Located in the northwest area of Arkansas near the junction of Interstates 40 and 49, Alma is in Crawford County and had about 5,500 residents at the time of the last census.
The town is conveniently close to two of the state’s most popular natural attractions – Ozark National Forest and Ouachita National Forest, making it a great place to stay while experiencing all there is to do in the area.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Alma, Arkansas.
1. Alma Aquatic Park
Arkansas’ weather can be notoriously hot and humid in the summer, and during the dog-days in June and July, it can be downright unpleasant to be outside.
Luckily for those who’ll be visiting then, the Alma Aquatic Park on City Park Road will be open and ready to provide hours of refreshing recreation, especially for those traveling with children.
The park has all the water-related amenities you’d expect, and though it isn’t the world’s largest, it’s perfect for those with pre-teen children.
It’s small enough that keeping an eye on the little ones won’t be a problem, and there are plenty of covered seating areas as well.
2. Lake Alma Hiking Trail
Lake Alma is another one of the town’s most popular outdoor recreation destinations, and the Lake Alma Trail is an easy one-mile round-trip path that leads to a scenic waterfall nearby.
It’s not a huge waterfall, but it’s amazingly picturesque, and that’s especially true after a good rain when the fall’s volume increases dramatically.
The trail offers amazing views of the lake and surrounding forest as well, and since it’s got a modest change in elevation, it’s appropriate for most children and those that aren’t exactly in tip-top shape.
Parts of the trail can get slick during and after rain, so wear shoes with good tread.
3. Alma Performing Arts Center
The Alma Performing Arts Center is the region’s premier venue for live performances, and most of the productions visitors will see are put on entirely by local managers and performers.
Previous guests have noted that their experience at the center far exceeded their expectations, and they host a range of productions, including theater, recitals, live music, and dance, so no matter your taste, there’ll be something that you’ll enjoy.
The cost of admission is cheap, and there’s a snack bar with inexpensive drinks and munchies.
The best way to see what’s on their calendar for when you’ll be in the area is to check their website.
4. Popeye Statue
For those travelers who can’t get enough quirky and unique bits of Americana, the Alma Popeye Statue would be a great place to stop, if only for just enough time to snap a picture or two.
The verdict is still out on whether or not the iconic cartoon character has some direct link to Alma, but whatever the case, it’s a free and convenient site to visit, and truly a one of a kind.
The statue is located in a small municipal park with a fountain and a few gazebos that are the perfect places for a family picnic or an afternoon with a good book.
5. Drennen-Scott Historic Site
Located on North 3rd Street in Van Buren, the Drennen-Scott Historic Site and Home is owned and managed by the University of Arkansas Fort Smith and is free to visit year-round.
The home was acquired by the university more than a decade ago. Since then, it has been restored to near original condition and is full of furniture, art, and housewares that were used by the home’s original occupants.
Though the home was in quite a state of disrepair, many of the original structural and architectural elements were saved, making the home one of the most preserved of its kind in the area.
6. Chapters on Main
Independent bookstores have become rarer with each passing year, and bookstores like Chapters on Main in historic downtown Van Buren are real gems when you can find them.
For those like me who are addicted to books and coffee, it’s a double-whammy, because there’s an onsite coffee bar which offers some of the city’s most popular coffee and tea that’s available hot, iced, or in frozen smoothies.
The bookstore has three floors, comfy chairs, and a climate controlled environment, making it the perfect place to spend a few afternoon hours when the weather outside is less than inviting.
7. Van Buren River Valley Museum
Over the years, trains have played a significant role in the development of Arkansas; the Van Buren River Valley Museum is located in an old train depot that doubles as a visitor’s center.
In addition to its historical exhibits, the museum is full of free maps, brochures, and travel magazines that are full of dining, lodging and recreation ideas. There’s even a trolley ride around town that includes a live narration.
It’s an excellent activity for those looking for a unique way to see the historic city.
Construction on the old depot was completed in 1902, and it’s conveniently located on Main Street.
