Eureka Springs was the last real stop of our road trip (we spent a quick and dirty night in Louisville, Kentucky but didn’t have enough time to see anything). This was the leg of the trip that tended to raise the most eyebrows when talking about our journey. Arkansas? It doesn’t have quite the glamorous ring to it that Asheville and Nashville do, I suppose. However, I’ve always wanted to visit this colorful small town. Several of my family members have been and loved it, but there’s more of a back story.
One year when I was about eleven, my parents announced that we would be going on a trip for Christmas. We didn’t often travel far from Oklahoma, so as soon as I heard this I ran up to my room and consulted my encyclopedias (remember those?) to come up with my vote for where we should go. I figured I’d do pretty extensive research, so I started with the ‘A’ book to see what I could find. Arkansas, with its rolling green hills and blue lakes seemed about as exotic and wonderful to me anyone could desire. Bonus points that it was driving distance from home.
Ultimately, we settled on a trip to Mexico, where my wanderlust was cemented for life. But a little part of me always wondered, What about Arkansas? I was finally about to find out. Our trip was a quick one, but we managed to fit in almost everything I wanted to do before hitting the road again.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas: Doing it ALL in 36 Hours
We arrived in Eureka Springs in the late evening with two goals in mind. 1) To make a home-cooked meal at our cabin. 2) To watch the Nationals win the first round of the playoffs. Only the first of those goals was accomplished (the Nats playoff curse is real!), but it was a delicious meal and a nice change of pace from eating out so much over the course of the trip. We stayed at the adorable (and affordable) Cabins at Sugar Mountain. Although I did a full tour of the space on my Instagram stories, I somehow forgot to take actual pictures aside from this one of Ashton peeping out at the patio. (He was in dire need of a haircut by this time.)
The cabin was clean and comfortable with pretty much everything we needed. We used the grill to cook up some chicken and throw together a quick salad before watching the Nats lose crashing for the night. We had big plans for the next day! Keep reading for a rundown of our fun and delicious 36 hours in Eureka Springs.
First, a Bit About Eureka Springs
Eureka Springs is a vibrant town located in the Ozark Mountains, and has been a popular resort location since the 1800s. The entire town is actually on the National Register of Historic Places. During the Civil War, soldiers were often sent to Eureka Springs to recuperate as the waters in the natural springs were thought to have healing powers. Today its attractions boast beautiful Victorian architecture, outdoor adventures, an abundance of art and a vibrant music and dining scene. There really is something for everyone in this tiny town.
Starting Out on a Peaceful Note at Thorncrown Chapel
Thorncrown Chapel is one of the most well-known destinations in Eureka Springs. It was right on the way from our cabin into town, making it a perfect first stop for the day. This beautiful structure is the last thing you’d expect to find amidst the woods, which makes it all the more appealing. Constructed by architect E. Fay Jones, it as been called “one of the finest religious spaces of modern times.”
The chapel is a popular wedding destination, but it’s also open to the public for private meditation. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you will certainly feel at peace in this beautiful place.
Travel Tip: There is no admission fee to enter the chapel, but donations are appreciated. Ample free parking is provided.
Fueling Up with Breakfast at Oscar’s Cafe
After leaving Thorncrown, we went into town in search of a hearty breakfast. Oscar’s Cafe was an obvious choice.
Oscar’s is the absolute cutest with a delicious breakfast and lunch menu, excellent coffee and a dog-friendly patio.
My bahn mi breakfast sandwich was every bit as colorful as the town and absolutely delicious. Tom had trouble deciding, so he enjoyed both the bacon and eggs platter and the Norwegian waffle. Everything was amazing. Oscar’s Cafe is absolutely a must stop on any trip to Eureka Springs.
Strolling Through the Winding Downtown Streets
After breakfast, we went for a stroll around the beautiful downtown area to marvel at the amazing architecture and do some shopping.
Ashton was getting tired, so when we saw a pet store selling pup slings we couldn’t resist. I looked absolutely ridiculous, but he was as snug as a bug in a rug.
One of our favorite sightings downtown was definitely the rainbow staircase mural. Eureka Springs is known as a haven for artists, and this is one of the most obvious examples of that.
