Arkansas gains its nickname, “The Natural State,” from its substantial natural wonders, which lure travelers to the state each year. Nestled between Missouri and Louisiana and bordered on the east by the Mississippi River, Arkansas contains some 150,000 acres of wilderness areas. Dedicated to hiking, hunting, fishing and wilderness camping, these protected natural lands remain off-limits to motor vehicles.
Opportunities for outdoor recreation for the entire family further abound in the nearly 70,000 acres of water in the state’s five Diamond Lakes, along with the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains and Ouachita National Forest. Perfect for city folks looking to get back to basics, these regions provide ample trails, camp sites and educational opportunities.
Arkansas’ natural springs, for which the city Hot Springs is named, produce nearly a million gallons of 143°F water daily. The springs have drawn visitors to the area since the times of the early Native Americans. The water flows from public fountains, and visitors can still bathe in the thermal springs from the late 19th-century Bath House Row, as well as in certain hotels and spas.
Hot Springs National Park was designated as the nation’s first Federal Reserve in 1832. Within the park, University of Arkansas’ Garvan Woodland Gardens offers a Children’s Adventure Garden that allows hands-on exploration of tree houses, caves, bridges, waterfalls and wading pools. A model train garden, European- and Japanese-style gardens, and a multitude of overlooks and walks offer picturesque spaces for activity or reflection.
Many visitors to Hot Springs enjoy National Park Duck Tours of the city, park and Lake Hamilton in amphibious vehicles known as “ducks.” Beneath the state’s varied terrain lies yet another world for exploration of nature, in the state’s nearly 2,000 natural “living” caves and caverns.
While the picturesque outdoors provides near-endless activities, families may also visit Magic Springs Theme Park, with its interactive Mid-America Science Museum, and the Gangster Museum of America, tying some of the most notorious mobsters of the first half of the 20th century, including Al Capone, to the famous springs. Young prospectors can also dig for their own diamonds at the world’s only public diamond mine, Crater of Diamonds State Park.