Aptly known as the “Natural State,” Arkansas is located in the south-eastern part of the United States of America. Reportedly, 56% of the state is covered in forest, which includes 2.5 million acres of national forest, 50 state parks, 7 national scenic byways, and 3 state scenic byways.
Once known as the “Bear State” due to a huge population of Louisiana Black Bears in the country, Arkansas is usually geographically divided into north-western highlands that includes The Ozarks and the Ouachita Mountains and south-eastern lowlands that includes the Gulf Coastal Plain and the Arkansas Delta.
Did you know it is illegal to mispronounce the state name (it’s Ar-kan-saw)?
The 29th largest area in the nation, Arkansas boasts many “world capital” titles, for instance, Mount Ida is the “Quartz Capital of the World,” Alma is the “Spinach Capital of the World,” and Mountain View is the “Folk Music Capital of the World.”
Interestingly, Craters of Diamonds State Park, Pike County, Arkansas is the only active diamond mine in America and it lets visitors dig for their own diamonds!
Though there are several other wonderful facts about this lovely state that would provoke our thoughts, let us discover some of the amazing hidden gems in Arkansas and explore what they offer to our adventure-seeking souls.
1. The Gurdon Light, Gurdon
Spotted regularly near the rail tracks off of I-30 in Gurdon, Arkansas the Gurdon Light is an inexplicable phenomenon that continues to haunt the surrounding woods.
Though it is not the first of its kind to be reported in America, it is definitely one of those which hasn’t been explained yet due to the fact that there are no highways around the area (so, it can’t be car lights!). While researchers like to reason that the lights are emitting from underground quartz crystals, locals like to believe otherwise.
Legends have it that a railroad worker was beheaded and killed by a passing train on the tracks. While the body was found, his head could never be recovered. And, till date, the ghost of the railroad worker looks for his head with a lantern (hence, the glow!).
Another theory claims that the light is of a lantern carried by the ghost of William McClain, a former railway foreman, who was murdered in the area during a confrontation with one of his employees in 1931.
The Gurdon Light has featured on the television show Unsolved Mysteries.
2. Rush Ghost Town, Yellville
During the 1880s, prospectors flocked to Rush in the hope of unearthing lost silver mines from Native American legends, however, a test run in 1887 revealed that instead of silver, there was an enormous amount of zinc deposit in the area. And, thus began the process of zinc mining in the town.
Businessmen, diggers, and prospectors from all over the world came rushing to capitalize on the discovery and the population of the town soon rose to 5,000 inhabitants. Rush’s biggest claim to fame moment came in the form of a gigantic 13,000 pound zinc nugget that was discovered by Morning Star Mine, the first of its kind in the area.
However, as the World War I came to an end, so did the demand and price for zinc. Mines closed for business, residents and workers moved away, and finally, in 1972, Rush became an official “Ghost Town” and a part of the Buffalo National River Park System.
Around 45 years later, the town now comprises relics of old buildings and mining shafts along with a memory of its celebrated past.
3. Quigley’s Castle, Eureka Springs
Though it may appear more like a stone house, Quigley’s Castle was a dream project of Mrs. Elise Quigley, who wanted nothing more than making her abode more spacious and natural. Several years later, the structure is known as “The Ozarks’ Strangest Dwelling” and has a picturesque perennial garden surrounding the castle.
One fine day in 1943, after Mrs. Quigley’s husband, Albert Quigley, left for work, she gathered her children and began tearing their house down. Her only thought – to transform their old house into her dream house which not only had plenty of space for the family but also offered more contact with the environment.
Three years, $2000, and a lot of hard work later, Mrs. Quigley, with the support of her family, finally built her dream home.
Today, the Quigley’s Castle is surrounded by a picturesque garden while the interiors are decorated with 65-year-old trees growing amidst the living space. Mrs. Quigley’s stone collection is displayed all around the house and family antiques and memorabilia depicting her love for nature reflects from every corner in the house.
4. Dogpatch USA, Marble Falls Township
Located between the cities of Harrison and Jasper, along the State Highway 7, Dogpatch USA is an abandoned theme park which was first established in 1968 by Recreation Enterprises, Incorporated (REI) based on cartoonist Al Capp’s comic strip, Li’l Abner.
