Photo by Karen Caster

Summer is here and families across Arkansas are eagerly looking for options for close-to-home getaways. The good news is the Natural State has dozens and dozens of wonderful options for fun.

Get out, explore and make unforgettable memories. We suggest these top-tier destinations that are just a hop, skip and a jump away.

Mountain View

Mountain View is tucked away in the north-central part of the state and is home to roughly 3,000 people. What residents and many visitors know about this little community is how much fun there is to be had! You can stroll around downtown and listen to music in the “Pickin’ Park,” catch a concert and learn about Ozark heritage at the Ozark Folk Center, take a class at the Arkansas Craft School or enjoy one of many outdoor recreational activities.

On weekends, visitors can enjoy listening to bluegrass, gospel, country and old-time music at the “Pickin’ Park.” If you know how to play, bring your instrument! If it’s raining, don’t worry! You can hop on over to Mellon’s Country Store or the Mountain View Music Store and enjoy picking on the porches. Don’t forget to bring your chair.The Ozark Folk Center State Park is a must when visiting Mountain View. There you can find artisans skillfully creating one-of-a-kind art. Enjoy live demonstrations of hand-made pottery, stunning jewelry, candle wax dipping, stained-glass creations, beautiful brooms, handwoven chairs and even an on-site blacksmith. Take a seat in the shade and listen to the daily craft village musicians play traditional Ozark music. 

The Arkansas Craft School is located downtown and has multiple studios specializing in clay pottery, woodturning, glass, metal, jewelry making, weaving and more. They offer a variety of classes for adults and children that are small enough to allow for individualized instruction and are available throughout the year.

Mountain View is surrounded by natural beauty and has many recreational activities to offer. You can explore deep within the earth at Blanchard Springs Caverns, hike or bike on one of the many miles of trails, swim or float in the crystal-clear waters, fish for trout in the White River, kayak on Sylamore Creek or zip-line at Loco Ropes.

There is always something for you to do, and there is always a place for you to stay in our little neck of the woods. For more information and a complete calendar of events, please visit our website at yourplaceinthemountains.com

Yearly events include the Arkansas Folk Festival (every third Saturday in April), Mountains, Music, & Motorcycles (August 14-16), Bean Festival and Championship Outhouse Races (October 31) and Caroling in the Caverns (November-December) – tickets go on sale July 1.

 

Gaston’s White River Resort

Make your next vacation the catch of a lifetime at Gaston’s White River Resort. As the sun rises through the fog on the White River, you’ll enjoy the view with coffee on your cottage porch. After a fishing class or a guided tour, you’ll be hooked. The lil’ fishin’ buddies will experience days filled with adventure – casting a line from the bank, swinging on the playground or simply hanging at the duck pond. Your four-legged fishing pals are always welcome at Gaston’s, too. The menu at our award-winning restaurant is full of fresh bites for everyone – from Chef Rick’s pan-seared and broiled trout to lobster tail and so much more. Of course, you’ll want to take advantage of our “you catch ‘em, we cook ‘em” dining option. Discover why people come from all over the world travel to “Trout Fishing Heaven.” It’s available right in your own backyard – at Gaston’s.

 

Turpentine Creek

If going on an African safari is on your bucket list, but traveling more than 8,000 miles and spending a bucketful of Benjamins isn’t, then we’ve got the perfect summer travel spot for you –  Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (TCWR) in Eureka Springs.

Turpentine Creek is a nonprofit, ethical animal tourism destination that rescues survivors of the exotic animal trade. And while the organization houses and provides compassionate care to more than 90 animal residents – including lions and tigers and bears…c’mon, say it with us, ‘Oh my!’ – the sanctuary accommodates human guests as well. 

Dubbed “Africa in the Ozarks,” TCWR’s lodging program boasts some wildly comfortable digs. Miranda Smith, the organization’s hospitality coordinator, beams, “Families can have a fun time in our Glamping Tents, Treehouse or Safari Suites, but we offer a more romantic experience in our adults-only Safari Lodges. We can accommodate fifth-wheels and rigs in our RV sites, and stargazers can have a great time in our primitive camping spots!” 

With so many overnight options available at the sanctuary, taking refuge at the Refuge is a no-brainer, regardless of your travel lifestyle. (Traveler’s tip: We recommend staying near Floyd and Tigger’s habitat. Those two handsome tigers are a couple of real cool cats!) 

Africa in the Ozarks at TCWR is closer than you think, too. Less than an hour’s drive from Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale. Northwest Arkansans can road trip to this “Top 10” family attraction in less time than it takes to watch The Lion King. But trust us when we say that no movie can match the majesty of the real thing. Chloe, Daniel, Savannah, Tsavo and Willy – five lucky leos at TCWR – are the lion kings and queens of our hearts. (Insert: Lion and Heart emoji) 

Speaking of royalty, Miranda points out that overnighters are pampered at the Refuge and are fortunate to hear a lion vocalization that not many people have ever experienced. 

“It’s called ‘caroling,’” she says, “guests generally hear it in the mornings and evenings. It’s calming. It speaks to the soul.” 

