2017 Top Events and Festivals in Arkansas
Jan. 13-April 15: Live Thoroughbred racing at Oaklawn Park, Hot Springs
Enjoy live Thoroughbred racing at a first-rate track. Oaklawn offers a variety of dining options and simulcast and instant racing the remainder of the year. The park’s "Racing Festival of the South" attracts the nation's top horses and the Arkansas Derby winner becomes eligible for the famous Triple Crown.
Feb. 10-12: LANTERNS! Festival, Little Rock
Wildwood Park for the Arts’s annual deep-winter festival celebrates the first full moon of the lunar new year. Over three magical evenings, guests are transported to faraway lands and times as they stroll through the beautifully lit pathways of Wildwood’s gardens. Cultural vistas feature live entertainment, food, drink, games and more throughout the Park’s Butler Arboretum and inside the Lucy Lockett Cabe Festival Theatre, each of them highlighting and celebrating a different culture or region of the world.
March 17: The First Ever 14th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Hot Springs
The event this year features Celebrity Grand Marshal Alfonso Ribeiro, green fireworks, Irish belly dancers, floats, the Irish Order of Elvi (a group of Elvis look-alikes), marchers, Irish Wolfhounds and more. The Official Starter of the parade this year is pro wrestler Ric Flair. The event is held on historic Bridge Street, which became famous in the 1940s when Ripley's Believe It or Not designated it "The Shortest Street in the World."
March 17-19: Jonquil Festival, Washington (Historic Washington State Park)
This celebration of spring features thousands of blooming jonquils in a 19th-century restoration village. Other attractions include craft vendors, musicians performing varied types of music, surrey rides, food vendors, special interpretive programs and historic tours, buffet meals at Williams Tavern Restaurant and more.
April (TBA): Tales of the Crypt, Fort Smith
Tales of the Crypt is a popular, family-friendly living history tour of Oak Cemetery featuring storytelling by some of the pre-Civil War cemetery's most famous "residents."
April 14-15: Arkansas Folk Festival, Mountain View (Court Square, Ozark Folk Center State Park)
Region: North Central
Annual Spring celebration featuring handmade crafts, frontier life demonstrations, parade, folk and bluegrass music, dancing on the courthouse Square, and window decorating contest. A great fun family festival. Ozark Folk Center opens for the season. Free admission to the Crafts Village during this weekend. Free shuttle from downtown to the Folk Center.
May (TBA): Old Fort Days Rodeo, Fort Smith
The annual Old Fort Days Rodeo in Fort Smith has been entertaining rodeo enthusiasts with talented cowboys, high prize money and quality rodeo livestock for more than 80 years. The fast paced action includes calf roping, barrel racing, wild horse racing, bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, the Old Fort Days Dandies, and bull riding. It is held at Kay Rodgers Park.
CONTACT: Kay Rodgers Park, 479-783-2393, www.OldFortDaysRodeo.com.
May 2-7: Bentonville Film Festival, Bentonville
Harnessing plenty of star power, the festival is a one-of-a-kind event designed to champion women and diversity in film. Hosted by ARC Entertainment, Walmart, Coca-Cola and AMC Theatres and chaired by Academy Award-winning Actor Geena Davis, the festival screens approximately 75 films in competition, ranging from studio premieres to independent features and documentaries. The Festival’s Advisory Board is comprised of entertainment industry leaders and artists including Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Randy Jackson, Eva Longoria, Julianne Moore, Paula Patton, Natalie Portman, Nina Tassler and Shailene Woodley. During and after the festival, each advisory board member will lead activities ranging from mentoring, film selection advising, and to jury participation.
The festival is the first and only film competition in the world to offer guaranteed theatrical, television, digital and retail home entertainment distribution for its winners. Films that receive the Audience, Jury Selection and Best Family Film awards at the Bentonville Film Festival will receive a distribution agreement with a guaranteed traditional theatrical release on a minimum of 25 screens from AMC Theatres. AMC Theatres will also participate in the film submission and jury selection process.
May 5-7: Toad Suck Daze, Conway
Festivalgoers gather for food-on-a-stick, local and national entertainment, arts & crafts, activities for kids, and of course, the World-Famous Championship Toad Races. Several festival-sanctioned events sponsored by local nonprofit organizations take place throughout the weekend as well, including a 5K/10K race and the Tour de Toad bicycle race.
May 6: Territorial Fair, Little Rock
With a new theme each year, the Historic Arkansas Museum’s Territorial Fair is always one of Little Rock’s favorite family events. Enjoy living history performances, hands-on activities for children, 19th century dancing, frontier demonstrations, pioneer games and more.
