Fresh Air and Folksy Therapy: An Atmosphere Only Found in Arkansas
By Emily Hackeling
A trip to Arkansas brings you to the crossroads of rural charm, hip Southern twang, and true appreciation for Mother Nature. The state is home to such unique attractions as the highest mountains between the Appalachians and the Rockies, the nation’s only active diamond mine, and the soothing powers of natural hot springs.
The weather is warm, the company is friendly, and the air is untainted by bustling city life—all in a state encompassing six national parks, 600,000 acres of lakes, and nearly 10,000 miles of streams and rivers. Arkansas has no shortage of jaw-dropping landscapes to explore, and any local Arkansans will tell you that it’s neither a state at retirement pace nor a strictly rural region.
The state’s capital city of Little Rock made Trivago’s 2015 list of “Top 10 Best Value Cities” and Forbes Magazine’s “America’s 5 Secret Foodie Cities in 2014.” Prices are low and the city isn’t overrun with tourists, while global influences blend with local charm in just the right measure.
The fiddle claims the title of state instrument and the square dance is the official state dance. The World Championship Steak Cook-Off happens each year at the Magnolia Blossom Festival. Bill Clinton was born in Hope in 1946 and Ernest Hemingway took inspiration for parts of his classic novel “A Farewell to Arms” from his wife’s hometown of Piggott.
Even such quintessential American icons as cheese dip—the World Cheese Dip Competition is held in Little Rock every October—and Sam Walton’s iconic Wal-mart chain both made their world debuts in Arkansas.
It’s this folksy influence that makes Arkansas such a special place and keeps residents—and visitors—there to stay.
Inviting Waters of Hot Springs
Donna Aylward’s typical weekend includes a five-mile hike, a game of pickle ball, dinner with her husband and friends on the patio, a dip in the pool, a round or two of golf, and maybe even a lakeside bluegrass concert.
She resides in Hot Springs Village, a 26,000-acre community located along the eastern edge of Arkansas’ Ouachita National Forest that features 11 lakes, 26 miles of shady trails, nine golf courses, and 11 tennis courts below the stunning backdrop of the Ouachita Mountains.
“No houses are visible from the main road, so it’s very private and feels remote,” Donna said. “But I love being able to go just a few minutes down the road to meet friends for dinner or a glass of wine.”
Sporting amenities, clubs, and organizations give ample opportunity for constant activity in Hot Springs Village, but Donna said what ensures that she’ll never leave is the sense of community there—a feeling she’s found nowhere else.
Residents hail from all over the world; Donna and her husband lived across the U.S. and in Europe before settling in Hot Springs Village. Even when her husband travels out of the state for work, she always feels included. “We all enjoy each other and need each other, and when my husband comes home, we call it his little oasis,” she said. “He can come home to friends, the pool, and golf, and we never want to leave.”
The state’s temperate climate promises warm summers with less humidity than states like Florida, and winters of sweaters and crisp air minus the snow shoveling. With such welcoming weather, it’s only natural for the arts and fresh air to intermingle.
The free Grove Park Rock Porch Sessions are some of the Aylward’s summertime favorites, featuring live bluegrass, jazz, or country music, all to be enjoyed from a picnic blanket or beach chair overlooking Lake Cortez.
Meanwhile, the capital city hosts the Little Rock Film Festival, a week of Southern hospitality and film appreciation on the banks of the Arkansas River. Drawing narratives, documentaries, and short films from around the globe, as well as fueling the thriving film scene in Little Rock itself, the festival has grown to include legendary nightlife like a riverboat cruise and a warehouse dance party.
Just 20 minutes from Hot Springs Village, the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival only graces five cities worldwide—the others include Copenhagen, Toronto, Amsterdam, and Sheffield. The festival brings nine days of original nonfiction films, and has drawn a diverse and intergenerational crowd annually for 23 years.
The film festival, however, won’t be your only stop in Hot Springs, as the city is your entry point to Hot Springs National Park. Water emerges from 47 natural springs at an average temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit, forming gorgeous waterfalls, clear pools collecting below shady trees, and the constant sound of water trickling over rocks. It’s the only national park permitted, and encouraged, to share its primary resource in unlimited amounts with visitors—so don’t forget to bring a bottle and fill up with fresh water. Since temperatures in the springs are a bit too hot to bathe in, visit the park’s two historic bathhouses for a dip back into history and the healing powers of naturally heated water.
Outdoorsy in the Ozark Region
A three-hour drive north lands you in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, a wholly different landscape drawing the same outdoor adoration. More than half of Arkansas is covered with forest and the Ozark National Forest alone comprises one million acres. The mountains provide a stunning backdrop for hiking, horseback riding, golfing, and boating throughout the Ozark Region. America’s First National River, the Buffalo River, weaves through it all, cutting steep canyon ridges and forming countless streams, lakes, and waterfalls with world-class trout fishing.
Hip and Historic Eureka Springs
Meanwhile, just below the state’s northwestern border lies Eureka Springs, a funky town uniting people and interests of all ages and flavors—their unofficial motto is “where misfits fit.” Known for Victorian architecture decorating the intricate balconies and turrets of every pastel-colored building around, the town attracts anyone seeking quaint bed and breakfasts, world-class Southern-inspired restaurants and a relaxed music scene.
No matter where Arkansas’ winding roads take you, the folksy-fresh mountain air mixed with Southern hospitality will guarantee your visit is more than just a pit-stop. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be there to stay.
YOUR ARKANSAS HOMETOWN
By JG Walker
Chenal Valley is a friendly community for active retirees and families located in the rolling hills of west Little Rock, AR. With select homes and homesites in 34 distinctive neighborhoods, Chenal Valley offers a variety of choices for every taste and budget.
Fourteen of those neighborhoods are set along Chenal Country Club’s two 18-hole golf courses. The Founders Course features a woodland setting with seven lakes and is the perfect companion to the newer Bear Den Mountain Course. Club members also enjoy excellent clubhouse dining, a huge tennis and swim complex, and a new 6,000-square-foot fitness center.
And while Chenal Valley residents live in a hometown-style community, the conveniences of modern life are just outside their doors. The Promenade at Chenal is an open-air shopping center with a mix of national retailers with locally owned shops, plus a nine-screen IMAX theater. For more intimate evenings, the nearby Village at Rahling Road features an eclectic selection of fine dining experiences. And the Wildwood Park for the Arts is a 105-acre botanical garden that also hosts festivals and performing arts events all year long.
Find out more about the Chenal Valley lifestyle at Chenal.com.