Only in the Ozarks: Eureka Springs Arkansas – An Unexpected Pleasure
Eureka! I think I found a hidden gem in the Ozarks! I was provided an all expense paid trip to visit this beautiful city. All opinions are my own.
In my travels I often end up in little spots that I never share with anyone. Why? Because they are spots that unfortunately for one reason or another, shouldn’t be shared. They are sad little spots that even the people who live there aren’t sure they should be there. Sad but true.
Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason….
I am happy to say – Eureka Springs is not one of those spots!
I’ll admit I never heard of it. The places that are not all over the “Top 10 Travel Destination” stories are often the places you should really visit. Eureka Springs is one of those places.
Trips to big cities can be exhausting and expensive. Everyone should slow down a bit and appreciate some of the finer points of a getaway to small town America. You can do exactly that in Eureka Springs.
About Eureka Springs History
Eureka Springs is located in the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas and as of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 2,073.
The entire city is on the National Register of Historic Places as the Eureka Springs Historic District, and has been selected as one of America’s Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Eureka Springs was originally called “The Magic City” and later the “Stairstep Town” because of its mountainous terrain and the winding, up-and-down paths of the streets and walkways.
It is a tourist destination for its unique character as a Victorian resort village. The city has steep winding streets filled with Victorian-style cottages and manors. The historic commercial downtown of the city has an extensive streetscape of well-preserved Victorian buildings. The buildings are primarily constructed of local stone, built along streets that curve around the hills and rise and fall with the topography in a five-mile long loop. Some buildings have street-level entrances on more than one floor. The streets wind around the town, and no two intersect at a 90 degree angle; there are no traffic lights.The city was founded when the springs were more evident.
Over-extraction of water from the springs has greatly diminished their flow rates. All of the more than 140 springs in the town are cold-water springs.
Native American legends tell of a Great Healing Spring in the Eureka Springs area. European Americans also believed that the springs had healing powers. After the Europeans arrived, they described the waters of the springs as having magical powers.
Dr. Alvah Jackson was credited in American history with locating the spring, and in 1856 claimed that the waters of Basin Spring had cured his eye ailments. Dr. Jackson established a hospital in a local cave during the Civil War and used the waters from Basin Spring to treat his patients. After the war, Jackson marketed the spring waters as “Dr. Jackson’s Eye Water”.
In 1879 Judge J.B. Saunders, a friend of Jackson, claimed that his crippling disease was cured by the spring waters. Saunders started promoting Eureka Springs to friends and family members across the state and created a boomtown. Within a period of little more than one year, the city expanded from a rural spa village to a major city. Within a short time in the late 19th century, Eureka Springs developed as a flourishing city, spa and tourist destination.
Thousands of visitors came to the springs based on Saunders’ promotion and covered the area with tents and shanties, and by 1881, Eureka Springs enjoyed the status of Arkansas’s fourth largest city.
In 1882, the Eureka Improvement Company was formed to attract a railroad to the city. With the completion of the railroad, Eureka Springs established itself as a vacation resort.
In only two years, thousands of homes and commercial enterprises were constructed. The Crescent Hotel was built in 1886 and the Basin Park Hotel in 1905.
Many of the Victorian buildings have been well preserved, forming a coherent street scape that has been recognized for its quality. In 1892, the New Orleans Hotel and Spa was built along Spring Street and is still in operation as all-suite hotel full of Victorian furniture and art.
“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.” – Lawrence Block
About Eureka Springs of Today
Over the years the city has attracted artists, adventurers, illusionists and entrepreneurs, who together have shaped Eureka Springs into a super cool, picturesque spot where the locals are welcoming, the food is good and shops are full of all sorts of eclectic wares.
The best way to see the area when you first arrive is by taking the Eureka Springs Historic District Tram Tour. Local guides narrate the tram tours sharing their love for their little city and bringing to life its history, culture, and architecture.
Thorncrown Chapel is a 48-foot-tall worship center near the Ozark Mountains. The unique chapel has drawn more than six million visitors since it opened in 1980. It features 425 windows, 6,000 square feet of glass, and 100 tons of native stone and colored flagstone.
The chapel is one of the most serene places I have ever visited. A peace seems to form around you and envelope you in a hug of serenity when you enter and sit in a pew gazing through the clear glass at the surrounding landscape.
Downtown Eureka Springs has interesting shops and fun attractions for visitors of all ages. The main shopping area contains more than 50 stores that sell various types of merchandise. Kids love stopping by the Two Dumb Dames Fudge Shop and the adults will find local artist’s galleries tucked among the boutiques. The galleries in town range from fine art to contemporary folk art.
Chain stores aren’t allowed in downtown Eureka Springs, so the streets of downtown are crawling with mom-and-pop restaurants, taverns, and craft shops.
Of all the restaurants in the area (over 100) there are only 3 chain restaurants and they are outside the downtown area.
Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta
Once you have visited the chapel, taken a tram tour of Eureka Springs, and shopped your way around downtown, there is still plenty to do in the area.
Less than an hours ride from Eureka Springs, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a worthwhile day trip. With an impressive collection of American masterpieces ranging from the Colonial era to the present day and natural grounds that include a 120-acre park, the museum seeks to “unite the power of art with the beauty of nature.”
While there you won’t want to miss the Bachman-Wilson House which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the classic Usonian architecture he developed during the Great Depression for middle-class American families.
The home was moved to the property from it’s original location in pieces and reconstructed on site.
Eureka Springs and the surrounding area is extraordinarily beautiful. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking, canoeing, biking, climbing, and camping.
Here are just a few more ideas:
- Quigley’s Castle
- Blue Spring Heritage Center
- Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway
- Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
- Eureka Springs Historical Museum
- Crescent Hotel Ghost Tour
- Pivot Rock and Natural Bridge
- Intrigue Theater
- Beaver Lake
- Ozark Mountain Ziplines
- Lake Leatherwood
- Onyx Cave Park
- Quicksilver Gallery
- Keels Creek Winery
- Bear Mountain Riding Stable & Dude Ranch
- Inspiration Point Fine Arts
- Adventure Mountain Outfitters
- Christ of the Ozarks – This seven story statue is a symbol of love and hope and looks down on Eureka Springs from Magnetic Mountain.
- Basin Spring Park
- Funnel Cake Factory
- Pine Mountain Village
There are plenty of lodging and dining options in Eureka Springs for out-of-town visitors.
I was fortunate to stay at the Crescent Hotel which has been called “America’s Most Haunted Hotel.” What an experience! (The hotel itself is full of stories and a few guests that have never left and will be the subject of an entire story all it’s own in the coming weeks).
Eureka Springs is the perfect spot to travel to when you are looking to slow down, relax, and enjoy things like short walks, sunny afternoons in the park, or uncrowded shops and restaurants.
“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” – Dalai Lama
You should definitely find your way to Eureka Springs, AR – you won’t be disappointed. Combine your trip with a visit to Branson, MO, a beautiful and scenic drive only about an hour away.