Unique Things to Do in Eureka Springs

Cool Things to Do in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

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For the past month I have based myself in Eureka Springs, Arkansas in an effort to thoroughly explore the endearing town I have lovingly dubbed “Bisbee of the East,” as well as the nearby waterfall-laden hiking trails of the Ozark National Forest. This post on things to do in Eureka Springs is not just a numbered list, but also an ode to one of my new favorite small towns in America. If you’ve never considered visiting before because, like me, you had a preconceived notion that Arkansas might be lame, it’s time to right this egregious wrong.

Click the legend in the upper lefthand corner of the map for more details.

Bisbee of the East?

Welcome to Eureka Springs sign

“Quirky” is an overused descriptor when it comes to small towns, but Eureka Springs actually fits the bill. On a walking tour of Eureka Springs, my guide said it’s been titled “the place where misfits fit” and “the largest open-air insane asylum” because of the colorful characters who call northern Arkansas home. 

It’s a place where every building has a special parking area for motorcyclists (Arkansas is big on motorcycle tourism), where live bluegrass bands can be seen on any given night, and where mountain biking is the greatest pastime. It’s also been referred to as “the Gayest Small Town in America” and “the Bible Belt’s LGBT Oasis.” 

It reminds me of the oddball town of Bisbee, Arizona because of the many stairs, the structures built right into rugged hillsides, the artsy culture, hauntings, hippies, live-and-let-live attitude, and the general swag. Despite all the hills in Eureka Springs, I consider it quite walkable and cozy in comparison to most other cities in the car-obsessed States. If you’re staying downtown, you can get anywhere on foot; I’ve basked in the abundance of “third places” and the amount of strolling and exploring I can do on the days I don’t feel like pilgrimaging out to the Ozark National Forest. Like in Bozeman, Montana or Flagstaff, Arizona, wooded walking trails weave throughout the residential and commercial areas. Public access to nature is prioritized. 

This is a tradition that dates back to the town’s founding in 1879, when people began moving to the area to take advantage of its supposedly “healing” spring waters. There are at least 63 natural springs that have been located within city limits, and people came from far and wide to avail themselves of their powers. However, my walking tour guide guessed that people didn’t heal because of magical waters, but because they quit their jobs, moved to a fun sociable town, drank tons of water, and got more exercise than ever in the “City of Stairs.” It’s a tale as old as time and one that I can attest to: quitting your job + hiking = happiness. This is an effect you can still get in Eureka Springs, even if some of the springs have dried up.

Did you know Eureka Springs Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places? I don’t just mean that a lot of attractions within Eureka are on the register (which is also true), but that the entire downtown itself is on the register.

Getting Around Eureka Springs

Public Transportation in Eureka Springs

The Eureka Springs Trolley has four lines. The red route is the main downtown “historic loop,” the blue and yellow routes pick up at more accommodations located on the eastern outskirts of town, and the purple route goes to Razorback Tower and Thorncrown Chapel. The yellow route only runs March 1 – December 2. Be sure to check the Eureka Springs Transit website for seasonal schedules and fares. 

The trolley starts running at 10am (or 9am on high season Saturdays) and stops running at 5pm, 6pm, or 8pm depending on the month and day of the week.

If you are taking the blue line and trying to figure out which stops are centrally located downtown so you can walk around the historic district, what you want to do is get off at either New Delhi Cafe (stop 80) or Downtown Trolley Depot (stop 66). At Downtown Trolley Depot you can transfer to the red line, although the concept of “transferring” is kind of silly in Eureka Springs because the downtown area is small and once you start walking around, you’ll see plenty of places to jump on the red line.

You can purchase a trolley one-ride ticket for $4, a full day pass for all routes for $6, or a 30-day pass for $27. You can purchase passes online or in-person at one of the Transit Welcome Centers. If you purchase online, you’ll be emailed a confirmation, which you should save to your phone so you can show it to the driver when you board. You don’t have to buy it far in advance. The day I rode the trolley, I bought my day pass online about 30 minutes before I boarded.

The trolley would be awesome if you didn’t have a car, although I’m not sure how people would be arriving in Eureka Springs in the first place without a car. Personally I did not find the trolley particularly worth it in the shoulder season because driving and parking is so easy, and either free or comparable in price. It may be worth it during events or extremely busy summer weekends if parking lots fill up. The trolley also makes Eureka Springs much more accessible for folks who have trouble walking. It can take you up into the hilly parts of town to see places like Grotto Spring and the Crescent Hotel that might otherwise be troublesome for people with impaired mobility.

The narrated open-air tram tours are probably more rewarding. 

