One Tank Travels: Jasper

Jasper alone is worth a tank of gas. But head to the town’s historic courthouse square June 22 and 23 during the Buffalo River Elk Festival and you have an incredible bang for your buck.

Located in Newton County, Jasper is surrounded by natural beauty and outdoor opportunities like hiking, canoeing, caving, rock climbing, fishing, hunting, mountain biking, and horseback riding. This is also the area where the nearby Buffalo National River, the nation’s first national river celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, begins to flow. A herd of about 450 elk roam the Buffalo River corridor at Boxley Valley, Steel Creek, Kyle’s Landing, Erbie, Ozark, Pruitt, and even on private lands, and Newton County is known as the Elk Capital of Arkansas.

The picturesque Jasper square with its beautiful courthouse in the middle and gazebos on the grounds is fun to walk around in. Don’t miss poking around in places like Emma’s Museum of Junk, where you’ll find antiques and other wonderful treasures. The Newton County Chamber of Commerce is also a gallery selling regional art.

And head to Jasper with an appetite. The Volcano Burger at Ozark Café is one of my favorites. Ozark Café was established in 1909, and features burgers, steaks, and seafood. Its specialties include a deep-fried hamburger and the Excaliburger, a 1/2-lb. burger sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches and an Ozark sauce. My other favorite part – the café’s soda fountain. The Boardwalk Café is also fabulous, serving locally grown organic foods. The menu features elk chili over cheese enchiladas, elk gumbo and buffalo steaks, homemade salsas and salads made from all Newton County ingredients along with potatoes cooked with herbs from the Café’s garden; salmon, salads, sandwiches and Cajun dishes such as shrimp creole and chicken gumbo. Pies include Black Walnut, which includes black and English walnuts, sorghum molasses and cane syrup. Just south of Jasper The Cliff House Inn offers incredible views of the “Grand Canyon of the Ozarks” along with fine home cooked food. I’m not kidding when I say show up to Jasper with an appetite.

During the festival, Jasper transforms its historic downtown district into a lively festival ground with activities and fun for folks of all ages. This award-winning festival began in 1998 to celebrate the successful reintroduction of elk to Newton County, and has been an annual event every year since.

The festival features arts and crafts, along with many artisans demonstrating their skills. Great local musical talent is showcased on the festival stage. This year’s entertainment includes cloggers, and special performances by Donald Payne, Dave Baer, Bo Jenkins, the Buffalo River Singers of the Jasper 1st Baptist Church, Doug Scallion, Double Barrel Band, the South Ozark Boys, and Night Hawk. Both days include talent shows and both evenings feature street dancing until 11 p.m., reminiscent of an old-fashioned block party.
Contestants for the Dutch Oven Cook-off of Arkansas cook up tasty dishes as well as set up their camps, and dress in old west style outfits. Once judging is complete, you can sample the food. There will also be a pie competition and auction at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday at the Legion Hut. That’s a pretty fun way to start off your morning.
Mill Creek Outdoors will host an archery tournament on Friday and Saturday at Yeager’s Storage, located on Ark. 7 south of the square. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will hold two educational seminars regarding the area elk herd on Saturday. Professionals and amateurs will compete in the Arkansas State Championship Elk Calling Contest, a festival favorite. There are three divisions – Youth (up to 10 years old), Junior (11 to 17), and Adult (18 and older), with great prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in each division.

One of biggest draws of all for the festival is that entries for 22 regular Elk Hunting permits will be drawn every hour on the hour from noon until 5 p.m. on Saturday. If you are hoping to win the special permit for the Onsite Application and Permit Draw, this year there will be three permits drawn, two antlerless and one bull. Applications will be accepted from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on June 22nd and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 23rd at the Senior Center. Applicants must be present at the festival at 7 p.m., Saturday, June 23 in order to win one of these permits.
There’s plenty for kids to do too, including a Kid’s Zone activity area and a kid’s fishing derby for ages 12 and younger.
All the fun ends Saturday night with a fireworks display. The festival is sponsored by the Newton County Chamber of Commerce with assistance from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Find more information at Arkansas Scenic Byway 7, the state’s first national scenic byway, cuts through the heart of the county, running north and south. Harrison is 20 miles from Jasper while Russellville or Branson are 60 miles away.
Jill M. Rohrbach
Join the Conversation