Home to a vast and incredibly diverse collection of landscapes and outdoor attractions, it’s no surprise to learn that the distinctly Southern state of Arkansas is affectionately nicknamed the “Natural State”. Home to surprising and rapidly developing urban centres, such as Little Rock and Bentonville, Arkansas has produced many global innovators and pioneers in virtually every field imaginable, including a former US president and the founder of the world’s largest retailer.
Arkansas is synonymous with quite a few things, but perhaps none as ingrained or as awe-inspiring in the Natural State as the majestic Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas, which dazzles visitors with its natural beauty and colourful towns. There’s also the world-class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art to stop by in the state’s northwest corner, as well as a publically accessible diamond mine where visitors get to keep any gems they find. Here’s what Arkansas is famous for.
- What Is Arkansas Known For?
- Plan Your Trip
- 1- Little Rock
- 2- President Bill Clinton
- 3- Walmart
- 4- The State’s Diverse Landscapes
- 5- Diamonds
- 6- The University of Arkansas
- 7- Hot Springs
- 8- Johnny Cash and the Capital of Folk Music
- 9- The Ozark Mountains
- 10- Arkansas Chili
- 11- The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
- 12- Razorbacks
- 13- The Civil Rights Movement
- 14- Native Americans and the Trail of Tears
- 15- Cheese Dip
What Is Arkansas Known For?
1- Little Rock
Situated in the geographic middle of the Natural State, the city of Little Rock is the largest metro area in Arkansas and the state’s official capital, serving as an excellent platform from which to embark on exciting adventures throughout the Natural State.
Renowned for its laid-back feel despite being a fairly large economic, cultural and political hub in the American South, Little Rock was named after a nearby rock formation which was used by Native Americans and early European settlers for navigation.
Arkansas’ capital sits perched on the banks of the mighty Arkansas River and serves as the unofficial gateway to some of the state’s most impressive outdoor attractions, including the Ouachita National Forest and the Ozarks up north.
Some of Little Rock’s most visited attractions and landmarks include venues such as the William J. Clinton Library and Museum, the Museum of Discovery and the Arkansas State Capitol, with many more fascinating neighbourhoods and entertainment options to discover in between.
Recommended: Little Rock Scavenger Hunt
2- President Bill Clinton
Arguably the most notable and most influential Arkansan is William J. Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States and to date the only US president to have hailed from the Natural State.
Clinton was born in Hope, Arkansas on August 19, 1946, and served as the two-time Democratic Party governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 and again between 1983 and 1992 before serving as President of the United States from 1993 until 2001.
Straddling the edge of the Arkansas River in Little Rock is the Clinton Presidential Center, where visitors can learn more about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s lives before, during and after their time in D.C. through a range of exhibits such as a full-scale replica of the Oval Office, the Clintons’ art collection and the world-class Clinton Presidential Library.
Founded by Sam Walton and his brother James, the global retail giant that is Walmart opened its first brick-and-mortar store just outside Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962.
Employing more than 2.3 million people in over 24 countries worldwide, Walmart is the biggest employer in Arkansas by quite some margin and is practically synonymous with the Arkansas city of Bentonville, where Walmart’s global headquarters have been since the company’s incorporation in 1969.
The Walmart Museum, in Walmart founder Sam Walton’s hometown of Bentonville, is a must-see landmark for anyone interested in learning more about the global retail giant’s humble roots through a wide array of fascinating and captivating exhibits and artefacts of historic significance.
Arkansas’ local economy has certainly enjoyed a lot of growth thanks to the meteoric rise of Walmart since the 1960s, making it impossible to talk about modern-day Arkansas without mentioning the world’s largest retailer.
4- The State’s Diverse Landscapes
Arkansas’ official nickname as the Natural State is certainly well earned, with the state’s stunning and varied landscapes combining to create one of the most visually appealing outdoor destinations in the South.
Home to a selection of natural hot springs, freshwater lakes, soaring mountains, open plains, caves and dense forests, not to mention the majestic Ozark Mountains, Arkansas has a little bit of everything for outdoor enthusiasts and outdoorsy types to enjoy.
Mount Magazine, the Onyx Cave, Lake Chicot and Hot Springs National Park are but a few of the world-class outdoor attractions travellers to the Natural State can stop by, with Arkansas’ diverse landscapes among the state’s most iconic and beloved features.
One of Arkansas’ best-kept secrets is the Natural State’s vast diamond deposits, which were first discovered in 1906 by John Wesley Huddleston, a local farmer whose surprise discovery kicked off a diamond rush in the Arkansas city of Murfreesboro.
Huddleston soon gained the nickname “Diamond King” and sold his diamond-rich lands to a mining company, which turned Murfreesboro into a boom town which, at its peak, had to turn away more than 10,000 prospectors from the city’s Conway Hotel every year due to a lack of space in town.
Even though the mining companies have all disappeared from Murfreesboro’s diamond-rich soil, Huddleston’s former lands have been converted into the popular 911-acre (369 ha) Crater of Diamonds State Park, the world’s only publically-accessible diamond mine where visitors get to keep any diamonds they find.
6- The University of Arkansas
No other public educational institution is as prestigious and as large in the Natural State as the University of Arkansas, which is the state’s leading research hub and a major academic and athletic force in the South.
In downtown Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas’ main campus is home to a student body of around 30,000 students, with world-class business, medical and law faculties spread out across the leafy 709-acre (287 ha) downtown Fayetteville campus.
Some of the university’s most notable alumni include Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Jim Walton of the famous Walmart Walton family and American golfer John Daly, with the university largely responsible for producing Arkansas’ past, present and future leaders and innovators.
7- Hot Springs
The Natural State’s go-to spa and resort destination since the late 1800s, the city of Hot Springs in central Arkansas has been delighting visitors with its rejuvenating thermal springs and stunning mountain landscapes for well over a century.
