Road trip: Why you should go on a weekend getaway to Northwest Arkansas
What's the best place for summer adventures away from Kansas City? You might just find the perfect trip in Arkansas. From Bentonville to Fayetteville, from Eureka Springs to Devil's Den, there's a lot of nature, art and food to explore.
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So — you're itching to take a weekend trip, but don’t want to deal with the expense or hassle of going through an airport. Luckily enough, there are lots of options for mini-vacations within a three- to four-hour car ride from the Kansas City metro area.
There’s lots to do in Kansas. You can catch and release fish or hike at some of the 40 miles of trails at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Strong City, and wander through the dramatic landscapes of Little Jerusalem Badland State Park. Kansas is also famous for the quirky tourist attractions scattered across its small towns, like the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City and, in Nelson, the World’s Largest Collection of World’s Smallest Versions of World’s Largest Things.
Here in Missouri, head to St. Louis to visit the Gateway Arch — a national park! — or walk in the footsteps of 1904 World's Fair-goers in Forest Park. You could even plan a bike ride along the Katy Trail and make a stop at the Diana Bend Conservation Area in Howard County, enjoy a dinner show at Dolly Parton’s Stampede in Branson, or taste some of the rich wine-making culture along the Hermann Wine Trail.
Up in Nebraska, don’t miss out on Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, the No. 1 attraction in the state. We also recommend driving to Minneapolis and Des Moines, both of which have food and arts aplenty.
Today we’re bringing you a guide to traveling in Northwest Arkansas. Let's go!
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
The Crystal Bridges Museum has done more than almost anything else to make Bentonville, Arkansas, into a destination.
Arts patron and Walmart heiress Alice Walton founded the museum, which opened in 2011, and the buildings are designed by architect Moshe Safdie, who also designed Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
The museum’s permanent collection spans five centuries, and the grounds, dotted with art, feature more than four miles of trails for walking, biking and hiking. Here's what you can see there now.
Diego Rivera’s America (through July 31, 2023) — It’s almost hard to believe that this is the largest exhibition focused on the Mexican artist in two decades, bringing together more than 130 of his paintings, murals and drawings. Some of his works, which are often explicitly political in their depictions of Indigenous, Mexican and American workers and everyday life, are on loan here from private collectors and museums across the continent, so check them out before they scatter again.
Flagged for Discussion (through Sept. 25, 2023) — What does the American flag mean to you? This exhibit brings together works from over 20 artists, spanning from the 19th century to modern day, to ask this question through prints, fiber art, photography and sculpture.
Listening Forest by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (through May 28, and then from Aug. 30-Dec. 31, 2023) — The return of Crystal Bridges’ outdoor art experience that takes you on an interactive walk through the woods, with eight immersive installations activated by the bodies and voices of visitors. You’ve got to experience it to believe it.
Elsewhere in Bentonville, you’ll want to stop by the 8th Street Market food hub, where you can grab a bowl of noodles from Co-Op Ramen and a Hazy IPA from Bike Rack Brewing Co. For a nicer dinner out, try The Preacher’s Son, located in a converted former church.
If you’ve got kids in tow, you’ll want to spend some time at the Scott Family Amazeum, a 50,000-square-foot children’s museum with hands-on science activities and plenty of places to climb, tinker and create.
It’s also worth visiting The Momentary, which opened in February 2021 as “the rebellious little sister” of Crystal Bridges. Located in a former Kraft Cheese plant, it’s a contemporary visual, performing and culinary arts space just a few blocks from downtown Bentonville. The Momentary is a project of the next generation of Waltons, the family of Walmart founder Sam Walton — whose influence you’ll see all around town.
The Momentary offers outdoor courtyard concerts (the Brothers Osborne in July, and Rina Sawayama and the Wu-Tang Clan, separately, in October) and visual arts projects, plus the sixth-floor Tower Bar, complete with a beautiful view of Bentonville.
Right now, the space includes an exhibition by New York artist Firelei Báez titled, in part, “To breathe full and free: a declaration, a re-visioning, a correction.” The website notes the massive installation “reimagines the archeological ruins of the Sans-Souci Palace in Haiti, as if it were emerging from the Atlantic Ocean through the Momentary’s galleries.”
Bentonville is also a great place to hop on the bike trail system that goes across Northwest Arkansas. If you didn’t bring a bicycle, you can rent or buy one at The HUB, which doubles as a lounge to grab a snack and a coffee or cocktail.
Even with a population just over 2,000, the Ozark town has dozens of art galleries, some lovely bed-and-breakfasts and a whole lot of festivals. Their annual arts celebration includes the free, family-friendly Just So Kids Arts Fest on May 27-28. The very next weekend is the Eureka Springs Blues Party, with more than 20 shows over four days.
And of course, you have to visit the springs themselves, many of which are located on Spring Street, fittingly enough. The largest and most famous is Blue Spring, which sends 38 million gallons of mineral-rich water pouring into a lagoon every day and is surrounded by a vibrant botanical garden.
Go further: A few miles outside Eureka Springs is Onyx Cave, the oldest show cave in Arkansas, discovered in 1893. You can go on a self-guided tour through its natural formations, which takes about a half hour, although you may want to stay longer — the cave stays a cool 57 degrees even in the summer heat.
Not far from Eureka Springs, tucked in the Ozark Highlands, is Beaver Lake. With nearly 30,000 acres of clear water, the lake attracts visitors who enjoy water sports, fishing, hiking and birdwatching.
There are about a dozen campgrounds at Beaver Lake and Dam, including Lost Bridge Park North with close access to hiking trails. Look for bluff overlooks, sandstone-limestone outcroppings, and even wild turkeys and beavers.
Along the southern shore of the lake, you’ll find Hobbs State Park Conservation Area with a 52-mile trail system for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. There are also five hike-in campsites.
The second largest city in the state, and the home of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville is the area’s “entertainment capital,” and is regularly listed as one of the top places in the U.S. to live — there’s more than enough for a lively weekend getaway.
Start off your morning at the Fayetteville Farmers Market, which is open year-round, then head down the street for some artisan, baked-from-scratch pastries and breads at Little Bread Co. For a fuller, farm-to-table breakfast, try Prelude Breakfast Bar, or go right to lunch at Khana Indian Grill or Hammontree’s for a gourmet grilled cheese.
Fayetteville is a great place for vintage clothing and antique shopping, from the Grey Dog boutique to the expansive 410 Vintage Mall. You’ll also want to save time for Dickson Street Bookshop, which has more than 100,000 used books in their enormous store. For the afternoon, go for a hike and a picnic at nearby Lake Sequoyah Park or walk to a scenic overlook at Mt. Sequoyah.
When you get back to town, catch an evening show at JJ’s Live, a large-capacity music venue that’s welcoming acts like Jason Isbell and Death Grips in the coming months, or a more intimate concert at George’s Majestic Lounge, which opened in 1927 and remains the oldest and longest-running club in Arkansas.
Devil's Den State Park
The Civilian Conservation Corps, a work-relief program in the ‘30s and ‘40s, built many of the wood-and-stone cabins with kitchens and wood-burning fireplaces. The CCC also built other structures, like the rock dam across Lee Creek that created Lake Devil, an 8-acre fishing and boating lake. Canoes, kayaks and paddleboats are available for rent.
If you plan to stay overnight, book a reservation in advance for a rustic cabin, or set up camp at one of 135 sites, including 8 hike-in campsites.
Go further: Be sure to check out the 2.7-mile Yellow Rock Trail, with panoramic views of the Lee Creek Valley from the overlook. Or the 1.3-mile Devil’s Den Trail with a waterfall, rock formations and a cave (which is closed to the public).