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2017 Attractions for Southwest Arkansas

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Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources/El Dorado Downtown
On January 10, 1921, near El Dorado a geyser of “black gold” spewed far over the 112-foot derrick of Arkansas’s first productive oil well. The town’s population quickly skyrocketed, creating the need for a new courthouse, more business space and larger churches. The prosperity would subsequently spread through 10 south Arkansas counties as more oil and natural gas was discovered. At the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources in Smackover, the history of the state’s “oil boom” is told through films, historic photographs, geological and other exhibits, oil-era memorabilia and the Oil Field Park, which displays derricks and pumping equipment. Seven miles away, El Dorado’s downtown, centered around the Neo-classic 1928 Union County Courthouse, contains architecturally significant churches and other structures constructed in the 1920s and 30s and made possible by the new wealth. A diverse mix of shops, a variety of dining establishments and complementary landscaping and streetscape details add to the downtown atmosphere.
CONTACT: Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources, 3853 Smackover Highway, Smackover, AR 71762, 870-725-2877, www.ArkansasStateParks.com/MuseumOfNaturalResources; Downtown El Dorado, 870-863-6113, www.GoElDorado.com; Main Street El Dorado, 870-862-4747, www.MainStreetElDorado.org.
 
Camden/McCollum-Chidester House
Civil War artifacts and displays on two of Camden’s historic products, Camark pottery and Grapette soft drinks are among exhibits housed in the Camden Visitors Center and Museum at 314 Adams Street S.W. In the spring of 1864, the Union Army briefly captured the town of Camden during a failed Civil War campaign. General Frederick Steele occupied the McCollum-Chidester House at 926 Washington Street, then the home of stagecoach operator John T. Chidester. Now hosting public tours, the house is mostly furnished with antiques original to the Chidester family, who moved into the home in 1857.
CONTACT: McCollum-Chidester House, 926 West Washington Street, Camden, AR 71701, 870-836-9243; Camden Visitor Center, 314 Adams Street Southwest, Camden, AR 71701, 870-836-6426.
 
Cossatot River State Park/Natural Area
Designated a National Wild and Scenic River, the Cossatot offers adventurers the most challenging whitewater in Arkansas. The stream snakes over and between upturned Ouachita Mountains’ strata to create Cossatot Falls, with rapids and drops rated up to Class V in difficulty. Because of its upland watershed, the Cossatot rises and falls relatively quickly so floaters are advised to call ahead to verify sufficient water levels. The park’s Visitor and Education Center hosts exhibits focusing on the river and a wildlife viewing area. Interpretive programs are available. The park’s more than 5,480 acres extend about 11 miles on both sides of the river from just above the Ark. 246 bridge east of Vandervoort to about 1.5 miles below the U.S. 278 bridge east of Wickes. Facilities include campsites, picnic sites and hiking trails, including the 14.5-mile River Corridor Trail. A 24 hour river stage number is 870-385-3141. This gives paddlers the river stage in feet.
CONTACT: 1980 Highway 278 West, Wickes, AR 71973, 870-385-2201, www.ArkansasStateParks.com/CossatotRiver.
 
Crater of Diamonds State Park
North America’s largest diamond (40.23 carats) and more than 75,000 other diamonds have been found in a field southeast of Murfreesboro since farmer John Huddleston discovered the first gems in the field in 1906. Now the eroding surface of a volcanic pipe located about three miles southeast of Murfreesboro is preserved as Crater of Diamonds State Park, the world’s only site where anyone can dig for diamonds and keep what they find. The park’s Diamond Discovery Center offers an audio-visual presentation giving tips on diamond hunting. Diamond displays and exhibits detailing the site’s history and geology can be found in the park’s visitor center. The park also has a campground, hiking trails, a picnic and play area, and a seasonal “Diamond Springs” water play area.
CONTACT: 209 State Park Road, Murfreesboro, AR 71958, 870-285-3113, www.CraterOfDiamondsStatePark.com.
 
Daisy State Park
In this scenic setting in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains, Lake Greeson, the Little Missouri River, and Daisy State Park are a draw for outdoor enthusiasts. Lake Greeson, 7,000 acres of clear water and mountain scenery, delights water enthusiasts. Catches of black and white bass, stripers, crappie, catfish, and bluegill account for its popularity with anglers. Daisy State Park is 1/4 mile south of Daisy off U.S. 70.
CONTACT: 103 East Park, Kirby, AR 71950, 870-398-4487, www.ArkansasStateParks.com/Daisy.
 