Parking in Eureka Springs

Free parking lot downtown Eureka Springs Arkansas

There is a free parking lot on North Main Street next to Music Park (a public art park). The free parking lot has a public restroom, too. The only drawback is that it’s about a 20 minute walk to the main hubbub in downtown Eureka Springs. I enjoyed the walk the first time and then was annoyed by it subsequently.

The Planer Park & Ride (stop 130) is free after 4pm or from December-March, otherwise it’s $5 for all-day parking. Parking at the Passion Play is free, and while it’s not walking distance to downtown, it does have its own trolley stop, so you could take the trolley the rest of the way.

There are tons of paid parking lots on nearly every block on South Main Street downtown. It typically costs $5 to park for 3-4 hours. Most of these lots allow the option to use a website/app called ParkMobile to pay for parking. There are also parking meters that take quarters if you want to parallel park on the street, but there are fewer of these and I’ve found they are usually taken.

There are many free public restrooms all throughout downtown Eureka Springs, so don’t worry about straying too far from your car or hotel; you won’t be up a creek without a paddle.

Accommodation in Eureka Springs

Quirkiest USA towns Eureka Springs Arkansas
Daffodil Cottage

The best possible scenario would be to book an accommodation that’s located in historic downtown Eureka Springs, because you’ll be able to walk out your door and straight to the restaurants and shops. A lot of the Bed & Breakfasts are adorable, colorful Victorian-style cottages. The most famous hotels are the Crescent Hotel and Basin Park Hotel. However, centrally located accommodations like this are expensive. When I set my budget on search engines and on AirBnB, none of the results are near downtown.

You’ll find more affordable accommodation options east of downtown on the outskirts of Eureka Springs. Some are situated along the blue and yellow trolley lines, so you can still get around using public transportation even if you stay farther away. By “farther away” I mean it’s only about a 10 minute drive to get to downtown Eureka Springs from accommodations on E. Van Buren, but an hour’s walk.

There are tons of RV campgrounds and modest yet cute motels to choose from, such as Wanderoo Lodge (and its popular Gravel Bar that hosts live music), Wanderlust RV Park & Cabins, or Kettle Campground. You can find paid or free campsites near Eureka Springs via The Dyrt.

For some reason there’s a thousand treehouse resorts (some are more like actual treehouses than others), including the Enchanted Treehouses, Eureka Springs Treehouses, the Grand Treehouse Resort, and All Seasons Treehouse Village.

The AirBnB options in Eureka Springs are amazing! I chose one of the coolest AirBnBs I’ve ever stayed at in my life (and I’ve stayed at many – I live out of AirBnBs 50% of the time).

If you’re a nomad like me and are planning to work while in Eureka Springs, you are allowed to sit at the excellent Eureka Springs Carnegie Library or its Library Annex to use the wifi.

Hours and Seasonality in Eureka Springs

Dogwood tree Eureka Springs
Dogwood tree in downtown Eureka Springs, early March

I visited Eureka Springs in late February through mid-March because I wanted to escape the cold, snowy climate in Colorado. This was the perfect choice because I never encountered any lingering snow on my hikes in northern Arkansas, plus I was able to avoid the bugs, humidity, and heat that plague the Southeast in summertime. Ticks are a massive problem here in summer. Locals prefer to hike woodland areas only in shoulder seasons and then stick to recreation on the lakes during the summer.

However, some of the scenic viewpoints lost a bit of their charm because there were no leaves on the trees. The landscape looked grey. I would guess northern Arkansas is the most beautiful in springtime, or in fall when the leaves are changing colors. The pretty dogwood trees did begin to bloom in early/mid-March as consolation, though, and some of the waterfalls flow pretty much year-around. I was still impressed with the scenery.

Many tourist attractions and businesses in Eureka Springs are in-season from March-November at most, and some are more limited to April-October.

Businesses in Eureka Springs have strange hours; perhaps this is because I visited in the off-season. My experience was that there is no consistent rhyme or reason as to when things are open or not. A lot of businesses may be closed on Sundays, but one may also close on Wednesdays (Eureka Springs Historical Museum) while another is closed on Thursdays (Quigley’s Castle). So Good Kitchen is closed on Wednedays and Thursdays, but not on Sundays. It’s very European.

Many restaurants only offer a brunch service on Sundays, otherwise they are generally lunch and dinner spots. One exception is Eureka Springs Coffee Shop, which offers breakfast all day every day.

Cool Things to Do in Eureka Springs

Thorncrown Chapel

Thorncrown Chapel is arguably the most photogenic building in northern Arkansas. The glass non-denominational chapel, described by the architect as “Ozark Gothic” and meant to “let the outside in,” won the American Institute of Architects’ 25 Year Award in 2006.