Tanya Smith, TCWR’s president and founder says it best, “When you’re here, you feel something. It’s a good place.” 

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs is a good place that we’ve put on our bucket list this summer, and we think you should put it on your list too. 

Go wild for wildlife! 

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge

239 Turpentine Creek Lane Eureka Springs, AR 72632 

TCWR.org 

479-253-5841 

 

Fairfield Bay

For the true outdoor adventurer, nothing quite compares to Fairfield Bay. Tucked into the north shore of Greers Ferry Lake, Fairfield Bay is a stunning mountain lake resort and community filled with sights and activities for the whole family – including the dog. 

On Top of the World 

One of the area’s most popular attractions is Sugar Loaf Mountain Island, Arkansas’ only island trail, located in the middle of Greers Ferry Lake. Featuring two trails, Sugar Loaf Mountain Island rises 1,000 feet above sea level and offers panoramic views of one of the nation’s first designated National Scenic Trails. Getting to the island is half the fun: rent a kayak and venture out on your own, or catch the Sugar Loaf Shuttle (daily) from the Fairfield Bay Marina or try one of our 10 hiking trails found around the city.

Off-road Adventure 

Fairfield Bay’s new ATV/UTV trail system features five trails and 100 miles of fun and exciting trails to explore and enjoy the outdoors. There is also a 20-acre ATV/UTV Fun Park filled with rocky terrain, mud and much more. Fairfield Bay offers UTV excursions daily. 

Hit the Links or Make a Splash 

Why not do both? Fairfield Bay has two challenging championship golf courses. Or try the growing sport of foot golf. If mini-golf is more your style, you will find two mini-golf courses along with a nine-hole disc golf course. Getting on the water is fun and easy with a visit to the Fairfield Bay Marina. You can rent all types of watercraft from fishing pontoons to paddleboards. Catch the “big one” with fishing equipment and live bait. The marina offers all types of water fun.

New Cobblestone Inn & Suites 

At the Cobblestone Inn & Suites, you will receive, “big city quality, small town values” each stay. Cobblestone has an amazing restaurant and spa, plus they are pet friendly, so you won’t need to leave your best friend behind. www.staycobblestone.com for reservations.  

Events All Year Long 

Fairfield Bay is also home to a variety of events throughout the year, including the annual Fourth of July week (July 4-7), the Laker Luau (August 3), Endless Summer Bash (August 31) and Bayfest (September 14). Fairfield Bay is the happening place to be. 

Fairfield Bay offers all the recreation and outdoor lifestyle of a lake resort in the Ozark Mountains. With hiking, golf, UTV riding, fishing, tennis, pools and more, Fairfield Bay is truly Arkansas’ family recreation destination.

501-884-4202 | www.visitfairfieldbay.com

 

Museum of Discovery

Arkansas’ premier science center! 

The Museum of Discovery in Little Rock’s River Market district is a can’t miss attraction. The museum has several captivating exhibits that will enthrall the child in us all. Learn about how the body functions in the Amazing You gallery. Experience what it’s like to live through a tornado as Tornado Alley Theater comes alive with the rumble and roar of the unpredictable, fast moving storms in a riveting seven-minute experience. In Discovery Hall, explore how we interact with mathematical applications every day in terms of quantities, shapes, space and patterns. The Tinkering Studio allows visitors of all ages to build imaginative creations. The Room to Grow gallery, for children ages six and under, includes a large climbing structure, the Discovery Pet Clinic, a microscope made specifically for small children, the Discovery Lab and more!

For more information visit museumofdiscovery.org.

 

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens is a 210-acre garden lovers’ paradise on beautiful Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs. Summertime at the gardens offers a panorama of beautiful flowers everywhere. Serene beauty in the Garden of the Pine Wind includes iconic bridges, flowing cascades, koi ponds and thousands of Japanese maples, as well as flowering trees and shrubs. Brilliant perennials carpet the Wildflower Meadow. Families thrill to the experience of the architecturally unique four-story Tree House in the Children’s Adventure Garden, which boasts a cave, waterfall, boulder maze, cascades, wading pool and unique ironwork “cedar” bridge. Everyone will love “Thirsty Thursdays” from June through August, with sprinkler stations for cooling off. Celebrate Summer Day with us on July 6. It will be a big summer blowout with kids’ activities, food trucks, a beer garden and the Chipmunk Café’s gourmet lunches.

 

Little Rock Zoo

Opportunities abound for interaction with animals, from keeper chats to behind-the-scenes tours with penguins or elephants. Experience the awe and wonder of the jungle animals at exhibits like the Great Apes and the Big Cats! Food lovers will enjoy a delicious meal at Café Africa, and fun lovers always enjoy a ride on the Diamond Express Train. 

Stop by the Civitan Amphitheater for new shows each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 11AM now through Labor Day.  

The show, Walks of Life, features three of our bird friends that perform flight patterns while teaching audiences the importance of the role of wildlife and conservation to our world.  The show also includes a penguin, vulture, a goat, snake, an opossum and Smoochy, the raven!

Come see why everyone is falling in love with the Little Rock Zoo!

For more information about Zoo events and conservation efforts, visit littlerockzoo.com.