Eureka Springs, Ark., is, in many ways, frozen in time. It grew up virtually overnight when a prominent doctor claimed that the town’s namesake springs, located in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains near the Missouri border, had healing powers. Though the medicinal properties of the water were disputed and never proven, the town, with its original historic charms, is still largely intact. Eureka Springs remains a popular tourist destination with some people visiting to experience the historic vibe of the city, some to enjoy the modern spa scene and others to explore the surrounding rivers and natural areas.
Many people consider a stay in a bed and breakfast in one of Eureka’s trademark Victorian houses a necessary part of a true Ozark experience. These venues allow visitors to avoid staying in large, energy-eating hotels. The Harvest House (built in 1882) sits atop the small-scale hospitality game in Eureka Springs, while the nearby Winterwood Lodge stands out because of its use of organic fabrics in its linens and bedding.
There are a wide range of nature-themed sleeping spots in and around town. On the expensive end is the Woods Treehouse Resort, which features luxury treetop bungalows. There are plenty of campgrounds and rental cabins to choose from as well. Most of these are focused on the family summertime fishing and outdoor experience. While it is possible to get close to nature, hard-core eco-tourists may be disappointed by the “summer camp” feel found at some of these spots. That said, those who choose to travel a little further afield will find that the Ozarks are filled with get-away-from-it-all camping opportunities.
Because of its layout, there is not much parking in the center of Eureka Springs where the shopping and many of the historic buildings are located. However, the town is small enough that pedestrians will find few problems when it comes to getting around. The Eureka Springs Trolley service has several routes running throughout the city. Fares are $1.50 per trip, $5 per day or $25 per month.
The Ozark Natural Science Center is a field-based educational and research organization that gives visitors a chance to go beyond the usual hike and canoe experiences that are a staple in Eureka Springs. Programs are available for children, adults and families. These focus on understanding the ecosystems and natural features of the Ozark region. Three lodges on the center’s grounds offer people a chance to fully immerse themselves in the experience. The family programs start at just over $100 per person (without accommodations). Most of the programs include hikes and canoe trips with a naturalist who explains the wildlife and ecosystems of the region.
The Eureka Springs Farmers Market is open during tourist high season. The rules for vendors (they must be residents of the surrounding counties) mean that all products are locally produced. Items for sale include fruit and vegetables, cut flowers, syrup, jam and handcrafts. The market operates from April until November.
The farmers market is not to be confused with the Eureka Market, a family-owned natural foods store that is frequented mainly by local residents. It is one of the better places in town to purchase organic products and take the pulse of the local green scene.
The Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge is a unique site. It is a privately owned wildlife refuge that specializes in rescuing large cats (cougars, lions and tigers, among others) from out-of-business breeders, animal control and private owners. Turpentine offers habitat tours and has educational programs, which seek to bring attention to the plight of unwanted exotic pets in the U.S.
Withrow Springs State Park, only 20 miles outside of Eureka Springs, is the most convenient place to get in touch with nature and explore the landscapes of the Ozarks without being totally drowned out by other tourists.
A half hour north of Eureka Springs, just across the Missouri state line, is Roaring River State Park. Its showcase attraction is a 100-year-old trout hatchery that releases a quarter of a million fish into the river network each year. There are 10 miles of trails, a large nature center and nearly 200 campsites.
The forests and waterways around Eureka Springs provide a great introduction to the nature of the Ozarks. Beaver Lake is the region’s main waterway, with over 450 miles of shoreline. Though boats crowd the water, especially on the summer weekends, it is possible to rent canoes or kayaks and even charter a sailboat for some non-carbon-producing cruising.
Beaver Lake and adjacent Table Rock Lake are products of dams. Buffalo National River is one of the few waterways in the Ozark region that has yet to be altered by dams. The sometimes-fast-flowing, sometime slow waters are accessible from Eureka Springs. The picture-worthy limestone rock formations on the bank make a canoe or raft trip worthwhile.
Ambitious paddlers can travel by water between Eureka Springs and the region’s other tourist destination, Branson, Mo.
Despite the disproval of the magical healing properties of Eureka Springs waters, it still has an above-normal amount of spas and massage centers. Many spas take a natural, holistic approach to their treatments. Standard offerings include reflexology, acupressure, Reiki and water-based therapies.
Eureka Springs has a surprisingly diverse list of attractions. Its historic buildings mean that it is not short on charm and its rivers and the natural beauty of the rugged Ozarks make the area worthwhile for nature lovers and eco-tourists seeking a convenient domestic destination.
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