Places to visit in Arkansas with family. Visiting relatives guide to easy day trips in the central Arkansas area.
We’re not originally from Arkansas. So when extended family says they’d like to come visit, we jump on the “yes! Please come!” wagon real quick.
But it can be a bit overwhelming being the host and trying figure out easy day trips that family members of all ages will enjoy.
Be sure to check individual websites for up to date hours of operation and current Covid guidelines.
Since we’ve been in the natural state a few years now, we’ve come up with our own list of top destination locations to take extended friends and family from out of town.
PLACES TO VISIT IN ARKANSAS WITH FAMILY
CENTRAL ARKANSAS DAY TRIPS
The Old Mill
The Old Mill is famous for being in the opening credits of the 1939 film, Gone With The Wind. Located in North Little Rock, this 3 acre park is perfect for a small stroll.
It’s also a nice quite place for little kids to break the ice with grandparents they might not have seen in a while.
Me and McGee Market
Me and McGee is a great little farmers market located in North Little Rock. They offer local produce, jams, salsas and so much more. Also on site is a food truck with delicious plate lunches and the best kombucha we’ve ever had.
After a picnic lunch, head over to downtown Little Rock. You can either park at the River Market Parking Deck (paid parking) or park behind the Little Rock River Market (paid parking). Behind the River Market you’ll find Junction Bridge. This area is great to explore with family.
Be sure to walk the bridge and then head over to the Riverfront playground. (This playground has a large slide and tunnels leading to different areas. Keep a close eye on your children.)
Petit Jean State Park
Petit Jean is an easy drive from the Little Rock Area, and you don’t need to be an avid hiker to enjoy it! This state park has so many easy walks and lookout points, so it’s high on our visiting family day trips.
On the way up, stop at Stouts Point for a great view of the Arkansas River and learn of the story behind the name Petit Jean.
Be sure to check out the visitors center where they have a gift shop and small museum with exhibits.
For a detailed list of easy hikes and small walks, check out my post on 9 easy hikes and over looks at Petit Jean State Park.
A few easy walks to start off would be Cedar Falls Overlook, Bear Cave Trail and Rock House Cave. Over near Rock House Cave is M.A. Ritcher Memorial Lookout and Cedar Creek Canyon overlook. Both spots are perfect for a quiet picnic.
Also on the mountain is a coffee house, country store with deli, car museum and small petting zoo with horseback riding. So be sure to pack some snacks and enjoy the day exploring this beautiful area.
Cockrills Country Critters
Located in Austin Arkansas, is Cockrills Country Critters. A family owned petting zoo that is packed with fun! Inside the barn you’ll find birds, snakes, ferrets, chicks, guinea pigs, goats and a few other farm animals. This petting zoo is seasonal, so be sure to check their website for up to date hours of operation.
This beautiful farm also offers hay rides, pony rides, a playground and even has a concession stand on site with delicious fresh lemonade.
When you check in you can buy a bucket of feed and have the goats and sheep eating right out of your hand. Watch out for the camels though, as they want the entire bucket!
Heritage Park- LRAFB
Since we’re military, we like to show our parents and grandparents around the AFB. One of our favorite places to bring them is Heritage Park. Or as my kids like to call it, “The airplane park“. It’s an easy paved path located on base that brings you around several different retired planes and plaques they can read along the way.
It’s not a big thing to do but it’s a nice walk and the military member can give a little insight into their daily life here in Arkansas.
Hot Springs is a great easy day trip with a bunch of different things to see and do. Head up to the tower at Hot Springs National Park where you’ll see great views of the town and a gift shop. At the bottom of the one way drive down the hill, you’ll see a parking lot to your right where you can park and fill up your water bottles with fresh spring water.
Take a stroll down the 0.5 mile Grand Promenade and visit the Hot Springs visitors center right on the main road. The visitors center is a gorgeous older building with 4 floors filled with history about the town.
Also in town you’ll find antique stores, high end boutiques, restaurants and more. Be sure to stop by Kilwins; an old fashioned sweet shop with ice cream and homemade treats.
Mid-America Science Museum
Do you have any dinosaur lovers in your household? At the Mid-America Science Museum you’ll find a walking path with dinosaurs that roar!
Inside the museum you can purchase tickets to the Tesla Coil show, see what it’s like inside a mine (it’s dark! Secure your sunglasses and cell phones) and check out the skywalk outside high in the trees.
Garvan Woodland Gardens
Or maybe your family would rather take a quiet walk at Garvan Woodland Gardens. Garvan Gardens is one of our favorite places to visit at any time of year.
This 200 acre garden is breathtaking. From the tulips lining the paths in the spring, to the holiday light display from Thanksgiving through the New Year, this garden has something new to see during every season.
Our girls especially love visiting the children’s area with a cave waterfall to climb up and three story treehouse to explore.
After all this traveling it’s time for a lake day! If you haven’t spent the day at Indian Lake in Austin, Arkansas, then you’re missing out. This fun little lake has a beach area with a couple of docks to jump from. Bring your own canoes or kayaks to explore the lake, or rent a paddle boat there.
