Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Arkansas Bucket List - 11 Must-Take Trips for 2016.

Everyone has something they've always wanted to do.  Those daring acts and adventures you'd like to tackle is often called a "bucket list" (things to do before you kick the bucket) -- and it usually includes a good deal of places people want to go, see and do in their lifetime.

When I talk about Arkansas, there's usually a person in the crowd who mentions they've always wanted to go to a place I've mentioned, or eat something I've talked about.  Get a head-start on your planning.  Make your reservations now to cross these items off your bucket list.

1. Explore the LOViT Trail.  The Lake Ouachita Vista Trail runs the length of the south shore of Lake Ouachita, a gorgeous clear-bottom lake that stretches from Hot Springs Village to Mount Ida.  Its gorgeous overlooks through some of the prettiest parts of the Ouachita Mountains are worth a good hike or bike ride.  Plus, the LOViT Trail has been named by the International Mountain Biking Association as one of just 40 Epic Model Trails IN THE WORLD.  Lots of places to get on the trail.  Check out the website.

2. Shoot skeet and savor a spa in the same day.  The Lower Delta's surprise jewel is a relatively new resort center hidden a short distance from McGehee.  The Delta Resort and Spa is a world-class location for clay target shooting, and its experts can guide you in what you need to know about duck hunting.  A full-scale fine dining restaurant, 43 Grill and Bar, is on the premises, as well as a whole host of great hotel rooms, a conference center, and a spa.  Check it out.

3. Spend a night with the big cats.  If you haven't been to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, you have missed out.  More than 100 of these wild felines (including lions, tigers, jaguars, cheetahs and cougars) have been rescued and now live comfortable lives outdoors, where they can stretch out in the grass and feel the change of the seasons.  Stay overnight at one of the Refuge's Safari Lodges, luxury accommodations where you can relax, enjoy an evening and listen to the big cats roar at night. Here's the site.

4. Wander a land of neat museums. This one's a two-fer.  You can head to northwest Arkansas and spend a whole weekend exploring the Amazeum - a great new museum just opened in 2015 for kids and families - as well as the museum at 21c, the Museum of Native American History, Walton's 5 and 10, and of course Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.  Or come to central Arkansas and enjoy the Arkansas Museum of Discovery (another great place for kids and families!), the Old Statehouse Museum, the Historic Arkansas Museum, the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, the MacArthur Museum of American Military History, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the ESSE Purse Museum, the Central High School National Historic Site, the Clinton Presidential Center... need I say more?

5. Go ATV riding along the Wolf Pen Gap Trails. Forty-two miles of loop trails along Arkansas's western border near Mena are prime travel for four-wheeled off-road vehicles.  Along the way, spot gorgeous mountain vistas, waterfalls, creekbeds and historic structures.  Several outfitters provide the vehicles and accommodations you'll need for your trip.  Find out more, here.

6. Discover Wilson. There's a little town on Arkansas's eastern border within spitting distance of the Mississippi River, where you'll find remarkable Tudor architecture.  The town of Wilson was built up more than a century ago.  Today, it's undergoing a renaissance, with new projects and ideas taking form.  Visit the Wilson Cafe and enjoy Chef Joe Cartwright's southern food interpretations.  See hardwood forests planted by Lee Wilson and his family 125 years ago.  Learn about the Wilson School and the coalition of local farmers and watch the development unfold. More here.

7. Sleep on a mountain. Arkansas's Tri-Peaks Region encompasses a section of the Arkansas River Valley in western Arkansas.  Regard the incredible views from a luxury lodge room at Mount Magazine State Park.  Cozy up in a mountaintop cabin at Petit Jean Mountain State Park -- or, my favorite, enjoy sunrise and sunset on a stone patio at the edge of Mount Nebo.  Your Arkansas State Parks are just a click away.

8. Celebrate Eureka Gras. Arkansas's most fantastic Mardi Gras celebration takes place January 9-February 6 in the heart of the Ozarks.  Over the course of four weeks, enjoy parades, balls and the antics of the Krewe of Krazo.  An experience you have to see to believe. More information.

9. Dine where the gangsters played. The Ohio Club is Arkansas's oldest bar.  Opened in 1905 as a gambling hall, it's survived Prohibition and generations of celebrities, gangsters and more.  Today it boasts its original 1880s era carved bar, a stage where you'll find live music seven nights a week, and several remarkable burgers.  Get over to Hot Springs.

10. Hide out in the woods at Moro Bay. Perhaps the best kept secret among Arkansas State Parks lodging, this south central Arkansas hideaway tucked in where Raymond Lake meets the Ouachita River includes five two-bedroom cabins that offer seclusion and screened porches overlooking the gorgeous waterways.  Reserve your spot.

11. Celebrate the Wild West -- and visit a brothel neat visitors center.  If you haven't seen Fort Smith lately, you've been missing out.  The Gateway to the American West celebrates centuries of heros, from Wyatt Earp and Belle Starr to legendary marshal Bass Reeves and "Hanging Judge" Isaac C. Parker.  You'll also find a fine collection of World War II related museums, including the Barbershop Museum, where Elvis Presley received his famous haircut after joining the U.S. Army.  Even the visitors center in Miss Laura's offers a historical perspective, located within what was once a house of ill repute. All this, located in the city with Arkansas's greatest variety of ethnic cuisine. See all the things you can do, here. And check out the new murals.

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