With spring break right around the corner, many families are gearing up to take a trip, get in some good old-fashioned family time and make some memories. The thing is, with prices being what they are, many families are finding it harder to afford a traditional spring break trip to the mountains, the Gulf of Mexico or a major metropolitan city.

 

It is a quandary many families across the nation are familiar with, which has given rise to the so-called “staycation,” also known as the “nearcation” or “homecation.” Whatever one chooses to call it, the reference is the same: taking a shorter trip to attractions within one’s home state that are generally less expensive and easier to manage than a traditional destination.

 

Nationally, the trend for staycations is on the rise in a big way. In 2022, the Vacationer surveyed more than 1,000 American adults to get their feelings on the subject. Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they already had or were planning a staycation.

 

A recent article by Forbes broke it down even further, citing a source with the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board that reported a growing trend of people checking into hotels in their own proximity to get the feel of vacation living without the air travel. In fact, management of the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills reported 85 percent of its business originated from within California, while 1 Hotel in West Hollywood told the publication the biggest spike in guests was among those who could literally walk from their homes to the property.

 

The rise of the staycation comes down to several very basic components. Forbes listed an aversion to flying, a desire for local experiences and the high cost of everything as three accelerants of the trend. The magazine also reported Boston Consulting Group statistics that showed 75 percent of leisure trips in 2019 were by car, more than double those of 2018. Slightly more than half of the trips were within 200 miles of home, the magazine reported.

 

TravelPulse pointed to even more fundamental motivations: fear of sickness in crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic and high inflation ever since. A survey conducted last year by Radical Storage showed that even four years after the height of COVID-19, staycations are still holding strong. Of the more than 2,000 people in the U.S. surveyed, more than 44 percent preferred the staycation, a market size of almost $364 billion in 2023 that is expected to roughly double by 2033.

 

Experts said staycations may also help drive better utilization of allotted days off. Compared to other nations, Americans are bad about taking vacations. Fortune magazine reported last year that
38 percent of U.S. workers allotted paid time off did not take it compared to 23 percent of workers in the United Kingdom. With staycations being close by and therefore able to be taken in smaller chunks of time, Americans might be more willing to close this gap on their counterparts around the world.

 

Doing so is more than self-serving; it actually works to employers’ benefit. Statistics released by CalendarLabs last year showed workers who reported being happiest took an average of 15 days off annually. Moreover, it did not matter if the 15 days were taken consecutively or spread out over the course of a year because each delivered the same rejuvenating benefits.

 

Meanwhile, data shows Arkansas is an increasingly hot commodity for tourism, an attractive destination for guests, including its own residents, and a legitimate economic engine. Arkansas’ tourism industry generated $9.2 billion in 2022 on the strength of welcoming a little more than 48 million visitors, including many from within its own borders. The Arkansas tourism industry also supported nearly 68,100 jobs, or nearly 4 percent of all jobs in Arkansas, according to data released last fall from an economic impact study commissioned by the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

 

Arkansas is ideally suited for staycations, from its natural beauty to the attractions it offers reflecting the arts, culture and history of the state. Staycations also help keep the state’s economy strong, supporting jobs and communities alike while keeping the tax burden on residents in check. In short, there has never been a better time to rediscover the Natural State.

 

AY About You broke down some sample itineraries in a few of the state’s most popular regions. Some are ideal for families, while others are better for couples — because when it comes to spring break, who said children should have all the fun?

 

Wherever a staycation may lead, there is something fascinating waiting behind the next corner in Arkansas.

 

CENTRAL ARKANSAS

 

ACTIVE

Pinnacle Mountain State Park Visitor Center

As with all other regions of Arkansas, the heart of the state is blessed with an abundance of outdoor activities for the whole family. Start with Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Roland and the newly christened visitor center, itself a sight to behold. Within the park, find 22 miles of trails, including 14 miles of challenging mountain bike trails. For something a little more rugged, check out the Nature Conservancy’s Rattlesnake Ridge Natural Area, 373 acres of pristine wilderness viewable along six miles of hiking and mountain bike trails.

spring fun

Other great attractions include the Arkansas River Trail, which connects multiple attractions from downtown Little Rock to the popular Big Dam Bridge and the many recreational attractions in Burns Park in North Little Rock.

Big Dam Bridge

March is generally a little chilly for fun out on the water, but the fishing is great year-round at the Arkansas River, Lake Conway and Lake Maumelle, to name a few hotspots. Visit the Arkansas Game and Fish website for full regulatory guidelines. No tackle? No problem! The Central Arkansas Library System keeps a stock of fishing gear for rentals.