The amusement park attractions included paddle-boats, train rides, horseback riding, an apiary, and much more. Despite the already existing trout farm and a natural cave along with the newly constructed amusement park, Dogpatch USA failed to attract the number of tourists as was projected by outside consultants.
Several renovations and change of ownership later, the amusement park finally shut down its operations in 1993.
At one point, the owners of the property actually tried to sell the land on eBay!
Currently, the land remains abandoned and the leftover ruins of the amusement park, including skeletons of some of the park rides, serve as a good opportunity for urban explorers.
5. Boggy Creek Monster, Fouke
In 1834, the residents of Fouke reported sightings of a strange, hairy creature, about seven to eight feet tall and bipedal, to be roaming the streets of this small town in Arkansas. In 1997, there were 40 different accounts of spotting this “wild man.” No one has been able to capture this beast on camera or otherwise but the legend of Boggy Creek Monster still keeps the town of Fouke awake at night.
Apparently, in 1971, Bobby Ford and his wife, Elizabeth Ford, were attacked in their home at night by the Boggy Creek Monster. He was chased away by Bobby and Dan, Bobby’s brother, but Bobby suffered a few injuries in the process and was hospitalized. Though there weren’t any blood spots at the scene, there were scratches on the porch, a window was damaged, and three-toed footprints were found near the house.
Some argue that the “monster” may, in fact, be misidentifications of black bears (which won’t be a surprise since Arkansas was called the “Bear State” once) who can be about six feet tall, 400 pounds, and though not bipedal, can stand up on two feet sometimes.
6. Maxwell Blade’s Odditorium and Curiosities Museum, Hot Springs
Located within the grounds of what was once the “only drive-thru mortuary” in the southern United States, Maxwell Blade’s Odditorium and Curiosities Museum in Hot Springs, Arkansas is a huge collection of unique and eccentric objects gathered from all around the world.
The “Odditorium,” owned and operated by Maxwell Blade, a former musician turned illusionist and magician who has been calling the state his home for over 22 years, comprises over 300 rare objects and specimens, and the number keeps growing. Hope to find taxidermy albinos, voodoo dolls, skeletons, preserved reptiles, and chastity belts among other things at this strange museum.
Displays to note include a Fiji Mermaid, a two-faced calf head, one of Edgar Allen Poe’s inkwells, and a silver Inca skull from Machu Picchu which was discovered in 1913 by Hiram Bingham.
If you have time by your side, pay a visit to the adjoining Magic Museum.
7. Peppersauce Ghost Town, Calico Rock
The first and the most authentic section of what is now known as Calico Rock, East Calico was once a thriving settlement of trappers, French merchants, taverns, numerous outlaws, and several illicit businesses. All that remains now is a ghost town with relics of some of the original structures still standing, barely though.
Gunfights, prostitution, and “Peppersauce”, the local moonshine were all the rage in this intimidating part of the town once, however, by 1890s, plans for constructing a rail line through the town led the responsible, decent residents of Calico Rock push away the taverns and the original troublemaking population.
By 1903, the area flourished as a railhead and a trading hub for zinc, cotton, and timber. Unfortunately, the accomplishments were short-lived. Local electrical plants were shut due to high-tension power lines, excessive deforestation adversely affected the timber trade, and cotton was superseded by cattle.
Today, the only imprints of the once-booming town are some 20 derelict structures, the old prison, the empty lumberyard, the defunct cotton grin, and an abandoned funeral parlor.
8. Billy Bass Adoption Center, Little Rock
You or at least one of your relatives or neighbors have had one of those famous Big Mouth Billy Bass animatronic fish that sang “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” no matter how ludicrous it may (or may not) feel to accept the fact now. After all, they were all the rage in the late 1990s. But, don’t worry if you didn’t get a chance to see one. Flying Fish restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas gives you an opportunity to see about 300 of them!
Perhaps not the only one of its kind, but, the Little Rock Billy Bass Adoption Center claims to undeniably be the first to have started it all, and with a wall full of the once-omnipresent novelty object, we don’t doubt it much.
The Flying Fish restaurant opened its doors in 2002 when Bill Bass was still popular, however, Shannon Wynne, a restaurateur from Dallas, Texas knew better so he innovated the idea of hanging the “retired” toys on the walls of his aptly named restaurant business in Little Rock.
