The rolling mountains and deep waters of the Ozarks encompass most of northern Arkansas. Amid a largely untamed wilderness of small towns along winding backroads, the boomtown of Eureka Springs offers visitors a colorful and creative gateway to the region.
In 1856, Alvah Jackson came across the spring water which pours forth from the steep hillsides around Eureka Springs in the Ozarks, and began to market it for its healing properties. Usurping the land from Native peoples, Jackson kept the source of his “Dr Jackson’s Eye Water” a secret until 1879, but once divulged people flocked to the area to experience the therapeutic springs. Tents gave way to wooden structures. Soon a small city formed. Makeshift homes were replaced with a boon of Victorian architecture, most of which still stands today.
The 21st century Eureka Springs is a welcoming and vibrant city. There are neighborhood bars and fortune tellers, candy stores and coffee shops. Of course, people still come for the water. The city is dotted with springs as the Ozark Mountains release water into fountains, pools, and watering stations. The town serves as both its own destination and a jumping off point for nature adventurers.
Most out of state visitors arrive via Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA), 13 miles southwest of Bentonville. XNA is serviced by American Airlines, Delta, United, and a few smaller carriers. By car, US Route 62 runs through Eureka Springs. “The Magic City” is 39 miles east of Bentonville and 50 miles southwest of Branson, Missouri.
What to do
Nestled in the arms of nature are some of the area’s most visitable churches. A stop at St. Elizabeth of Hungary (30 Crescent Drive) is a beautiful respite. Guided historic tours of the circa-1906 Catholic church are available. Outside, the 14 Stations of the Cross are displayed in Italian marble. A few miles from the city, Thorncrown Chapel (12968 Hwy 62 West) stands as a connection between nature and religion. Constructed of wood and 425 windows, the chapel is a stunning backdrop for prayer, weddings, and events.
The Harmon Park Loop (192b U.S. 62-City Route) is a walking and biking trail circling Harmon Prak, Spring Garden, and the Upper Spring St neighborhood. The shaded walk helps link the Crescent Hotel with downtown. Mountain bikers enjoy three spurs off the trail. The trail also reaches the Eureka Springs Bark Park for pets.
The 85-acre Lake Leatherwood (1303 County Road 204) attracts swimmers and boaters. Fishing is good, too, with the most popular fish being bream, largemouth bass, and channel catfish. The park containing the lake holds 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Lodging includes cabins, tent areas, and RV sites.
The lure of the paranormal is strong in Eureka Springs, and the epicenter for hauntings is the Crescent Hotel. Deemed “America’s most haunted hotel,” the Crescent embraces its spooky past. The Great Depression forced the building into new uses, such as a women’s school and as the Baker Hospital. However, the facility was not licensed and promoted cure-alls for cancer and other ailments at the mercy of its questionable founder. Ghost Tours take place daily for both guests and visitors and retell some of the gruesome and troubling stories of the hotel’s past in both adult- and kid-friendly versions.
Where to stay
The most famous, and infamous, place to stay in Eureka Springs is the Crescent Hotel and Spa (75 Prospect Ave). Built in 1886, at the height of the Eureka Springs boom, the Crescent Hotel was designed with opulence and elegance to attract elite visitors. “The Grand Ol’ Lady of The Ozarks” was preserved and restored in the late 20th century and now features 72 rooms with honeymoon suites and presidential quarters, the New Moon Spa, and the amenities of a world-class resort. Plus, the view from atop the mountain is worth a visit in itself.
Rising from the streets of Downtown Eureka Springs, the limestone megalith of the Palace Hotel & Bath House (135 Spring St) has welcomed guests since 1901. The European-style hotel offers eight suites, all with a spa tub and lush Victorian appointments. The hotel’s attached spa offers a full menu of services.
Basin Park Hotel (12 Spring St) is built where it all started. The 7-story hotel constructed in 1905 replaced an original structure built next to the spring Dr Alvah Jackson used for his elixir. Owners modernized Basin Park Hotel in the late 20th century, and it offers a variety of suites and premium rooms.
Where to eat and drink
Dining in this northern Arkansas city is more than hush puppies and biscuits. An eclectic array of restaurants represents worldwide flavors from Thai to Italian. However, it is easy to find a bar in Eureka Springs with a neighborhood feel like The Cat House Lounge (82 Armstrong).
The Balcony Restaurant (12 Spring St) delivers on their claim to have “the best burger in Eureka Springs.” A blend of brisket and sirloin, this 1/2lb burger comes with the choice of three toppings—including avocado and bacon—on a brioche bun. Pub grub completes the menu. For dessert, try the fried huckleberry pie with huckleberry ice cream.
Awards line the stairwell leading down to the art deco-inspired Mud St. Cafe (22 S Main St) as the smell of fresh coffee wafts to the street. Mud St. Café serves daily brews of Ethiopian, Indonesian, or Central and South American beans. Plus, they offer standard espresso drinks.
Modern fine dining also has its place in Eureka Springs. Rogue Manor (124 Spring St), inside a circa-1887 home, is nestled up against Sweet Spring, one of the more prominent of the 60 natural springs in the city. Rogue Manor offers indoor and outdoor seating. Inside, the décor is reminiscent of a turn of the century fumoir, with rich leather and deeply colored wood. Chef Tommy Schaefer creates culinary delights focused on lamb, duck, and shellfish.
Whether window shopping, art collecting, or looking for local or unique gifts, a key draw of Eureka Springs is the array of shops lining the winding streets making their way up and down this hillside town. The trek is not steep, but it is uphill, at least one way. So, wear comfortable shoes.
Homegrown art, handcrafted décor, and unique gifts fill shopping spaces like Curated Gallery & Gifts (67 Spring Street), which features stalls from more than 30 local artists. Nearby Zarks Gallery (81 Spring St) caters to fine art collectors with a penchant for pop. And MoJo’s Records (123 Spring St) is the place for audiophiles.
Tee Rex (34 Spring St) is more than cool t-shirts. This fun shop displays local and national pop art and a collection of vintage toys from He-Man and Rainbow Brite. Gamers, whether card, board, or party, come to GameMakers (28 Spring St) for the massive selection at this spacious shop.
Like many destination cities around the United States, Eureka Springs has fostered several long running events. New activities are popping up every year, from small weekly yoga gatherings to improv theater.
Sponsored by the Greater Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, Diversity Weekends take place in summer and fall. The citywide celebration features speakers, entertainers, and multiple events throughout the city. Join local celebrities for drag queen bingo or brunch.
The Midwest Oval Club brings Thunder on the Mountain to Eureka Springs in June. The all-Ford car show is the largest gathering of Mustangs and Shelby vehicles in Arkansas and features every model from every year in one place. Other car events include Volkswagen Weekend and the Antique Auto Festival.
Ten miles south of downtown Eureka Springs the Kings River serves as the backdrop for Strings on the Kings (8190 Arkansas State Hwy 221). This 3-day float festival is a celebration of Americana, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and all sorts of music. The outdoor event is family friendly and features vendors and workshops with. It is held each May.