Summers here can be hard. There’s the wildlife (read: mosquitoes), the heat and, ohmygoodness, the humidity. No wonder it’s so easy to let the season slip by poolside—or from the comfort of your air-conditioned living room. But from the mighty Mississippi to the shaded Ozark hollers, there’s a whole world of adventure calling your name this season. And with a little help (that’s us!), it’s easy to take it a day at a time.
1 GO THE DISTANCE along the Razorback Regional Greenway
Gorgeous as the northwestern corner of our state may be, it’s awfully hard to stop and smell the roses when you’re bogged down in gridlock. Fortunately, it’s easy to enjoy the beautiful scenery—which ranges from the rolling vistas of the Boston Mountains to the internationally lauded Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art—along the greenway’s 36 miles. Especially when there’s a pint waiting for you just off the beaten path—specifically at Core Brewing’s taproom in Rogers. (nwatrails.org/trail/razorback-regional-greenway)
Make a “day” of it: Make a stop at the Arkansas Air & Military Museum (see Number 15)—aviation buffs aren’t the only ones who’ll enjoy it.
2 TAKE A CLOSER LOOK at Quigley’s Castle
From a distance, the two-story, 28-windowed house appears to have the texture of multigrain bread. Closer inspection of the mid-1940s dream home built by Elise Quigley (and maintained by her grandchildren), however, reveals a surface barnacled with pebbles, seashells and the stray piece of jewelry, all cobbled together over the course of its eponymous owner’s lifetime. Taken together—along with the 400-some varieties of perennials blooming on the 80-acre grounds—this unique Arkansas landmark is a picture of passion and eccentricity. And as any visitor to the house outside Eureka Springs can tell you, Quigley’s spirit is still growing. (274 Quigley Castle Road, Eureka Springs; quigleyscastle.com)
Make a “day” of it: Test your mettle at “America’s most haunted hotel” in nearby Eureka Springs (see Number 19).
3 BOARD THE EXCURSION TRAIN in Van Buren
In Northwest Arkansas’ Van Buren, you can hop aboard an early-1900s Pullman passenger train (go ahead and opt for first class and snag the parlor car) and soak up 70 miles’ worth of the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad. This is no blink-and-you’ll-miss-it adventure: Every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday this season, travelers can spend the three-hour round trip viewing the Boston Mountains, passing through a 1,702-foot tunnel and making a stop in small-town Winslow. (813 Main St., Van Buren; amrailroad.com)
Make a “day” of it: Feel even more refined with a visit to Van Buren’s restored King Opera House, which holds shows throughout the year.
4 LEARN THE ART OF FLY-FISHING at Gaston’s White River Resort’s Fly Fishing School
You don’t have to be a young Brad Pitt—who famously starred in “The Movie,” as it’s known in the trade—to master the fly rod. All it takes is a trip to the famed Gaston’s White River Resort and a spot in Frank Saksa’s fly-fishing school, where you’ll spend two days in the classroom and on the river learning everything from equipment selection to the perfect roll-cast. (1777 River Road, Lakeview; gastons.com)
Make a “day” of it: Visit the nearby Norfork National Fish Hatchery to learn more about your prey.
5 ROCK IT at Blanchard Springs Cavern
Even though the cave’s constant 58 degrees is probably enough of a selling point this summer, it’s not what you’ll remember. You’ll remember what it’s like to place a hand on the Earth’s innards, hollowed out 50 million to 70 million years ago. You’ll remember the cathedral ceilings that took no construction crews, the stalagmites—or maybe stalactites?—reaching from floor to ceiling. And if you opt for the four- to five-hour wild caving tour, you’ll remember the darkest dark, a passage dubbed “the corkscrew.” And it’s for all of those reasons that you’ll go back. (blanchardsprings.org)
Make a “day” of it: Leave the depths of the earth behind for the open skies at Loco Ropes (see Number 10), or enjoy the music on Mountain View’s Courthouse Square (Number 17).
6 TEST THE WATERS at the Spring River
Few things are as relaxing as gliding down the Spring River through the breathtaking Ozark foothills in a canoe. And thanks to the 58-degree water that flows from Mammoth Spring at its head, few places are more refreshing during the summer months. Don’t have your own rig? Any of the nine outfitters stationed along the 17-mile stretch from the spring to Hardy will not only have everything you need, but will help you craft your perfect trip—for example, those looking for a challenge could tackle the ominously named Dead Man’s Curve, a 9-mile float from Dam 3 downriver to Hardy. (Hardy; arkansas.com/outdoors/water-activities/lakes-rivers)
Make a “day” of it: Stretch your legs after the float with some antiquing around Hardy’s historic Main Street.
7 LET THE MUSIC TAKE YOU BACK at the Mountain View Courthouse Square
From kids barely bigger than the fiddles they play to bearded, banjo-pickin’ great-grandpas, musicians from all over the region (and some from farther afield) gather in Mountain View’s Courthouse Square just about every summer evening to share their music with anyone and everyone looking to listen. And sharing is the key word here—these impromptu jam sessions are free. All you need is a camp chair and your toe-tapping boots. (And if you like your music with a little more structure and a firm date, check out yourplaceinthemountains.com.)