Thorncrown was a passion project and labor of love for the landowner Jim Reed, who commissioned architect E. Fay Jones, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, to build it in 1979-1980. Reed had noticed that travelers often stopped on his hillside to appreciate the surrounding landscape, so he wanted to create a meditative environment that would welcome them. Today, there is still no admission fee to visit the chapel.

You can see another of E. Fay Jones’ unique chapels, Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel, in Bella Vista, Arkansas. The Anthony Chapel at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas, designed by Maurice Jennings and David McKee, also has a very similar look.

Hours/Prices: Free admission; donations accepted. Open Mar- Dec 9am-5pm. On weekends and some weekdays the chapel occasionally closes at as early as 12:30 PM for special events.

Razorback Tower

The 100-foot Razorback Tower was once used by the Arkansas Forestry Service as a fire tower. Today, travelers can visit the roadside attraction to climb the many narrow steps leading to a great panoramic viewpoint overlooking the forests and rolling hills surrounding Eureka Springs. I was really impressed by the vista, but because the steps are too small for the length of adult human feet, and because it was extremely windy at the top, climbing up made me a little nervous!

Hours/Prices: Open dawn to dusk. Put $1 in quarters into a machine to enter the turnstile gate. If you need help there is a gift shop onsite, open 9:30am-4pm M-Thu or 9:30am-5pm Fri-Sun.

“Razorback” is a reference to the wild invasive hogs that are rampant in Arkansas, first introduced by Hernando de Soto during Spanish exploration of the Americas.

Quigley’s Castle

When Elise Quigley’s husband insisted that construction on their creative new house should be delayed until after WWII because of the price of glass, she knew what she had to do. She would wait for him to go to work one day, then proceed to tear down their current home so they’d have no choice but to begin construction on the new one right away. And thus the story of Quigley’s Castle began in 1943. 

Like E. Fay Jones who “let the outside in” at Thorncrown Chapel, Quigley’s dream was to build a “home where I felt I was living in the world instead of in a box,” where nature could be brought into the house. She had spent her youth collecting rocks, gemstones, and shells and would now put them to use as building and decorative materials, affixed to furniture and the facades of the house itself. Massive windows let light into every room, where two-story indoor gardens still grow between the windows and the living spaces. She also raised different species of butterflies which ultimately joined the mural-esque butterfly wall shown in my photo gallery.

Visitors are greeted by Quigley’s great-granddaughter, who will inform you about the history of the house before your self-guided walk throughout the property. Like Bishop Castle in Colorado, Mystery Castle in Arizona, or Nitt Witt Ridge in California, Quigley’s Castle is a classic roadside found art palace.

Hours/Prices: $9 per adult, children 14 yo and under are free with a paid adult. Open Apr 1-Oct 31 10am-4:30pm, closed Sundays and Thursdays. For March and November, call for off-season times.

If roadside oddities are your thing, you might also enjoy the Memory Lane Museum in Berryville, Arkansas. It’s $15 and cash or check only.

Downtown Eureka Springs

Even if you just commit to exploring the historic downtown area and don’t venture further throughout the region, you’ll still have a very rewarding and full experience. The first day I arrived in Eureka Springs, I walked around for hours without even popping into any of the shops or restaurants, simply photographing the charming cottages and street art. If I were to ever stop traveling and pick one place to live long-term, I would pick a town like Eureka Springs that is full of personality. 

Everyone who swings through Eureka Springs will take the obligatory Instagram photo of the rainbow stairs. While you’re at it, there is also another mural of a psychedelic tree painted on a different staircase very close to the rainbow stairs.

The coolest looking building, besides some of the little residential cottages, is the Flatiron building on Spring Street. It was rebuilt multiple times after being destroyed time and again by fires. The current iteration was designed in 1987 to aesthetically emulate and pay homage to the very first Flatiron that was built in 1880. Called “Flatiron Flats,” it’s now an accommodation.

At two shops, East By West and Caroline’s Collectables, you can be assisted by the Eureka Springs Working Bunnies. They are exactly what they sound like – real, actual rabbits that have been trained to hand out receipts, change, and packages to customers!