 

For other family fun, check out Professor Bowl in Little Rock, Millennium Bowl in North Little Rock and Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge in downtown Little Rock. Check out Big Rock Mini Golf & Fun Park in Little Rock for go-karts, mini golf and batting cages, or visit the newest go-karting attraction in the area, the Central Arkansas Karting Complex in Vilonia.

 

ARTS AND CULTURE

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center

Central Arkansas is also blessed with a variety of museums, galleries, performance spaces and other fascinating attractions. The Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock offers a rare and unique look at the two-term presidency of Arkansas native Bill Clinton. Also downtown are the Old State House Museum, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, which provide immersive, educational looks at the state’s bygone days. The newly renovated Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in downtown Little Rock’s MacArthur Park provides a stunning showcase of exhibits and is also home to the Children’s Theatre.

Clinton Presidential Center

FAMILY

 

Children of all ages can enjoy Little Rock’s Museum of Discovery, which offers a wide range of interactive exhibits that stretch the imagination while immersing guests in the sciences.

 

Other great attractions for families are the libraries of Conway, North Little Rock and Little Rock, each with its own programming for young readers through teens. A showpiece among these options is the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library & Learning Center in Little Rock, which offers a wide array of engaging events and activities for children and families.

 

A night out at the ballpark is always great family fun, so head to Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock to cheer on the Arkansas Travelers.

Little Rock Zoo

Finally, do not miss the opportunity to visit the Little Rock Zoo, the state’s only municipal zoo and an award-winning family attraction.

 

HOT SPRINGS

 

ENTERTAINMENT

spring fun

Mid-America Science Museum

Spa City has built its reputation as a tourism town, thanks to a wide variety of entertainment. Start at the Mid-America Science Museum, where children are limited only by their imaginations. This state-of-the-art science facility features exhibits that include the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk, the world’s most powerful conical Tesla coil, the Oaklawn Foundation Digital Dome Theater, DinoTrek and more than 100 other hands-on science exhibits, shows and experiences.

 

Enjoy one of Hot Springs’ newest attractions at Adventureworks, which offers year-round ziplining at heights of up to 80 feet on zips as long as 1,000 feet. For something a little closer to the ground, enjoy the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden at Garvan Woodland Gardens, which offers 1.5 acres of interactive fun with a waterfall and cave, an iron bridge that resembles woven tree branches, and rocks weighing more than 3,200 tons.

 

The family will also appreciate the chance to burn off a little energy at Northwoods, central Arkansas’ premiere collection of hiking and mountain biking trails, or take on one of several hiking trails that ring the mountains just adjacent to town and are accessible from the downtown historic district.

HISTORY

 

Hot Springs has a rich and colorful history, and many of its current restaurants and attractions are steeped in it. For example, as a former mob playground to the likes of Al “Scarface” Capone and Charles “Lucky” Luciano, there are plenty of attractions that speak to this exciting chapter in the city’s history. Visit the Gangster Museum of America for an entertaining account of Hot Springs’ mobster days, then stroll down to Maxine’s Live or the Ohio Club, where guests can sit in the same spot as some of the notorious wiseguys of the past. (The food is pretty good too.)

 

If the National Pastime is more one’s speed, Spa City has it covered. Baseballers enjoyed the surroundings as much as the gangsters did, and they frequently partied, gambled and caroused together. Today, visitors can walk in the footsteps of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Cy Young, Honus Wagner and Jackie Robinson on the self-guided Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail.

 

While taking in the sights of downtown, take a moment to visit the plaques denoting the Arkansas Walk of Fame, which recognizes individuals who were born or lived in the Natural State. A short walk from there, find other interesting landmarks, including Bathhouse Row and the regal Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa.

 

LODGING

 

Sometimes, it is where you stay that counts, and for those who want to escape the ordinary, Hot Springs offers unique accommodations that are anything but routine.

 

For deluxe accommodations, Spa City Rentals is the ticket and connects visitors with some of the most deluxe accommodations in the city. Whatever the group size or itinerary, Spa City Rentals will ensure a visit unfolds from a luxury residence that is close to everything.

 

In the Trees is a unique resort that offers picturesque treehouses and cabins tucked away in the Ouachita Mountains. Serenely private yet right near the action, In the Trees offers access to top-notch mountain bike trails and private hiking through the forest, and is a short drive to downtown’s many amenities.

 

For others who like their digs to be just a little bit different, check out the retro vibes of two restored vintage motels, the Gold-Inn Hot Springs and Dame Fortune’s Cottage Court. Both restored to their kitschy glory, the funky properties also offer the best in modern conveniences to suit today’s traveler.

