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Arkansans know we’re lucky to live in a state full of natural beauty, great state parks, and some hopping cities with plenty of opportunities for live music, lovely museums and tasty meals. However, when you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway, consider combining some Arkansas destinations with a jaunt over those state lines for a fun (but close to home) trip. Check out these four destinations that promise a fun-filled weekend for Arkansans.
Branson is already a well-known vacation hotspot with a reputation for country shows and Silver Dollar City, but it offers much more to visiting Arkansans. Dogwood Canyon Nature Park contains over 10,000 acres of Ozark hills, bluffs, waterfalls and more. Visitors can hike, bike, horseback ride, take a tram tour or even a Segway tour through the beautiful landscape.
If riding the rails is more your style, head downtown to the Branson Depot (built in 1905) to catch the Ozark Zephyr on Branson’s Scenic Railway. You can experience travel from Branson’s early days while catching breath-taking scenery of the Ozarks.
If adventuring is what gets your heart pumping, Branson has you covered. Bigfoot Fun Park, Runaway Mountain Coaster and Silver Dollar City all have fun rides. If you prefer to see Branson from up high, check out the opportunities for ziplining, parasailing or hot air balloon rides.
Photo: Crystal Bridges Museum
Honestly, the opportunities are endless in Branson to craft the perfect getaway, whether it’s amusement parks, shows, museums or nature. At just over three hours from Little Rock, take the chance to stop off at Arkansas’s Buffalo National River on your drive. If you’re traveling up through Northwest Arkansas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is well worth a stop, especially with new exhibits on display.
Start at explorebranson.com to plan your trip. Don’t forget to check out their deals section! Chances are, you’ll find enough for several getaways to Branson, Missouri.
Across the Arkansas state line to the west, a small town nestled in the Kiamichi Mountains has been undergoing a revolution. Beautiful Broken Bow Lake is becoming a magnet for regional tourism.
Beavers Bend State Park has always been the cornerstone of tourism. Located on Broken Bow Lake and the Mountain Fork River, the park offers all kinds of outdoor activities, from fishing and hiking to floating and boating, along with horseback riding. Cabins and a 40 room lodge allow for a relaxing stay. However, there’s also much to do outside of the park. The Gardner Museum & Mansion was once the home of Choctaw Chief Jefferson Gardner. Built in 1884, it now houses a collection of Native American and pioneer artifacts.
In Hochatown, located between Beavers Bend and Broken Bow, enjoy local brews and wines at Girls Gone Wine, Knotted Rope Winery, Hochatown Distilling Co. and more. Though the lake offers plenty of opportunities for fun, families can also find fun off of the water. Visit the Hochatown Petting Zoo to see a variety of animals and even feed a few. ATV trails abound in this area, or you can catch a view from above with Rugaru Adventures Zipline Tour.
Photo: Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
Combining a trip to Broken Bow with a drive on the Talimena National Scenic Byway is the perfect way to catch the breath-taking scenery of the area. Head north from Hochatown on OK 259 to catch the byway into Arkansas, passing through Queen Wilhelmina State Park and ending in Mena, where you can explore the historical depot and enjoy lunch downtown as you end your trip back in Arkansas.
Ruston is home to Louisiana Tech University; a school Razorback fans will be familiar with. With a population of just over 20,000, Ruston combines its small-town charm with a vibrant college scene that makes it one of the top places to live in the state.
Photo: Experience Ruston
Start the day at Ruston Farmers Market, held every Saturday morning from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and each Tuesday evening from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. In addition to fresh food from local growers, you’ll find local crafts, natural products and music.
From the Farmers Market, head to Ruston’s historic downtown district, home to 18 blocks of boutique shopping, restaurants, theaters and the heart of Ruston’s unique atmosphere. Once you’re shopped out, take a coffee and treats break at Social Bites or Railway Coffee, both located in the heart of downtown. Sundown Tavern Grill & Patio is a longstanding local favorite with a wide array of food, drinks and a side of live music.
Photo: Experience Ruston
If getting outside is more up your alley, Lincoln Parish Park contains 10 miles of mountain biking trails as well as walking trails, a lake and plenty of green space to lounge and play. Don’t forget to take a stroll across campus or catch the Bulldogs in action.
Ruston is three hours from Little Rock, and much closer for Arkansans living south of the capital city. Stop off in El Dorado for a spudnut on the drive down. Plan a weekend jaunt at rustonlincoln.com and enjoy all this small town across the Arkansas border has to offer.
Right across the Mississippi River, Memphis offers Arkansans the chance to soak in the history of R&B, rock and roll and so much more. First though, start a trip focused on music at the Historic Dyess Colony in Arkansas, boyhood home to Johnny Cash. Once you’ve visited the earliest home to the Man in Black, head on down the road to the Mighty Mississippi, which has inspired so many songs, and into the city that’s been a magnet for recording artists.
Photo: Alex Shansky – Memphis Tourism
Memphis has so much to see that it’s probably best split into several trips. Fortunately for Arkansans, it’s so close, we can (almost) consider it our own. If you’re looking for the heart and soul of rock, blues and so much more, start at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. With a grounding in the history of the city and its talent, check out Sun Studio, which helped launch Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and others. Of course, no visit to Memphis is complete without a journey to Graceland to pay homage to the King of Rock and Roll.
Photo: Andrea Zucker – Memphis Tourism
Though Memphis is the city of music, it’s also the city of civil rights. In the 1960s, the Lorraine Motel housed many famous music stars, but perhaps no one as famous as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was here that Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. The Lorraine has now been remade into the National Civil Rights Museum, carrying on the message of Dr. King by covering the Civil Rights Movement from slavery to the present day. Continue on that note with a trip to Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum for a glimpse into the abolitionist movement that existed in Memphis in 1855.
If you’re visiting with young kids and looking for the lighter side of Memphis, the city doesn’t disappoint. Start with a stay at the Peabody Hotel, where twice a day you can watch the famous Peabody Ducks parade to the lobby fountain. The Memphis Zoo is open year-round with excellent exhibits, including Giant Pandas, Komodo dragons and polar bears. The Children’s Museum of Memphis has a grand carousel, sure to be a huge hit, along with a zipline, splash park and much more.
Photo: Troy Glasgow – Memphis Tourism
No matter your age, every Arkansan can enjoy the endless opportunities for shopping and dining Memphis offers, including barbeque, unique stores in the Broad Avenue and South Main Arts Districts, and of course, the Bass Pro Shop in the Glass Pyramid, literally a can’t miss stop as you head back across the river.
Whether you head north, south, east or west, have fun checking out our neighboring states before heading back home to Arkansas.
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