Whether you choose your Arkansas vacation rental in the Ozarks, the southern Arkansas Timberlands, or the eastern lowlands, look for your weekend getaway to fulfill your family’s greatest expectations. Settle into a soothing mineral bath in a Hot Springs spa, barrel down the Caddo River in a kayak, experience a safari drive-through in Gentry, or dig for diamonds in Murfreesboro. This list of the eight best weekend getaways in the state points you to locations in or near major cities, covering a broad spectrum of recreational activities, arts, museums, and dining experiences.

1. Mountain Pine

Person snorkeling in crystal clear water
Source: Flickr / Live Zakynthos

Surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest, Mountain Pine’s fresh air and natural beauty are the first things you notice. Slip on your goggles and fins to enjoy snorkeling in its crystal clear waters or go out deeper to experience scuba diving in Lake Ouachita, known as one of America’s cleanest lakes. Grab lunch at the Corner Cafe or drive approximately 12 miles west to Brady Mountain Restaurant and Lounge for a lakeside dinner. There’s also a dock out back so that you can arrive in your boat. You’re only 12 miles north of Hot Springs when you decide you want to try some of the yummy catfish dinners at Ward’s Crawfish Hole.

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2. Hot Springs

Hot springs in Arkansas

About an hour east of Little Rock, Hot Springs serves as one of the premier vacation destinations in Arkansas. The 21 or so spas make it superb for a quick weekend getaway to relax and recharge. Take in the sights along Bathhouse Row, and treat yourself to a mineral bath and massage at Quapaw Spa. As you stroll through the historic downtown district, stop to eat at the Ohio Club, the oldest bar in the state, where Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, and other famous gangsters liked to hang out. Going back to 1905, and featuring performers such as Al Jolson and Mae West, the Ohio Club still features live shows nightly.

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3. Murfreesboro

Canoeing on a river

Murfreesboro gives you an ideal opportunity for weekend canoeing or kayaking on the Caddo River. Sign up for guided or self-guided tours with Lucky’s Canoe and Kayak or Arrowhead Cabin and Canoe. Crater of Diamonds State Park features a 37.5 field that is the only publicly-accessible diamond excavating site in the world. Guests get to keep any diamonds they find during their digs. Stop by Hawkins General Store to browse while they prepare your lunch, complete with hand-mixed sodas. A culinary trip to Texarkana takes about an hour’s drive to the southwest. Among the dining options there, Naaman’s Championship BBQ dishes up authentic Texas food, and Pecan Point Gastropub & Brewery serves up craft beer and American cuisine.

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4. Mountain View

Zipline on a mountain

Nestled in the Ozarks, Mountain View is home to the Ozark Folk Center State Park and the Arkansas Folk Festival. During warm weather, visiting musicians join the locals to play music in the town square. Pop in to browse the music stores, antique shops, and the Arkansas Craft Guild, the state’s largest craft co-op. When the crew works up an appetite, Kin Folks BBQ, JoJo’s Catfish, and Stone County Ironworks. The Ironworks also includes a shop that features some hand-crafted metal items, including furniture and knives. To feed your need for speed, head over to Loco Ropes to enjoy the climbing towers and lightning-fast zip lines.

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5. Gentry

Tiger laying in the grass

Located about 40 minutes southeast of Fayetteville, Gentry delivers plenty of activities to fill your weekend. Starting with Wild-Wilderness Drive-Through Safari, the zoo and petting zoo feature kangaroos, giraffes, pygmy goats, miniature donkeys, and more. Next, you encounter dozens of species in the four-mile drive-through, including the big cats, bears, antelopes, buffalo, and emus. Pick up some handmade soaps, herbal salves, and farm-fresh brown eggs at Pampered Pioneer Soaps and Sundries just four miles south of the safari. Some homey restaurants in town include Miss Mary’s, for classic blue plate specials, and the Wooden Spoon.

6. Fort Smith

Ariel view of the waterpark
Source: Instagram / Parrot Island Waterpark

As the state’s second largest city, Fort Smith attractions, activities, and dining options herald a range of choices from kitschy to classical. Ed Walker’s Drive-In is the only restaurant that lets you drive up, call-in your order, and get an open-face roast beef sandwich, gravy, mashed potatoes, and a salad. Or, tempt your sophisticated palate with the fine dining at 21 West End. Miss Laura’s Social Club, located in the historic downtown area by the Arkansas River, is the only former brothel listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Victorian mansion serves as the visitor’s center and offers guided tours of this example of opulent decor from another era. Family attractions include Parrot Island Water Park, with lots of slides, rides, a wave pool, and a children’s area.

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7. Paris

Eiffle Tower Park
Source: Paris Area Chamber of Commerce / Eiffle Tower Park

Plan a trek to the Eiffel Tower without booking airline tickets by simply driving to Paris, Arkansas, which is less than an hour southeast of Fort Smith. On the west side of town, there’s a 25-foot-tall Eiffel Tower, which is painted with the same paint used on the one in France. Pick up a bottle of vino to enjoy in your Paris vacation rental at Cowie Wine Cellars, which includes a tasting area, a museum, and a quaint chapel that features several sizes of old church bells.

8. Rogers

A red mill on the waters edge
Source: WarEagleMill.com / War Eagle Mill

Making Rogers your weekend vacation gives your family the state’s eighth-largest city to explore, with Fayetteville only 30 minutes to the south, and Bentonville fewer than 20 minutes to the west. There’s so much history to experience at the War Eagle Mill, a working grist mill, where mills have been powered by the War Eagle River since 1832. The gift shop is where you can pick up some corn meal that workers grind and bag on-site. Check out the Daisy Airgun Museum and learn about the history of BB guns from the audio boxes provided with the displays. Ozark Beer Company and New Province Brewing Company offer some signature brews and taprooms where you can bend an elbow with the locals.

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