 

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS

 

CYCLING

 

No discussion of the attractions in the northwest corner of the state is legitimate without talking about mountain biking. On that front, northwest Arkansas is a revered spot in the country, thanks to a concerted effort to develop trails that incorporate the local terrain into the best riding in the nation. Do not let the YouTube videos deceive: there are great rides for all ages and skill levels, from youth and adult beginners to Double Black Diamond daredevils.

 

In fact, there are so many trails there that it is difficult to list them all, so consider the following a mere primer, divided by difficulty. Note: Ratings are subjective; seek local advice at bike shops to determine if the difficulty level is appropriate for each party.

 

Beginner

Good Vibrations, Coler Mountain Bike Preserve, Bentonville

Lantern Loop, Wolf Creek Park, Bentonville

Little Sugar, Bella Vista

Lake Fayetteville Trail, Fayetteville

Hobbs Monument Trails

Intermediate

Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, Rogers

Fossil Flats, Devil’s Den State Park, West Fork

Fitzgerald Mountain, Springdale

Mount Kessler Loop, Fayetteville

Leatherwood Bike Race Trail

Difficult

Back 40, Bella Vista

Here’s Johnny Mountain Bike Trail, Bentonville

Wedington Lower Roundtop Trail, Fayetteville

Dragon Scales, Slaughter Pen, Bentonville

 

CULTURE

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

For a slower-paced vacation, take in the cultural amenities that exist throughout northwest Arkansas. Among them is Bentonville’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, one of the most acclaimed art museums in the country. There is also plenty of outdoor public art in cities here. Tour the murals and outdoor installations in Bentonville, as well as the self-guided mural tour in Fayetteville.

spring fun

Younger visitors will enjoy the Scott Family Amazeum children’s museum in Bentonville, while older children and adults can take in a show at the Momentary in Bentonville or the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers. Finally, do not forget to check out the Northwest Arkansas Naturals baseball team, especially if the downstate rivals, the Arkansas Travelers of North Little Rock, are in town.

Downtown Eureka Springs

For a truly immersive artistic vibe, check out Eureka Springs, a funky enclave cut out of the mountains of Carroll County. Galleries, unique architecture, street musicians, off-beat festivals, ghost stories and plenty of other oddities make this welcoming mountain hamlet a one-of-a-kind experience.

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge

WILD ADVENTURE

Among all the accommodations in Arkansas, there is nothing quite like the experience of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs. This rescue operation offers up-close-and-personal encounters with rescued exotic animals and is home to an assortment of lions, tigers, bears and other wild creatures saved from a life of exploitation. Visitors can tour the grounds or opt for the deluxe treatment, which is to stay on site in a lodge suite, tree house or glamping tent near the big cat habitats, all while supporting the work of Turpentine Creek.

 

NORTH-CENTRAL ARKANSAS

Lost Valley

BUFFALO RIVER

 

Spring break is generally too cold for a float trip, but that does not mean there is nothing to do at the Buffalo National River. For starters, the region is criss-crossed with hiking trails that provide a good workout and picturesque views. It is very important, however, to choose the appropriate trail for the ages, experience levels and fitness levels of the party. Consult the National Park Service for a description of trails, and check with local experts to determine which trail is a good match.

Bull elk in Ponca

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS

 

One unique feature of the area near Ponca are the elk herds that gather daily and are viewable from areas just off the main road. Once hunted to extinction in the state, the elk’s numbers have increased to about 500 animals thanks to a decades-long reintroduction program sponsored by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Elk can be viewed in multiple locations in the area, but the most common one is the six miles of Arkansas 43 and Arkansas 21 in Boxley Valley. The best times to see the elk are dusk and dawn.

 

SMALL-TOWN CHARM

 

Throughout the Buffalo River area, the landscape is dotted with small communities and unexpected pleasures. In Searcy County alone, enjoy satisfying, chef-inspired fare at Skylark Cafe, Ryan’s Main Street Grill and Serenity Farm Bread in Leslie; Ferguson’s Country Store and Restaurant and Big Springs Trading Co. in St. Joe, and Oxley Store & Diner in Oxley. Other landmarks include the Ozark Cafe, one of the oldest continually operating businesses in Arkansas, and the unexpectedly gourmet fare of the Low Gap Cafe. Both eateries are located in Jasper in Newton County.

 

In nearby Marshall, make time to attend a showing at the Kenda Drive-In, one of only two drive-in movie theaters left standing in Arkansas, which has ticket and concession prices so reasonable, it is easy to make the visit a double feature. Also in Marshall, get a bird’s eye view of the famed river via Buffalo River Air Tours or get a bead on the 30 waterfalls that exist in the Richland Creek Watershed with a visit to the Richland Waterfalls Welcome Center in Witts Springs.

 

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