Arkansas, a Hidden Gem

by Emma Wilson

When I was telling friends and family that I was going on a road trip to Arkansas, nobody really understood why I was so excited.  A common question I actually received was, “Why Arkansas? Of all the places, why there?”  Their questions weren’t unreasonable.  Arkansas isn’t romanticized like the beaches of Florida or the Smoky Mountains in the Carolinas; but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer.

Arkansas is a hidden gem; highly overlooked, but wicked awesome!  During a six day road trip with my best friend, we hiked several miles of the Ozark Mountain Range, jumped off and bathed under waterfalls, and met some great people along the way.  Oh yeah, and we went skydiving!

Our first great stop was the Natural Bridge of Arkansas in Clinton, Arkansas.  The only shortcoming of this attraction is that you can no longer stand on the bridge, but just looking at it is breathtaking.  Even the drive down to the bridge was stunning.  I would suggest this stop to anyone driving through, it’s truly a sight to see.

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There were three main hikes during the trip.  One was to Twin Falls, which was a 7 mile bushwhack to a waterfall we are pretty convinced is also the fountain of youth, because it’s nearly impossible to find.  We never did get to see it, but we hiked quite a ways before heading back.  On the hike back my friend actually found a fossil on the bank of Falling Waters Creek.  The second hike was the Pedestal Rock Scenic Area.  Unlike Twin Falls, this was a well paved 2.2 mile loop.  This was a beautiful hike, with some great picture opportunities to freak your mom out by sending pictures of you dangling your legs over a cliff!  The third major hike was to Glory Hole waterfall.  This is such a unique waterfall being that the water drilled a hole in an overhanging bluff, so the water just seems to fall from the ceiling when you’re under the bluff!  It’s a two mile hike, downhill on the way there, with a tiring uphill climb back; but totally worth it!  And these are only three of the dozens of awesome waterfalls Arkansas has to offer!

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On our third day, we stayed in a quaint town, Eureka Springs.  Its unofficial motto is “where the misfits fit”, which is perfect for my purple-haired friend and my tattooed-self!  Full of bikers, bars, art studios, and live music, it’s a place that can’t be missed.  This town holds lots of character, and the people are so welcoming you’ll contemplate not leaving.  One character we had the pleasure of meeting was geologist Robert Beauford.  We figured we’d show him the fossil that my friend found on the hike.  When he saw it he immediately started talking a different language that only rock/fossil enthusiasts understand.  Luckily my friend is fluent in that language.  Turns out, the fossil my friend found is 328-330 MILLION years old!  He even called it “an impressive specimen.”  Hearing that from a geologist about a fossil you just happened to find on a hike is a major confidence boost to say the least!

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Not far from downtown is a breathtakingly beautiful piece of architecture, Thorncrown Chapel.  I would definitely recommend stopping by this site if you are the in area.  Also not far from Eureka Springs is another architectural attraction, Quigley’s Castle.  It’s labeled “the strangest dwelling in the Ozarks” and it lives up to the name.  I won’t give too much away, but if you like rocks, plants, butterflies, and natural architecture this is a can’t miss!!  This spot wasn’t in our plan and we found it by accident, and we are so glad that we did!

After Eureka Springs was a drive to Skydive Skyranch in Siloam Springs.  If you want the best rush of your life, backflip out of a plane at 15,000 feet.  I really can’t compare it to any other sensation.  This was definitely the highlight of the trip!

Another can’t miss place in Arkansas is Hot Springs National Park.  Unlike other national parks, it’s an urban place.  This is because when people learned of the hot springs in the 1800’s, they built a town around them due to the fact that so many people were traveling from across the nation to take a dip in the healing waters.  It has both nature and history, which is a pretty great fit for me!  When driving through town, don’t worry about the steam everywhere, it’s just coming from the 143 degree water flowing from the mountains!

Not only is Arkansas a hidden gem, you can actually find hidden gems here!  Our final major destination was Crater of Diamonds State Park.  This is the only diamond producing site open to the public, and an average of two diamonds are found a day!  After searching for four to five hours, we didn’t find a diamond, but we found something, or rather someone, pretty dazzling.  While searching, we saw a man, we would later know to be Diamond Jack, covered head to toe in dirt, lugging tons of equipment.  We joked that he was really getting serious about this.  Turns out, Jack regularly comes to mine for diamonds on the weekends and has already found about 20!  Of course we talked with him, asked tons of amateur questions, and learned a lot.  We told him about our trip, during which we had been tent camping on the whole time.  This kind gentleman then proceeded to offer us a free nights stay at a charming inn just a few miles away.  After five days of sleeping on the ground and no hot food, we were floored.  So, our last night of the trip we spent in the luxury of a queen bed for each of us, a shower, and a hot breakfast in the morning.  Jack will never fully grasp our gratitude for that offer. He’s just one example of the amazing people we had the pleasure of meeting during these 6 days.

With all of these great places, it’s obvious that Arkansas has more to offer than most people would think.  If you like nature, there are mountains and waterfalls.  If you like history, you can find lots of Civil War history in the state.  You like architecture? You’re also in luck!  There really is something for everyone.

My friend and I will cherish this trip for the rest of our lives.  While all the destinations were great, the experience of packing your tent in a torrential downpour with thunder ringing in your ears and ending up sleeping on someone’s private property in the middle of the wilderness will bring any two people closer.  That’s just one of the completely unforeseen experiences we had on the trip, and all of them added something unforgettable.  Roadtripping anywhere is remarkable, and I would recommend considering Arkansas for your next trip.  From my experience I can say that you’ll probably be taken by surprise, and definitely won’t be disappointed.

Emma-WilsonABOUT EMMA:  I am a sophomore at the University of Alabama, majoring in Public Relations. I love the outdoors and have a passion for photography, yoga, and adventure. I received my ENO DoubleNest for my birthday and keep it with me at all times! Even if it’s just a walk to the pier after work to hang, or during lunch to hang it between the trees, I take every opportunity to use it! Apart from my ENO obsession, I enjoy traveling both in country and internationally. I have been to six countries and can’t wait to add to the list! Some of my outdoor activities include hiking, rafting, and wildlife photography.