Article Summary: Arkansas National Parks
While the western national parks get the lion’s share of the hype, Arkansas National Parks are pretty amazing as well. Did you know the state is home to 7 national park sites?
Arkansas is more than just parks however. It’s also known for its lakes, rivers, and hot springs, extreme weather and frequent storms, rice and poultry production, its rich folk music tradition, and the only active diamond mine in the United States.
Among these hot springs you’ll find one “full-fledged” national park – Hot Springs National Park.
What Is A National Park?
We get asked that question a lot because there’s a difference between a “national park” and a “national park site.” To help you understand that difference you might want to check out our article titled: What Is A National Park Really?
From historic forts to incredible hot springs to the birthplace of our nation’s 42nd president, Arkansas has some truly amazing places to visit.
And More Than Just Parks is your one-stop-shop when it comes to learning everything you’ll need to know about America’s national parks.
We’ve got expert guides, beautiful photos, helpful tips, breathtaking films and so much more.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
If you’re planning a trip to Arkansas then one book that I highly recommend is: Arkansas Bucket List Adventure Guide: Explore 100 Offbeat Destinations You Must Visit!
Ready to dive in? Here’s our list of the best Arkansas national parks. Let’s go!
Table Of Contents: Arkansas National Parks
Arkansas National Parks
- Arkansas National Parks
- More Arkansas National Parks
- Check Out Our Great Smoky Mountains Film
- Arkansas National Parks FAQ
- Meet The Parks Brothers
- Map Of Arkansas National Park Sites
- We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
- Helpful Articles
Arkansas National Parks
1. The Arkansas Post National Memorial
I’m a retired history teacher. I love nothing better than to pack up my car and go forth in search of interesting places with a whole lot of history.
And, when I get there, I want to learn as much as I can about the history of the place. The Arkansas National Park sites are among some of my favorites beginning with the Arkansas Post National Memorial.
It’s a national memorial located in Gillett, Arkansas. The memorial preserves the site of the first European settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley, which was established by French explorers in 1686.
The settlement, known as the Arkansas Post, was an important center of trade and politics for over a century, and played a significant role in the history of the region.
Visitors can explore the historic site, which includes the remains of the original settlement, as well as a visitor center with exhibits on the history of the area and the people who lived there. It also offers guided tours and ranger-led programs.
It Has Quite A History
Originally a trading post, the American government discovered that it could not compete with private trading companies. Perhaps they should have listened to the French on this one. The post was subsequently transformed into a frontier community.
In 1819, the Arkansas Post was designated as the capitol of the Arkansas Territory. With the advent of the Civil War, however, the Confederate Army turned it into Fort Hindman.
This is one place that keeps changes owners!
The Union Army became the next landlord. They put this fort out of commission with a gunboat attack on January 10, 1863. After that, it wasn’t much use to the Confederacy.
Arkansas Post Becomes A National Memorial
Fast forward to the twentieth century. It turns out that the post wasn’t much use to the U.S. Government either. Erosion and other detrimental changes had left it in a state of major disrepair.
Things were looking bleak. Then, in 1964, the federal government came to the rescue. The Arkansas Post became a national memorial.
Since that time, the National Park Service has restored the visible remains at the site to their original 18th century appearance. Visitors will find reminders of America’s European heritage.
You can also learn about its transition from a European trading to a military post then an American community. It’s an incredible story!
RELATED: 12 AMAZING Georgia National Parks-Everything To Know
2. Buffalo National River
The Buffalo National River is a national river located in northern Arkansas. The river is approximately 135 miles long and flows through the Ozark Mountains, offering visitors a variety of recreational activities such as canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and swimming.
The park also includes several historic sites, such as the remains of a 19th-century mining town, and the Buffalo Outdoor Center, which offers visitors a chance to rent equipment or take guided tours.
It’s home to a diverse array of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, black bears, and elk, as well as over 200 species of birds.
The park also features scenic views of the Ozark Mountains and the river, which is known for its clear water and limestone bluffs.
The First National River In America
In 1972, the National Park Service made the Buffalo River the first national river in America. This meant no damn.
Since that time, it’s become a popular place for camping, canoeing, fishing and hiking.
Visitors can bring their own canoes or rent them from local businesses.
RELATED: 7 AMAZING Kansas National Parks-Everything You Need To Know
3. Fort Smith National Historic Site
Fort Smith National Historic Site is a historical site located in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The site preserves the remains of two 19th-century military forts, Fort Smith and Fort Arbuckle, which played a key role in the military history of the western United States.