Make a “day” of it: Tour Blanchard Spring Caverns (see Number 5), or go airborne at Loco Ropes (Number 10).
8 CHANNEL YOUR INNER HUCK FINN at the Helena outpost of the Quapaw Canoe Company
Whether it’s a five-day journey downriver to Greenville, Mississippi (shuttle provided for a nominal fee, of course), or a more-appropriate-to-the-theme-of-this-issue day trip around Buck Island just a mile upriver from town, the Helena outpost of Clarksdale, Mississippi-based Quapaw Canoe Company should be your home port. But beware: Before tackling the big water of Big River, you should take their workshop on canoe and kayak self-rescue techniques. (107 Perry St., Helena; island63.com/helena.cfm)
Make a “day” of it: Dig deep into the region’s history at Helena’s Delta Cultural Center.
9 WARE YOURSELF OUT at Antique Warehouse of Arkansas in Botkinburg
There are certain superlatives that seem a bit sensational—and that’s exactly what we were thinking the first time we drove by what claims to be “the U.S.A.’s largest inventory of direct-imported fine European antiques” on U.S. 65 just north of Clinton. Annnd then we went inside. Turns out this place is the real deal, folks—just imagine a yard sale at Versailles. Case in point: We found a 1,000-year-old Chinese statue, a Louis XIV dining set that costs more than most luxury sedans, 18th-century German clocks, even the fully restored innards of an English pub—all neatly arranged in 10 barnlike warehouses filled to the rafters. (9256 U.S. 65 N.; antiquewarehouse.com)
Make a “day” of it: Snake your way 11 miles north to the sweet-as-sugar Skylark Cafe in Leslie, home of The Best Strawberry Pie You’ll Ever Have, Ever.
10 REACH NEW HEIGHTS at Loco Ropes
Sure, Mountain View may be best known for those impromptu fiddling sessions on its town square, but if you want a take-the-breath-right-outta-you experience, try seeing the Ozarks from a true bird’s-eye view. At zip-lining destination Loco Ropes, daredevils can zoom from one towering oak to another, or opt for the free fall, which drops you from 35 feet to ground level before you have time to second-guess yourself. If an adrenaline rush isn’t your thing, stick to a slower but challenging pace on the treetops’ obstacle course or climbing wall. (1025A Park Ave., Mountain View; locoropes.com)
Make a “day” of it: A short walk away is the Ozark Folk Center, where you can find matinee and evening music performances, along with artisan crafts.
11 TAKE YOUR PICK at Peach Pickin’ Paradise
It may be tempting to stay inside during the sweltering summertime heat, but there’s something about wandering through rows of picturesque trees, bucket in hand, plucking the reddest peaches you can find, that just screams, Worth it! And at Peach Pickin’ Paradise—a River Valley orchard owned by the same family since the ’20s—you can throw down a blanket and take in the view as you gorge on the fruit. (Just make sure to save some for cobbler.) Whatever you do, it’ll be a bushel of fun. (1901 McGuire Road, Lamar; facebook.com/peachpickinparadise)
Make a “day” of it: Check Arkansas’ highest point off your bucket list at Mount Magazine State Park.
12 GO WILD at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
When you read about this sprawling 459-acre Eureka Springs refuge, it’s darn-near impossible not to start humming “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Why? Because in addition to offering forever homes and natural habitats for more than TK rescued lions, tigers, cougars, leopards (and a grizzly by the name of Bam Bam), Turpentine offers lodgings for guests interested in sleeping within earshot of the refuge’s feline residents. (Those especially interested in a feline-based sleep aid should consider the Tree House, which isn’t too far from the habitat of a particularly vocal African lion by the name of Thor.) No wonder Turpentine Creek’s guided tours attract more than 30,000 guests each year. (239 Turpentine Creek Lane, Eureka Springs; turpentinecreek.org)
Make a “day” of it: Make the scenic 20-minute drive west to Arkansas’ largest state park, Hobbs, and explore the interactive kiosks in its 17,531-square-foot visitor center.
13 FLOAT ON at the Ouachita River Whitewater Park
Picture this: a water park where the only admission fee is your trusted float-friendly accessory and a need for the exact opposite of anything that screams “lazy river.” Just off Interstate 30 near Malvern, the Ouachita River Whitewater Park brings that image to life, making this kayaker’s playground the perfect spot to be one with the current. And with the help of nearby Orbi Rentals, you’ll find tubes, canoes and even ice chests available for all-day use. (1265 Riverview Drive, Malvern)
Make a “day” of it: Stop by during the 36th annual Brickfest in Malvern on June 24-25, and catch a brick-throwing contest and a performance by Neal McCoy.
14 LASSO YOUR INNER COWBOY at the Horseshoe Canyon Ranch
Nothing screams “Western” like a dude ranch. And with its rolling hills, pastoral scenes and nearby Buffalo National River, you’d be hard-pressed to find a dude-ranchier place in Arkansas than Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. Spanning 350 acres, the ranch features plenty of yee-haw-worthy activities, from horseback riding to rock climbing to zip lining and everything in between. Unsure about immersing yourself into a world untouched by modern life? Don’t worry. With a theater room, pool table, hot tub and swimming pool, the main lodge is fully rooted in the 21st century. (HC 70, Jasper; horseshoecanyonduderanch.com)
Make a “day” of it: If you’re wiped out after playing cowboy, head over to local-favorite Low Gap Cafe for a slice of coconut cream pie. Or chicken-fried steak. Or a filet. Or….
