Head to Arkansas to enjoy music festivals and forests in the Ozarks, as well as bath houses in the city of Hot Springs and urban adventures in Little Rock. However, if you’re looking for low-key activities, then you’re going to have to venture to towns like Mena and Fayetteville to experience exciting hidden gems. At these secret spots, you can dig for diamonds, sit on a stone throne, explore a bona fide ghost town, or chance running into Big Foot. As for accommodations, there is an abundance of Arkansas vacation rentals to stay at year-round. With that said, check out the top hidden gems in Arkansas.
1. Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro
Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only diamond mine in the world that lets visitors keep the diamonds they find. As the only diamond mine in the world open to the public, the park features 37 acres for digging between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Bring your own buckets, shovels, sun screens, and other tools, or rent them from the park. The Diamond Discover Center includes rental tools, an instructional video, and a searching demonstration by a park interpreter. The park allows dogs on leashes, sun shelters, and coolers stocked with non-alcoholic beverages. Some visitors just walk around to look for diamonds laying on the ground, and others choose to dig holes and sift the dirt.
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2. Terra Studios, Fayetteville
Find–and catch–the blue bird of happiness at Terra Studios, a true escape from run-of-the-mill tourist stops. A little trail through the woods leads to a stone maze and little hobbit doors for kids to enter. You find lots of amazing pottery, mosaics, murals, yummy pastries, and delicious coffee. Take time to watch craftsmen make blue birds during glass blowing demonstrations in the gallery. It’s an ideal spot to set your imagination free as you wander through the gardens, by the pond, through the gallery, and in the studios. Check out the gift shop to select your favorite pieces to take home.
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3. Bard Springs Dam, Bard Springs Recreation Site, Mena
Built in 1936, Bard Springs Dam features old stone work completed by a Civilian Conservation Corps crew. The crew built the 8-foot high dam of field stone, and included staggered steps at the base to diminish erosion. The resulting pool of water includes spillover from the Blaylock Creek. The 65-foot long dam sits on the creek, at the west end of Bard Springs Recreation Site, southeast of Mena in Polk County. Look for picnic shelters and restrooms near the dam.
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4. Toltec Mounds, Scott
Toltec Mounds is a historic archaeological site with 18 protected mounds from the Late Woodland period, including the tallest surviving mounds in the state. The inhabitants who built these mounds lived in this area from 600 to 1050 C.E. As a national landmark, this site includes mounds that reach up to 10 feet high. You can find artifacts from the mounds and other information about the site inside the park visitor center. Self-guided walking tours vary in length include the visitor center and exhibits. A walking guided tour features narrated information by a park interpreter. Tram tours require reservations.
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5. War Eagle Mill, Rogers
Historic War Eagle Mill, a working, water-powered mill, sits on the banks of War Eagle Stream, well off the beaten path. Using old-fashioned mill stones, they grind flour and cornmeal to sell in the gift shop on-site. On the third floor, the Bean Palace Cafe serves country cooking, including pinto beans and cornbread. In the store, look for local jams, jellies, pickles, crafts, and pottery.
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6. Sam’s Throne, Mount Judea
Rock climbers know about Sam’s Throne, but many other Arkansans and tourists miss out on this stunning formation that rises 834 feet above sea level. Non-climbers find Sam’s Throne an ideal spot for hiking, picnicking, and taking pictures of Judea Mountain and Big Creek Valley. Your Mount Judea vacation rental gives you access to a store, a cafe, and a post office. The Throne, located about five miles south of town, has a 75-foot bluff that draws rock climbers who want to take the challenge this beautiful, rugged area poses.
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7. Natural Bridge of Arkansas, Clinton
When you go treasure hunting in the woods near Clinton, you find the Natural Bridge of Arkansas. After a scenic drive down a winding little road, you come upon a wooded area that includes a charming little cabin full of antiques. Just a short walk away you find a remarkable 120-foot sandstone formation, the Natural Bridge. Although people used it as a bridge during pioneer days, people no longer cross it.
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8. Boggy Creek Monster, Fouke
Big Foot enthusiasts love the Boggy Creek Monster, a legend from the 19th century that continues to haunt the little town of Fouke. The first recorded sightings occurred in 1834, when people reported seeing a hairy wild man who stood up to eight feet tall and weighed about 300 pounds. They said that hair covered his legs, arms, and chest. In the 20th century, sightings increased, including a total of 40 reports in the year 1997. Whether you believe or not, the Monster Mart features casts of footprints and other artifacts along with souvenirs and gifts. To find the best spots to go monster hunting, just ask any of the locals you meet.
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9. Rush Ghost Town, Yellville
Rush Ghost Town represents the last remaining evidence of zinc mining in Arkansas. The zinc industry dominated the area, and its memory lives on in the original structural remnants of this little ghost town, now nestled in the Buffalo River National River Park. A trail takes hikers to remote parts of the town, including the abandoned zinc mines, which the park service keep sealed. The park makes a great year-round destination, with mild winters and pleasant hiking. While you’re in the park, check out the spectacular waterfalls, caving, and sand bars.
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10. Prairie Grove Battlefield, Prairie Grove
One of the best preserved Civil War battlegrounds, Prairie Grove Battlefield includes several restored historic structures and marked tour paths. The guided walking tour on Prairie Grove Ridge extends from the Latta Barn to the Borden House. Your guide covers historical details of the fighting that occurred here and answers questions. There is a self-guided walking tour and a CD-narrated driving tour. This off-the-beaten-path park features nice walking trails, pleasant scenery, and interesting history lessons. Apart from the oral history, the museum includes Civil War artifacts and more information about the site.
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