With nearly 90,000 residents, Fort Smith is Arkansas’ second largest city behind Little Rock.
Straddling the banks of the Arkansas River, the city has a history dating back to the frontier era when a number of Native American groups inhabited the area.
Known for its natural beauty, the state of Arkansas was once a French territory called New France, and part of what would later become the state of Louisiana.
The city is an especially exciting place for amateur historians interested in learning more about the Civil War.
Below are 15 fun and entertaining things to do in Fort Smith.
1. Rivervalley Artisan Market
Starting off your Fort Smith adventure with a visit to the free, open-air Rivervalley Artisan Market is a great way to meet a few locals, see some fantastic locally made products, and have an all-around good time.
The market is full of arts and crafts, including paintings, pottery, and jewelry; there are even health and body products and prepared food.
Nearly everything is locally made by city residents, so it’s a great way to support the community.
The market is typically open on the 1st, 3rd, and last Saturday of each month, but hours are seasonal so check online before you go.
2. Fort Smith National Cemetery
Located near the intersection of Garland Avenue and South 6th Street, the Fort Smith National Cemetery is worth a visit if you’re a history buff or would just like to pay your respects to those buried here.
The grounds are well-maintained, with fresh wreaths and flowers often adorning the graves, making it a particularly poignant place.
The cemetery is free to visit; it’s also full of headstones from centuries past, many dating back to the Civil War era.
Many of the headstones have no names and are likely those of soldiers killed in the war between states that took so many lives.
3. The Clayton House
Whether you’d like to visit on your own or take a guided tour, the Clayton House on North 6th Street is one of the places you really shouldn’t miss when in town.
Plan on spending about an hour to see the historical exhibits and items on display; since the price is pretty inexpensive, it’s a great way to get a historical overview of the area without breaking the bank.
The home was built in the 1880s in the Victorian style and was the epitome of swank and modernity for its time.
In those days, the small town was on the edge of the mostly unexplored Indian Territory.
4. Fort Smith National Historic Site
A century and a half ago, Fort Smith Arkansas stood on the very edge of the American frontier, in the no-mans-land between the civilized and uncivilized sections of the country.
It was a fascinating time, and the Fort Smith National Historic Site on Parker Avenue is dedicated to preserving the area’s rich history and heritage.
The entry fee is reasonable. Before you show yourself around, consider watching the orientation video.
The site includes a jail, gallows, and remnants from an old courtroom that was home to one of the area’s least forgiving judges.
There’s also a path leading down to the river that’s great for a stroll.
5. The Park at West End
Historic downtown Fort Smith is quaint, charming, and a great place to walk around in the afternoon or early evening.
The Park at West End is one of the area’s main attractions; it even sports a Ferris wheel left over from the 1935 World’s Fair, which was held in San Diego.
In addition to fun rides, there are also historical exhibits like railroad cars and an antique bus.
There’s no entry fee, but each ride is paid for individually, making it a fun and economical way to spend a day.
The park is known for its delicious food, too.
6. Fort Smith Museum of History
The Fort Smith Museum of History is located on Rogers Avenue and consists of two floors packed with artifacts, antiques, and exhibits from the city’s past.
Old photos, weapons, and even an old fire engine are on display, as is an old piece of telephone exchange equipment from a time when telephones were rare luxuries.
One of the museum’s most popular exhibits is dedicated to the local men and women who did their part for the country during World War II.
It’s an inexpensive way to learn about the city. Even the little ones will find a thing or two to keep them interested and engaged.
7. Downtown Splash Pad
With so many historical sites, Fort Smith might not be a big hit with children, so if you’d like to reward them with a day in the sun, consider spending a few hours at the Downtown Splash Pad.
Located in the city’s West End, the park is free and features ten splash fountains with a variety of kid-friendly features.
It’s a great place to cool off, especially in the middle of summer when Arkansas’ weather can be brutally hot and humid. If you’re there after the sun goes down, you’ll appreciate the colorful LED lights that illuminate the dancing water.
