I have some time off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I decided to spend it with one of my best friends in Arkansas. When I tell people I’m going to Arkansas, they inevitably look shocked and ask, “What’s in Arkansas?”
Visiting friends aside, if you’ve never been there, you might be surprised by all there is to do in this Southern state. Little Rock alone has a wealth of historic sites and museums to visit, and there’s Hot Springs National Park an hour or so to the east—not to mention the Ozarks.
I, too, used to be one of those people who thought, “What’s in Arkansas?” until the first time I visited my friend. I thought we’d visit the national park and then mostly hang out at her house while we worked on our master’s theses.
Instead, we went out almost every day to see something different. We visited Central High School, one of the first Southern high schools to go through desegregation (it’s still a functioning high school, but there’s a small-but-thorough interactive exhibit next door). Then we went to the Old State House Museum, which features exhibits about the political history and life of the state, including one featuring gowns from the wives of all the governors over the past hundred odd years.
Although the labs at my friend’s university aren’t technically open to the public, she was able to give me a tour. Aquaculture—fish farming—is huge down there, and it was really cool to visit the university’s farms and learn a little bit about their research on nutrition and water treatment. I also got to see a nature center that had free admission and beautiful hiking trails.
My favorite part, though, was visiting Hot Springs National Park. All the springs have been capped to preserve them, and several of them are available for public use. You can bring a jug or many jugs and fill them up from the public fountains. The water comes out steaming hot. There are also several spas that sit near springs and use the water in their services. My friend and I didn’t get any spa treatments, but we did do a nice hike up the mountain, where we got some great views of the town below.
The one thing I wanted to do but didn’t get the chance to do was go fishing–this state has a ton of outdoor recreation opportunities.
If you’ve never visited Arkansas, consider it. Here are some guides to get you started:
Arkansas, Off the Beaten Path
This book features the big tourist sites as well as lesser known places.
AAA Tour book: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma
In addition to maps, AAA Tour Books feature information on hotels, restaurants, and tourist sites.
In the Arkansas Backwoods: Tales and Sketches
This is an annotated travel journal/memoir from the mid-1800s.
The Ozarks, An Explorer’s Guide
If the outdoors are calling you, check out this book to learn about Arkansas mountains.
America’s National Parks vol. 2
This is a digital video available from OverDrive. All you need is your library card number to check it out and watch it!
Complete National Parks
This beautiful full-color book features battlefields and historic sites like Central High School as well as the parks.