15 UNCORK ARKANSAS’ FINEST WINE along the Arkansas Wine Trail
Napa Valley, it ain’t, but there’s still an impressive roster of wineries and vineyards clustered around the hamlet of Altus (the heart of Arkansas’ Wine Trail). Chateau Aux Arc Vineyards & Winery, for example, is the only female-owned vineyard in Arkansas. For only $5, customers can sample any or all of the bottles (many sporting medals around their necks) and stroll around the winery—or even bring a packed lunch for a picnic among the vines. For a more serious lunch or dinner (and more glorious wine-drinking, of course), head out to Wiederkehr’s Weinkeller Restaurant at the Wiederkehr Wine Cellars only five minutes away. (8045 Arkansas 186, Altus; chateauauxarc.com)
Make a “day” of it: Continue your horticulture explorations at Peach Pickin’ Paradise just a half-hour away in Lamar (see Number 11).
16 SPREAD YOUR WINGS at the Arkansas Air & Military Museum
Yes, it’d be easy to just gawk at the retro-sleek 1920s air racer, the iconic “Huey” helicopter, the deadly A-4 jet fighter or any of the other aircraft, military vehicles and exhibits at this venerable Fayetteville museum, housed inside a historic hangar at Drake Field. But if you really want a jaw-dropping experience, inquire about a flight in the museum’s restored Stinson Junior, a 1931 four-seater straight out of the Golden Age of Aviation. (4290 S. School Ave., Fayetteville; arkansasairmusuem.com)
Make a “day” of it: Bike the Razorback Regional Greenway, which winds its way 36 miles from Fayetteville to Bentonville (see Number 1). Talk about a leg day.
17 TIME TRAVEL at Historic Washington State Park
Fear not, history buffs: You don’t need a temporal wormhole to step back in time. With immaculately dressed living-history interpreters and 30-plus historic buildings—including the grand Hempstead Country Courthouse, the homey Williams Tavern and the Gothic Washington Presbyterian Church—a visit to Historic Washington State Park is all you need to feel like you’ve ditched the 2010s for the 1800s. Be sure to check the park’s website for events like this month’s Bread and Butter Workshop, which will see you sampling bread made from historic recipes and churning your own butter, of course. (103 Franklin St., Washington; historicwashingtonstatepark.com)
Make a “day” of it: Pay a visit to Bill Clinton’s boyhood home in nearby Hope. (Especially if it’s the weekend of August 12, and you really like watermelon.)
18 BE “SUP” FOR SOMETHING NEW at Beaver Lake with SUP Outfitters
Have boards, will travel. That’s the business plan behind Eureka Springs-based SUP Outfitters, which buzzes around Beaver Lake intent on bringing stand-up paddleboarding to the Northwest Arkansas masses. Have a lake house? Melody Elliott will come to you, boards and paddles (and life jackets!) in tow. Camping at Hobbs? Let her know when and where, and she’s there. Never paddled before? Not to worry—each session begins with a primer on the do’s and don’ts. And be sure to follow SUP Outfitters on Facebook for details on special events, like full-moon paddles and—if you’re feeling particularly bendy—SUP yoga. (mobile; sup-outfitters.com)
Make a “day” of it: Grab a post-paddle bite (and a brew) at Sparky’s Roadhouse Cafe in Eureka Springs, where no one cares if you come, um, “lake-y.”
19 GET GHOULED on the Crescent Hotel Ghost Tour
Eureka Springs is just what your summer-vacation camera roll begs for: majestic architecture, quirky city life and, of course, glowing, floating paranormal orbs. Because at the Crescent Hotel, visitors may mingle with some guests who haven’t quite checked out. You could very well run into “Michael,” the late-1880s stonemason who’s said to have died while working on the roof, or hear the phantom sounds of a wheeling gurney—you know, from back when the property, which opened in 1886, functioned as a cancer hospital. (75 Prospect Ave., Eureka Springs; crescent-hotel.com)
Make a “day” of it: The spook continues with a ghost tour and underground cave visit at the Basin Park Hotel.
20 WALK THE LINE at the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Historic Dyess Colony
It might not look like much—just a five-room, green-shuttered clapboard house rising out of a soybean field smack-dab in the middle of the lonesome Delta bottoms. But after a painstaking restoration, the house that made Johnny Cash Johnny Cash has become a shrine to the Man in Black. “I wrote a lot of songs about life as I knew it back when I was a little bitty boy,” Johnny Cash once said at a 1969 concert. A visit to his boyhood home gets you a little closer to understanding why. (110 Center Drive, Dyess; dyesscash.astate.edu)
Make a “day” of it: Order the blue-plate special at Tyboogie’s Cafe, which is just a 20-minute Delta drive away. And trust us: It’s worth it.