Locate the Springs of Eureka Springs

One of your priorities in Eureka Springs should be to search out – you guessed it – the springs! Take yourself on a little scavenger hunt. There are supposedly 63+ cold water springs within city limits, but only a handful are located on the tourist track. The most popular springs to visit are Sweet Spring, Harding Spring, Crescent Spring, Grotto Spring, Magnetic Spring, and of course Basin Spring Park

Map of springs in Eureka Springs
Map 1 and Map 2 show centrally located springs in Eureka Springs (the two maps don’t feature all the same springs)

Basin Spring Park is a city park with benches where tourists and locals can perch while enjoying an ice cream, or relax their feet after a day of exploring. If you climb the stairs on either end of the park up to the gazebo and a short walking trail, that is where you’ll find the crevice in the rocks that Basin Spring once trickled from. It used to flow down into the basin below, where the park is now located. Today it’s mostly dry, and my Underground Eureka tour guide said teenagers dare each other to slither below ground by climbing into the mouth of Basin Spring.

The townsfolk have made great efforts over the years to highlight the springs by building decorative motifs around them, so when you come upon a spring that is not flowing heavily, at least you can admire the handiwork. Sweet Spring is one such example where the viewing platform and staircase leading to the spring are prettier than the water itself.

Harding Spring is one of the most beautiful spring locations, in my opinion, because there was a good amount of water and plenty of foliage growing around it when I visited. Crescent Spring is cool because of its bright blue and purple gazebo. Basin, Sweet, and Harding are all walking distance from each other, but Grotto Spring is further away. You can walk to it, but may prefer to take the trolley or drive. At Grotto Spring, you’ll enter a cave-like structure housing an altar with candles. Magnetic Spring has a lot of water and is near the free parking lot on North Main Street.

The Blue Spring Heritage Center is a privately owned attraction with extensive gardens and a spring that apparently pumps 38 million gallons of water into a lagoon every day. It is not downtown. If you are interested in the botanical features you might enjoy driving over to check it out, but I didn’t feel like paying the $17.75. One reviewer said it was just a 30 minute stroll. 

You can’t swim in or drink from any of the springs, but if you want that “healing” Eureka Springs experience, book a spa day at the Palace Hotel. It’s still offering treatments like it was over 120 years ago, “the last of the original Eureka Springs bath houses still in operation today.” If you aren’t into spa treatments, visit the Palace Hotel anyway to snap a picture of its inappropriately-shaped sign (the Palace Hotel was originally a brothel). The sign was shipped to Eureka Springs from France and was the first neon sign installed west of the Mississippi River.

Underground Eureka Walking Tour

Frequent mudslides plagued Eureka Springs in its early history, especially on Main Street, which became colloquially known as “Mud Street.” In an effort to curb this issue, a retaining wall was built and the storefronts lining the street were raised up by 10 feet. The first floors of buildings became the basements, and the second floors were now the street-level entrances.

The original streets can still be wandered as underground tunnels, and the old storefronts are frozen in time. You can explore the first iteration of Eureka Springs by joining the Underground Eureka Springs Walking Tour. In addition to taking you below the city, the tour guide will also discuss Eureka Springs history on an above-ground walk that hits Basin Spring Park, Sweet Spring, Harding Spring, the Palace Hotel, and the bank where townsfolk foiled 5 robbers in 1922 (as well as the embalmer’s business where their bodies became window displays afterwards). This event is reenacted every September.

My tour guide Meghan was awesome, sharing tons of fun anecdotes and facts about Eureka Springs that I hadn’t learned even after weeks of exploring on my own. If you’re not as interested in the Crescent Hotel ghost tour but still want to sign up for something that will teach you about the town’s history, the Underground Eureka tour will be up your alley.

Hours/Prices: $19.50 for 13-64 yo, $17.50 for 65+ yo. Kids 12 yo and under are free with a paid adult. Tours are every day at 4pm, meeting at Basin Spring Park. It’s best to buy online in advance, but some tickets may be available for walk-ups.

There’s also a downtown Eureka Springs Ghost Tour that seems like a spookier version of the Underground Eureka tour. Check out the Eureka Springs City Tour by Golf Cart if you don’t feel like walking the “City of Stairs.”

Crescent Hotel Ghost Tour
Crescent Hotel Eureka Springs Arkansas

The Crescent Hotel has always been the focus of ghost stories, starting from pretty much day one of its history when a construction worker fell to his death while building the hotel. The creepiest era of the Crescent was when it was a hospital and owned by a snake oil salesman and shyster named “Dr.” Norman Baker (not an actual doctor) who sold his patients cancer cures. Many of his patients, or parts of them, were buried on the premises. In early 2019, the hotel landscape gardener started discovering jars buried in the yard that contained human tissue samples and tumors. They ultimately uncovered about 500 of them.

Baker was ultimately jailed for his false claims and quackery, but this may not have been enough to set the spirits of his victims free. Do they still roam the halls of the Crescent today?

Hours/Prices: Various start times between 6:30-9pm. $29.50 per adult or $15 per child 12yo and younger. The Expert & Expanded Tour is nightly at 10pm for $35 per adult. 

