Arkansas ranks among the most underrated of places in the U.S. in terms of natural beauty. The people in The Natural State are extraordinarily friendly, there’s plenty of Southern cooking to enjoy, campgrounds are plentiful — the state is an outdoor haven if you’re interested in a wide range of picturesque hiking trails.
Places to visit
This is the outdoor gem of Arkansas, a hiking trail close to 3.5 miles round-trip that rewards you with a stellar view of The Ozarks. It’s perhaps the most photogenic and iconic geological feature of the state.
The crag is a rock formation that protrudes from a cliff side in Ozark National Forest that resembles the beak of a hawk, hence its name.
Whitaker Point Trail leads you to Hawksbill Crag. It’s a moderate hike that, if you decide to become adventurous and explore the other facets of Buffalo National River Wilderness beyond, features a waterfall.
To get to the head of Whitaker Point Trail, drive approximately 60 miles from Fayetteville through Ozark National Forest. The last 5 miles are the tricky part, as it’s entirely a country dirt road and if weather conditions are sketchy you may need a 4WD vehicle. If the weather is nice, you should be OK with a standard vehicle.
The last place in the U.S. I expected to encounter a small mountain city reminiscent of a quaint European town was in Arkansas. Yet Eureka Springs gave me the nostalgia of backpacking through Europe again.
The entire town is burrowed within the heart of the Ozark Mountains and features cabin-style settings, nice restaurants, art galleries, coffee shops, bars and hiking trails that weave through the town so you and your pup could explore the city in a beautiful natural setting. Locals told me this is also one of the primary destinations for Arkansas weddings. If you’re traveling with your canine companion and a significant other, this is a primo destination.
Eureka Springs is great for either a day trip from Fayetteville or — given nearly every form of lodging possible, reminiscent of a mountain villa with Jacuzzis and beautiful views of the Ozarks — a romantic getaway.
Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is the oldest and smallest national park in the U.S. Located approximately 45 minutes outside of the state capital of Little Rock, the park is actually embedded within the city of Hot Springs. The hometown of former President Bill Clinton is truly underrated and rarely mentioned among the great American national parks.
What makes Hot Springs National Park particularly unique, besides its geographical setting, are the ubiquitous geothermal hot springs found throughout it and the town. In Hot Springs’ early days, its main street was lined with masonry bathhouses that people believed had magical healing powers. As science evolved and people gradually realized they were nothing more than pools of hot spring water, the majority of the bath houses shut down, save for a select few that remain open today.
Hot Springs Mountain, located just minutes from downtown, is a great place to go hiking with your dog and take in the amazing views of the surrounding national park.
With the exception of perhaps New England, you won’t find a more beautiful place to absorb fall foliage. The shades of the leaves on the Arkansas trees emerge in a vibrant diversity of color during this season.
Where to stay
In Fayetteville, stay at the Staybridge Suites. It will give you the opportunity to explore this fun college town without having to drive long distances to experience the many dining and drinking options available just minutes away.
In Eureka Springs, stay at the Best Western Eureka Inn, where the rates are cheap, it’s right in the middle of town and they’re very dog friendly. There are countless lodges in the area if you’re looking for a more intimate and romantic affair with a Jacuzzi and views of the Ozarks.
While Hot Springs has a ton of hotel options downtown, I recommend staying at the La Quinta Inn & Suites Hot Springs. I’m usually fond of La Quinta properties because nearly every location is dog friendly and they don’t charge you an additional pet fee; this setting is no exception.
If you want the ultimate outdoor experience, including Arkansas’ two mountain ranges and three national forests, there are countless campgrounds throughout the state.
Where to eat
The absolute go-to place for food and drinks is the Ohio Club in Hot Springs, a restaurant and bar with over 100 years of fascinating history. Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Sammy Davis Jr., Teddy Roosevelt, Tony Bennett, Babe Ruth, Mae West and Bill Clinton are among the gangsters, politicians, athletes and celebrities who have frequented the establishment.
With great libations, delicious dinner options and live music, Arkansas’ oldest bar is the place to go when you’re not exploring the outdoors. Make sure to ask the charming bartenders about the captivating history of their enormous wooden 1880s back bar, which features statues of horses and naked ladies.
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