May 19-20: Magnolia Blossom Festival & World Championship Steak Cook-Off, Magnolia
This event has arts and crafts, a sidewalk art show and sale, a 5K run, a fishing tournament, food booths, live entertainment, a championship steak cook-off and more.
June 1-4: 40th Annual Riverfest, Little Rock
Riverfest is a celebration of visual and performing arts that is held annually on the banks of the Arkansas River in Little Rock. Riverfest is the largest single event in the state of Arkansas with a rich tradition. Flowing on the River, the festival’s separately ticketed wine and craft beer event, will kick off Riverfest 2017 on Thursday, June 1, followed by a two-day music festival (June 2-3) featuring some of America’s hottest acts. On Sunday, June 4, to commemorate Riverfest’s 40 years in the community, a special celebration and “thank you” to the public will be held with all-day activities, which conclude that evening with a spectacular firework show. Ticket holders for the two-day music festival will be admitted free into Sunday’s events. Springfest, a free event for families, will return to Riverfront Park Saturday, April 8, and again include the popular family-friendly activities such as acrobats, arts and crafts, the Super Retriever Series dog jumping competitions and more.
June 4-17: Hot Springs Music Festival, Hot Springs
This festival brings together over 250 international musicians. Over the course of the festival 20 concerts and over 250 open rehearsals are available to enjoy. The festival takes place in a variety of non-traditional venues including historic buildings, art galleries and open air spaces.
June 9-10: 35th annual Portfest, Newport (Jacksonport State Park)
Region: Upper Delta
Start summer with a bang at Portfest in Newport. After taking 18 months to revamp the festival, organizers are excited about bringing the festival back in 2017. Anticipated improvements include looking at a wider range of events, a broader reach with a variety of music and increased family entertainment options. Held along the banks of the White River at Jacksonport State Park.
June 13-17: Petit Jean Show & Swap Meet, Morrilton
More than 100 antique and classic cars compete for awards in various categories, from the turn of the 19th century to 25–year-old models, on the grounds of the Museum of Automobiles on Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton. Also an open car show for modified cars will be held, about 800 collectible cars will be for sale, and more than 1,000 vendor spaces filled with antique car parts and related items. Food vendors will be available on the museum grounds.
June 21-24: Annual Rodeo of the Ozarks, Springdale (Parsons Stadium)
Authentic stagecoach rides, good food and entertainment at the Stagecoach Inn one week prior to the rodeo; two rodeo parades; over 500 contestants and professional athletes will compete in six PRCA and WPRA sanctioned events -- Calf Roping, Steer Wrestling, Barrel Racing, Bareback Riding, Saddle Bronco Riding and the popular Bull Riding.
June 23-25: Big Bass Bonanza, North Little Rock
The Simmons Bank Big Bass Bonanza is the state’s largest amateur fishing tournament that spans about 300 miles of the Arkansas River, with pools and official check-in stations at Fort Smith, Dardanelle, Little Rock/North Little Rock, Pine Bluff, and the Pendleton Bridge near Dumas. This year’s guaranteed cash prizes include: $50,000 for the largest fish overall; $10,000 for the largest fish overall in each of the remaining four pools; and place money for overall winner per pool, with $900 for second place, $700 for third and $400 for fourth. Hourly prize money for first, second, and third place will be the top priority after the guaranteed prizes are awarded.
CONTACT: Arkansas Hospitality Association, 501-376-2323.
June 24: Purple Hull Pea Festival & World’s Championship Rotary Tiller Race, Emerson
This is a rotary tiller race highlighted by “souped up” tillers. There is also a pea shelling contest, a purple hull pea cook-off, a pea dinner, a purple hull pea booth, arts, crafts and entertainment, children's events, a parade and more.
July 12-15: Johnson County Peach Festival, Clarksville
Terrapin derby, frog jump, peach pit spitting contest, parade, bicycle obstacle course, egg toss, barbershop quartet music, gospel sing, craft booths, concessions, banana split contest, street dance, greased pig chase, peach cobbler/jam & jelly bake-off, 4-mile run, water balloon toss, bass tournament, Miss Arkansas preliminary pageants, Princess Elberta pageant.
July 29: Annual World Championship Cardboard Boat Races, Heber Springs (Greers Ferry Lake)
Region: North Central
Put your creative talents – and boat building skills – to the test at this event. There are three divisions of competition in both adult and children’s races including one or two person, team and mechanical. All participants race a 200-yard-course. Past entries have been USS battleships, planes, trains and even the Starship Enterprise. Trophies awarded include the Pride of the Fleet, the Titanic Award, plus first, second and third places in each division for speed. Other activities include a tug of war, a watermelon eating contest, a treasure dig for kids, sand sculpting and the Cardboard Boat Demolition Derby.
