Three Unique Areas for any Arkansas Road Trip
Our Arkansas road trip took us to three unique towns. Hot Springs, Little Rock and Bentonville. Three places I was originally not interested in. I have to admit, Arkansas in general wasn’t on our radar during our travels. However, we had some time in between Texas and visiting friends in Missouri so why not. We chose these three cities because of what each had to offer. Hot Springs had a national park, Little Rock had history and Bentonville had the intrigue of the Walton family/Walmart. They all deserve to be on any road trip or travel itinerary.
We had no clue what to do in each area, especially on a budget. They were all unique in their own way. So, here are budget friendly things to do in each area, some places to eat and other areas to explore.
Things To Do In Hot Springs, Arkasas
Our first stop was Hot Springs. The highlight of the area is Hot Springs National Park. However, this is a different sort of national park. There is hiking and beautiful nature, of course, but there are no actual hot springs that are public, or natural hot springs that you are allowed to enjoy in nature. There are three locations that are available to see and touch, but you wouldn’t want to get in, as they are 143 degrees! If you want to indulge, you must head over to Bathhouse Row, old bathhouses that you can enjoy for a cost. The average cost to just have a bath in these natural springs is $33. You can also add on spa treatments and really indulge. Otherwise, just go to the visitor’s center and have a look and marvel at some of the beautiful buildings.
National Park: March 4, 1921 ♦ Location: Arkansas ♦ Known area: Bathhouse Row ♦ Fun Fact: Smallest National Park, it can fit in the largest Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, almost 2,400 times ♦ Earliest bathing: 1820’s
The good thing with budget friendly is usually it’s outside. Here is what we found in the Hot Springs area.
Lake Ouachita State Park
Hike Caddo Bend Trail. This trail is located in Lake Ouachita State Park, about 25 minutes north from downtown Hot Springs. We counted this as 8/52 of our hike challenge for the year! Caddo Bend Trail is a 4 mile looped trail with beautiful views and categorized as an easy to moderate hike. The trail runs along the outside of a peninsula. With views of Lake Ouachita, Ouachita National Forest on the other side of the lake and walking through the endless trees, it’s Arkansas beauty at its best. Plus it is dog friendly!
Address: 5451 Mountain Pine Road, Mountain Pine, AR 71956
Anthony Chapel at Garvan Gardens
I had seen pictures of this Chapel years and years ago. It didn’t even end up on any travel list because I honestly never thought we would be in the area. There are other chapels like this in the southeast, but not many. The Chapel is part of Garvan Gardens. We did not explore the gardens, but we heard they are beautiful. $15/person and $5/dog for entry.
Call ahead to make sure there isn’t an event at the chapel. It is closed to the public if there is a wedding. After you park you can head straight to the chapel, you do not need to pay at the main building. Instead of heading left to the main building head just a little right and follow the signs.
It was incredibly beautiful and we had it to ourselves. We were very lucky to get inside. It was actually closed for construction to the roof, but a worker let us in for a little bit! We were so happy! There is another structure just before the chapel to marvel at. Explore the grounds around the chapel as there is a beautiful stream and flowers.
Address: 550 Arkridge Rd, Hot Springs, AR 71913
Iron Mountain Trail System
Wherever we go we try and find some mountain biking for Kevin. This trail system came up as the best he might find in the area. It was also good for me because I could go for a run on any of the multiple trails or on the road. This system had short and long loops and they connected to make really long loops. We were there in March and as I was running I heard a rattle snake close by. I was not a fan of that and found a way to get onto the road to run instead of turning back.
We parked at the beginning of Jolly Green Giant, coordinates: 34.21626,-93.14479. There was a large gravel parking lot, so plenty of room.
Crater of Diamonds State Park
Mine for DIAMONDS! Two weeks before we were there a kid found a 7 ct. brown diamond. We have heard random stories throughout the years of people finding diamonds as well. On average 600 are found every year! So, what the heck, we wanted to try our luck at it! It’s $10/person but you can stay as long as you like during their hours. You can rent all the equipment you need or you can bring your own. People were really serious about it. Tents, coolers, chairs, knee pads, etc.
We were there for a couple hours digging through the dirt, grabbing mud in the water and sifting through it. It was just huge plots of dirt and a small river running at the back end (that is where the kid found the diamond). We kept thinking we found something and then no. They do have a station that you can take your rocks up to and they will identify. It is finders keepers, so if you do find one, it’s YOURS! We were so determined, but came out empty handed. It was worth it and we did enjoy ourselves. From Hot Springs, it is a bit of a drive, but again, worth it.
We did learn that diamonds are not forever. They can evaporate at a certain heat and you can also crush them with a rock, so don’t do that as a test!
Address: 209 State Park Rd, Murfreesboro, AR 71958
Things To Do In Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock is a must stop. The town that is so full of history. From the events at Little Rock Central High School and seeing the grounds where the Little Rock Nine were escorted into school, to the Clinton Presidential Center and the State Capitol itself. There is so much. We had planned to do a little more than we did, but on the first day there while biking down the main street I bailed on my bike. Right in front of the police station and on a busy corner. Luckily, no one was videotaping or taking pictures at that moment! So I wasn’t moving around very much, but we did get in a few things.
Old State House Museum
This is a small museum right downtown and admission is free. We originally found this because we were eating at 3 Fold Noodle & Dumpling Co. and when we walked out it was just to the right. This building was the original state capitol. It has witnessed a lot of history through the years. According to their website,
“The Old State House has hosted the admission of Arkansas to the Union, a fatal knife fight between two sitting legislators, the Arkansas vote to secede from the United States and join the Confederacy, pioneering medical research into hookworm and malaria, and two acceptance speeches by the president of the United States.”
