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I’m often asked about my favorite spots in Arkansas. The state is known for its natural beauty and has no shortage of incredible museums, trails, restaurants and other locations worth visiting. While popular attractions like Hot Springs, Crystal Bridges, the Ozarks and many of our State Parks get their fair share of attention, numerous hidden gems across the state are waiting to be discovered.
I’m a big fan of getting off the beaten path and checking out the hidden gem places others may typically overlook. Sometimes, the biggest treasures are hidden in plain sight, while other times, you may have to travel the backroads of Arkansas. This list of 16 Hidden Gems in Arkansas contains some of my favorite spots across the state, which are always the first I mention when asked for a recommendation.
The state park at Mammoth Spring is like something you’d see in Yellowstone or Glacier National Park. The spring, which bubbles out of the ground at a rate of over 9 million gallons per minute, boasts a beautiful blue-green hue that begs to be photographed. The dam, the trail around the lake and the railroad museum within the park all add to the charm of this historic town.
The Crystal River Cave in Cave City only recently reopened after being closed to the public for over 20 years. The cave itself is exciting, but its property has a cool history and background. From entombed Native American chiefs to a mysterious underground river, the Crystal River Cave is full of enchanting stories, sites and information.
Sometimes we get stuck in the present and the past seems really far away. When you visit the Dyess Colony, you will experience a piece of history and be reminded that a lot can change quickly. This historically significant agricultural settlement was established during the Great Depression as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives. It’s also well known for being the boyhood home of famed musician Johnny Cash.
Although things get busier in the summer and fall, if the weather is nice, you’ll usually find a group of musicians hanging around in Pickin’ Park in Mountain View. The casual atmosphere invites spectators and musicians alike. If you play, feel free to join in with a group. Sometimes, there is even singing and dancing. If you don’t have an instrument, you can head over to Mountain View Music and check out their selections of guitars, fiddles, dulcimers and more.
Of course, no visit to Mountain View would be complete without a meal from Tommy’s Famous Pizza. Seating is limited at this “hole in the wall” restaurant, but the pizza and barbecue can easily rival the best in the state. We often get our pizza to-go and head back to Pickin’ Park to enjoy the music while we eat.
Not to be confused with Sugarloaf Mountain in Heber Springs, Sugar Loaf Mountain Island is located in the upper section of Greers Ferry Lake and is accessible only by boat. The island was designated as one of the nation’s first National Scenic Trails and boasts two hiking trails that climb to the top of the 1,000-foot elevation. At the top, hikers have an incredible panoramic view of Greers Ferry Lake. You can take your own boat, kayak or paddleboard to the island or catch a ride on the ferry that runs several times daily from Fairfield Bay Marina.
Located on the shores of Greers Ferry Lake, Janssen’s Lakefront Restaurant offers steaks, seafood and high-quality scratch-made recipes for lunch and dinner. Arrive by car or park your boat at their private dock while you enjoy a great meal or listen to a local band. While the food is phenomenal, nothing compares to Janssen’s house-made desserts. My family is what they refer to as “Cake Groupies.” We have been known to make the ninety-minute drive just for a slice of cake.
Since 2019, attending the Arkansas State Hot Air Balloon Championship Races in Harrison has been an annual tradition each September. Attracting about 15 hot air balloon pilots from around the country, the weekend festival includes all of your typical festival events along with a nightly balloon glow and a balloon race on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The race challenges pilots to drop a marker on a target for a prize or pick a key to a brand-new truck off a pole. If you’ve never seen a hot air balloon up close, this festival gives you the opportunity to do that and take a tethered ride.
A bit later in the fall, those wishing to view a spectacular fall sight will want to head to Maplewood Cemetery in Harrison. The cemetery has over 700 sugar maple trees that come aglow with color each fall. The sugar maple contains three pigments – xanthophyll, carotene and anthocyanin – giving them spectacular color. The cemetery puts on one of the best leaf shows in the state and attracts thousands of visitors each fall.
Pastry lovers will want to visit Searcy for Wild Sweet Williams’s incredible selection of delicious treats. They gained fame from their sweet and savory scones but offer a full selection of baked goods, including kolaches, muffins, cookies, bread, frittata and more. Everything is baked fresh daily, so you always get the best quality product. Their dining room is a great place to hang out with a friend, study or get some work done.
My son has loved trains for as long as I can remember. Pine Bluff is a drive for us, but totally worth it every time we walk through the doors of the incredible Arkansas Railroad Museum. This open-air museum is a treasury of railroad history spanning from the mid-1800s through the present. Visitors can view exhibits and climb aboard a plethora of retried train cars, engines and cabooses.
If you’ve never eaten dinner in a horse barn, it’s high time! The Tamale Factory in Gregory is attached to a working horse barn and overlooks the paddock and small riding arena. Visitors come from all over to enjoy aged family-style steaks, catfish, shrimp and, of course, house-made tamales.
Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
Just outside of Eureka Springs, the Little Golden Gate Bridge in Beaver is the last suspension bridge of its type in Arkansas. This one-lane bridge takes Highway 187 across the White River and has been featured in the movie Elizabethtown and the television mini-series The Blue and the Gray.
Open each October for their fall festival or by reservation; Parker Pioneer Homestead is a unique collection of Americana and Arkansas History. When you visit Parker Homestead, you will feel like you have stepped back in time. Visit the collection of historic structures, ride an antique tractor and learn how to make sorghum molasses the old-fashioned way.
The Dancing Rabbit Trail at Crowley’s Ridge State Park is a moderate 1.25-mile hike is a family-friendly trail that winds through the park’s lush woodlands. This scenic trail features a diverse range of flora and fauna, making it a popular spot for birdwatching and just getting out in nature. The trail’s highlight is the swinging bridge that crosses a gully caused by soil erosion over many years.
Mirror Lake was formed in the 1940s when a dam was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps just below where the water flows out from Blanchard Springs Caverns. The lake is known for its turquoise waters and is stocked with Rainbow Trout, making it a popular destination for anglers and hikers.
What locations would be on your list of hidden gems in Arkansas? Leave us a comment so we can check them out.
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