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My Expert’s Guide on What to do in Northwest Arkansas!

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“What to do in Northwest Arkansas” is a question I asked myself a lot before my very first trip out there nearly five years ago. I had imagined in my head that it was a pretty boring place to visit. However, I’ve come to learn that is certainly not the case. I’ve made nearly 15 trips to Northwest Arkansas over the last five years and have come to learn that there are plenty of things to do and places to see in Northwest Arkansas. From Bentonville to Fayetteville, and Siloam Springs to Eureka Springs, you’ll find fun and adventure all around. My guide to Northwest Arkansas is built on many of the trips I’ve taken and what I’ve learned from my friends who live there. Keep reading to find out why I think it’s a hidden gem of a place to visit!

Welcome to the Land of Walmart

For those who love Walmart the answer to the question of “What to do in Northwest Arkansas” is pretty easily answered. The company is headquartered in the quaint town of Bentonville. Walmart definitely hasn’t forgotten its roots. While you can drive through the town and see a number of big, fancy, Walmart offices, you might actually miss the real home office off of 8th street. It looks like an old high school or something!

Visiting Sam Walton's red and white Ford F-150 at the Walmart Museum should be on every list of what to do in Northwest Arkansas
You can see Sam Walton’s actual truck inside the Walmart Museum!

One part of Walmart history you won’t be able to miss is Walton’s 5&10. It’s located right on Bentonville square where it has stood for well over 60 years. This piece of history now operates as the Walmart Museum. Inside you’ll find countless pieces of Walmart memorabilia and learn all about the history of the company and it’s founder Sam Walton. The place is pretty much a pilgrimage for Walmart associates, and a great way to spend an hour or so for everyone else. Plus, as an added bonus, you can get a super cheap ice cream cone on the way out!

Crystal Bridges has a wide array of amazing art.

My favorite place to visit in the Bentonville area is Crystal Bridges. This world-class art museum features some absolutely amazing pieces of American art, including the original Rosie the Riveter. The establishment of Crystal Bridges was supported by Alice Walton, daughter of Sam Walton. The Walmart Foundation has continued to support the development of the museum, ensuring it remains absolutely free for visitors. I’d put Crystal Bridges as #1 on my list of places to see in Northwest Arkansas.

Fireworks over a concert held at the Walmart AMP which is one of the best places to see in Northwest Arkansas
Add fireworks to the list of what to do in Northwest Arkansas! Image courtesy of Tourism Arkansas.

Down the highway between Bentonville and Fayetteville, you’ll find a wide array of shopping, dining, and entertainment. Much of this is centered around the Walmart AMP (Arkansas Music Pavilion). This is a world-class amphitheater which hosts concerts of all kinds including bands like KISS and Foo Fighters. Depending on who is playing the AMP when you make your trip, you might want to add it to your places to see in Northwest Arkansas.

Exploring Fayetteville’s Cultural Scene

Fayetteville is a city that seamlessly blends natural beauty with cultural attractions, and three places that showcase this perfectly are the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, Walton Arts Center, and Dickson Street. Each of these destinations offers a unique experience that will leave you enriched and inspired.

If the sun is shining, the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks is a great place to spend the day. Image courtesy of Tourism Arkansas.

The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks is a serene oasis in the heart of the city, featuring over 42 acres of stunning gardens, walking trails, and beautiful views. As you wander through the gardens, you’ll discover a variety of plant species, including rare and exotic flowers, trees, and shrubs. The garden’s themed areas, such as the butterfly garden and Ozark native garden, offer interactive experiences that delight visitors of all ages. With its peaceful atmosphere and natural beauty, the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks is a must-visit for nature lovers and those seeking a tranquil escape.

The Walton Arts Center is a world-class performing arts venue that hosts a diverse range of shows, from Broadway productions to concerts and comedy acts. With its state-of-the-art facilities and excellent acoustics, this center is a hub for cultural activity in Fayetteville, attracting visitors from all over the region. The center’s educational programs, workshops, and community events make it a vibrant and inclusive space for people of all ages and interests. If you’re asking what to do in Northwest Arkansas and the answer is to see a show, then plan a visit to the Walton Arts Center.

For a evening on the town, catch a show at the Walton Arts Center. Image courtesy of Tourism Arkansas

Dickson Street is the heart of Fayetteville’s entertainment scene, lined with unique shops, restaurants, bars, and live music venues. This vibrant street is always buzzing with activity, whether it’s a weekend night or a weekday evening. Visitors can enjoy a delicious meal at one of the many restaurants, catch a live music performance at the iconic George’s Majestic Lounge, or simply soak up the lively atmosphere. With its eclectic mix of boutiques, galleries, and eateries, Dickson Street is a great place to explore and discover the city’s creative spirit. Whether you’re looking for a night out with friends or a family-friendly activity, Dickson Street has something for everyone.

Outdoor Adventures in Northwest Arkansas

I’ll be one of the first to admit when I thought of Northwest Arkansas, I pictured tiny towns in the middle of nowhere. While I have found that to not be the case, there is still a plentiful amount of nature to be found. You’ll find plenty of places to see in Northwest Arkansas that’ll scratch your itch for hiking, biking, fishing, or anything outdoorsy.

