and Bentonville, home to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Amazeum, and the Museum of Native American History, can be reached to the north in about an hour and a half. To the west in Tahlequah, Okla. is the Cherokee Nation Heritage Center.

“So, if you headquarter in Fort Smith, you could see some very different and distinctive things,” Legris added.

Located on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border and near the junction of Interstates 40 and 49, Fort Smith is accessible to travelers, vacationers, business groups and tour coaches. With a metropolitan area population of more than 225,000 people, Fort Smith is one of the largest cities in Arkansas.