Located in the scenic Ozark Mountains in the northwest corner of Arkansas, Bella Vista is just a short drive from Missouri to the north, Kansas to the northwest, and Oklahoma to the west.
Arkansas is often referred to as The Natural State due to its vast tracts of largely undisturbed forests and mountains. The Bella Vista area is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoorsmen from all over the state.
Once known primarily as an affluent retirement community, Bella Vista has been attracting younger families with children recently.
Below are 14 things to do in and around Bella Vista.
1. Bella Vista Museum
If you’re new in Bella Vista and want to get an overview of the town’s history and culture before heading out, a stop at the Bella Vista Museum would be a wise way to get things kicked off.
Full of displays, artifacts, and exhibits relating to the town of Bella Vista, the museum is a great attraction to check out, whether you’re new to the area or have lived here for some time.
Especially interesting are the pioneer-era photographs and accounts of the harsh and dangerous conditions that existed when Bella Vista was a small oasis of civilization among the mostly wild and unexplored western United States.
2. Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel
Constructed of steel, glass, and wood, the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel is a great place for a little quiet contemplation, or just to stop and check out its dramatic architecture.
Conveniently located on Memorial Drive in Bella Vista, from the parking lot there are paved walking trails that lead to some stunning views of the grounds.
Once inside, you’ll marvel at the high, arched ceilings, and may be surprised to learn that Arkansas is home to many similar Glass Chapels.
There are others in Eureka Springs and Hot Springs, so consider checking them out as well.
3. Museum of Native American History
Arkansas has a rich Native American history that dates back thousands of years before the area was first explored and settled by Europeans.
The Museum of Native American history in nearby Bentonville is handicap accessible and will lead visitors back in time to learn about how the region’s Native Americans eked out a living in this rough land.
It’s broken into five distinct eras; each has its own artifacts, displays and exhibits that describe how they gathered food, protected themselves and made the things they used in their everyday lives like pots, baskets, clothes, and weapons.
For large groups, call ahead and make a reservation.
4. Tanyard Creek Nature Trail
For those who relish the opportunity to get away from the crowds and take the path less traveled, a trip to Bella Vista’s Tanyard Creek Nature trail would be a great way to do both.
Located near the Windsor Lake Dam, the trail’s entrance is just off Highway 340 and only a short drive from downtown Bella Vista.
The trail was primarily built by volunteers and is a great community resource that’s free to use whenever you’d like.
Due to its rural setting, deer and birds of prey are often seen, so bring your camera. Visit in the morning or afternoon for the best chance to see them.
5. Veterans Wall of Honor
The entrance to the Veterans Wall of Honor leads underneath a dramatic archway, and the memorial itself is formed from concentric circles.
Located on the walking path that winds its way through Bella Vista, it’s a place of quiet reverence, where guests can pay their respects to the men and women of the armed forces who’ve sacrificed so much over the years.
The memorial includes the names of the region’s fallen heroes and an interesting timeline that lays out the many wars and conflicts in which the United States has been involved over the years.
6. Visit War Eagle Cavern
Just a 45 minute drive from Bella Vista, the War Eagle Cavern is the region’s largest privately-owned cave that’s open to tours.
Set on the shores of scenic Beaver Lake, they’re great activities to do in conjunction with one another.
War Eagle Cavern is considered a living cave because it’s still changing and growing – as it has been doing for eons.
Tours last about 45 minutes; your local guide will give you some fantastic geologic insight into the forces at work that made the cave what it is.
Tours are reasonably priced and offered multiple times throughout the day.
7. Back 40
It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that with all Arkansas’ natural splendor, it draws diehard mountain bikers from the surrounding states.
Unlike many of its neighbors, Arkansas is full of changes in elevation, which are essential for serious mountain biking trails. Bella Vista’s Back 40 has even garnered national recognition for its trails.
The trails are free for the public to use and connect with Arkansas’ Regional Razorback Greenway.
If you’re far from a pro, fear not; the Back 40 has trails that should accommodate those of any age and level of experience, and they’re open year-round.
8. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Located just down the road in Bentonville, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is one of the region’s premier destinations for those looking to get their fill of world-class art created in a variety of mediums.
The museum houses some permanent collections, and throughout the year, hosts temporary showings from other galleries and artists too. You’ll never quite know what to expect unless you’re particularly savvy and have checked their website beforehand.
Either way, it’s well worth a visit. The grounds are full of walking paths that lead to scenic areas that are worth seeing as well.
9. The Walmart Museum
Despite your personal feelings about Walmart, it’s hard to deny that the company has a pretty amazing history, especially considering that Sam Walton opened his first store in rural Arkansas in the ‘50s.
The rest, as they say, is history. If you’ve got an hour or two to kill and want to get a fascinating insight into the company’s meteoric rise to retail stardom, stop in at the Walmart Museum on North Main Street in Bentonville.
Tours are available, and there’s an old-style café onsite too, so consider a mid-morning tour followed by lunch.
Hours vary on different days, so check before you go.
10. The Buckyball
If you’ve ever asked yourself what in the world is a Buckyball, and why is it in northwest Arkansas, then a trip to see it should be on your itinerary.
Created by a Hispanic artist, the Buckyball is a large, semi-round, sphere that’s covered with multi-colored neon lights.
It’s a unique bit of Bella Vista Americana, and it’s free to visit.
Interesting to view during the day, its colorful array of neon lights truly come alive at night, and it’s just not the same when the sun is out.
It’s free to visit and won’t take up much of your time, so take a look.
11. Slaughter Pen Hollow Multi-Use Trail System
The Slaughter Pen Hollow Multi-Use Trail System is managed by the city of Bentonville, and provides residents some of the most well-marked and maintained trails in the area.
The trails lead through a nice mix of rural and urban scenery, and in places, follows the course of the Arkansas River, giving hikers some great opportunities to see wading birds, birds of prey, waterfowl, and even deer and foxes.
The trail system is free to use and easily accessible from a number of nearby trailheads.
Nearly 20 miles of trails wind their way around the city, and they’re open year-round, rain or shine.
12. Compton Gardens and Conference Center
The Compton Gardens and Conference Center is one of the region’s most sought after destinations for large group gatherings like conferences, workshops, seminars, and retreats. Due to its beautiful facilities and incredible natural surroundings, it’s also a favorite wedding venue for those looking to make their day extra special.
If you’d like to check out the gardens on your own, you’re free to do so; you’ll be amazed at the variety of trees, plants, and flowers that you’ll see. The grounds and gardens are professionally managed and world-class.
The gardens are open during the week from mid-morning until mid-afternoon.
13. Pea Ridge National Military Park
During the Civil War, Arkansas was a hotly contested state and was often occupied by Union and Rebel soldiers who were intent on controlling the nearby states that were vital to the success of both sides.
The Pea Ridge National Military Park located near Bella Vista on the Missouri border is one of the area’s most well-preserved battle sites that’s well worth the visit – especially for Civil War and military history buffs.
The battle took place over two days in March 1862. Although the Union troops were outnumbered, they won the fight, which led to them securing the nearby border state of Missouri shortly after that.
14. Bella Vista Art Festivals
Due in large part to its relative affluence, Bella Vista is home to a number of artists and galleries that are among the state’s best.
For nearly 50 years, the town has held its Discover Art Festival. Over the years, it has grown to include almost 300 artists and craftspeople, who proudly display their imaginative creations for visitors.
In addition to amazing art in a wide array of mediums, the festival is known for its tasty food. Since it’s staffed by volunteers and the proceeds go toward scholarships for young, budding artists, it’s a great way to have fun and support a good cause.