It’s quite a reversal that the thing that most daunted the settlers of Arkansas is what draws visitors to the Southern state today: its landscape. The Ozark Mountains, for one thing, once acted as a high-altitude barrier for explorers. Now, outdoor enthusiasts flock to its peaks to scope out the sprawling valleys below, which were etched out by the streams that run through them. In the area’s lakes, Arkansans often go canoeing, boating, swimming, and fishing, and they also hike the trails that crisscross the terrain. Notable stops in the Ozarks include Buffalo National River, a nationally protected 90,000-acre park whose caves once sheltered prehistoric Native Americans, and the Blanchard Springs Caverns, where tour guides lead “Discovery in the Dark Head Lamp” tours.
There are few large cities in Arkansas, so for a less rural getaway, most visitors turn to the state’s capital city, Little Rock. History buffs will appreciate Little Rock’s eventful past, especially its starring role in the desegregation movement of the 1950s and 60s. Best known is Little Rock Central High School, where the famed Little Rock Nine attempted to desegregate an all-white school—a story now chronicled in the visitor center that opened in 2007 to mark the 50th anniversary of their courageous action. The city is also home to the oldest state capitol building west of the Mississippi, built in eye-catching Neo-classical style.
An Arkansas guide would be remiss not to mention the state’s popular former governor, President Bill Clinton. Inside his 20,000 square foot William J. Clinton Presidential Library, visitors will find a full-scale replica of the Oval Office and a reconstruction of the Cabinet Room, as well as countless books on American presidential history. The grounds on which the library sits—a 33-acre park that encompasses a restored railroad bridge and wetlands—are also worth visiting.