8. Fort Smith National Historic Site
For much of its existence, the area around Alma, Fort Smith, and Van Buren was rough and unsettled country full of hostile Native Americans, outlaws, and cattle rustlers, and the fort, prison, and courthouse that stood on what’s now the Fort Smith National Historic Site were the epicenter of justice that was often meted out swiftly and harshly.
Located on Parker Avenue in Fort Smith, it includes a number of buildings that have been restored and are full of fascinating documents, photographs, and paraphernalia, must of which relates the lawmen, criminals, and Native Americans who coexisted in the area for decades.
9. Parrot Island Waterpark
Though northwest Arkansas isn’t often associated with exotic birds, tropical beaches, and palm trees, a trip to Parrot Island Waterpark on South Zero Street in Fort Smith may change all that.
The park boasts nearly 400,000 gallons of water and includes all the kid-friendly amenities you’d expect, like a lazy river, wave pool, slides, and dives.
There are plenty of covered seating areas near the water for parents who’d rather watch from a safe distance; there’s also a snack bar and cabanas that are available to rent.
If you plan on going on the weekend during the summer months, expect a crowd.
10. Fort Smith Museum of History
The Fort Smith Museum of History is housed in an old, red brick building and is full of a unique conglomeration of odds-and-ends relating to the area’s history.
The cost of admission is inexpensive, and with all there is to see inside, and on the grounds, visitors should plan on spending an hour at least.
The exhibits and displays are well-marked, with signs and plaques explaining what it is you’re seeing and its historical significance. The staff will be glad to answer any questions you may have.
The museum includes large portions on the Civil War, World War II, and automobiles as well.
11. The Clayton House
Fort Smith’s Clayton House is open to both self-guided and professionally guided tours, and admission costs less than ten bucks per person.
The Clayton house was once the home of a fierce prosecutor who had the nickname ‘Hanging Judge,’ due to his reputation as a man who didn’t go easy on criminals.
Much of what you’ll see inside the Victorian-style home is original and was considered pretty swank by the standards of the day.
Plan on spending an hour or more to see all there is to see.
The Clayton House is located on North 6th Street in Fort Smith.
12. Fort Smith Farmer’s Market
The Fort Smith Farmer’s Market is held on the corner of 2nd Street and Garrison Avenue. It is full of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and prepared food products like salsa, honey and baked goods.
Due to its popularity, the farmer’s market is expanding, and most vendors offer samples of their products so you can give them a try before buying.
There’s plenty of parking nearby, and since many vendors sell out – especially during peak times – it’s best to get there as early as possible.
Vendors also sell arts and crafts, jewelry, and health and body products, like natural soap and skin care products.
13. Fort Smith Regional Art Museum
Though it has only been open since 2013, the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum has already gained a reputation for housing one of the region’s most complete collections of artwork.
The items in the museum’s collection span many decades; in addition to their permanent exhibits, the museum also offers educational and instructional courses on a wide variety of topics.
The building in which the museum is now located is a Victorian-era home that was an artist’s studio for much of its existence.
The museum is located on Rogers Avenue in Fort Smith and is inexpensive and convenient to visit.
14. Chaffee Barbershop Museum
It’s probably safe to say that for most travelers, a barbershop museum doesn’t sound like much more fun than cleaning the basement, but in the case of the Chaffee Barbershop Museum, the name is a bit misleading.
The museum is just as much a military history museum, and if you’re timing is good, you may show up in time to get the dime tour from the museum’s knowledgeable and enthusiastic curator.
Much of the history relates to the World War II era when the area around Fort Smith was bustling with war-related activity.
It’s the perfect stop for fans of military history and how it relates to the local area.
15. Fort Smith National Cemetery
The Fort Smith National Cemetery is full of dramatic views, scenery, and row upon row of white grave markers that bring into perspective the sheer numbers of men who’ve died in wars over the years.
The cemetery is located near the intersection of Garland Avenue and South 6th Street, and there are often full-military burial ceremonies for veterans, which are particularly dramatic spectacles.
Every year in December, there’s a laying of wreaths ceremony that’s also worth a look if you’re in the area. The colorful wreaths adorning the graves make a poignant contrast to the cemetery’s leafless trees.