Since then, the concept-restaurant business has expanded to Tennessee and to several locations in Texas.
9. The Old Mill, North Little Rock
Don’t be fooled by the antique charm of the “Old Mill” since it is not as old as it seems but merely a work of magnificent craftsmanship of two architectural masterminds, Frank Carmean and Dionicio Rodriguez, who were both commissioned by Justin Matthews, a real estate developer and builder of this tourist attraction located within the grounds of T.R. Pugh Memorial Park.
While Carmean was an experienced construction worker turned self-taught architect, Rodriguez, a Mexican-born sculptor, was a genius at creating Faux Bois aka Fake Wood. In 1932, both artists were asked by Matthews to help him with the development and architecture of The Old Mill.
Carmean was responsible for creating the mill that looked like it belongs to the 1830s and Rodriguez crafted the surrounding objects and concrete details.
The floor planks, the water wheel, the huge gnarled bridges, and even the mill’s rope and pulley are all in fact crafted out of concrete.
10. Pivot Rock Park, Eureka Springs
Allegedly the hiding spot of Jesse James and his James Younger Gang for a brief time, Pivot Rock Park is a marvelous roadside attraction which has been well-capitalized by the gift shop that has served as an entrance for the park for several years.
Tourist trap or not, Pivot Rock Park is certainly home to a wide variety of brilliant rock formations that date back to more than a century. The iconic eponymous rock that stands as the primary attraction looks more or less like an inverted pyramid, right down to its edges.
Another famous attraction in the area is the Natural Bridge formation, which, as the name suggests, is a natural bridge formed out of boulders.
The geological formations are easily accessible via a paved trail that flows around the surrounding wilderness, except that you must pass through the gift center and pay a small entrance fee.
11. Wattle Hollow Retreat, West Fork
Located in North Arkansas, Wattle Hollow Retreat is a 40-acre property situated in proximity to the Devil’s Den State Park. It is also the home-turned-retreat center of Joy Fox and her late husband, Merlin fox.
The couple, on their spiritual journey across the world, returned to their base in Montana in 1979 and decided they wanted to live in a different atmosphere, some place that was close to nature and where they could live a holistic life. Within a short time after that, they purchased the land and set up a tent and a mailbox, dug a latrine, and created a composting bin.
Unfortunately, Merlin died of cancer in 1985 but Joy continues to work on and expand their dream of spiritual living to date.
The forever work-in-progress property now houses several hand-built houses and structures and hosts yoga, meditation, healing, and vipassana retreats all around the year.
12. Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum, Hot Springs
They may not be as posh and polished as the world-renowned Madame Tussauds, but, they definitely have the style, the oomph, and a lot of macabre.
Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum, located within the grounds of Hot Springs National Park (like the rest of the city), is owned and managed by the Roberts family and houses an eclectic collection of over 100 wax figurines, most of which date back to 1971.
Though the collection occasionally accepts a new entrée, most of the displays are permanent and have been since it was first established.
Among the many interesting exhibits is the “The Stairway of Stars,” a former-operational escalator, which now features wax replicas of President Jimmy Carter, Louis Armstrong, Liz Taylor, and the likes all of whom are being watched over by Jesus and Pope John Paul II. Then, there is the “Seven Magic Worlds” preceded by Napoleon.
Mutilated corpses, decapitated heads, and scary-faced wax dolls add to the spookiness.
14. Toad Suck, Bigelow
So, you thought Boring (OR), Why (AZ), Husband (PA), Hell (MI), and Oatmeal (TX) were the funniest, weirdest town names so far? How about “Toad Suck”?
Allegedly the “most unfortunately named township” in the nation, Toad Suck is an unincorporated community located in Bigelow, Arkansas which has the rest of the world wonder what led to the town’s christening! But, this doesn’t seem to bother the residents of the town who happily capitalize on the fact.
So, here is the story behind the name – Once upon a time, long long ago, steamboats filled with men traversed the Arkansas river, however, when the water level wasn’t right, the captains and their crew members waited in the town, frequented the local taverns, and apparently, they ‘sucked’ on liquor until they swell up like ‘toads.’