The forts were established in the 1830s and 1840s to help control the western frontier and protect settlers from Native American attacks.
The site also includes a number of other historical buildings and sites, such as the Federal Court, where Judge Isaac Parker presided over the famous “Hanging Judge” trials.
Visitors can tour the forts and other historical buildings, as well as see exhibits on the history of the area and the people who lived there. There are also guided tours and ranger-led programs available.
How Did Fort Smith Get Its Start
So, how did this fort get its start? At the dawn of the nineteenth century, a group of Cherokees moved into the Arkansas Territory. This happened to be the home of the Osage. You know where this is going, don’t you.
Conflict erupted between these two Native American tribes which prompted the U.S. Government to establish Fort Smith on December 25, 1817.
The fort’s goal was to maintain law and order during America’s westward expansion. It was designed by Major Stephen H. Long and built by Major William Bradford.
RELATED: 7+ (AMAZING) Oklahoma National Parks-Everything To Know
4. Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is a national park located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It’s known for its hot springs, which have been used for therapeutic and medicinal purposes for thousands of years.
The park includes several bathhouses, where visitors can bathe in the hot springs water, as well as hiking trails and scenic drives through the surrounding Ouachita Mountains.
The park also includes a number of historic buildings, such as the Fordyce Bathhouse, which was built in 1915 and served as a luxurious spa and bathhouse in the early 20th century.
Visitors can also see the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, which provides a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. The park also offers ranger-led tours and educational programs.
This park is considered to be, “America’s Spa.” It includes “Bathhouse Row.”
The first bathhouses were crude structures of canvas and lumber. These were little more than tents perched over individual springs or reservoirs carved out of the rock.
Keep in mind that this was before the invention of Jacuzzis.
As these places increased in popularity, the original construction was replaced with the masonry and steel bathhouses that we see today.
Prominent people came to Hot Springs National Park to find healing in its soothing, warm waters. These visitors included: Al Capone, Herbert Hoover, Jesse James, Helen Keller, John F. Kennedy, Babe Ruth, and Cy Young.
You never know who’ll you meet in a bathhouse.
Fun Things To Do in Hot Springs National Park
In addition to exploring the magnificent bathhouses or enjoying a soothing steam bath, you can also hike along the Grand Promenade which provides lovely shaded views above the bathhouses or visit the Hot Springs Mountain Tower where you will enjoy a breathtaking view.
While you’re there, you might also want to visit the Gangster Museum. It’s dedicated to the infamous history of the notorious mafiosos who spent time in Hot Springs, including Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, and “Lucky” Luciano.
Luciano wasn’t too lucky while visiting Hot Springs. He was arrested by the local police.
Let’s Not Forget About Nature
And let’s not forget about all of that glorious nature. Hike part (or all) of Sunset Trail to get the full experience of it. This trail passes the park’s highest point, a peaceful pond, wildflower fields, wildlife, and much more.
If you’re a bird watcher, Hot Springs is a great place to see cardinals, eagles, finches, hawks, woodpeckers and wrens.
- Hike the Grand Promenade
- Visit Hot Springs Mountain Tower
- Enjoy a Soothing Steam Bath
- Visit the Gangster Museum
- Hike Sunset Trail
- Go Birdwatching
And While You’re In Hot Springs, Why Not Check Out The Gangster Museum?
We’re More Than Just Parks which means that we’re more than just parks! So, while you’re in Arkansas, why not check out the “Gangster Museum?” The Gangster Museum of America is dedicated to showcasing the town’s notorious history as a hub for organized crime during the early to mid-20th century.
Visitors to the museum can expect to see exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of the gangsters who frequented the town, including Al Capone, Bugs Moran, and Lucky Luciano. The museum features interactive displays, video presentations, and audio recordings that offer a unique perspective on the era.
One of the highlights of the museum is the recreated courtroom where notorious gangster Owney Madden was tried and acquitted in 1935. Visitors can sit in the original seats and listen to a recording of the trial.
The museum also has a gift shop where visitors can purchase gangster-themed souvenirs such as t-shirts, books, and other memorabilia.
More Arkansas National Parks
5. Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
The Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is a historical site located in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The site preserves Little Rock Central High School, which was the site of a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement in 1957.
The school became the center of a national controversy when nine African American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were denied entry to the school by the Governor of Arkansas, leading to a stand-off between state and federal authorities.
The school was eventually integrated under the protection of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army, and the Little Rock Nine became the first African American students to attend a previously all-white high school in the South.