Now, it is filled with exhibits, memorabilia and replicas of how the old capitol was kept.
Address: 300 W. Markham, Little Rock, AR 72201
Clinton Presidential Park Bridge to Arkansas River Trail (14 mile loop)
The city and the Clinton Foundation donated money to restore and renovate an old railway bridge to a pedestrian bridge. This starts or is part of a 14 mile loop along the river. A beautiful and well kept running or biking path that you really get a tour of the river and part of the town. There are exhibits, art and a lot of stops along the way. There is ample parking throughout the loop.
Little Rock Central High School
Still an active high school, the only way to tour it is with a park ranger since it is managed by the National Park Service. If you miss the tour, you can check out the museum and learn about the history of this school and town. Learn about the fight for desegregation. You can read about tours here: Tours
Just driving by and seeing this school is pretty intense. All the emotions going on during that time is something that I, that we, cannot comprehend.
3 Fold Noodle & Dumpling Co.
We weren’t expecting much when it came to dining. We thought it would be mostly southern fare, so when we came across this place we were pretty excited! It was absolutely delicious and a must try for anyone in the area. Noodle bowls and dumpling are all they offer and they do both very well. Get one of each and share! It’s located in a really cool building. Their spot must have been an old bank.
Address: 215 Center St, Little Rock, AR 72201
Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken
Of course we had to try some fried chicken in the area. This was right on the main street and the smell from the side walk pulled us in. A fun restaurant with a great way to eat food and people watch. The service was surprisingly really good and the chicken was pretty darn good!
Address: 300 President Clinton Ave, Little Rock, AR 72201
Things To Do In Bentonville, Arkansas
A few friends and random people we met on the road said we should definitely check out Bentonville. We thought what an odd place to go and why if it’s just where the Walton’s and Walmart are. Well, the Waltons have put a lot of money into this town and the area and we ended up loving it! This town and the town right next door, Rogers has so much to offer. From free museums, great restaurants, fun coffee shops and hiking/biking/running paths.
Crystal Bridges Museum
Crystal Bridges Museum was the first place that everyone said to go. It is FREE thanks to the Walton Foundation. There are a couple exhibits that cost a small amount per person, but that was it. It has hundreds of exhibits, and outdoor exhibits. It also connects to the Crystal Bridges trail. A perfectly paved running and biking path that connects to the Razorback trail (36 mile trail). They have permanent and temporary exhibits and they also have a Frank Lloyd Wright house on their grounds. They have multiple walking paths outside to different exhibits, houses and sculptures. You could spend an entire day there with their ice cream, coffee shop and cafe.
We did like a lot of the art. It was more modern and contemporary. We loved the sculptures and paintings.
Outside was beautiful. A manicured wooded area with the best walking paths.
Last but not least was a temporary exhibit (that was free) called – Border Cantons: Sight and Sound Explorations from the Mexican-American Border. It turned out to be our favorite exhibit. It was intense, moving and very educational. We have been to the Mexican border multiple times but this exhibit made you think about it in a different way. It’s not just a border to say this is the next country, it has created a negative connotation and we do not understand what it means to a lot of people. Learning about an area where families can come together for a short while without the fear of arrest, to humanitarians providing water stations and mysterious effigies.
I highly recommend stopping here. With or without kids. If you do have kiddos stop by Scott Family Amazeum, a children’s museum that is also FREE!!
Address: 600 Museum Way, Bentonville AR, 72712
The second museum that was suggested to us was at the 21C hotel. A very small museum, it might take you 20/30 minutes to walk through, but they had some very interesting, eclectic and moving pieces.
The great thing about this museum is that afterwards you can grab a bite to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, The Hive. Read below.
Address: 200 NE A St, Bentonville, AR 72712
Slaughter Pen Trail (Mountain biking)
This is a group of multiple single track trails close to Crystal Bridges Museum. You can park right downtown and then access them through the Crystal Bridges Trail. Short, with some obstacles, it’s nothing very technical, but fun to go in and out. You will have to do a little searching as a lot of them are connected by the Crystal Bridges Trail and the Razorback Trail. What makes it great is being connected to downtown, multiple bike fix stations and the beautiful scenery.
Crystal Bridge Trail (Running and Road Bike)
This is a 2.4 mile trail that links up with the 36 mile Razorback trail. It starts close to Crystal Bridges Museum and is partially shaded. The hill is pretty steep, but definitely doable. There are a couple fun mountain biking obstacles to the side, but it’s great for running or road biking.
Park at Compton Gardens for access to the the trails and town!
The Hive is in the 21C Hotel and Museum and worth a stop after you walk through the museum. Good service and a delicious menu!
Address: 200 NE A St, Bentonville, AR 72712
This was probably my favorite place in town! Cute restaurant with a laid back vibe. Healthy and awesome menu. I highly suggest the cauliflower schwarma. A fun twist to the original and oh so tasty! The only negative was the service. It wasn’t bad in the normal sense, the server was just non existent. Tell me your order, here is your food, please tip me. Thank god for the food though, it completely distracted me from that and the open and beautiful restaurant.
Address: 100 NW 2nd St, Ste 100, Bentonville, Arkansas 72712
This was a cute coffee shop right in the town square. You can park pretty much anywhere and walk. They had good coffee and delicious macarons.
Address: 72710, 100 NW 2nd St #106, Bentonville, AR 72712
Saiwok Vietnamese Street Food
This restaurant is actually in Rogers (the neighboring town). We were surprised with all the diversity in food in this small town. Their dishes were the perfect size and price for lunch and the flavors spot on.
Address: 2882 W Walnut St, Rogers, AR 72756
I hope you are able to take a drive through this beautiful state. I know we missed a lot and are now wanting to come back to explore more. What was your favorite area in Arkansas?
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