Since 1982, every year in May, the nearby town of Conway has been playing host to Toad Suck Daze, a three-day charitable event that raises money for educational scholarships.
15. Signal Hill, Paris
Magazine Mountain is the highest point in the state of Arkansas and is surrounded by the Mount Magazine State Park. A flat-topped mountain, Magazine has two summits – Mossback Ridge and Signal Hill. While only 53 feet higher than the other, Signal Hill, at 2,753 feet above sea level, marks the official highest point in the state.
Due to its proximity to Ouachita National Forest, many believe it to be a part of the Ouachita Mountains, however, it is actually a part of the Arkansas River Valley and lies within the southern end of Ozark National Forest.
The majestic peak of Silver Hill offers unprecedented views of the Petit Jean River Valley and offers a campground, RV sites, and a newly-constructed lodge.
16. Terra Studios, Fayetteville
Established by Leo and Rita Ward in 1975, an artistic couple, Terra Studios was initially intended to offer art lessons to enthusiastic learners. Leo, a master glass craftsman, and Rita, a spectacularly talented potter and sculptor, created their own artworks at the studio until one fine day, Leo created the “Bluebird of Happiness.”
After over four successful decades of creating the small, hand-molded glass birds, Terra Studios still continues to craft the ‘bluebirds’ along with other impressive artworks.
Originally available through mail-order only, the Studio now includes several trained artists and many permanent galleries.
Though Leo and Rita retired in 2007, the new owner continues to carry on the legacy of the “Bluebird of Happiness.”
17. Tree Surgeon Buried in a Tree, Carthage
Hampton Springs Cemetery in Carthage, Arkansas is a small, unremarkable burial ground with a lot of trees. So, what’s special about it? Almost every cemetery has trees, right? Wrong. Hampton Springs has ONE tree that, as per a local legend, has a corpse buried inside its trunk!
Though the legend seems to be the most interesting logic behind the bricked-up trunk, a more viable explanation entails that the tree was once diseased and rotting away when a bunch of locals decided to scrape away the rotten, infectious part of the tree and filled it with bricks instead. This was done to preserve the tree from its eventual death. Gradually, the tree recovered and covered up most of the bricks that were stuffed inside its trunk.
What do you think – a rotten trunk or a hidden corpse?
18. Popeye Statue, Alma
As we mentioned in the beginning of this post, Alma is known as the “Spinach Capital of the World,” and it is unfair for the ‘Spinach Town’ to not honor the ‘Spinach Mascot of the World’ – our very own Popeye, the sailor man!
Amidst the grounds of Popeye Park is a water fountain which is topped by a giant bronze statue of Popeye. While the attractive statue was only erected in 2007, there was another similar structure made of fiberglass and papier-mache.
Not as striking as the current statue, the earlier version, which stood atop the fountain for twenty years, had to be taken down so that the town students won’t make an attempt to steal it.
The ‘Spinach Town’ also has a huge water tower that has been painted to look like a spinach can and is considered as the “largest spinach can in the world.”
19. Collins Creek Cascade and Trout Stream, Heber Springs
A popular spot for hikers and locals during the summer, Collins Creek Cascade and Trout Stream is home to the first and the only documented wild trout population in Arkansas.
Initially blocked away due to the Greers Ferry Dam Project, a restoration project that created a diversion pipe now ensures that the area gets a constant flow of water. It is estimated that around 40,000 gallons of water is flown to the Creek every hour.
Definitely, one of the newest of its kind, the Collins Creek Cascade and Trout Stream now houses a huge number of Rainbow and Brook Trout, and since its restoration, the creek has produced all its fish naturally without any artificial stocking.
Aside from the creek, the cascades and the tree canopy provide soothing respite to visitors during summer days.
20. Parkin Archeological State Park, Earle
One of the most significant archaeological discoveries in the state or perhaps the whole nation, Parkin Archeological State Park is believed to be the ruins of Casqui, a Native American village that dates back to 1000 CE.
The civilization was mentioned in 1541 in the chronicles of Hernando de Soto. While the ancient town fell into despair shortly after the Spanish explorer’s visit, several European artifacts and trade items were discovered from the ruins.
Registered as a National Historic Landmark since 1946, all that remains of the once-flourishing town is a large platform-like mound near the St. Francis River and a deep impression of a moat.