Eureka Springs Historical Museum

The Eureka Springs Historical Museum is located downtown on South Main Street and traces the story of Eureka Springs from prehistory to modern day. It’s quite small, but I found it worth the $5 admission. I especially loved the information about the Osage tribe, the first settlers who “discovered” the springs, and the Ozark Folk Festival. 

The first floor has a collection of arrowheads and other indigenous artifacts found in northern Arkansas. The exhibits move chronologically around the room from there, with information about first contact with European colonizers, the building and constant re-building of the town as settlers contended with devastating fires and mudslides, tourism because of the “healing” springs, the eventual contamination of the springs, and the regional identity and cultural pride that ultimately sprung up in the Ozarks. The second floor focuses on the last 100 years. It honors Eureka Springs residents who served in wars, exhibits examples of technology, furniture, and clothing people adapted in the modern era, and displays paintings by local artists. There’s also a creepy doll collection.

Hours/Prices: 9:30am-4pm daily, except Sundays and Wednesdays. $5 admission.

Urban Walking and Biking Trails in Eureka Springs
Harmon Park Loop Eureka Springs hiking trail

You don’t have to venture out to Ozark National Forest or the Ouachita Mountains to get a bit of exercise. Some walking and biking trails have been built directly into Eureka Springs, such as the Harmon Park Loop, “an easy 1.4 mile walking and biking loop trail through the shaded paths of Harmon Park, Spring Garden, and towards the historic neighborhood of Upper Spring Street that leads to the Crescent Hotel.”

In-town paths include Crescent Trail, Crescent Grade Trail, Fuller Street, Hilton Street, Harding Spring, Jacob’s Ladder, Kansas Street, Magnolia Sidewalk, Spring Garden, and Riley Trail. Most of these are short connector paths to get you from one place to another, but they are more scenic than walking a road. For instance, you can take a short nature path from Sweet Spring to Harding Spring.

Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation says that, “although only partially developed, the Eureka Springs ‘Master Trails Plan’ eventually will realize a network of connections to Black Bass Lake, Lake Leatherwood, and the entirety of Eureka Springs and beyond.”

There is also a network of more than 20 miles of hiking and biking trails throughout the Great Passion Play property. Based on the look of them, and the fact that this is the site of the Enduro Series and Southern Enduro Tour mountain biking events, I’ve been hesitant to walk these trails because they seem more designed for biking. However, if you like weirdness, then walking up to the giant creepy Jesus statue or to see a piece of the Berlin Wall could be worth possibly being wiped out by an oncoming bicyclist.

Where to Eat and Drink in Eureka Springs

Some of the restaurants in downtown Eureka Springs that locals repeatedly recommend include Grotto Wood-Fired Grill and Wine Cave, Local Flavor (I went there for Sunday brunch and enjoyed my huevos rancheros, but they were sold out of their famous blueberry french toast and southern biscuits with chocolate gravy), So Good Kitchen (healthy stuff), B Side Cafe (it’s a sandwich shop inside MoJo’s record store), and Mud Street Cafe. If you like coffee shops where you can feel free to set up your laptop and work for a few hours, head to Eureka Springs Coffee House, which also has breakfast all day. Have you noticed I love breakfast?

If you have a sweet tooth, dip into Ellen’s Patisserie or one of the many ice cream or fudge shops. There’s even a funnel cake stand called the Funnel Cake Factory on the corner of Spring Street and South Main, and a cupcake shop called Colossal Cupcakes and Cones.

Not quite as close to downtown are Le Stick Nouveau, which is fine dining, Love Greens for juice, smoothies, and salads, and the well-rated Thai House Restaurant

If you like bars, tunes, and nightlife, I heard Missy’s White Rabbit Lounge is recommended, as well as BREWS (which also has coffee and food) and the Gravel Bar at Wanderoo Lodge. I thought the Voodoo Lounge looked cool from the outside; it’s part of the New Orleans Hotel. Personally I am very intrigued by the Rowdy Beaver Den pub because they keep advertising something called “Mountain Alice’s Bluegrass Brunch.”

Never heard of southern biscuits with chocolate gravy? This local delicacy in the Ozarks “may have been created through a trading network between the Tennessee Valley and Spanish Louisiana, bringing Mexican-style breakfast chocolate to the Appalachians.” You might also find BBQ’d wild hog on some menus; Ozarkers love to hunt this invasive species.

