Ozark culture, underground splendor and connections to famous people highlight journeys through a region ripe for discovery.
Happily for tour planners, many of the best experiences awaiting groups in the northeast corner of Arkansas are conveniently located off I-55 and I-40. For a more leisurely style, two National Scenic Byways traverse the area—the Great River Road parallels the Mississippi River and Crowley’s Ridge Parkway follows the length of a special landform. U.S. Hwy 63 cuts diagonally through the region with its own vistas and historical landmarks. Regardless of the route, there’s plenty to fill a multi-day itinerary.
Ozark Folk Center State Park
The park is located on 640 acres just north of Mountain View, in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. English and Scots-Irish pioneers from the Southern Appalachians arrived in the early 1800s, followed by Irish and German immigrants through the mid-1800s. It was from these early settlers that the Ozark people’s way of life emerged.
Dedicated to sharing their heritage, the park offers visitors a variety of fun, educational and entertaining experiences. The Ozark Center Crafts Village has more than 20 artisans demonstrating traditional skills, from basket weaving and broom making to doll making and wood turning. The center’s herb gardens are among the most varied in the nation.
Music was very important to the Ozark people and that tradition continues today at the center, with fiddle and banjo the favorite instruments. Concerts are offered from late April to late September.
Modern cabins feature two queen-size beds, wireless internet, television and everything else you’d expect. Most cabins offer a wooded view off the sliding-glass-door porch. The on-site Skillet Restaurant serves Southern country cooking.
Blanchard Springs Caverns
A 30-minute drive from Ozark Folk Center State Park, Blanchard Springs is often called the “Living Cave,” as the dazzling underground formations are forever growing and changing. Tours with different complexity levels are led by a Forest Service guide. The “Dripstone Tour” has 50 step stones, while there are nearly 700 steps on the “Discovery Trail.” For the adventuresome, the “Discovery in the Dark Headlamp Tour” is an option, while the physically fit may opt for the four-hour “Wild Cave Tour.”
Village Creek State Park
Located just off I-40 west of Memphis, Village Creek is another outstanding offering of the Arkansas state park system. Its mission is to share the unusual geology and topography of Crowley’s Ridge. The rolling terrain is quite different from the adjoining, comparatively flat Delta region.
Outdoor adventure takes center stage at Village Creek. Five hiking trails wind through the hardwood forest. Guided hikes are available with a park interpreter. Horse trails are open throughout the year. Two lakes offer water sports and provide pedal boats and fishing boats. The seasonal beauty and changing terrain offer a golfer’s challenge on the 27-hole Andy Dye signature The Ridges at Village Creek golf course.
Of historical significance is a preserved part of the Trail of Tears. Village Creek was part of the route from Memphis to Little Rock that removed the Muscogee from southwest Georgia and southeast Alabama.
The park visitor center provides bicycle rentals, a store and gift shop. The Discovery Room has exhibits of artifacts dating to prehistoric times and information on wildlife habitat of the area. Ten modern, furnished cabins (1, 2 or 3 bedrooms) have full kitchens, plus grills and picnic tables. Village Creek does not have a restaurant onsite, but dining is available a short drive from the park entrance.
Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center
In Piggott, in the far northeast corner of Arkansas, is the family home of Pauline Pfeiffer, the second wife of Ernest Hemingway.She was the daughter of Paul and Mary Pfeiffer, prominent citizens and landowners in the area. The barn behind the home was converted to a studio during the 1930s, providing Hemingway a peaceful setting for his writing when visiting Piggott. Portions of Farewell to Arms and a few notable short stories were written in the studio. The focus at these renovated properties is on literature and world events of the period, including the development of Northeast Arkansas during the Depression.
Dyess Colony Museum and Johnny Cash Boyhood Home
During the Depression a number of resettlement communities were established to give families down on their luck an opportunity to recover. Dyess was the largest community in Arkansas. In 1934, 16,000 acres were purchased by the federal government and in just seven months the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built a town center, 500 farmsteads consisting of 20 acres, a house and outbuildings. Among the recruited “colonists” were Ray and Carrie Cash and young J. R. Cash (better known today as Johnny), who relocated to Dyess from Kingsland and lived there from 1935-1953. The Johnny Cash Boyhood Home at Dyess has been reconstructed with direction from the Cash family. Reconstruction of the barn, smokehouse, chicken coop and outhouse are planned for the home site.
The Dyess Colony Museum is located in the WPA’s administration building and provides an excellent interpretation of the times and these projects. The master plan for this heritage tourism site includes reconstruction of a second home adjacent to the Cash home site, development of a walking trail and signage for other locations in the community.