8. Fort Smith Trolley Museum
Located on South 4th Street downtown, the Fort Smith Trolley Museum is within walking distance of the convention center, which makes it a convenient place to visit if you’ve got a few free hours to spare.
Even if you happen to go when the museum isn’t officially open, you’ll still be able to walk around and look at the antique trolleys on display.
They’re fascinating glimpses into the public transportation modes of years past. Recent visitors have commented that there are a bunch of friendly cats that live on site and are cared for by the staff that are particularly fond of children.
9. Saint Scholastica Monastery
If you happen to go at the right time, the Franciscan nuns that run the Saint Scholastica Monastery may have the beautiful buildings open to visit, but since it’s an active cloister, that isn’t always the case.
Even so, the peaceful grounds are well worth a look, and the building’s architecture is pretty amazing too.
The area is well-maintained and full of birds, squirrels and other local critters that are amusing to little ones.
There is also a pond with grotto, statues, and a gift shop inside, though you’ll only be able to visit that if you’re there when it’s officially open.
10. Elevate Trampoline Park
Kids love trampolines, and if your little ones are in dire need of exercise and excitement, there’s no better place to get it than Elevate Trampoline Park.
It has trampolines suitable for every age, and the park is a great place for birthday parties.
Though it looks like all fun, jumping up and down on trampolines is like getting a cardiovascular workout, so in addition to having a great time, you’ll be burning calories too.
Check out their website for hours of operation and pricing before you go.
11. Fort Smith Farmer’s Market
Bar none, farmer’s markets are the best places to meet interesting and energetic locals, get an idea of the area’s geography, and see lots of unique and locally made products that you won’t likely find anywhere else.
The Fort Smith Farmer’s Market is known for its locally grown produce but is full of honey, jams, candy, and cookies too.
Of course, there’s hot coffee on hand and plenty of local arts and crafts, including paintings, jewelry, and clothes.
The market is growing steadily as new vendors join the ranks; it’s a great way to support local entrepreneurs.
12. Chaffee Barbershop Museum
Dedicated to the brave men and women who’ve died cutting the hair of Fort Smith’s residents over the years, the Chaffee Barbershop Museum is a must-see attraction when in the area.
OK, perhaps that opening was a bit dramatic, but the fact remains that the Chaffee Barbershop Museum is a cool and quirky Fort Smith attraction that deserves at least a quick visit.
It’s famous as a place that Elvis had his hair cut, and it’s also got an interesting history that’s tied to the U.S. Army.
If you’re lucky enough to go when it’s open, you may get to meet the museum’s enthusiastic curator as well.
13. Fort Smith Brewing Company
According to many Fort Smith natives, the Fort Smith Brewing company is the only one of its kind in the area.
They’ve got a comfortable taproom filled with a variety of beers, many of which are seasonal, so no matter when you go, you’ll find one that’s right for your taste buds.
If you’re a home-brewer, they’ve got all the stuff you need to brew up your own batch. And if you’d rather enjoy your beer in public with good company, you’ll find a relaxing and inviting environment with tasty food as well.
Fort Smith Brewing Company isn’t open every day, so check before you go.
14. Fort Smith Regional Art Museum
The Fort Smith Regional Art Museum is the place to go to see a fantastic array of professionally exhibited art.
The museum’s goal is to foster appreciation and education throughout the community. They do that by offering different programs, cultural events and displaying a world-class collection of art.
The museum’s origins date back to the ‘50s; it has been displaying the art of local and regional talents ever since.
If you’re an art lover passing through town, you’ll want to check it out. Be sure to check their website to see what additional events will be planned for when you’re in town.
15. Massard Prairie Battlefield Park
The Massard Prairie Battlefield Park gives guests a fascinating look into the area’s Civil War era history.
It’s staffed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable docents, and may just spark your interest enough to pick up a book or two in the gift shop before you leave.
Located amidst a sea of encroaching neighborhoods, the battlefield itself is a historic landmark and a site that ended up as the final resting place for many of the soldiers who fought here.
Parking is limited, but depending on where you’re staying, it might be a relatively easy walk to the site.