Group tour highlights of Northwest Arkansas include Ozark beauty spots and towns like Bentonville, Fayetteville, Eureka Springs and Fort Smith.
There’s much for tour groups to enjoy in Northwest Arkansas—thriving communities, scenic splendor in the Ozarks and a bounty of surprising tour options, from historic to heroic. Offering a tantalizing combination of recreational pursuits and group-friendly attractions, a memorable trip awaits your gang.
Beaver Lake, located in the Ozark Highlands, attracts fishermen, birdwatchers, hikers and boaters. Resorts, cabins, shops and restaurants are available, as are outfitters and marinas. Just below Beaver Dam, White River trout fishing is popular. The lake is near Rogers, Eureka Springs, Fayetteville and Springdale.
Multi-generational visitors will find plenty to do in Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. Located just west of Rogers, it offers exhibits, wildlife viewing, hiking trails and a visitor center. Park rangers provide guided tours.
At Beaver Lake and Hobbs State Park, along with Devil’s Den State Park, Buffalo National River and other places in the Ozark Highlands, you can certainly get your nature on. However, a trip down I-540 from Bella Vista at the Missouri state line to Fort Smith at the Oklahoma border offers charming communities and marvelous tour options.
Simple Pleasures Event Center in Bella Vista is in a lovely landscaped setting that mirrors the lush beauty of the surrounding area. It’s a popular dining and entertainment stop for tour groups. Groups step back in time as they enjoy a homemade meal among autos from the 1920s-1970s and other memorabilia. Simple Pleasures is just minutes from Bentonville and Rogers attractions.
Plan to spend a few days in Bentonville. The Wal-Mart Visitors Center Museum has interactive exhibits on the origin and growth of the Walton family’s business and its resounding success. It is located on the site of Walton’s original 5 & 10 Store; admission is free. Allow additional time for a stop at the nearby Spark Cafe Soda Fountain.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in November 2011 and in less than three years its success has been nothing short of astounding. Visitation has exceeded expectations. The museum’s permanent collection spans American art genres from colonial times to the current day, and touring exhibitions are mounted regularly. Guided and audio tours are available. Large groups can reserve lunch, brunch (Sunday) or dinner at Eleven Restaurant. The museum and restaurant are open da
ily except Tuesday.
Bentonville’s Peel Mansion Museum & Heritage Gardens, dating from 1875,serves as a wonderful display of the time period. Event space is available for catered meals and teas. The free-admission Museum of Native American History, divided into five time periods, chronicles America’s first inhabitants. The stylish rooms and suites at 21c Museum Hotel and culinary offerings of The Hive Restaurant are just part of the story. Opened in 2013, it is the first museum devoted to 21st century art.
Fans of the classic 1983 movie A Christmas Story may recall this conversation:
Ralphie: I want an official Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot range model air rifle!
Mrs. Parker: No, you’ll shoot your eye out.
Rogers is home to the Daisy Airgun Museum and the Red Ryder that Ralphie coveted. Filled with nostalgia, the museum details the history of the Daisy Company and has a gift shop with Daisy and movie items.
Also in Rogers is the War Eagle Mill, Arkansas’ only operating, water-powered gristmill. Group menus are available for the Bean Palace Restaurant, and the gift shop is a delight.
In Springdale the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History explores the rich history of Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains. Seven historic buildings comprise a handicap-accessible campus of artifacts, photographs and frequently changing exhibits. Guided tours can be scheduled.
The Arkansas & Missouri Railroad operates numerous excursions from its Springdale headquarters. A roundtrip to Van Buren with lunch and shopping downtown is the perfect way to enjoy the beauty of the region and historic Van Buren.
When you’re in Northwest Arkansas and particularly Fayetteville, understand you’re in Razorback country as this is home to the University of Arkansas. Don’t miss Dickinson Street in downtown Fayetteville, a lively mix of dining, shopping and history. A highlight of the Dickinson Street experience is the Walton Arts Center, which presents entertainers from around the world. The season runs from September through May and a group program is available.
The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, a collection of 12 themed gardens, includes the only butterfly house in the region. For both the intense gardener and those who simply enjoy natural beauty, there are guided tours, workshops, classes and lectures.
Just an hour east of Fayetteville off I-540, Eureka Springs is known for its Victorian-era heritage. The downtown area and its unspoiled architecture are on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors have been welcomed since the late 1800s when they came for the purported healing power of the springs. Today groups enjoy a narrated Beaver Lake cruise aboard the Belle of the Ozarks and a show package combining the Pine Mountain Theater, Ozark Mountain Hoe-Down and Intrigue Theater.
Since 1968 The Great Passion Play has been performed in Eureka Springs and continues its 2014 season through selected dates in October. New ownership is committed to the group industry and it’s reflected in the 2015 schedule already online. Groups also enjoy related attractions, including the Bible Museum and Sacred Arts Museum.
Arkansas’ second largest city has its roots in Southern hospitality and Old West swagger. The new U.S. Marshals Museum is scheduled to break ground this September on a site along the Arkansas River, with an expected opening in 2017. Planned exhibits will feature the U.S. Marshals Hall of Honor and the galleries Marshals Today, A Changing Nation and Frontier Marshals. Fort Smith lends its self well to the latter.
Fort Smith was the gateway to the Old West and the place where Rooster Cogburn in True Grit began his search for Tom Chaney. The movie was based on a real place, and Fort Smith’s very own “Miss Laura,” portrayed by the CVB’s Carolyn Joyce in costume, will be happy to greet your group and give a tour of the Visitor Center, a former bordello and the first to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Arrange for your group to have sarsaparilla and peanuts in the bar area.
Be certain to include a tour of the Fort Smith Trolley Museum followed by a ride on a 1926 streetcar. From high tea at the Clayton House and Miss Laura’s Players to Arkansas Wine Country and the BrickCity shopping and dining emporium, there’s plenty to fill your itinerary in Fort Smith.