After a collaboration between the University of Arkansas and Arkansas Archaeological Society, the area surrounding the mound, all 17-acres of it, has been designated a State Park as of 1994.
21. H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden, Little Rock
An exemplary example of architecture, a token of friendship, and a way of honouring the greatest martial arts master ever, H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden, Little Rock, Arkansas is named after and in commemoration of Grand Master Haeng Ung Lee, who was not only the co-founder at the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) but also its first Grand Master.
Grand Master Lee is known to have contributed more to the expansion and advancement of martial arts around the world than any other in the contemporary era. ATA, since it was first established in Little Rock in 1977, has grown to be largest of its kind in the world.
While the gate itself is made up of Arkansas River Rock and concrete, the roof is covered in clay tile that is from South Korea. Additionally, the gate is painted typically in Korean colors, each of which denotes a specific element – red (fire), blue (wood), yellow (earth), black (water), and white (metal).
Among the many striking attractions in the park is the perfected granite Statue of Nine Turtles, an exact replica of the wooden structure that adorns the office of Grand Master Lee.
22. Mammoth Spring Frisco Depot, Mammoth Springs
Frisco Depot, the oldest railroad in the state, acquired the rail line here in 1901, however, it was soon abandoned and handed over to Mammoth Spring State Park in 1968. A quick remodeling and a few life-like figurines later, the former railroad depot opened as an amusement park in 1972.
The amazingly restored railroad depot retains much of its Victorian architecture while certain additional elements have been added. Storyboards with information on locomotives that passed through the depot and how they helped the town to flourish are displayed throughout the depot. Replicas of actual passengers, railroad attendants, and train crew stand throughout the complex giving it a lively vibe.
A vast variety of railroad memorabilia and short audio presentations narrate the history of the depot and the town of Mammoth Springs.
A restored Frisco 1176 Caboose stands outside and visitors are not only allowed but encouraged to enter and explore.
23. Turkey Creek Schoolhouse, Mountain View
The Turkey Creek Schoolhouse was once the only school serving the children of Turkey Creek, Arkansas which had roughly about 300 inhabitants. Established on a donated land in 1925 by local architects Robert Dawkins and George Green, the somewhat-dilapidated former schoolhouse now houses town meetings and occasional weddings.
Listed in the National Register for Historic Places, the single-story, one-room wooden schoolhouse has held its ground for almost 90 years but it may look like its 190 years old.
Once the only source of education for hundreds of village and mountain kids in and around the area, the Turkey Creek Schoolhouse is an ideal exemplification of education in the rural areas during the 20th century.
Since its abandonment in 1949, the Schoolhouse has been used for hosting various community events.
24. Grave of a Man and his Horse Killed by a Train, Walnut Ridge
With over 56% of its land covered in forests, Arkansas definitely offers some picturesque rides across its streets. Lush fields and occasional rolling hills embellish the highways and finely paved roads make the journey easy and pleasant. But, once upon a time, the roads were frequented by locomotives and men on horses.
One such man was John A. Rhea, a celebrated politician and the person behind the mule-drawn trolley system that reconnected Walnut Creek and Hoxie, who, on February 15th, 1893, was on the back of his horse, going somewhere, when, unfortunately, a train hit both and killed them on site.
As a commemoration to the deceased, the locals decided to erect a joint grave in the surrounding fields. The town residents believed that this will connect Rhea with his animal in their afterlife so they can continue to journey together.
25. Beatles Park, Walnut Ridge
Who wouldn’t want a moment with their favorite celebrity actor or musician, right? So, when the small town of Walnut Ridge earned their minute-to-fame with The Beatles, they seized the moment, literally!
In September 1964, the Beatles arrived at the Walnut Ridge Airport as a stopover from where they had to be secretly transported to a vacation spot. They were to maintain their disguise and return after a couple of days so the band of four could fly out of the same airport. However, someone spotted the band earlier or may have received a secret tip about the band’s return.
On the designated day of the Beatles’ departure, almost the whole town of Walnut Ridge gathered at the airport, hence, making it one of the biggest events that ever happened in this otherwise quaint town.
To mark that day forever in their history, the town of Walnut Ridge created the “Beatles Park,” a public amusement area with cut-outs, murals, sculptures, cartoon impressions, and any other artifacts that they could gather related to the band.
