Any place that calls itself “The Natural State” has a lot to live up to. Lucky for Arkansas, the state has the vistas to back up its claim, especially true in the western half of the state. From mountain views in the north to the resilient and rustic timberlands flowing south to Texas, western Arkansas’ topographical diversity is a sight to behold and one worth exploring. Some attractions make the most of The Natural State.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville: Fine art and nature play in perfect unison at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Home to a permanent collection spanning five centuries of American art, Crystal Bridges features work by such artists as Georgia O’Keeffe, James Turrell and Roy Lichtenstein. As amazing as what it contains, the museum’s architecture is a wonder in itself with glass, sculpture-like pavilions, galleries and bridges wreathed by ponds and old forest. www.crystalbridges.org
Opera in the Ozarks at Inspiration Point, Eureka Springs: Inspiration Point doesn’t boast a grand opera hall (it’s in the plans), but then, it doesn’t need one to impress. Home to Opera in the Ozarks, Inspiration Point outside of Eureka Springs took on its present context in the 1950s when a Phillips University professor was given the land and an unfinished castle. A fine arts colony was established and became a training ground for opera students from across the country honing their vocal chops. Summers, the mountains echo with Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and Rossini’s The Barber of Seville from the covered stage overlooking lush, rolling majesty. www.opera.org
Arkansas Wine Country, Altus: The right climate, fertile soil and ingenuity produced the first wines to come out of Altus in the Arkansas River Valley region. When the Wiederkehr and Post families arrived in the late 1800s, they planted vineyards and created new recipes of white, red and blush perfection. Today, Wiederkehr Wine Cellars and Post Familie Vineyards are an agribusiness and tourism boon. Both, as well as Chateau Aux Arc, welcome visitors to try new blends and old favorites year-round. www.postfamilie.com, www.wiederkehrwines.com, www.chateauauxarc.com
Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs: Fairytales are set in places like Garvan Woodland Gardens, University of Arkansas’ 210-acre botanical garden, created to preserve and enhance the uniqueness of this Ouachita Mountain region. From the sculpted Japanese garden (one of the best anywhere) to the stunning Anthony Chapel, airy effortlessly whittled out of the surrounding forest, Garvan is cultivated nature at its finest. www.garvangardens.org
Mount Magazine State Park, Paris: No article on Arkansas scenery is complete without mention of Mount Magazine State Park, a rugged range overlooking the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake to its south. Mount Magazine is the state’s highest peak, which has made it the outdoor sportsman’s dream for paragliding and other extreme hobbies.
Access: Tulsa to Fort Smith via Muskogee Turnpike and Interstate 40 is about two hours; approximately three hours from Oklahoma City to Fort Smith.
Climate: Warm, humid springs and sultry summers followed by temperate falls and generally mild winters. Northern highland areas tend to be cooler.
Main Attractions: A vast state parks system attracts millions of visitors annually and offers plenty of outdoors activities, lodging choices and paths to nature.