Rolling hills and shimmering lakes populate the pastoral scenery of the Ozark National Forest, a one-million-acre sea of old-growth forests stretching from northwest Arkansas down toward the quaint city of Hot Springs. Come fall, the whole area morphs into a sprawling kaleidoscope of color, as trees fill out their foliage and transform meandering forested roads into luminous tunnels. It’s an idyllic setting in a region steeped in singular American history and overflowing with outdoorsy recreation.
Go for a scenic drive: The vast Ozark National Forest is a wonderland for scenic road trips, especially in the fall, as foliage lends luster to hundreds of miles of peaceful byways. Routes run all over the region, from mountains to valley streams. Examples include the Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway through the Boston Mountains, or Mount Magazine Scenic Byway, which reaches the highest peak in Arkansas at 2,753 feet.
Hole up at the Hotel Hale: Housed within a historic bathhouse on Hot Springs’ Bathhouse Row, it doesn’t get more vintage-chic than the Hotel Hale, a cozy, brick-clad boutique with nine suites, mid-century decor and hot spring soaking tubs.
Marvel at outdoor art: Explore the outdoor art trails at Bentonville’s Crystal Bridges Museum, a bastion of American art indoors and out. In fall, the museum’s numerous wooded trails are aglow with all-natural art on the trees, along with man-made compositions like the Listening Forest, a nighttime exhibition of light and sound projections that react to voices and heartbeats.
Rise and shine in Fayetteville: The early bird gets the cheesecake turnover at Little Bread Co., a darling cafe and bakery in Fayetteville where the rustic ambiance is as comforting as the carbs. Pastries and breads are myriad, from bear claws to baguettes, but don’t sleep on the sandwiches, like the Sunnyside with egg, avocado, cheddar, tomato and sprouts on grilled focaccia.
Photos provided by the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism
Live out your adult treehouse dreams: On the northern edge of the Ozarks, the Grand Treehouse Resort in Eureka Springs contains a smattering of funky and adorable treehouses for lodging. Unlike treehouses of your youth, though, these are more like cabins on stilts, outfitted with bridges, tubs, decks and fireplaces — all nestled within a hilly forest.
Drink in the sights on the Buffalo National River: The first designated National River, courtesy of the National Park Service, the Buffalo River provides free-flowing fun all day and night. Come fall, the weather is perfect for kayaking along any of the park’s 130-plus miles of river, hiking or horseback riding and staying up late to watch the stars — in 2019, the destination was named an International Dark Sky Park.
Raise a glass to hot spring beer: Superior Bathhouse in Hot Springs holds the distinction of being the only brewery in the world to make beer from thermal hot spring water, resulting in an ever-changing lineup of seasonal ales — like saisons and honey-basil blondes — that just so happen to contain restorative elements.
Soak in Hot Springs history: Travel back in time, via a bathtub, at Hot Springs National Park, where two historic bathhouses — Buckstaff and Quapaw — still provide traditional thermal soaks along Bathhouse Row. Open since 1912, Buckstaff is the only bathhouse that’s been continuously operated, and a bath here, basking in 102-degree mineral water, feels like soaking in history in the best way.
Attend the Harvest Moon Festival: Buckle up for five days of bluegrass and funk at the annual Hillberry Harvest Moon Festival, held in Eureka Springs Oct. 4-8. Across two outdoor stages, the festival features numerous Americana acts, like The Wood Brothers and Elephant Revival, along with food and drink vendors and a community fire pit.