26. AR-MO-OK Tri-State Marker, Sulphur Springs
A lot of places in the United States of America have markers that indicate the convergence of two, three, or more states. One such historic marker is the Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma Tri-state marker in Sulphur Springs which has not one, but three markers, stacked on top of each other.
The bottommost marker, also the last one, is a 10-foot concrete circle with three bronze lines that meet one another where the three states unite. The marker was installed in 1955 by the Lions Club. The middle one is a marble maker erected in 1915 by the Ozark Culture Club and has the date of admittance of each state in the United States engraved along with their respective state names.
Finally, the top marker, much like a tombstone, is the original marker that states “Mis. 1821” from when Missouri earned its statehood and “Ark” with no date as it was still a territory back then and Oklahoma was still under Native Americans.
27. Old Naked Joe Mountain, Norfork
Just when we thought Arkansas had enough of its share of funny, weird town names, the Old Naked Joe Mountain in Norfork captures our attention. Nestled amidst the Ozarks and beautiful Arkansas wilderness, the mountain is a picturesque summit with an interesting theory behind its name.
The more popular and interesting one, of course, is that an old man named Joe lived in the town atop the Mountain. And, for some peculiar reason, he loved running around ‘naked’. Hence, the name, Old Naked Joe Mountain.
Another more logical (and not-so-interesting) theory entails that a treacherous tornado whooshed through the mountain town and blew away all the bushes and tree, leaving it completely bare. As a result, the Old Joe Mountain was renamed as the Old Naked Joe Mountain.
Old naked man or not, the town, although low on residents, is a great spot for hikers and nature lovers.
28. White Water Tavern, Little Rock
A lot more than your usual watering hole, White Water Tavern, named after a canoe that belonged to the kayak-frenzy original owners, is a legendary bar which has witnessed the likes of Bill Clinton, Billy Bragg, and Jimbo Mathis.
A survival of three fires (within four decades), a few rowdy visitors (one of which smashed a painting on one of the owner’s head), and some theme weddings (a zombie wedding, for instance), the White Water Tavern features a rustic charm complemented by several memorabilia depicting the town’s history, a taxidermy beaver, a naked accordionist matador painting, and the ashes of a former regular in an old Busch Light can.
The tavern has served as a venue for several music concerts, book sales, and brunches since its inception, and still continues to be a hotspot for visiting artists and bar enthusiasts.
29. Chaffee Barbershop Museum, Fort Smith
The Chaffee Barbershop Museum, located inside the original Chaffee Barbershop, may seem like a strange entry to the list of hidden gems since there is not much a barbershop museum can offer, BUT, it is the place where Elvis “The King” Presley got his first Army Buzz Cut!
On March 25th, 1958, Elvis decided to join the army and thus, he visited the barbershop for a haircut. Reportedly, the widow of James Peterson, the barber who served Elvis at the time, still has the pair of clippers that were used, while another barber in the vicinity owns the chair “The King” sat on.
Every year since the ‘event,’ the town has celebrated the anniversary of “Elvis Presley’s first Army Buzz cut” in a 50’s style carnival where Jimmy Don Peterson, Mr. Peterson’s son, gives the same haircut to several Elvis fans.
Believe it or not, the idea behind the event was contributed by a bunch of fifth-graders who wanted to raise enough money to preserve the barbershop’s history.
30. Bassett POW Camp, Joiner
Route 61 has a 76-mile stretch that cuts through eastern Arkansas’ rural area just along the Mississippi River. Bassett, a small town in Joiner, Arkansas that lays in this stretch houses the relics of a gate, at least the concrete boundaries that the gate was fitted to, that served as an entrance to a POW camp from World War II.
Though apprehensive at first, the American Government thought it best to house inmates on their home turf rather than transporting them to Europe. There were approximately 30,000 German and Italian prisoners living in various POW camps spread all around Eastern Arkansas, of which 300 lived in the Bassett POW Camp.
As decided in the Geneva Convention, the POWs were indulged in the process of picking cotton which became a major boost for America’s agriculture industry.
Though the location of such camps was hidden at the time of their use, once they closed in 1946, the lands were continued for agricultural use.