It’s all about the great outdoors in the self-proclaimed Natural State. Capitalising on its rugged mountain ranges, verdant forests and streams, Arkansas earns its tourist dollar with walking, fishing and wildlife spotting (and hunting).
More than 150 Arkansas flights land and depart Little Rock National Airport each day. The capital, Little Rock, has a sedate, small-town feel, although changes are afoot: massive investment has transformed the run-down warehouses of the downtown River Market district into a chic enclave of shiny new restaurants, hotels, museums and shops. It’s also home to the William J. Clinton Presidential Centre and Park, a sleek, space-age tribute to the state’s most famous son, and place of pilgrimage for his loyal supporters.
It’s a world away from the scattered rural villages up in the Ozark Mountains to the north, indelibly associated with hillbillies in the popular imagination – and the birthplace of TV’s Beverley Hillbillies. It’s a stereotype that some locals loathe and others embrace (not to mention exploit, with plenty of purposefully mis-spelt menus and signs to amuse the tourists).
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Spring and autumn in Arkansas are particularly mild. January’s temperatures can go to -17 degrees (Celsius), it has the heaviest snowfall, ice storms, and freezing rain. Temperatures and the amount of rainfall rise in April and by May the weather is moderate and comfortable with temperatures in the mid-teens and 20s. The heat and humidity begin to be noticeable in June, and July gets “hot as a firecracker.” August is even steamier with temperatures hitting more than 37 degrees. The peak of the tornado season is March through May.
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Spring and autumn are the state’s peak seasons, particularly in the Ozarks and Hot Springs which maintain the peak through the summer.
April is busy with the annual Auto Show, and December with the Ozark Christmas.
October has the Bean Fest and the Arkansas State Fair and Livestock Show. The foliage season starts in October and the colours peak from mid to late October and in some areas continue into November.
The summer sizzles and although the mountains are still popular, most events and festivals are in the spring and autumn.
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A car is the best way to get around Arkansas, particularly if you are going to see the Ozarks. There is intermittent bus service in the state and limited east-to-west train service. To see the Ozarks region you need a car, but once you are in the mountains, hiking and walking are also popular modes of seeing the sights.
Although the state sees snow and ice in January and February, the road conditions tend to be good, particularly in low traffic areas, except during the early morning and late evening when the surfaces can get icy.
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- The Ouachita Mountains region, in west central Arkansas, is an unmissable destination. Crystal clear lakes, rugged mountains and the spectacular national forest make this a perfect spot for adventure holidays and nature lovers. But don't miss the luxurious side of Ouachita region. Spas, hotels and hot springs abound, so enjoy being pampered after a morning in the great outdoors.
- The Mississippi River forms the Eastern boundary of Arkansas, and the lowland plains alongside it is markedly different to the mountains elsewhere in the state. The plain covers more than 38,000 square km (15,000 square miles) of Arkansas. To learn about the history of the great Mississippi, visit the state museum in Helena, the Delta Cultural Centre, which explores the influence the river has had on local culture, especially Delta blues music.
- The state’s capital is also the most populous city and a cultural centre. To see the best of the shops, restaurants, hotels and museums in Little Rock, visit the River Market District. For a brush with nature, head out to the Pinnacle Mountain State Park, just outside the city to the West: it’s a popular spot for bird-watchers and also offers stunning views of the whole city from its pinnacle.
- Arkansas is home to the world’s only public diamond mine: the Crater of Diamonds state park in Murfreesboro. For a small entrance fee, you can search for your very own diamond. The park estimates that approximately two diamonds are found by the public each day… The largest documented find on the park was the Uncle Sam diamond – 40.23 carat, discovered in 1924.
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