20 Cool Things To Do: A Guide to Activities, Attractions in Northwest Arkansas

by NWA Metro Guide Staff  on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 12:00 am  

1. Devil’s Den State Park
Devil’s Den has been a touchstone of Ozarks tourism since 1933, and still maintains the New Deal-era stone structures to prove it. This 2,500-acre wooded playground boasts bluffside vistas, abundant caves, horse trails, picturesque waterfalls and swimming holes. The field trip every junior high kid in the area takes at some point becomes the quick overnight camping trip that every college kid takes. Soon it’s the easy overnight cabin stay for couples, and, as the circle of life would have it, the short-hop day hike destination for families. Head down early, head down often, and still, you’re not likely to outgrow it. In West Fork.

2. World Championship Squirrel Cookoff
For as much as Arkansas advances in commerce and culture, there will always be a faction in the area — partly sincere, partly mischievous — that strives to remind us of our roots. Thus, not so long after the New Yorker and the New York Times arrived in Bentonville to ballyhoo the new Crystal Bridges museum, no less than the Wall Street Journal arrived on the equally brand-new scent of barbecued squirrel. “This year’s culinary creations ranged from squirrel with cashews and spring rolls to Caribbean jerk squirrel and fried plantains,” the paper wrote. Check out this emerging, uniquely Ozark tradition in the Bentonville town square in September.

3. Beaver Lake
If you want to go for a swim, head to Beaver Lake. Unless you want to fish, or go boating or water skiing, or camp, or hike, or picnic, or watch wildlife, or simply relax. In that case, go to Beaver Lake. At 28,370 acres, this impound lake links Benton and Carroll Counties, offering 487 miles of shoreline, paved access roads, 12 developed parks, 2,008 acres of campgrounds as well as picnic sites, swimming beaches, boat ramps, showers, marinas, amphitheaters and cabins. Site of the first-ever B.A.S.S. tournament, the lake sports diverse gamefish, including crappie, bream, channel and spoonbill catfish.

4. Fayetteville Ale Trail
It wasn’t too long ago that the only locally made beer in Northwest Arkansas was confined to a couple of Fayetteville brew pubs. Now craft breweries have sprung up all over, helped along perhaps by Benton County’s 2012 decision to go “wet” — that is, to allow packaged alcohol sales. Seven breweries in Fayetteville and Springdale — Apple Blossom, Hog Haus, Core, Fossil Cove, Saddlebock, Tanglewood Branch and West Mountain — have linked together to welcome thirsty visitors who get “passport” stamps for sampling the wares. Map out your sudsy sojourns here.

5. Fayetteville Farmer’s Market
For 40 years this has been the region’s premiere spot for local growers and craftspeople to share their wares. Lately, though, it has garnered national attention. In 2012 it was voted America’s favorite large market in a survey by the American Farmland Trust; in 2013, the Daily Meal named the market the 14th-best in the country. Look for it three times a week, with the main event on Saturday mornings, in Fayetteville’s historic downtown square.

6. Lost Valley Trail
A short day trip east is Lost Valley, tucked near the Buffalo River, full of the sort of year-round splendid scenery that keeps calendar photographers in business. Waterfalls, caves, cliffs, bluffs, streams and a natural bridge have made the 2.2-mile Lost Valley Trail the most popular hike in the state. The back of the cave (bring lights, pack skinny) opens into a large room with a 35-foot waterfall. Even in a region full of great hikes, it’s hard to get more for your time on a trail.

7. The Symphony
Actually you have your pick here, amid a surprisingly varied orchestral music scene. Year-round there’s the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas, back after a short hiatus at the beginning of the recession, and the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra, in Bentonville. Then in the summertime, there’s the Artosphere Festival Orchestra, which brings top-flight young musicians from around the country to the Walton Arts Center. If that’s not enough, the nearby Fort Smith Symphony is the state’s oldest orchestra, and another option for the classically minded.

8. Floating the Buffalo
Paddling down the Buffalo National River is a rite of passage not just for area residents but for outdoor enthusiasts across the Mid-South. The Buffalo, designated in 1972 as the country’s first national river, winds through the hills and valleys of the Arkansas Ozarks. It offers up whitewater action for canoes and kayaks, and more laid-back, family-friendly floating for just about anyone who can swing an oar. Plus, it provides fishing, camping and perhaps the best scenery between the Smokies and the Rockies. Numerous outfitters in the area can equip veteran floaters or big-city plebes for a simple day trip or a more intense dive into the wilderness.

9. Clinton House Museum
Far from Pennsylvania Avenue sits a glimpse into the days before Bill Clinton became the Comeback Kid and Hillary became a senator and Secretary of State. This unassuming one-bedroom just off the University of Arkansas campus is a cozy, 1,800-SF charmer, a perfect starter home for young political power couples. The living room offers a romantic ambiance — the Clintons were married there — and the First Ladies Garden is a great place to unwind after a hard day of campaigning, passing legislation or negotiating treaties.

10. Bikes, Blues & BBQ
Even for a town that loves to call the hogs, Bikes, Blues & BBQ dominates Fayetteville when it rolls in each September. What began in 2000 as a 300-motorcycle rally, partially inspired by police chief Richard Watson after he bought his first Harley Davidson, has grown into a four-day event that now claims 400,000 annual attendees. A family-friendly nonprofit, BBBBQ features the motorcycles, music and food that give the event its name. But it has expanded over the years to feature car shows, lawnmower pulls, beauty contests and vintage warplanes.

11. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Upon its opening in 2011, Crystal Bridges instantly took its place among the great art museums in the region, and indeed the country. Accessible yet profound, the museum was a gift to Bentonville from Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, and houses paintings, drawings and sculptures by some of the nation’s most noteworthy artists: Jackson Pollack, Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, among many others. Nestled amid ponds in a creek ravine, the museum is a work unto itself, with a design by architect Moshe Safdie that embraces the surrounding dogwoods and springs. Best of all: admission is always free.

12. Arkansas Music Pavilion
Musicians like to play to a big room, and what could be bigger than the great outdoors? The AMP, as locals know it, is a venue of the Walton Arts Center currently located on the Washington County Fairgrounds, and is one of the top 100 amphitheaters in the nation. The AMP has offered concerts in every genre for close to a decade: Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Black Crowes, Three Days Grace, Cake, Alabama Shakes, you name it. The pavilion has announced plans to relocate to a new, permanent amphitheater in Rogers in 2014 in order to keep the hit-makers coming.

13. Rodeo of the Ozarks
What began as one-shot event to ease wartime blues in WWII turned out to have staying power. The annual Fourth of July event, coming up on its 70th year, continues to draw bull riders and calf ropers to Parsons Stadium, which sits on the same site the first rodeo was held. While the rodeo itself is held the first week of July, other events such as the Arkansas High School Rodeo, the Professional Bull Riding Touring Pro Division, barrel racing championships, fall carnival, Christmas parade, demolition derby and monster truck rally keep the stadium busy.



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