Discover the 7 Best National Parks in Arkansas

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: April 29, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/gnagel
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Arkansas is located in the southern part of the United States and is bordered by the Mississippi River. It is home to teeming parks and nature reserves with terrains comprising caves, hot springs, mountains, and rivers.

Arkansas’ national parks are rich in natural beauty and cultural history. The National Park Service preserves a sequence of unequaled locations in the state, from colonial outposts and Civil War battlefields to one of America’s most stunning wild rivers and a civil rights landmark.

Arkansas has seven national parks in total, with about 3.2 million visits each year. According to the National Park Service, tourism generates about $222 million in economic benefits. In this article, we’ll take a look at these parks, giving you all the information you need to know as you plan your next trip.

1. Arkansas Post National Memorial

Arkansas Post National Memorial is situated in southern Arkansas.

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Arkansas Post National Memorial 
Size 757.51 acres
Animals to seeWhitetail deer, opossums, raccoons
Attraction to seeArkansas Post Museum, The Arkansas Post Cistern

Arkansas Post National Memorial is situated in southern Arkansas, some 80 miles southeast of Little Rock, near the small town of Gillett in the Delta region. The park is available all year round and allows visitors to enjoy and learn about a 17th-century French settlement.

The Memorial protects the area where the earliest permanent Europeans settled in the Mississippi River Valley. It was the site of a French outpost founded in 1686 that was later controlled by France, Spain, the Confederacy, and the United States.

One of only two fights of the American Revolution was fought west of the Mississippi, and a major Civil War battle occurred here. The site features the wreckage of Arkansas Post’s old town, an informative center with displays on the park’s rich history, and the site of some of the most intense combat during the 1864 Battle of Fort Hindman, or Arkansas Post.

2. Buffalo National River

The Buffalo National River is one of America’s genuinely wild and gorgeous rivers.

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Buffalo National River 
Size153 miles
Animals to seeBeavers, elk, bobcats, osprey, vultures
Attraction to seePonca or Steel Creek, Cecil Cove Loop 

According to the Transactions of the ASAE, Buffalo National Reserve is 90 miles northwest of Little Rock in north-central Arkansas. The park is open all year and has white-water canoeing, animal-watching, and hiking opportunities for people to enjoy.

The 153-mile Buffalo River is one of America’s genuinely wild and gorgeous rivers. The river meanders through the Ozark Mountains, passing by cliffs, mountains, historical landmarks, etc.

The Buffalo River area, which is famous for canoeing and floating, may also be toured by vehicles and used as a hiking route. The Buffalo National River Visitor Center is about 10 miles north of Marshall, off of US 65 at Tyler Bend.

3. Fort Smith National Historic Site

Fort Smith is known primarily as the headquarters of the Old West’s Hanging Judge.

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Fort Smith National Historic Site 
Size75 acres
Animals to seeBison, squirrels, black bear, elk
Attraction to seeThe Clayton House, St Scholastica Monastery

Fort Smith National Historic Site is situated in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the west-central part of the state. The park is open all year and allows visitors to explore the historic fort’s structures.

A trip to Fort Smith National Historic Site on the Oklahoma frontier is necessary if you want to enjoy the true Old West. Fort Smith is known primarily as the headquarters of the Old West’s Hanging Judge. It is the site of two key border forts.

According to Arcadia Publishing, during the tumultuous days following the Civil War, this was where U.S. District Judge Isaac C. Parker sentenced more than 70 criminals to death. Parker’s deputy marshals inspired Hollywood masterpieces, including True Grit, Rooster Cogburn, and Hang Em High. Despite his opposition to the death penalty, Parker was only allowed one sentence in cases of murder and rape under US law: death.

The National Historic Site includes the original fort’s ruins and structures and the famed “Hell on the Border” jail, Parker’s courtroom, displays of Fort Smith’s deputy marshals and outlaws, and the restored gallows where several criminals met their end.

4. Hot Springs National Park

Hot Springs National Park is home to gray foxes, cottontail rabbits, and bullfrogs.

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Hot Springs National Park 
Size5,550 acres
Animals to seeGray foxes, cottontail rabbits, bullfrog
Attraction to seeBathhouse Row, Hot Springs Mountain Tower

Hot Springs National Park is 45 miles southwest of Little Rock in west-central Arkansas. The park is open all year and includes tours of ancient bathhouses and miles of hiking paths.

Situated close to Hot Springs, Arkansas, the park is one of the state’s natural attractions. Because it was the first place set aside by the US government solely to protect natural resources, the city appropriately labels itself America’s First Resort.

The legendary Ouachita Hot Springs are preserved in the park. At Hot Springs, steaming water rushes down the sides of a mountain, heated by natural pressure as it rises from deep under the earth. Visitors may watch and touch the water as it flows down the slope of the mountain in the park, which is located in the downtown area.

Antique Bathhouse Row retains a series of spectacular historic bathhouses where tourists from all over the country formerly gathered to bathe in the water of the springs. Thousands of acres of untamed mountain beauty and the Hot Springs Tower, which provides beautiful views of the Hot Springs Valley from above, are among the park’s other attractions.

5. Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is in the capital city of Little Rock, in central Arkansas.

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Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site 
Size17.95 acres
Animal to see
Attraction to seeWilliam J. Clinton Presidential Library

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site is in the capital city of Little Rock, in central Arkansas. The park is always open and includes guided tours of the high school and a great tourist center.

On September 23, 1957, nine African American students made the historical walk through a jeering mob, putting the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education verdict to the test. 

The high school is the only actual school maintained as a national park, and it is still in use. Tours, displays, and more are available and trips to significant places related to the 1957 crisis.

6. Pea Ridge National Military Park 

Pea Ridge National Military Park 
The Pea Ridge National Military Park is about 75 miles northeast of Fort Smith in northeastern Arkansas.

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Pea Ridge National Military Park Size4,300 acresAnimals to seeAmerican toad, speckled kingsnake, Western slimy salamander, prairie kingsnake Attraction to seeWonderland Tree Farm

The Pea Ridge National Military Park is about 75 miles northeast of Fort Smith in northeastern Arkansas. The park is available all year and includes an auto tour of the grounds and a movie showing in the visitor center.

Pea Ridge National Military Park protects the site of one of the major Civil War battles fought west of the Mississippi River, including miles of tour routes, a restored tavern, and dozens of artillery.

Visitors can start their journey by watching “Thunder in the Ozarks.” It’s a fantastic 28-minute documentary that delves into the history of this location. There’s also a fantastic museum, which first opened its doors in 1963. In 2010, all of the museum’s exhibits were entirely updated. And if you’re a fan of history, the bookstore is a good place to start.

There is a seven-mile driving trip with ten marked spots. You’ll learn about the guys who fought there and what they gave up along the road. It’s a powerful experience. 

7. President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site 

President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site 
The President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home is about 110 miles southwest of Little Rock in southwestern Arkansas.

Michael Barera / Creative Commons – License

The President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home is about 110 miles southwest of Little Rock in southwestern Arkansas. The park is available all year and includes a guided tour of the 1917 home where Bill Clinton grew up.

You can visit this memorable location in Hope, Arkansas. A visitor center and the birthplace house are part of this tiny National Historic Site. You could easily explore this location from start to finish in just a couple of hours.

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