THE OTHER OZ: Exploring Northwest Arkansas

Thought we were the only Oz in the world? Think again, in the northwest corner of Arkansas sits an eclectic group of towns amid the expansive Ozarks Mountain Range. Zoe Macfarlane checks out the other Oz.

Thought we were the only Oz in the world? Think again, in the northwest corner of Arkansas sits an eclectic group of towns amid the expansive Ozarks Mountain Range. Zoe Macfarlane checks out the other Oz.

Arkansas is like that timid school friend you one day see on TV playing a lead character. This landlocked state has been quiet, allowing nearby cities like Kansas and Memphis to draw attention, but now it’s ready for its limelight.

Drawing attention for its natural attractions and thriving suburbs-without-the-city communities, Northwest Arkansas needs to be added to your travel to-do list. It’s a surprisingly worthwhile region to add to a Southern USA road trip or tour, with the convenience of picking one Ozarks town as a base and exploring from there.

Northwest Arkansas

The Other Oz – Tees at the Louise Thaden Airport, Bentonville – Credit Zoe Macfarlane

Read on to discover these Northwest Arkansas gems.

 

Bountiful Bentonville

Northwest Arkansas

The Walmart Museum, Bentonville – Credit Tourism Arkansas

You may not have heard of Bentonville, but you have heard of Walmart. It’s here that Walmart founder, Sam Walton, opened his first store in the picturesque Bentonville town square (now the Walmart Museum).

As one of the wealthiest regions in America, thanks in part to the Walton empire, this is affluence reflected not by ostentatious buildings and outlandish attractions, but with investments in projects that foster community engagement. Aside from the interactive kids Amazeum, the eight other attractions in Bentonville are free.

Bentonville’s stamp on the tourism map came in 2005 when Alice Walton (Sam’s daughter) founded the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Set across 120 acres, the dome-shaped buildings house millions of dollars of art and attract over 600,000 visitors annually (more than the number of Bentonville residents). Allow half a day to explore this incredible, pilgrimage-worthy attraction.

If you decide to use Bentonville as your base, the kooky, 104-room hotel-slash-art gallery 21c Museum Hotel is where it’s at. While in Bentonville, take advantage of the new focus on creative and delectable eats, including the wonderful Preacher’s Son, housed in a restored Gothic Revival church.

 

Fayetteville Feels

Northwest Arkansas

Local is where it’s at on Dickson Street, Fayetteville – Credit Tourism Arkansas

Fayetteville is an attractive college town with a distinctly friendly community. It’s this town-wide welcome committee that gives you the good feels, more than any big-draw attractions. Mooch around the trendy coffee shops, lively restaurants, and bustling Dickson Street bars to discover Fayetteville’s Southern charm (and listen to the delightful Arkansas drawl). Stay at the newly-renovated, centrally-located, and awesomely quirky Graduate Fayetteville.

Fayetteville’s proudest attraction is the Clinton House Museum. The Clinton’s lived here in the ‘70s, and the museum was once the home Bill bought Hillary so she would finally accept his wedding proposals (third time’s a charm). A tour of the house is $5; buying a birthday card about disappearing emails – priceless.

For nature lovers, visit Fayetteville’s Botanical Garden of the Ozarks or explore one of the excellent hiking trails.

 

The Rogers Revival

Northwest Arkansas

The new hobby you didn’t know you needed at Ozark Axe House, Rogers – Credit Zoe Macfarlane

With the Daisy Airgun Museum and the surprisingly addictive axe-throwing joint of the Ozark Axe House, Rogers could be considered a town with a cross to bear. Spend some time chilling in Rogers, and you’ll soon learn this couldn’t be further from the truth*. The ambiance of Rogers is one of a community that is morphing, with its original 1900s buildings filling with hip businesses, like the cool Onyx Coffee Lab, housed in a 110-year-old former grocery store.

Northwest Arkansas

Onyx Coffee, Rogers

Perhaps acting as a metaphor for the town’s blend of the old and new culture, the delectable Asian-fusion Komodo Restaurant is not to be missed.

*Just because you don’t need to throw an axe, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go. It’s the new-new mindfulness activity!

 

Eclectic Eureka

Northwest Arkansas

The ominous vibes of the Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs – Credit Zoe Macfarlane

A visit to Eureka Springs comes with the disclaimer that it is on the kooky side. Here is a town where ‘normal’ is a live rabbit taking your money in a shop. Seriously!

Eureka Springs sprung to life thanks to its healing waters; it’s active now for its Victorian history and eclectic stores. Mish-mashed around the centrally located Basin Park Hotel, you can purchase crystals, fine art, tailored hats, smelly soaps, and just about anything kooky you can think of.

Get a slice of the Eureka Springs story on an open-air tram tour, including the salacious titbits that entice you to explore further. The most scandalous is that of the Crescent Hotel, where a charlatan doctor scammed cancer patients in the late 1930s. It is perhaps these swindled victims that caused the Ghosthunters crew to call the Crescent Hotel the “most haunted hotel in America”. Eek.

 

The Natural State

Northwest Arkansas

Arkansas Beauty at Terra Studios, Fayetteville – Credit Zoe Macfarlane

Break up each town’s distinct vibes with explorations around the Ozark Mountains forests, lakes, and waterfalls; it’s easy to see why Arkansas is known as the Natural State.

 

The Deets

Northwest Arkansas

Crystal Bridges, Bentonville – Credit Zoe Macfarlane

Fly into a US hub and onto Bentonville (XNA), or drive from Kansas City (3 hours), Memphis (4.5), or Dallas (5.5) if you’re road-tripping.