1. Ouachita River Whitewater Park in Malvern
Y’know, it just wouldn’t be right to crisscross this state in the summer months and not include a bit of watery relief—especially one that comes with a side of entertainment. Head to Ouachita River Whitewater Park in Malvern on weekend afternoons, and you’re sure to see playboaters doing all manner of tricks in the churning whitewater that flows down from Remmel Dam at Lake Catherine. Want to test the waters, but lack the know-how? The Arkansas Canoe Club will host a School of Whitewater Paddling early this month (May 3-5) at Turner Bend on the Mulberry River. (facebook.com/ouachitariverwhitewaterpark)
2. Delight (aka Hometown of Glen Campbell)
Although there’s not a dedicated museum in town, there’s nothing that says you can’t give a quick tip of the cap to the legendary Arkansas-born-and-raised musician by cranking the windows down and playing “Rhinestone Cowboy” on repeat as you drive through town.
3. President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home in Hope
When it was shown at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, the 17-minute documentary called “The Man From Hope” both affirmed Bill Clinton’s standing future on the national stage and gave the small town of Hope a star on the Arkansas map. Although the intervening years haven’t passed entirely without incident—a fire threatened the former President’s boyhood home in 2015—efforts to preserve Clinton’s early years have made that home worth visiting. (nps.gov/wicl)
4. Dannie’s Cafe in Hope
Hope might not be the first place you’d expect to find fine dining—but Dannie’s Cafe, housed in a restored 100-year-old barn east of town, is the sort of place you dream and, ahem, hope for. Specifically, if you’re hoping for New Zealand lamb and Chilean sea bass. As you should. (danniescafe.com)
5. Historic Washington State Park
In 1929, just three years after similar preservation efforts had started across the country in Colonial Williamsburg, funds were raised to restore the old Washington courthouse. Over the next few decades, those efforts were expanded to restore and re-create scores of other structures in the once-bustling 19th-century town, to the point that some 54 structures—a schoolhouse, a cotton gin and a church among them—now aid visitors in visualizing what the town might’ve been like in its heyday. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination, however, as park interpreters, well-versed in the history of the town and wearing period garb, are right there to guide you through. (historicwashingtonstatepark.com)
Do This: May 27: Silent City Speaks (cemetery tours with interpreters portraying historic figures) at Historic Washington State Park. (Be sure to visit the park’s website for a slew of upcoming events.)
6. Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro
Going back to 1906, there’ve been plenty (read: thousands upon thousands) of diamonds found in the 37-acre field in Murfreesboro. There was the wild-pecan-sized 16.37-karat Amarillo Starlight (later cut to 7 1/2 karats) found in 1975, which sparked a flood of interest in the then-still-newly christened state park. There was the Kahn Canary diamond, found in 1977, which Hillary Clinton wore to Bill’s inaugurations as governor and president. There was the largest, the Uncle Sam, a 40.24-karat whopper later cut down to 12.42. And of course, there’s whatever you’re going to find. (Editor’s note: There’s a fascinating history of the park—the website arkansasroadstories.com has an especially involved account.) (arkansasstateparks.com/parks/crater-diamonds-state-park)
Do This: Beginning May 24 (through Aug. 10), Crater of Diamonds State Park is open on weekends from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
7. City of Hot Springs
You really can’t throw a rock in Hot Springs (Editor’s note: Don’t throw rocks) without hitting upon some major artery of niche or mainstream history, ranging from the Hot Springs Baseball Trail (Babe Ruth! The Boston Red Sox!) to the city’s infamous gangster connection (Al Capone! Lucky Luciano!). After taking to the waters and soaking up history, hit up DeLuca’s Pizza, where Tony DeLuca’s making history in his own right, by making some of the finest pies Arkansas has ever seen. (hotsprings.org)
Do This: May 26: Memorial Day Fireworks Show at Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs.
SOUVENIRS: Whatever water you can wring from your shirt at Ouachita River Whitewater Park. A diamond as big as the Ritz from Crater of Diamonds State Park (or barring that, a couple shiny pieces of rock). A jug of naturally potable Hot Springs water procured from the city’s hot-water fountains. Rhinestones from Delight Hardware.