Scenic Drives: Little Golden Gate Bridge and Inspiration Point

If you’re in the mood for a local scenic drive, head over to Beaver, Arkansas (I keep hearing locals call it “Beaver Town”) to check out the Beaver Bridge, otherwise known as the “Little Golden Gate” Bridge because of its bright yellow hue. It’s a cute one-lane suspension bridge over the White River that makes a great photography spot. One side of the bridge welcomes you with a sign that says “you have just crossed the bridge to nostalgia” and there is a walking trail called the Town of Beaver Trail. The other side of the bridge is very near to Castle Rogue’s Manor. If you haven’t booked a guided tour at the manor, you may be able to peep it from across the river near the bridge.

From a roadside pull-off on US-62 called Inspiration Point, you’ll look out over the rolling hills and down onto the White River. It’s fun to drive to the Little Golden Gate Bridge from this direction so you can see the river from above before you descend down to it. Inspiration Point is probably prettiest when there are leaves on the trees, though, or in fall when the colors change. 

Within city limits and very close to downtown, drive up to a small pond called Little Lake Eureka. While the lake is cute, it’s more about the journey. On the drive to/from Little Lake Eureka you can stop at the Carrie Nation House, Little Eureka Spring, Laundry Spring, and the East Mountain Gazebo (maintained by the Rotary Club), which provides an expansive view that is dramatically loomed over by the Crescent Hotel in the distance.

Of course, the best scenic drives are going to involve heading further south into Ozark National Forest or north to Branson, Missouri. Consider driving Arkansas Scenic Byway 7 for views of the Arkansas Grand Canyon, or the West-Northwest Scenic Byway or Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway.

Hours/Prices: Free, always “open”

Castle Rogue’s Manor

Castle Rogue’s Manor is a funky piece of architecture conceived by Smith Treuer and built over many years after he moved to Eureka Springs in 1993. Inspired by his travels abroad, it includes a Great Hall, two guard towers, and a fireplace mantel where sculpted bronze dragons breathe hot air from the fire. 

Its main purpose today is to serve as a wedding venue and unfortunately it’s not open to the public during any particular hours, so if interested in visiting Castle Rogue’s Manor, you’ll need to call to schedule a private tour. I tried driving up to it just to take pictures of the outer facade, but this was not possible. Vehicles are stopped by safety cones before they can get to the driveway or anywhere near the house. You may be able to catch a glimpse of it from the opposite side of the river by driving over the Beaver Bridge.

Hours/Prices: Private guided tours are $20 per adult or $10 per child 15 yo or younger. You need to call ahead to schedule a tour. 

Onyx Cave or Cosmic Caverns

There are tons of natural caves all throughout Arkansas. The three closest show caves to Eureka Springs are Onyx Cave, Cosmic Caverns, and War Eagle Cavern. Onyx Cave is the closest, only 6 miles from downtown Eureka Springs. They offer a self-guided tour with an audio guide. Some reviewers said that you finish the tour quite quickly compared to the price, and I’ve already seen plenty of other caves in my day, so I didn’t prioritize it. The Cosmic Cavern might be more bang for your buck. It’s a guided 1.5 hour walking tour with an actual guide, but it’s also more expensive at $20.

Hours/Prices: Onyx is $14.75 per adult, $9.75 per child 4-13 yo, free for infants. Open 7 days a week from Mar 1-Nov 26, 9am-5pm Mon-Sat and 10am-4pm on Sundays. Hours vary from Nov 26-Jan 7; call ahead.
Cosmic is $20 per adult, $10 per child 5-12 yo, free for infants. Open 7 days a week from Mar 1-Dec 31 from 9am-5pm.

Hiking, Boating, and Swimming at Local Lakes

If you’ve watched the Ozark TV show or heard about the Ozarks region before, you probably associate it with the lakes of southern Missouri. Northern Arkansas also has amazing lakes, which keep the locals busy and recreating in the summer months when heat, humidity, and ticks make wilderness hikes more difficult. Norfork Lake and Lake Ouachita, for instance, are quite popular. 

In and around Eureka Springs are Beaver Lake, Lake Leatherwood, and Black Bass Lake. Head to these spots for hiking and biking trails, fishing, paddling, and (except at Black Bass) swimming. There is a gentle walking trail that encircles Lake Leatherwood which I found really beautiful and relaxing even in winter, and there is a shorter one around the small Black Bass Lake. Both lakes also have other more difficult trail systems that go back into the woods; Miner’s Rock trail at Leatherwood sounded interesting to me. For the brave, at Hogscald Hollow on Beaver Lake there is a waterfall and cliff jumping spot called Lover’s Leap.

Hours/Prices: Free for day visits. Dawn to dusk, except for registered guests at Lake Leatherwood cabins or campsites or those with recreation.gov campsite reservations for Beaver Lake. No camping at Black Bass.

Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area 

Hobbs Conservation Area is Arkansas’ largest State Park. Along the southern shores of Beaver Lake, it’s also the closest Arkansas State Park to Eureka Springs. There is a 54-mile trail system (find multiple trail maps on the official website’s righthand dropdown) for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, plus 11 primitive campsites that are bike-in and/or hike-in only. It’s very close to War Eagle Cavern if you’re up for cave exploration.

Withrow Springs State Park is also not too far from Eureka Springs. It has hiking trails and serves as a put-in point for float trips on War Eagle Creek.

Attend a Regional Festival

I first learned about the Ozark Folk Festival at the Eureka Springs Historical Museum, where it’s described as a long-running annual celebration of Ozarker culture that features square dancing and fiddling contests, a vintage fashion show, a beard-growing competition, pie eating, dancing and songs by indigenous people, a festival queen competition, bagpipes, a “barefoot” ball, and a large downtown parade. It sounds like an absolute blast.

Tourists can visit the top floor of the Basin Park Hotel to see the Barefoot Ballroom and its beautiful stained glass, even if you’re not a guest at the hotel.

The longer I’ve stayed in Eureka Springs, the more festivals I keep stumbling into learning about. These people love to party! This is only a small sampling of regional festivals:

Ozark Mountain Soul (Spring) – music festival
Strings on the Kings (Spring) – music, camping, float and arts festival on the Kings River
Southern Enduro Tour (Spring) – mountain biking
Arkansas State Chili Championship (Spring)
Chocolate Lovers Festival (Spring)
St. Patrick’s Day Parade (Spring)
Ozark Folk Festival (Fall)
Zombie Crawl (Fall) – for Halloween
Enduro Series (Fall) – mountain biking
Bikes, Blues, and BBQ (Fall) – for motorcyclists; it’s actually in Rogers, Arkansas
Paranormal Weekend (Winter) – paranormal investigators have overnight ghost hunts at Crescent Hotel

Other Things to Do in Eureka Springs

I know it’s one of the biggest attractions in Eureka Springs, but personally I did not prioritize seeing the Great Passion Play, a religious theater production. I also skipped the Intrigue Theater magic show.

I am not usually interested in zoos, but I’ve heard positive reviews about the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for big cats.

The North Arkansas Railway was not open in winter and early spring when I visited Eureka Springs; their season begins on April 20th. They have an Excursion Train, Lunch Train, and Dinner Train and advertise that tourists can “see our 1940-era diesel locomotive in operation or view our stationary steam locomotive exhibits.”

There is roadside attraction in Eureka Springs called Snake World that I drove past multiple times. Reviews say, “if you enjoyed Joe Exotic, you’d love this place,” and “the stairs were sketchy.” What more could you ask for?

All forms of water recreation are huge in northern Arkansas, including stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, rafting, boating, and fishing. Rent from companies like Trigger Gap Outfitters and Kings River Outfitters.

There are multiple zipline companies, including Eureka Springs Zipline and Ozark Mountain Ziplines.

Pivot Rock Park looks cool from the photographs, but there is an $8 entrance fee just to walk a half-mile trail to see the rock.

Day Trips from Eureka Springs

Hiking in the Ozark National Forest

One of my main objectives in visiting northern Arkansas was to hike as much as possible in the glorious Ozark National Forest. Full of pristine waterfalls, turquoise blue water, exciting cave systems, and sweeping views, this area of the country took me completely by surprise. I admit I was painfully ignorant as to what a fantastic outdoor destination Arkansas truly is; I didn’t even know its nickname, “The Natural State.” Read my post on the best easy day hikes in northern Arkansas to get a taste of the Ozark National Forest:

The Best Easy Day Hikes in the Arkansas Ozarks

Best Easy Day Hikes in the Arkansas Ozarks

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Northern Arkansas is underappreciated as an outdoorsperson’s paradise, but turquoise blue waterfalls, towering rock formations, and cave systems abound in the Ozark National Forest.

This post also includes some waterfalls that you can easily drive to without hiking, including one particularly scenic swimming hole in the Ozark National Forest and three roadside waterfalls closer to Eureka Springs in the McIlroy State Game Management Area.

Hours/Prices: All of the hikes I recommend in my post are in fee-free wilderness areas.

Historic Cabins and Homesteads

Boxley Valley Historic District Arkansas

When I travel, I love learning about the early history of the region I’m visiting so that I can contextualize what I’m seeing in front of me. I found a cool podcast called The Ozarks Podcast that had some interesting interviews with Dr. Brooks Blevins, a professor of Ozarks Studies. Plus, my AirBnB host gifted me a book by Kenneth L. Smith called Buffalo River Handbook that has chapters dedicated to geology and flora and fauna, but also indigenous and settler history. This is how I initially learned about some of the 1800s homesteads in the Ozarks that you can still visit today.