Aug. 1-5: Annual Tontitown Grape Festival, Tontitown
More than 6,000 lbs. of homemade pasta and sauce will be served at the Italian spaghetti dinners, more than 100 crafts exhibitors, biathlon, entertainment, Queen Concordia pageant, plus nightly carnival.
CONTACT: Tontitown Grape Festival, 479-361-2615, www.TontitownGrapeFestival.com.
Aug. 10-12: Hope Watermelon Festival, Hope (Fair Park)
The Hope Watermelon Festival is celebrating its 41st anniversary this year. The event has a watermelon eating and seed spitting contest, the Watermelon Olympics, a variety of live music, fishing, archery, arm-wrestling and horseshoe tournaments, craft and food booth, car shows and more.
CONTACT: 870-777-3640, www.HopeMelonFest.com.
September (TBA): ACANSA Arts Festival, Little Rock
This five-day celebration of the arts features a mix of live performances, exhibits, art education programs, training and activities from both local and national artists and perfromers. ACANSA Arts Festival encourages public appreciation of the arts, showcases and increases awareness of the arts in the region, enriches the cultural vitality of Arkansas and celebrates “southern place” ~ the meaning behind the word "ACANSA."
Sept. 2-4 (Labor Day Weekend): Annual National Championship Chuck Wagon Races, Clinton
Region: North Central
Chuck wagon races, Snowy River Race, bronc fanning, Western music and dances, trail rides, non-denominational church services on Sunday morning, barn dances, Western trade show, music, food. Admission is $25 for adults.
Sept. 20-23: Bikes, Blues & BBQ Motorcycle Rally, Fayetteville
Bikes, Blues & BBQ is the largest non-profit, family-friendly, motorcycle rally in the country for people seeking to enjoy the best in motorcycle riding, blues music and barbeque while at the same helping those in need.
October (TBA): MusicFest El Dorado, El Dorado
Whether you are into country, rock, R&B, bluegrass or blues, MusicFest El Dorado has something for everyone. This multi-year Arkansas Festival of the Year winner is the largest live music festival in south Arkansas. The event features over 30 acts on three stages over two days and takes place every October in downtown El Dorado. Past headliners have included Toby Keith, Brett Michaels, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the Charlie Daniels Band and more.
October (TBA): Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Hot Springs
This ten-day festival showcases screenings of domestic and international documentary films including Academy Award-winning and nominated films. It is the oldest documentary film festival in the nation. Events include forums and lectures, question and answer sessions with filmmakers following many screenings, a gala banquet and visiting scholars and celebrities.
Oct. 4-7: 32nd annual King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena-West Helena (Downtown Historic District)
Region: Lower Delta
The King Biscuit Blues Festival is three days of live music featuring legendary performers from Helena’s Delta blues heyday, leading contemporary blues acts and emerging blues practitioners; barbecue cook-off; 5-K run; food vendors; and an arts and crafts market.
CONTACT: King Biscuit Blues Festival, 870-572-5223, www.KingBiscuitFestival.com.
Oct. 13-22: Arkansas State Fair, Little Rock
Arkansas’s biggest annual family event rocks the historic State Fairgrounds and Barton Coliseum for ten exciting days of rides, games, music and entertainment, exhibits, demonstrations, competitions, vendors and, don’t forget, fair food every October!
Nov. 15-Dec. 31: 21st annual Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends, Pine Bluff (Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Regional Park)
Region: Lower Delta
Open from 6-9 p.m. nightly, one of Arkansas's largest drive-thru of holiday lights with 1.3 miles of more than 280 displays, many of which are animated.
Nov. 20-Dec. 27: 23rd annual Lights of the Delta, Blytheville (Arkansas Aeroplex)
Region: Upper Delta
Blytheville’s Arkansas Aeroplex is the site of the 23rd annual Lights of the Delta. With six million lights and nearly 50 major motion displays on 40 acres, Lights of the Delta is one of the largest lighting festivals in the mid-south. Hayrides are available each night. Live music, pictures with Santa and a live nativity scene will be presented on select nights throughout the festival, which runs nightly from Nov. 20 through Dec. 27.
Nov. 24-25: 82nd annual World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest and Wings Over the Prairie Festival, Stuttgart (Main Street)
Region: Lower Delta
One of Arkansas’s most anticipated festivals, the event features the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest; World’s Championship Duck Gumbo Cook-off; annual Queen Mallard pageant; carnival; 10K race; sporting goods and collectibles shows; arts and crafts; commercial exhibits.