Alternating streaks of color in blue, black, gray, red, and orange - like calico cloth – are the markings on bluffs looming over the White River in an area of north-central Arkansas known as Calico Rock. Located directly on the White River in Izard County, Calico Rock developed as a steamboat landing in the early 1800s and became a boomtown in 1902 when the railroad tracks were laid. It was the largest town in Izard County through the 1960s. However, neighboring towns grew faster, leaving this once important river port with a population of about 1,500 today.
But Calico Rock still has plenty of appeal for visitors, and all ages making it their home. It is a draw especially to retirees and tourists looking for a breath of fresh air, small town living, and tons of trout. Its ghost town and attractive, old-fashioned downtown storefronts entertain visitors too. Its historic Main Street hosts thousands of visitors each year. Brick and stone buildings from the 1920s flank the street for a few blocks. They are home to antique stores, a museum and various stores. Additional shopping is available in more modern parts of town.
Calico Rock Museum houses collections and displays exhibits beginning with the American Indian culture to about 1967 that are historically and culturally significant to the town and area. It's located in the historic Bank of Calico Rock building. The museum not only preserves the past, it also features handmade works of area artists. About 28 artists sell their items – pottery, furniture, leather, organic home products, woodworking, jewelry, and more – in the museum.
Just steps away from this historic but thriving town center is another lifetime of the town preserved. Calico Rock's Ghost Town include a pool hall/tavern, a barber shop, a theater, a café, a lumberyard, the telephone exchange, a cotton gin, a funeral parlor, and an electric company. The tour contains more than 20 different buildings and other structures, dilapidated yet holding a significant presence in the oldest part of town. All but two can be seen from the street and markers tell the history of each. You can drive it, but it's best seen on foot. Download a self-guided tour map here.
This area is also part of Peppersauce Alley, although the original trade that gave it its name is no longer there. Calico Rock was a quite a shopping center in the early 1900s with a sawmill, and water-powered corn-grinding mill. Farmers would bring produce to Calico Rock and do their shopping there. Often they came from far enough away they would need to camp overnight in the wagon yard, which became known as Peppersauce Alley because of the moonshine whiskey traded there.
Numerous annual events take place in this great downtown backdrop. Musicians are finding their way to this small town to play the festival events or at the town music hall. Lodging runs the gamut from motels on Main Street to motels and cabins on or overlooking the river. Hiking and biking trails are located in parks in the middle of town and fishing is hot here. The White River is known as an excellent trout fishery. Numerous outfitters serve the area, offering guided fishing trips or boat rentals.
While Calico Rock attracts folks in its own right, its location within The Natural State makes it a prime destination as well. Norfork Dam and Lake are about 15 miles north and Blanchard Springs Caverns lies about 15 miles south. The town is adjacent to the Ozark National Forest containing wonderful trails through the mountain ranges and streams. Calico Rock is served by Arkansas State Highways 5 and 56, both pleasingly scenic.