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Go, See, Do, Stay: Exploring Three Destinations in the Ozark Mountains

Sample what the Ozarks offers by exploring these three distinct destinations.

If you haven’t visited the Ozark Mountains, then you’re missing out.

Covering the southern part of Missouri and a large portion of northern Arkansas in the South, “The Ozarks” appeal is broad. Where ever your interests lay (art, history, culinary, etc.), you’ll discover plenty of unique (and memorable) experiences in the region.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Eureka Springs gained prominence in the 1800s for its natural springs (a little over a dozen are active today.) However, it’s the town’s peculiarities and overall Victorian village charm that continue to attract visitors.

Go: Begin your visit by learning the lay of the land aboard the Eureka Springs Tram Tours. Led by longtime residents, the tour introduces you to the unique features and stories of the town. There is no doubt you’ll be entertained and engaged during the 90-minute excursion.

See: Take a stroll around the historic downtown, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Enjoy a meal (and dessert) at Mud Street Cafe, wander in and out of the various shops, and visit Basin Street Park.

Do: Discover Eureka Springs’ many one-of-a-kind attractions like The Great Passion Play and Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge.

West of downtown is The Great Passion Play, recognized as the nation’s number one attended outdoor drama. The performance centers on Jesus Christ’s last days and uses over 150 actors and live animals in the production. The campus also features a Bible Museum, Sacred Arts Museum, Holy Land Tour and more, including Christ of the Ozarks. The statue stands 67 feet tall, with an arm span of 65 feet fingertip to fingertip.

Seven miles south of Eureka Springs is the 450-acre Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. It serves as a lifetime refuge for abandoned, abused and neglected “Big Cats” (tigers, lions, leopards and cougars) and other exotic animals. The majority of the animals on the grounds have been rescued from private owners or defunct facilities. Not only do they offer tours and talks, but also on-site lodging and RV and campsites.

Stay: Book a room at the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa. Much like many places in Eureka Springs, the historic property has a storied history. It also has its own ghost tour.

The resort hotel offers a full-service spa and dining options. Head to SkyBar Gourmet Pizza on the fourth floor and enjoy the views from the highest point in Carroll County. On a clear day, you can see Christ in the Ozarks in the distance.

Bentonville, Arkansas

It’s no surprise that Bentonville has regularly appeared on various must-see travel lists for the past few years.

The destination possesses diverse culinary, arts and outdoor scenes. The city exudes an air of sophistication without losing its small town feel. After one visit, you’ll be talking about Bentonville and recommending it to your friends.

Go: Tour The Walmart Museum, located at the original site of Walton’s 5 & 10. The museum provides an intimate look at the life of Sam Walton and the development of Walmart. Some personal touches inside The Walmart Museum includes Walton’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, his office and his old Ford Truck.

See: The Museum of Native American History covers 14,000 years of Native American history. The “wow” experience begins at the entrance as you’re greeted by a 12,000-year-old Siberian woolly mammoth. The artifacts throughout the museum are arranged by periods, starting with the early Paleo. Pieces are varied and include the most Mississippian head pots ever displayed in one place.

Do: Even if you don’t consider yourself an art buff, you’ll enjoy visiting Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the museum is on 120-acres that incorporates trails, sculptures and gardens.

The impressive structure houses an even more impressive art collection of American artwork that spans five centuries. The museum hosts temporary exhibits throughout the year. Also on the property is the Bachman-Wilson House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The dwelling was moved from New Jersey to preserve it.

Stay: Art is around every corner and in every room at 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville. Among the property’s many amenities include bike rentals. Make it a point to enjoy a meal at The Hive. You never know, a green penguin might join your table.

Branson, Missouri

From live entertainment to museums to Silver Dollar City and more, there is no reason for boredom in Branson. Don’t overlook the destination’s many outdoor adventures, either. It isn’t a stretch to say Branson offers a slice of Americana for all.

Go: Explore Highway 76, also known as Branson’s Entertainment District.

Tour the Titanic Museum Attraction and see the most valuable artifact on display — the life jacket of first-class passenger Madeleine Talmage Astor. Check out the 90,000-square-foot Branson Auto and Farm Museum. It showcases around 200 classic and collectible vehicles and 180 farm tractors and farm implements.

Take a ride on the Branson Ferris wheel that formerly served as Chicago’s Navy Pier Ferris wheel. Don’t miss the nightly light and music shows. Snap a selfie or a group photo with “Mr. Peck,” the 43-foot-tall rooster in front of The Great American Steak & Chicken House, or with Pasghetti’s 50-foot-tall fork and 16-foot-tall meatball.

See: About 10 miles south of downtown Branson is Top of the Rock in Ridgedale. Established by Bass Pro Shops’ Johnny Morris, it’s a destination within itself. Not only can you find a par three golf course, but also Osage, a fine-dining restaurant offering a breathtaking view of Table Rock Lake, Buffalo Bar and “End of the Trail” All-American Wine Cellar.

And that’s not all.

Some points of interest not to miss includes the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum, which is said to house the largest collection of Native American artifacts in the country. The Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail takes you on a golf cart ride through table rock formations and more.

Don’t miss taking a photo of the Chapel of the Ozarks. It’s perhaps the most-photographed building on the property. One look and you’ll understand why.

Do: Be sure to enjoy a meal at The Keeter Center at the College of Ozarks in Point Lookout, less than five miles south of Branson. If it’s possible, arrange your visit to take in their Sunday brunch. While there, stop at the Ralph Foster Museum. The exhibits highlight the Ozarks region. The Keeter Center and museum are just two of the many reasons you should add College of the Ozarks to your itinerary.

Stay: You can’t beat Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel’s location. Adjacent to Branson Landing, the property is also one block from the historic downtown. Don’t skip visiting Dick’s 5 & 10 when venturing out.

Getting here: You best bet is to fly into Springfield-Branson National Airport, about 50 minutes from Branson, and rent a car. Eureka Springs is about an hour from Branson and Bentonville around two hours.

photos: Eureka Springs: Natural spring, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge; Bentonville: Crystal Bridges Museum of Art; Branson, Missouri: Chapel of the Ozarks at Top of the Rock, Dick's 5&10


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