Travel Tip: If you want to stay close to the action downtown check out the Basin Park Hotel for a truly prime location.
Exploring the Outskirts of Town
After getting our fill of the downtown scene, we hopped back in the car to keep exploring. The streets of Eureka Springs are steep and a big confusing, but we stumbled upon some cool stuff accidentally – like this little dugout.
Nearby, we stopped at an overlook featuring a beautiful view of the greenery surrounding Eureka Springs and a distant view of one of its most famous hotels – The Crescent. Of course we had to go check it out up close.
This enormous mountain-top resort dates all the way back to 1886 and features ornate original details at every turn.
Travel Tip: The Crescent Hotel is rumored to be haunted. If your agenda allows, book a ghost tour to explore the spookiest parts of the property.
Getting A Nature Fix at the Blue Spring
For our final touristy stop of the day, we dropped Ashton off at the cabin and drove to the Blue Spring Heritage Center about 20 minutes outside of town. These beautiful grounds nurtured the Cherokee people during their journey through the Trail of Tears. With beautiful gardens and lush trees, we ended our day just as peacefully as we’d started it.
Travel tip: Admission to the Blue Spring runs about $10 for adults and the park closes at 6 p.m. We left right around closing and caught a beautiful sunset on the drive back to town.
Ending the Night with Dinner and a (free) Show
To finish out an amazing day, we headed back downtown for a super fun dinner at Grotto Wood-Fired Grill and Wine Bar. Like everything else in Eureka Springs, this restaurant is full of history. The structure was built into solid rock that features a constantly running stream. Even though we were inside, we were still surrounded by nature. So cool. If you go, you have to try their delicious signature quail popper dish.
After dinner, we went on another short stroll downtown and stumbled upon a free concert in Basin Spring Park. It was the perfect ending to a truly perfect travel day.
Making One Final Stop at Beaver Lake
We had to hit the road early the next morning, but couldn’t help making one final stop at Beaver Lake. On a future trip, I’d love to get out on that blue-green water.
Clearly, my first trip to Arkansas was a huge success. I couldn’t believe how much history and natural beauty was packed into such a small town. I definitely want to go back to explore more of the surrounding areas and do some hiking.
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I love your style of travel! Most people will just overlook Arkansas due to its lack of anything of general interest. But that is what I love about these rural States! What they lack in attractions, they usually make up for it in food, culture and scenery. These are the places you’ll end visiting sites that you’d probably skip out on larger cities, like the Thorncrown Chapel or Beaver Lake! You get just enough time to relax on vacation while still feeling like you’ve accomplished something at the end of it.
Sounds like we’re kindred traveling spirits!
We make a biannual trip to Eureka Springs. There is always something new to see and old f re intends to meet again. The last time we did almost the exact same trip as yours, but add ed d a trip to the Turpdntine Tiger Sanctuary. Yes Virginia, there are tigers near Eureka Sprinf along with LLP iona and a bear and a monkey. They rescue tigers from people backyards, zoos that have closed and a variety of other places. We went back in th he evening to listen to the lions chorusing to each other. That is an amazing sound. So very cool. We had planned to go again in two weeks, but I’m having hip problems and there are a lot of steps and hills in Eureka Springs. Hopefully, we can reschedule in October also, if you go, be sure to wear good supportive shoes. Oh, did you know that the sidewalks have street names in order to get mail to the buildings built high into the mountain? One of my favorite facts.
Andrew L Mays says
I love the European feel of Eureka Springs…. my favorite little town in my favorite state in all of the lower 48 continental states. I guess Hawaii would be my favorite state……with all its endless island hideaways, with Alaska coming in with a gigantic second place full of magical trout streams and winter nights beneath a psychedelic sky…..but Eureka Springs is just a day’s drive away and the northern route through Mountain Home is a journey that brings back fond memories of Hardy, Arkansas, and summertime camping with BSA Troop 20 at the famous Kamp Kia Kima outside Cherokee Village. So….all for one and one for all….Eureka Springs here we come !!!!!!
I agree, it’s such a one-of-a-kind place! Thanks for your comment!
Kimberly K. Birchfield says
I was born and raised here, I’m very blessed my family heritage goes back before the civil war, theres no place like Eureka and it’s people!!