Exploring the arts, culture and scenic beauty of Arkansas
Story by Click Staff
Just across the bridge from Memphis, the state capital of Arkansas is a popular destination for arts, culture, and music. Guests are welcomed to the city with a stunning view of the Main Street Bridge, which includes a dazzling array of LED lights color coordinated for special occasions.
The city of Little Rock proudly displays its involvement in the Civil Rights era through the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. This high school, which is still in operation today, played a central role in the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and is remembered as one of the first major instances of school integration in the South. Guests are invited to walk the same steps as the Little Rock Nine while observing the building’s beautiful architecture.
The Historic Arkansas Museum, known to locals as the HAM, invites tourists to experience a hands-on history lesson through exhibits like Alice Guffey Miller’s “PARTy for Peg,” a sculpture installation piece that serves as a tribute to Peg Newton Smith, one of the museum’s earliest contributors.
There’s also the William. J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park, a sprawling complex that includes a museum with artifacts from Bill Clinton’s eight years as president of the United States on display. Popular exhibits include a full-scale replica of Clinton’s Oval Office and the presidential limousine.
Arts About Town
The Robinson Center has a long and storied past as the performance home to several of the city’s performing arts organizations, including the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Arkansas and Celebrity Attractions’ Broadway Theater Series. The newly renovated theater, which was opened as a WPA project in December of 1939, will host a plethora of shows this year including the Phantom of the Opera, Riverdance, Motown: The Musical and more.
The nearby Arkansas Repertory Theatre, also known as “The Rep,” offers a more classical approach to theater and boasts Arkansas’ largest nonprofit professional theatre troup. The company has produced more than 280 productions, including 40 world premieres, since it was founded in 1976.
For a more feminine take on the arts, the Esse Purse Museum and Store on Main Street offers a compelling look at the history of the handbag and its many offshoots and design evolutions over the years.
Planning a Mid-South road trip? Look no further than the Natural State of Arkansas,
a statewide treasure trove of wilderness that includes the Buffalo River, 52 state parks
and a bevy of interesting cultural curiosities.
The sleepy former mining town in the Ozarks known as St. Joe is the perfect launching point for an adventure on the Buffalo River, a 150-mile stretch that provides ample opportunity for leisurely canoeing, fishing or camping on the riverbanks.
Hit the River
The beautiful and historic Buffalo National Scenic River is one of the best spots in the country to brush up on basic canoeing and kayaking. Guides are available from the nearby Buffalo River Outfitters, a trading post of sorts that serves as the one-stop shop of the area for supplies, lodging and canoe rental. Tyler Bend Visitor Center is a great starting point for a leisurely morning hike along the Collier Homestead/River View Trail. This short and scenic half-mile trek offers some spectacular views of the Buffalo River and local wildlife, so keep your eyes peeled.
Overnighting Made Easy
Country-style log cabins are available to rent through Buffalo River Outfitters. These spacious, old-school lodgings are decorated with local paintings and hand-crafted accents and include stone fireplaces, air conditioning and wide front porches that offer a quiet mountain view. When hunger strikes, nearby Big Springs Trading Company Restaurant is on-hand with a variety of barbecue, smoked meats and regional favorites like the “Razorback Platter,” a 1/3 pound helping of Ozark-style sausage.
The unincorporated community of Ponca is the perfect place to get away from it all. Nestled within the Ozarks and sporting a population of just under 120 citizens, Ponca offers some of the best nature watching in the state with its stunning mountain views and variety of wildlife. Nearby facilities include the Riverwind Lodge at Buffalo Outdoor Center, a popular overnight facility known for its breathtaking mountain views.
While some might associate the mighty elk with states further west, the particular species of eastern elk was a native of Arkansas for more than 100 years before the elk population plummeted after 1840. Elk were reintroduced to this area in the mid-‘80s and continue to thrive against the backdrop of the Buffalo River. Ponca’s state-run Elk Education Center is a great place to catch the largest member of the deer family hanging about. Visitors can learn more about this animals’ recovery, biology and history, as well as the other flora and fauna of the Ozark Mountains.
From Tree to Tree
If stationary nature watching doesn’t excite, perhaps the thrill of flying through the treetops if more your speed. The Buffalo Outdoor Center hosts the first-ever zip line treetop canopy tour in the state. The tree-friendly platforms used in this course are built around live Ozark Mountain hardwood trees. The length of an average treetop zip line source is determined by a variety of factors, including group size, time and weather. This activity is best suited for guests age 10 and older who weigh between 70 and 250 lbs.
The citizens of Hot Springs, Arkansas, are pretty proud of their namesake. The eponymous hot springs underneath the town bubble out of the ground in places. The average temperature of this water is more than than 140 degrees. The center of the town is known as Hot Springs National Park and is among the oldest federally preserved lands in the United States.
Soak It In
Right of the bat, visitors are presented with a plethora of ways to experience the town’s greatest natural treasure of piping hot mineral water. The historic Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa is the largest hotel in Arkansas with almost 500 rooms and suites. The hotel, which was built in 1875, is considered one of the South’s premiere places for relaxation and recovery.
The Arlington is a short jaunt away from Bathhouse Row, a collection of spas with a worldwide reputation for recuperative properties, making them especially popular among baseball players, boxers, joggers and others who lead an active lifestyle.
In addition to relaxing spas and stunning views abound, popular annual events include the Hot Springs Music Festival. Now in its 22nd year, the festival has gained notoriety for providing a broad, diverse offering of musical talent every summer.
Woodlands & Badlands
Hot Springs boasts a unique mix of cityscape and wide wilderness, with 26 miles of hiking trails scattered throughout the national park. Tourists are encouraged to visit Lookout Point Lakeside Inn, a tiny getaway in the Ouachita Mountains just off the bay of Lake Hamilton. Lookout Point showcases unique regional craftsman architecture, plush furniture, fine art, gardens with waterfalls and scenic water.
The area drew attention from the national press during the era of prohibition, as gangsters like Al Capone had taken a liking to the city’s warm waters and avenues for illegal gambling. Capone himself was so taken by the area that he eventually took suite 443 of the Arlington Hotel as his own. The suite, which is said to house a secret escape door when the feds come knocking, is still kept in pristine condition and embraced by locals as a curious relic of the city’s sordid past.