Arkansas calls itself the “Natural State” in boasting reference to its natural beauty. But even to the objective eye, this description is fair and accurate. Arkansas has a diverse landscape that features fields of rice and cotton, spectacular mountain ranges like the Ozark and Ouachita, forested wildernesses of pine and hardwood, underground caverns and natural springs, and pristine lakes, bayous, and streams of rivers that teem with trout, bass, and other seafood delights. So “natural” is Arkansas that diamonds can even be found naturally at the Crater Diamonds State Park, the only place in North America that can lay such a claim.
The first people to live in Arkansas were Native American tribes, among them the Quapaw, Osage, and Caddo. Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto arrived in 1541 and found a remote, rugged wilderness. The French were the next Europeans to discover this vast territory when Jolliet and Marquette visited in 1673, and it was claimed shortly afterwards by La Salle on behalf of France. The first European settlement was established at Henri de Tonty in 1686 at present-day Arkansas Post. In 1803, the United States assumed control of Arkansas from the French following the Louisiana Purchase. In 1819, the Arkansas Territory was established and Little Rock was designated the Territory’s capital. Not too long afterwards, Arkansas was admitted as the 25th state of the Union in 1836. During the Civil War, Arkansas was part of the Confederacy. Even after the war, Arkansas like other southern states instituted segregation laws and was a brewing ground of racial tensions.
Today, Arkansas is considered one of the best states for outdoor tourism. Its natural beauty can best be observed by taking one of more than 250 hiking trails; some of them climb up the cool Ozark or Ouachita Mountains; some of them traverse Arkansas’ three million acres of national forests; and some of them pass alongside the 9,000 miles of rivers and 600,000 acres of lakes that dot the state. Amidst these natural features, many outdoor activities can be enjoyed. While rock climbing and rappelling is popular in the Ozarks and Ouachita, Arkansas is probably more famous for its fishing and hunting. Fishing is best done in the freshwater lakes of the Ozarks where trophy-sized trout and bass abound. Arkansas, in fact, boasts three world-record weighing fishes that were caught instate: the walleye, brown trout, and hybrid bass. Hunting is also a major attraction. Millions of deer, black bear, and elk are found in the state’s forests, while the Arkansas Delta features the famous Mississippi Flyway where duck hunting is a popular embrace. Arkansas also provides the perfect setting for some of the best whitewater rafting with its thousands of miles of rivers and streams. Among 18 designated rafting waterways, the Ouachita River and its rapids at Rockport Ledge is one of the more popular draws.
Caving is another exciting attraction of Arkansas. Beneath the state’s myriad subterranean lakes and rivers are underground limestone caverns that are rich with fossils, crystals, stalagmites, stalactites, and cave creatures like salamanders and blind trout. All of Arkansas’ caves are also living, which means their formations are constantly being changed by mineral deposits from dripping water. Among the more popular caverns include the Blanchard Springs Cavern in Mountain View, the Bull Shoals Caverns in Bull Shoals, the Cosmic Caverns near Berryville, the Hurricane River Cave in Pindall, the Mystic Caverns in Marble Falls, the Old Spanish Treasure Cave near Sulphur Springs, and the War Eagle Cavern in War Eagle.
Unique to Arkansas is the Crater Diamonds State Park. This is the only place in the United States where diamonds have been found naturally. The park is open to the public, and visitors can mine and keep any diamonds or quartz crystals they find. Since the first diamond discovery in 1907, 75,000 diamonds have been unearthed. Needless to say, this park is very popular among tourists.
For visitors who are looking to be less active, Arkansas does have its fair share of art galleries, theatre performances, and music festivals. It also has spa destinations like the Hot Springs National Park where visitors can relax and recover. Wine tasting is another more leisure attraction of Arkansas, best done in the Arkansas River Valley. History can also be relived by visiting Civil War battlefields like Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove near Fort Smith, and Arkansas Post, which witnessed the Battle of Helena. Prehistoric Native American mounds are still visible at Parkin Archaeological State Park in North Parkin and the Hampson Archaeological Museum State Park in Wilson. And, if you are a Bill Clinton fan, you can visit his childhood home in Hope, which is open to the public.