Hot Springs was once among the hottest vacation destinations in the country during the early-to-mid 20th century thanks to names such as Lucky Luciano and Al Capone, notorious mob bosses who frequented the city and placed it on the map as a leisurely destination for the country’s rich and famous.
While the wealthy socialites and questionable characters of the 1900s have long since moved on to more glitzy destinations elsewhere in the United States, Hot Springs remains a busy vacation destination among Arkansas locals thanks to the city’s beautiful Mission-Revival, Art Deco and Neoclassical architecture, bathhouses and colourful past.
Recommended: Hot Springs Scavenger Hunt
8- Johnny Cash and the Capital of Folk Music
Deep within the mighty Ozarks lays the humble city of Mountain View, the county seat and largest city of Stone County dubbed the “Folk Music Capital of the World”.
Folk and bluegrass music in Mountain View can be traced back to the early 1900s when the mysterious Ozarks inspired locals to use typical folk instruments such as violins, banjos and mandolins to tell stories of Ozark and Appalachian life through music.
One of the world’s most famous folk and country singers, Johnny Cash, was born in Kingsland, Arkansas on February 26, 1932, before going on to develop into one of the 20th century’s biggest musical talents.
Cash’s illustrious legacy and Mountain View’s rich folk and bluegrass music roots make Arkansas a fine destination to explore among anyone interested in folk music, with Mountain View playing host to the annual Arkansas Folk Festival every April.
9- The Ozark Mountains
Touted as the single largest outdoor landmark in Arkansas, the Ozark Mountains, commonly referred to simply as the Ozarks, is a 220-mile-long (350 km) collection of rolling hills and plateaus situated in northern Arkansas which spills over into parts of neighbouring Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Made up of the St. Francois Mountains and the Boston Mountains, the Ozarks cover a total area of more than 47,000 square miles (120,000 km2), making the Ozarks the largest highland region between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains.
Littered with a series of fascinating attractions and scenic little towns, the Ozarks treats travellers to a stunning array of natural springs, cave systems, waterfalls and endless amounts of rolling hills and valleys to savour as you make your way through this utterly unique part of the American South.
10- Arkansas Chili
Most commonly prepared using a mix of meat (usually beef) paired with beans and spices, Arkansas Chili is a very popular local culinary delight that gained notoriety throughout the Natural State due to it being easy and affordable to prepare, using readily available ingredients found in abundance throughout Arkansas.
Arkansas Chili typically involves simmering the beef in a spicy concoction of chilli and cumin, that’s plated with a generous portion of beans before being served with a side of sour cream or cheese to mask the heat of the dish’s spiciness.
Dazzling foodies with an unfamiliar texture and flavour, the staple Arkansas dish can usually be ordered in most restaurants and eateries across the Natural State and is typical Southern food which packs quite a hearty and spicy culinary punch.
11- The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Established in 2011 by Walmart heiress Alice Walton and the Walton Foundation, the 120-acre (49 ha) Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in the city of Bentonville is a truly magnificent cultural institution which displays a staggering number of American art pieces under one roof.
The museum’s captivating installations portray a period spanning more than 500 years through a series of ever-expanding permanent and temporary exhibits which showcase works from the likes of Andy Warhol, Francis Guy and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Equally as magnificent is the museum’s contemporary exterior architecture and surrounding greenery and gardens, which make visiting the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art both an invigorating indoor and outdoor experience.
Razorbacks, or just simply wild pigs and hogs as they’re known throughout the American South, is a familiar and commonly spotted animal across the Natural State which has been closely associated with the University of Arkansas’ athletics department since 1910.
The name Razorback was adopted by the U of A as the official nickname of the university’s collegiate sporting teams, who ply their trade in the NCAA’s competitive Southeastern Conference.
Derived from their ridge-like backs, Razorbacks are renowned for their toughness and dogged determination and have morphed into an important part of Arkansas pop culture thanks to its adoption by the university as its mascot.
13- The Civil Rights Movement
Arkansas played a pivotal role during the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century, as it was in Little Rock where in 1957, 9 black students were escorted by the US military to attend their first day of school in the segregated Little Rock Central High School.
The event was widely reported throughout the Natural State and soon spread to the rest of the country, marking what would become the first successful attempt a desegregation in the United States and paving the way for desegregation across the country.
The entire school was converted into a National Historic Site following its decommission and is today a popular landmark in downtown Little Rock where visitors get to learn more about Arkansas’ major Civil Rights battles through ranger-led guided tours of the former high school.
14- Native Americans and the Trail of Tears
Once a thriving home for members of the Chickasaw, Osage, Caddo, Tunica and Quapaw Native American people, Arkansas’ most notable moment in native American history came during the infamous Trail of Tears, which displaced thousands of natives from Southern states such as Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia.
Arkansas was used as a stopping point along the Trail of Tears on its way to neighbouring Oklahoma between 1831 and 1850, a period which saw some 60,000 members of the “Five Civilized Tribes” pass through modern-day Arkansas.
Not all of the tribes ultimately settled in modern-day Oklahoma, with about 3,000 Cherokee members known to have initially settled in northwest Arkansas.
15- Cheese Dip
According to urban legend, cheese dip, an immensely popular side dish with staple Tex-Mex dishes such as nachos, was invented in North Little Rock by Blackie Donnelly and his wife in 1935.
Cheese dip therefore predates the invention of nachos, which weren’t invented until about five years later in 1940, when Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya first whipped them up at the Victory Club in the Mexican state of Coahuila.
Cheese dip is more popular in Arkansas than any other state or territory in the United States, with locals dipping everything from tortilla chips to jalapeno peppers into copious amounts of cheese dip.
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