DeGray Lake Resort State Park
Arkansas’s only resort state park is located about eight miles north of Arkadelphia on 13,800-acre DeGray Lake, formed when the Caddo River was dammed in 1972. Located on an island and reached by a short causeway, is the park’s lodge. Hiking, water-skiing, sailing, jet-skiing, fishing, bird watching, and pleasure boating are popular DeGray activities. Visitors can get rental watercraft at the park marina to take advantage of the lake’s fishing or can launch their own craft for free. A full service marina is open year round and the park offers daily interpretive programs Memorial Day through Labor Day and throughout the year on weekends or by appointment. The park also offers campsites equipped for RV or tent camping with water and electric hookups. They also have Yurts to rent, which are large, high walled tents with electricity, wood floors, screened windows and a door that can be locked.
CONTACT: 2027 State Park Entrance Road, Bismarck, AR 71929, 501-865-5850, www.DeGray.com.
 
Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge
This 65,000-acre refuge in south central Arkansas is widely regarded as one of the state’s best fishing venues. Other recreational options include hiking, wildlife observation and photography. Among birders, the refuge is known as a place where the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker can be added to one’s life list.
CONTACT: 870-364-3167, www.FWS.gov/refuge/felsenthal.
 
Garvan Woodland Gardens
The gardens are located on the shores of Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs and are part of the department of the University of Arkansas' Fay Jones School of Architecture. It is the only botanical garden in the nation that occupies all of a peninsula in a major water body. Popular garden attractions include The Anthony Chapel, a work of art that features a 57-foot, open-rafter ceiling supported by pine columns and crossbeams and the Joy Manning Scott Full Moon Bridge. There are also attractions such as the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden and the Fairy Village, which is made from objects and plants found from the Gardens’ 210-acre peninsula including tree stumps, twigs, stone, lichen, and ferns.
CONTACT: 550 Arkridge Road, Hot Springs, AR 71913, 501-262-9300, www.GarvanGardens.org.
 
Historic Washington State Park
The town of Washington was founded in 1824 on the Southwest Trail just 15 miles from the Red River, which then separated American lands from the Mexican territory known as Texas. Because of its border proximity, Washington played a role in Texas’s 1835-36 war for independence. Evidence suggests that Sam Houston and others discussed plans for the revolt while Houston resided in one of the town’s taverns in 1834. The town also served as Arkansas’s Confederate capital after Union forces captured Little Rock in 1863. Historic Washington State Park preserves and showcases the town’s architecture, history and pioneer culture. Park visitors can get a sense of 19th- century life in Arkansas by taking historic tours and experiencing interpretive programs and demonstrations throughout the town. There are over 30 structures that date from the 1830s into the early 1900s. Authentic and splendidly furnished historic houses provide a glimpse of domestic life and contain many 19th century treasures such as furniture and ceramics. Noted attractions include the 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse that served as the Confederate capital, the re-construction of a period blacksmith shop where the original Bowie knife was forged, the B.W. Edwards Weapons Museum, and a print museum showcasing 19th- century printing techniques. In addition to daily tours and a variety of workshops, events, and distance learning programs, the park also offers rental facilities for group meetings, weddings and reunions. Williams Tavern Restaurant has country fare food with the capability of catering to various events utilizing park facilities. The park is nine miles northwest of Hope via U.S. 278.
CONTACT: Washington, AR 71862, 870-983-2684, www.HistoricWashingtonStatePark.com.
 
Hope
This small town has two claims to fame: it is the birthplace of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and it showcases some of the world's largest watermelons. The town is located 25 miles northeast of Texarkana and 120 miles southwest of Little Rock. While here, check out the Hope Visitor Center and Museum. The museum is located in the restored 1912 railroad depot at Division and Main Streets. It contains exhibits on the town's history as a railway center for the cotton economy in earlier times and its on-going production of giant watermelons.
CONTACT: Hope Visitor Center and Museum, 100 East Division Street, Hope, AR 71801, 870-722-2580.
 
Hot Springs
Hot Springs, the boyhood home of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, is one of Arkansas’s top tourist destinations. The city hosts a national park, a top flight Thoroughbred racetrack, a 210-acre botanical garden, a combination theme and water park, a thriving arts community, and attractions such as the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery. The town is also home to Lake Catherine State Park and the nearby Lake Ouachita State Park. The city’s host of family attractions includes live music and magic shows. The Bank of the Ozarks Arena is connected to the Hot Springs Convention Center and hosts concerts, sports events and touring shows. Three area lakes – Hamilton, Catherine and Ouachita – accommodate water-based recreation, private resorts and two state parks. Oaklawn Park offers live racing from January to mid-April and simulcast races during the rest of the year. Among the many features at Magic Springs/Crystal Falls theme and water park is Splash Island, a giant interactive water play structure.
CONTACT: Oaklawn Park, 1-800-OAKLAWN, www.Oaklawn.com; Magic Springs/Crystal Falls, 501-624-0100, www.MagicSprings.com; Visit Hot Springs, 501-321-2277, www.HotSprings.org.
 
Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs and Hot Springs National Park owe their existence to an array of springs that still supply naturally heated water for thermal bathers. The Fordyce Bathhouse, located on famous Bathhouse Row, serves as the park’s visitor center. Hot Springs is the smallest and oldest of the parks in the National Park System. It dates back to 1832 when Congress established, 40 years ahead of Yellowstone, the first federally protected area in the nation's history. Hot Springs Reservation, which was renamed Hot Springs National Park in 1921, was created to protect the 47 naturally flowing thermal springs on the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain.
CONTACT: 101 Reserve Street, Hot Springs, AR 71901, 501-620-6715, www.NPS.gov/hosp.
 
Lake Ouachita
Arkansas’s largest reservoir, the 40,000 acre Lake Ouachita offers fishing for striped and largemouth bass and other sport fish in the backdrop of outstanding scenery. It is also a popular destination for scuba diving, pleasure boating, sailing, and water skiing. A number of private resorts with marinas and other recreational amenities are located on its shores. Houseboat rentals are also available. Lake Ouachita State Park offers a marina, rental cabins, camping and hiking. Numerous U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ recreation areas are also located on the lake, which was formed by the completion of Blakely Mountain Dam in the early 1950s.
CONTACT: Lake Ouachita State Park, 501-767-9366, www.ArkansasStateParks.com/LakeOuachita; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 501-767-2101, www.MVK.USACE.Army.mil/Missions/Recreation/LakeOuachita.aspx.
 
Logoly State Park
At Arkansas's first environmental education state park, interpreters present workshops on ecological/environmental topics. The park's natural resources provide a living laboratory for students and visitors. Most of Logoly's 368 acres comprise a State Natural Area that includes unique plant species and mineral springs. Logoly State Park is located in McNeil.
CONTACT: McNeil, AR 71752, 870-695-3561, www.ArkansasStateParks.com/Logoly.
 
Millwood State Park
In 1966, the longest earthen dam in Arkansas was completed on the Little River, forming in a mostly forested valley a lake so broad it covered portions of four counties. Relatively shallow and thick with timber, Millwood Lake soon became a fishing hotspot. Today, the lake and its environs enjoy a reputation as one of Arkansas’s top birding locations. Millwood has attracted migratory seabirds and shorebirds seldom, if ever, seen elsewhere in the state. Due to its extreme southwestern Arkansas location, the lake is sometimes visited by species straying outside their normal ranges farther south and west. Campsites, a marina with watercraft rentals, a picnic area, trails and other amenities make Millwood State Park a great base for fishing and birding excursions. Of note, the park is currently closed due to damage from floodwaters. Updates on the park’s reopening will be posted to their website. The park is located about nine miles east of Ashdown via Ark. 32. CONTACT: 1564 Highway 32 East, Ashdown, AR 71822, 870-898-2800, www.ArkansasStateParks.com/Millwood.
 
Mount Ida/Quartz Crystals
The Ouachitas contains some of the world’s finest deposits of quartz crystals. Digging is available year round. Several area mines allow patrons, for a fee, to dig and keep their finds. The area has many gem and mineral shops that sell crystals from all over the world. The area is also home to trails such as the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail, the Womble Trail, and the Ouachita National Recreational Trail, which have all been designated IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) Epics.
CONTACT: 870-867-2723, www.MtIdaChamber.com.
 
Ouachita Mountains/Ouachita National Forest
The Ouachita Mountains were formed when a collision of two prehistoric continents squeezed up from the ocean floor thick layers of sedimentary rock. They have lost thousands of feet of elevation to weathering and erosion since emerging above sea level some 286 million years ago – 40 million years before the first dinosaurs walked the earth. Their tallest summit now reaches less than 2,700 feet. The ancient Ouachitas now appear as the Rocky Mountains might look 300,000 millennia from now. The forest was established in 1907, making it the oldest and largest national forest in the South. Within the 1.8 million acre forest are back roads and hiking trails that provide visitors with an up-close experience of the aged mountains. Mountain views coupled with picturesque streams, rivers and lakes provide a highly valued setting for outdoor recreation. The forest, situated in central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma and headquartered in Hot Springs, offers nature related sightseeing and scenic driving as well as hunting, fishing and dispersed camping. An extensive trail system provides for all types of uses including hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and routes for off-highway vehicles. Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) for the Ouachita National Forest are available and it is legal to ride only those national forest roads, trails or areas shown on the maps(s). A variety of services can be found at developed campgrounds ranging from rustic tent pads to full-service RV hookups. Enjoy water-based recreation opportunities including fishing, non-motorized boating and enjoyment of streams, rivers and lakes. The forest hosts six wilderness areas (five in AR and one in OK) and two Wild and Scenic Rivers. The Talimena Scenic Byway winds along the top of Winding Stair and Rich Mountains on its way into Arkansas. Other highlights in the forest include the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, which traverses a lengthy 223 miles across the region, the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail, and the Womble Trail, which have all been designated IMBA ( International Mountain Bicycling Association) Epics.
CONTACT: 501-321-5202, www.FS.USDA.gov/ouachita.
 