Snowy winter hikes are still one of the best things to do in Northwest Arkansas during the winter
If you’re willing to brave the cold, you might have the trails all to yourself at Beaver Lake!

As an avid amateur hiker, I always like to find those nice and easy hikes when I visit somewhere. So when I asked myself what to do in Northwest Arkansas, hiking quickly jumped to mind. I’ve been fortunate enough on my trips out to have taken a couple of great hikes that are super easy to reach no matter where you’re staying. My favorite hike was the Karst Loop along Beaver Lake. A fairly easy drive from Bentonville, I did this hike in January of 2022 and right after a big snowfall. It was perfectly peaceful and quiet, which was exactly what I was looking for. This guide to Northwest Arkansas wouldn’t really be complete if I didn’t also mention Devil’s Den State Park. The park features tons of different hikes for all ages and skill levels. It definitely should be on your list of places to see in Northwest Arkansas if you’re visiting for fall colors!

Fall colors at Devil's Den State Park should certainly be on your list of What to Do In Northwest Arkansas
Devil’s Den is an amazing hike to do in the fall!

As one of the premier mountain biking destinations in America, visitors can find miles of trails all across Northwest Arkansas. Fayetteville’s Centennial Park played host to the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships in January of 2022. So that should let you know that this isn’t your grandma’s mountain bike trails! Bentonville even claims itself as the “Mountain Biking Capital of the World”, which any enthusiast could certainly put to the test. Bentonville is so bike-happy that you can park downtown, walk a block, and get on trails that swing past Crystal Bridges and all the way to the woods beyond!

For fishermen asking what to do in Northwest Arkansas, I’d tell you that Beaver Lake is your go to destination. There are quite a few places where you can put your boat into the waters of the lake and spend the day fishing. Beaver Lake is a reservoir of the White River and just happens to be one of the best trout fisheries in North America.

Northwest Arkansas is Small Town America

No guide to Northwest Arkansas would be complete if it glossed over the many small towns in the region. While Fayetteville dominates the region, and Bentonville hosts the largest company in America, there is more to the region than just these small towns.

Eureka Springs is one of the best known small towns in America and definitely should be on your list of places to see in Northwest Arkansas. Known as a LGBTQ+ haven in an otherwise unfriendly state, Eureka Springs packs in plenty of small town charm. It’s just over an hour from both Bentonville and Fayetteville, making it great for a day trip or an out of the way stay. The town features a unique architectural style (known as Eureka Victorian), and many of the buildings have multiple “ground floors” due to how the town was essentially carved into the hillside. If you were wanting a few haunted places to see in Northwest Arkansas, then Eureka Springs is definitely your destination as well.

Eureka Springs has one of the most unique main streets in America. Image courtesy of Tourism Arkansas.

Siloam Springs sits on the opposite side of the region from Eureka Springs. While Eureka is a mountain town in the Ozarks, Siloam is much “flatter” and right against the border with Oklahoma. Sager Creek runs through the center of town and features a number of excellent city parks to spend a few hours at. If festivals were on your list of what to do in Northwest Arkansas, then Siloam Springs is a great choice for a visit. Spring is home to the very popular Dogwood Festival, while the town embraces the holidays with Light Up Siloam Springs.

I wish one of my trips would have let me visit during the Dogwood Festival. Image courtesy of Tourism Arkansas

When to Make Your Trip to NWA

So, I’ve visited Northwest Arkansas at pretty much every time of year. Normally when I write guides like this, I take a seasonal approach on when to travel. However, with this guide to Northwest Arkansas it is really all about when NOT to make your trip. You see, while this portion of the state is normally pretty laid-back and uncrowded during most of the year it does have one busy season. That is Shareholder’s Week for Walmart. During this week, tens of thousands of Walmart associates descend on Bentonville and the surrounding area. Literally, every thing included on this what to do in Northwest Arkansas guide is going to be packed that week. For those planning a trip (and not attending Shareholder’s) you’ll certainly want to avoid the first two weeks of June.

Fall is probably the best time to make a trip. Beaver Lake is much different then than in the winter when I hiked around it! Image courtesy of Tourism Arkansas

The rest of the year is a great time to visit the state. While you’ll obviously deal with the heat in the summer, and potential snow in the winter, neither of these put a stop to me visiting a number of the places to see in Northwest Arkansas. I’ve done hikes in pretty much every season, including my favorite one at Beaver Lake above. If you’re wanting to avoid crowds during the rest of the year, make your trip outside of the fall. Like many places across the country, when the colors of the leaves change, people will flock to see them. Northwest Arkansas doesn’t draw the same crowds as say, Shenandoah National Park, so it can be a good fall alternative.

My Final Takeaways on What to do in Northwest Arkansas

I hope that this guide to Northwest Arkansas has been helpful in planning your trip to this under-appreciated part of America. There is a wide range of historical, natural, and cultural sites here that make it a great place for a trip. It’ll also be a great hub if you want to explore a bit further afield as well. Staying in Fayetteville give you the best access to places like Buffalo National River or Ozark National Forest for more nature oriented adventures. Alternatively, you could stay a few days here as part of a road trip through Arkansas where you could include the Great River Road in the Arkansas Delta!

Lake Fayetteville is a great spot for flying a drone or shooting sunrise photos!

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