Located in eastern Arkansas’ Crittenden County, West Memphis sits adjacent to its larger neighbor of the same name in Tennessee.
In the late 1700s, large tracts of land that now include West Memphis were a Spanish settlement. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the land became part of the United States when the young country purchased much of the southeastern part of the country that was then called the Louisiana Territory.
Due to its proximity to large urban centers, forested areas and state and national parks, there are a host of recreational activities available in the area.
1. West Memphis Welcome Center
For those visitors who are new to the area, stopping at the West Memphis Welcome Center just off Interstate 40 would be a great way to get an idea of the city’s layout and discover lots of interesting things to do.
Staffed with friendly locals who are more than happy to advise you on things to do, there are lots of maps and brochures that you’re welcome to take with you.
The center is a bit like a museum as well, and the perfect place to kick off your West Memphis adventure.
2. Big River Crossing
Rumor has it that this is the longest Mississippi River crossing, and since the Big River Crossing is only accessible by non-motorized means of transportation, you won’t need to look over your shoulder every few seconds and worry about getting run over.
The crossing connects to a trail system that’s nearly 10 miles in length and joins Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis Arkansas.
It’s free to use, convenient to get to, and offers some of the best photo ops around, so bring your camera, your cellphone, and some comfy walking shoes and burn a few calories while seeing the sights.
3. Sun Studio
Of all the Memphis sites that immortalize Elvis Presley, Sun Studio is one of the most revered and often visited.
It’s the place where he recorded his first song before he was 20 years old. For that reason alone, it’s often referred to as Rock ‘n Roll’s birthplace and is a mecca for lovers of The King.
The studio has been open since the ‘50s and has hosted other music legends like Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison.
Located on Union Avenue in Memphis, tours of the facility are offered during the day; in the evenings, it’s still a recording studio.
4. National Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Motel
Memphis has many claims to fame; the most infamous by far is as the place where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in 1968.
The most prominent of the nation’s black civil rights leaders, he was staying at the Lorraine Motel when he was gunned down.
The National Civil Rights Museum is one of the country’s most complete sites of its kind and does a fantastic job laying out the movement and the lives of some lesser-known civil rights leaders as well.
Located on Mulberry Street in Memphis, it is close to other attractions.
Elvis Presley had a unique and tragic life. Though he rocketed to world fame in a relatively short time, he was always plagued by the demons so common to those who achieve fame quickly.
Graceland was his home and is open to guided and self-guided tours every day.
Part museum and part home, it offers a fascinating insight into the life of the man who captured the hearts of so many people all over the world.
It’s full of photos, displays, and exhibits that touch on nearly every aspect of his life, even the ones that aren’t so pretty.
6. Blanchard Springs Caverns
Located on Blanchard Springs Road in the town of Fifty Six, Arkansas, the Blanchard Springs Caverns are an amazing site well worth the drive it takes to get there, which takes about 3 hours.
Guided tours are a great way to see these natural wonders. Even when it’s broiling above ground, the temperatures in the subterranean caves are remarkably cool, so bring a jacket.
Your guide will tell you how the caves were formed and how long they’ve been around. You may be surprised to learn that the caves are still subject to those same forces, and are therefore considered living caves.
7. Stax Museum of American Soul Music
Located on East McLemore Avenue near downtown Memphis, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music is comprised of nearly 20,000 square feet of space. It’s full of paraphernalia and exhibits relating to the city’s rich soul music history.
Guests will enjoy the interactive displays, musical instruments, original outfits, and photographs. For those old enough to remember the glory days of soul, it’ll be like a walk down memory lane.
The museum is relatively inexpensive, conveniently located near other popular city sites, and includes exhibits on such greats as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding, to name just a few.
8. Memphis Rock ‘n Soul Museum
You are probably aware that music is the beating heart of Memphis’ soul.
Located on world-famous Beale Street, just across the river in Memphis, the Memphis Rock ‘n Roll Museum is a great place to spend a few morning or afternoon hours, especially in the summertime when the heat and humidity can be downright oppressive.
The museum does a fantastic job chronicling the lives of some of music’s most popular legends. It’s stocked with jukeboxes so you can hear some old classics that you may have forgotten about for decades.
9. The Peabody Ducks
After so many music-related sites, perhaps a change of pace is in order; if you’ve never seen a choreographed troupe of dancing ducks, a trip to the Peabody Ducks will fix that.
It all started back in the ‘30s when a man with a wild imagination and a bit too much free time on his hands began putting ducks in a fountain and seeing if he could teach them tricks.
Over the years, the show has gained in popularity; the Peabody Duck march is pretty much a local legend, though not many out of town guests have ever heard of it.
10. Slave Haven and Burkle Estate Museum
The Underground Railroad is a term used to describe a hidden network of citizens and safe-houses that aided slaves in escaping from the south and making their way to freedom in the north.
The Slave Haven and Burkle Estate Museum are open for tours and were on the Underground Railroad. Even today, more than a century later, the tunnels used in these daring escapes can be visited.
It’s a pretty eye-opening place, and the true and harsh nature of the slave trade aren’t glossed over, so be prepared for an emotional response.
Guided tours are available, but photography inside the museum isn’t permitted.
11. Metal Museum
Of all the natural wonders that we take for granted, metal may be the most vitally important and overlooked.
Located near the Mississippi River just south of Memphis, the Metal Museum is an interesting site, and a well-deserved change of pace from soul music, assassinations, and the slave trade.
The museum details the history of metal, how it’s evolved over the years, and how central it is to our society – even though we rarely think about it.
Perhaps the museum’s most interesting exhibit is the working blacksmith shop, which is like a looking glass into the past, when stout men hammered molten metal into everyday items.
12. Take a Tour of nearby Bartlett
The Memphis and West Memphis areas have an amazingly diverse history. The Bartlett Historical Society was established to preserve the community’s heritage, and they mainly do that through education.
Located on Court Street in Memphis, they are inside the Gotten House – a renovated historic home that’s been around for ages.
The museum is free to visit, but guests are encouraged to donate so that the facility can continue to operate.
In addition to the museum, the society offers guided historical city tours that are always big hits with guests, so consider experiencing both.
13. Spend a Day in an Orchard
The countryside surrounding Memphis and West Memphis is known for their fresh fruits and vegetables.
From berries and apples to watermelons and more, other than in the heart of winter, there’s usually something growing. There are plenty of u-pick ‘em farms in Shelby and other nearby counties.
Many of the farms are strictly organic. Even if that’s not important to you, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to head outside and get your fill of exercise, fresh air, and family-friendly fun.
Generally, you pay for what you pick by the pound or bushel; it’s a lot cheaper and more fun than buying retail.
14. Bartlett Festivals
The town of Bartlett is one of the area’s most visited, largely due to the many festivals that are held there throughout the year.
The quaint town itself is well worth a visit, but if you can catch a festival, all the better.
The Bluegrass Festival is one of the most popular and takes place in the spring; the Bartlett Festival and Car Show is another.
Multiple arts and crafts festivals are held as well; nearly all of them include great food and other activities designed to keep everyone engaged and interested, no matter their age.
15. Take a Brewery Tour
Like many cities in the country, Memphis is home to a growing number of microbreweries and tasting rooms. Many claim that the clean water from subterranean wells is one of the keys to making great beer.
If you’d like a guided tour of some microbreweries, they’re available, or it’s possible to do a self-guided tour, as many of the places you’ll want to visit are close together.
Regardless of where you go, you’ll have a chance to sample an amazing array of brews with wildly different flavor profiles. Many microbreweries offer samplings paired with food as well.