The Boxley Valley Historic District is probably the most famous cultural site in the Ozark National Forest because, according to Smith, it “preserves evidence of more than 150 years of change in building styles and farming practices.” Structures like the Boxley Grist Mill and the James Villines “Beaver Jim” Homestead (1882; accessed via a short trail from the Ponca low water bridge) are great examples of early Ozark architecture. The Walnut Grove Cemetery’s earliest graves date back to the 1850s and the Beechwoods Cemetery has the oldest marked grave in the valley (1842).

Boxley Valley is also a great elk viewing location.

“Today, visitors to Boxley Valley can experience a cultural landscape that retains a high degree of integrity, or similarity to its historical identity as a small-scale farming community. Many extant structures exemplify traditional building methods and are situated in their original locations. Some farms are operated by descendants of the original settlers.”

NPS

Far from Boxley Valley, the Parker-Hickman Farmstead near Erbie Campground is likely the oldest log structure in the Buffalo National River area (1840s). According to the Park Service, “this farmstead was continuously occupied for nearly 130 years by 9 different owners, starting with the Parkers and ending with the Hickmans in the early 1980s.”

You can see the passage of time represented inside the cabin by the layers of wallpaper falling away to reveal earlier designs and eras. In some places, newspaper clippings were used to plaster the walls, and you can still read about the products and services that were being advertised at the time – check out the photos in my gallery.

Hours/Prices: Free to visit, dawn to dusk. Leave no trace.

Museum of Native American History in Bentonville

When I visited the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum of the West in Cody, Wyoming, I was particularly inspired to learn about Lone Dog’s Winter Count. The version they have on display in Cody is an early 1900s recreation on muslin, and I wondered where the original piece on buffalo hide must be. It turns out, it’s at the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, Arkansas. I thought I’d probably never visit Arkansas, but lo and behold, here I am. I got the chance to check it out on this trip!

The winter count is like an annual calendar whose keeper, in this case a Nakota Sioux man named Lone Dog, adds one symbol each year to represent the biggest event that happened to the tribe that year. It’s a way of sharing the tribe’s history with future generations.

While the museum has artifacts on display from many tribes throughout the United States, its focus is on the Ozark region and Southeast, including tons of pottery and arrowhead samples found throughout the region. I learned that Native American pottery in the Southeast was markedly different to the pottery styles I’m used to seeing in the Southwest. Ancestral Puebloan cultures utilized sharp, angular lines to create abstract black and white designs. By contrast, the Southeastern style uses a lot of oranges, whites, and swirling shapes, and pottery is often shaped into effigies of fish, deer, or other animals. I had never seen “head pots” before, which are human head effigies with hyper realistic faces, sometimes twisted into grotesque expressions. 

Hours/Prices: Free admission, Tues-Sat 11am-5pm

Another day trip idea from Eureka Springs is Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, Arkansas. It’s only open from April to October, so I didn’t get a chance to check it out myself.


Arkansas has really played things right when it comes to tourism. I’ve seen advertisements aimed at specific hobbyists, such as fishermen, mountain bikers, motorcyclists, and paranormal investigators, but I haven’t noticed any attempts to lure the masses to Eureka Springs through social media influencers or other generic travel campaigns. As a result, it seems they’ve been able to maintain their identity and keep their hill country paradise slightly under the radar, attracting only those who have unique personal motivations to seek it out. For any travelers from the West or Northeast who denigrate Arkansas because of old “hillbilly” stereotypes without having experienced the region firsthand, I can imagine Ozarkers thinking, “Good – more for us!” Unfortunately, though, they’ll have to deal with at least one more tourist (me) returning time and again now that I’ve learned their secret.

Related:
A History of the Ozarks Volume 1 The Old Ozarks
A History of the Ozarks, Volume 1: The Old Ozarks
Buffalo River Handbook
Buffalo River Handbook
Ghost of the Ozarks Murder and Memory in the Upland South
Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South
Eureka Springs City of Healing Waters Brief History
Eureka Springs: City of Healing Waters (Brief History)
Arkansas Curiosities Quirky Characters Roadside Oddities and Other Offbeat Stuff
Arkansas Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff
Arkansas Bucket List Adventure Guide Explore 100 Offbeat Destinations You Must Visit
Arkansas Bucket List Adventure Guide: Explore 100 Offbeat Destinations You Must Visit!
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Cool Things to Do in Eureka Springs Arkansas

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