President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site
The two-story white frame house (which belonged to Clinton's grandparents) on South Hervey Street was where Clinton lived from his birth in 1946 until age four. The house is furnished with items that date to time period when Clinton lived there. Clinton moved to Hot Springs when he was seven but the Hope home served as the center of his family life (he spent summers and weekends there) until his grandfather, Eldridge Cassidy, died in 1956 and the house was sold. The home was occupied until it was acquired by the Clinton Birthplace Foundation (created in 1993) during Clinton's presidency. Restoration of the home began in 1995 and it opened to the public two years later. Efforts began immediately to position the site to become a National Historic Landmark (achieved in 1997) and to begin the legislative process to present the site to the National Park system.
CONTACT: 117 South Hervey Street, Hope, AR 71801, 870-777-4455, www.NPS.gov/wicl.
 
Poison Springs Battleground State Park
In the spring of 1864, three Civil War battles took place in south central Arkansas that were part of the Union Army's Red River Campaign. Arkansas's three state historic parks that commemorate these battles--Poison Springs Battleground State Park, Marks' Mills Battleground State Park and Jenkins Ferry Battleground State Park--are part of the Red River Campaign National Historic Landmark. Located ten miles west of Camden on Ark. 76.
CONTACT: Highway 76, Camden, AR 71722, 870-685-2748, www.ArkansasStateParks.com/PoisonSpring.
 
Rick Evans Grandview Prairie Conservation Education Center
The nation’s largest contiguous tract of Blackland Prairie in public ownership is contained within this 4,885-acre, multi-use area owned by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Outdoor recreation opportunities include fishing, seasonal hunting, hiking, and wildlife viewing. The limited availability of Blackland Prairie habitat makes wildflower walks and bird and butterfly watching of special interest at this site. Grandview is located in rural Hempstead County, two miles north of Columbus.
CONTACT: 1685 Hempstead County Road 35, Columbus, AR 71831, 870-983-2790, www.GrandviewPrairieCEC.com.
 
Texarkana
This city's boosters refer to it as Texarkana USA because it’s actually two towns with the same name – one in Arkansas; one in Texas. What's more, Tex-ark-ana is named after three states: Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. The Arkansas-Texas boundary runs down the middle of State Line Avenue, passing through the State Line Post Office and Federal Building where tourists can pose on Photographer's Island with one foot in each state.
CONTACT: Main Street Texarkana, www.MainStreetTexarkana.org; Texarkana Chamber of Commerce, www.Texarkana.org.
 
Queen Wilhelmina State Park/Talimena Drive National Scenic Byway
The Talimena Scenic Drive stretches for 54 miles along crests of the Ouachita Mountains between Mena, Arkansas and Talihina, Oklahoma. In 2005, as a result of the efforts of the bi-state Talimena Scenic Drive Association, the route was designated a National Scenic Byway by the Federal Highway Administration. Sitting atop Arkansas’s second highest peak and located on the byway 13 miles west of Mena, Queen Wilhelmina State Park’s lodge has undergone a $9.7-million renovation that includes a new hearth room and porch for enjoying the panoramic view from Rich Mountain, Arkansas’s second highest mountain. Guests using the park’s campground often include hikers traversing the 223-mile Ouachita National Recreation Trail which runs through the park and motorcyclists riding the Talimena.
CONTACT: Queen Wilhelmina State Park, 3877 Arkansas Highway 88, Mena, AR 71953, 479-394-2863, www.QueenWilhelmina.com; Talimena National Scenic Byway, www.TalimenaScenicDrive.com; City of Mena, 479-394-8355, www.VisitMena.com.
 
White Oak Lake State Park
Adjacent to Poison Spring State Forest, this park lies on the shore of White Oak Lake, 2,765 timber-filled acres for bass, crappie, catfish, and bream fishing. Rich in wildlife, the park offers regular sightings of great blue heron, egret, osprey, and green heron, and in winter, bald eagles. The park marina offers fishing boat, party barge, pedal boat, canoe, and kayak rentals. A boat ramp provides access to the lake. The park, which is a few miles from Bluff City, has hiking and mountain biking trails.
CONTACT: 563 Highway 387, Bluff City, AR 71722, www.ArkansasStateParks.com/WhiteOakLake.