Visitors can tour the school, which is still in operation and visit the Visitor Center that features exhibits on the history of the school and the Civil Rights Movement. The park also offers ranger-led tours and educational programs.
CHECK OUT: 10 BEST Civil Rights Sites In America
It’s The Only Functioning High School To Be Part Of A National Historic Site
Central High is the only functioning high school to be located within the boundaries of a national historic site. There is a museum across the street which depicts the struggle through moving exhibits and powerful photos.
In 2007, a visitor center opened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the desegregation crisis. It tells the story of the crisis through interpretive panels, artifacts, news clippings, photographs and original audio, and video recordings.
You don’t have to be a history buff to be moved by this place and what it represents. Imagine what it would have been like to walk into that school in 1957 especially if you were a person of color.
CHECK OUT: 10 BEST Civil War Sites In America
6. Pea Ridge National Military Park
Pea Ridge National Military Park is a national military park located in Pea Ridge, Arkansas.
The park preserves the site of the Battle of Pea Ridge, which was fought in 1862 during the American Civil War. The battle was a significant victory for the Union Army, which was able to defeat a Confederate force that had invaded Missouri.
It features a visitor center with exhibits on the history of the battle and the people who fought there, as well as several hiking trails that lead to historic landmarks, including Elkhorn Tavern, which served as a field hospital and command center during the battle.
The park also offers guided tours and ranger-led programs. The park also offers a self-guided auto tour route that takes visitors to the major areas of the battle with wayside exhibits and monuments.
“Thunder In The Ozarks”
Today visitors can begin their adventure by watching “Thunder in the Ozarks.” It’s a fascinating 28 minute film which explores the history of this place. There’s also a wonderful museum, which originally opened in 1963. Its exhibits were completely updated in 2010.
If you’re a history buff, then the first place you should check out is the bookstore. Since my sons pay me in books they always try to make sure that I skip the bookstores though they’re seldom successful. I have a sixth sense when it comes to bookstores.
RELATED: 9+ Mississippi National Parks For Your Bucket List (Expert Guide)
7. President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site
The President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site is a historical site located in Hope, Arkansas.
The site preserves the home where President Bill Clinton was born and lived during his early childhood.
The two-story Victorian house, built in 1917, is a typical American home of the time period and has been restored to look as it did when the future president lived there.
Visitors can tour the home and see the rooms where President Clinton lived, as well as exhibits about his life and political career.
The visitor center features exhibits, a video presentation and a replica of the Oval Office. The park also offers ranger-led tours and educational programs.
Check Out Our Great Smoky Mountains Film
More Than Just Parks is the only place you can go to find expert guides, beautiful photos, helpful tips, breathtaking films and so much more.
MTJP | Smoky Mountains is a visually stunning journey through Great Smoky Mountain National Park during peak fall color. This video is the culmination of two weeks exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
We chose Great Smoky Mountains as our second park because of it’s extraordinary display of fall colors, it’s incredibly diverse wildlife population, and it’s importance as the most visited national park in the country.
This film was shot entirely in 4K UHD. We chose to capture this park in the Fall as it is home to one of the most wonderful displays of fall foliage on the planet.
Fall is also a wonderful time to watch the elk rutting season and experience cooler, less humid temperatures.
Situated in Tennessee & North Carolina Great Smoky Mountain is one a handful of southern National Parks.
Arkansas National Parks FAQ
Yes. Arkansas – has Hot Springs National Park. Ancient thermal springs, mountain views, incredible geology, forested hikes, and abundant creeks – all in the middle of town – make Hot Springs National Park a unique and beautiful destination.
Arkansas is known for its lakes, rivers, and hot springs, extreme weather and frequent storms, rice and poultry production, its rich folk music tradition, and the only active diamond mine in the United States.
The must-see historic sites in Arkansas are the following:
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Hot Springs National Park
President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site
Pea Ridge National Military Park
Fort Smith National Historic Site
Arkansas Post National Memorial
Parkin Archeological State Park
Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park
Louisiana Purchase State Park
Rohwer Relocation Center Memorial Cemetery
Why Trust Us About National Parks In Arkansas?
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
Map Of Arkansas National Park Sites
List Of 7 National Park Sites In Arkansas
- Arkansas Post National Memorial
- Buffalo National River
- Fort Smith National Historic Site
- Hot Springs National Park
- Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
- Pea Ridge National Military Park
- President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site
We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then please sign up below!
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