But the number one reason we love this lake is the giant red slide! As an adult, you might skim across the water a little further than expected. But as a kid… this is what summer was made for!
Crater of Diamonds State Park
Although this is a tad further than our normal day trips, a trip to the Crater of Diamonds State Park is great if you don’t mind getting a little dirty.
You can bring your own gear to dig or rent from the state park. Since we aren’t super serious diamond hunters, a couple of buckets, small shovels, dollar mesh strainers and a wagon to tow everything, was perfect for our little adventure.
Even though you may not get lucky with finding an actual diamond, the possibility of finding one keeps you digging.
During the summer they have a nice little water park area to keep the kids cool, and maybe us moms and dads can dip a toe or two in too.
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Pinnacle Mountain State Park
For day seven we’re heading to a mountain. Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Little Rock. You and your family might enjoy the views from the top, but our small feet and grandparents aren’t doing that today. And that’s ok! Because there are a few other places to check out.
If you park over by the visitors center you can take a stroll up to the lookout point. Here you’ll find a nice view of the Arkansas River. Also in that area is the Rocky Valley Trail. A 1.5 mile loop trail that passes a pretty gorgeous quarry pond.
The Promenade at Chenal
This shopping area is beautiful! But by now it’s lunchtime and we’re going to the Big Orange at The Promenade at Chenal. I haven’t mentioned many restaurants in this post (mainly because we eat out so rarely) but this one is… so delicious!
Bonus, if there is a wait time you can shop the stores until it’s time to be seated.
The Painted Tree
Also in this area is The Painted Tree. A collection of vendors all with their own unique booths. Here you can find anything from locally made gifts and crafts, to upscale clothing boutiques.
It’s truly a unique experience and a great place to do some local shopping and support small businesses.
Museum of Discovery
After all that shopping, it’s time for another kid day. The Museum of Discovery is located right in downtown Little Rock and perfect for every age to embrace their inner child and discovery the how and why.
As of now the museum is closed for renovations but will be reopened the end of summer 2021 with new exhibits to enjoy.
The River Market
Just a few buildings over from The Museum of Discovery is the River Market. Inside you’ll find a collection of different restaurants all with amazing food. So if Grandma is craving Thai cuisine and little Susie wants pizza, perfect! Because you can order both.
Your family is still here?! Ok… let’s keep going.
Blanchard Springs Caverns
It’s a bit of a drive (check website for updated Covid restrictions) but Blanchard Springs Caverns is a great place to bring the family. At this living cave they offer three types of guided tours with different exertion levels.
During our visit we did the Dripstone tour which is wheelchair and stroller accessible.
Ozark Folk Center State Park
Also nearby is the Ozark Folk Center State Park. There you can buy tickets to their craft village where over 20 local artists share (and sell) different crafts. Each artist has their own small store where inside you can ask questions, learn about their craft and do a little shopping.
From candle making, beautiful hand crafted jewelry, stain glass, a blacksmith and so much more. Our daughters’ favorite building was where they learned to make corn shuck dolls from a lovely lady who instantly made our girls feel like family.
If you’re looking for a little more adventure, then you might just enjoy Loco Ropes. Located next to the Ozark Fold Center State Park, Loco Ropes is a fun adventure in the trees. Here you can choose to do one of their treetop rope adventures or all three! They also offer a zip line, free fall and a climbing wall.
Now it’s always fun to do a spontaneous day trip, but if you call and reserve a date in advance, they offer discounts. So head over to the Loco Ropes website for full details.
Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park
Just a short drive from Little Rock is Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. Here you’ll find a visitor center and small museum explaining the history behind these ancient mounds. On the grounds are two easy trails, one of which will bring you on a boardwalk over the pond.
Big Rock Fun Park
Approximately 30 minutes from the Toltec Mounds is the Big Rock Fun Park. If the kids still have energy to burn, and grandparents like mini golf, then this place is a must visit. Mini golf, bumper boats, go carts, giant maze, arial rope course, batting cages and indoor laser maze!
Pick one or do them all! It’s a great place to let loose and see is grandpa’s golf skills translate to mini golf.
If you’re looking for something a little different, check out the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee. It’s still within a two hour drive time from central Arkansas and this zoo is huge!
Each section has a different world theme making this experience even better.
Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid
Since we’re already in Tennessee, we’re going to need to stop at Bass Pro Shops. It’s literally just off the highway on the way back into Arkansas, just before you cross over the Mississippi River.
Inside is an outdoor person’s paradise! The way it’s designed is gorgeous with so much to do and see. From restaurants to candy shops, and yes, a giant aquarium. Every family member, from grandpa to little Susie will enjoy this stop.
So Memphis is too far for today…. No problem! Because you can have a similar day here in Little Rock.
Little Rock Zoo
It may not be as big at the Memphis Zoo, but the Little Rock Zoo still makes for a great day with plenty to see. A couple of our favorite spots at the zoo include the penguins to the right as you walk in, and the goats trying to nibble your clothes at the farm.
Bass Pro Shops-Little Rock
There is also a Bass Pro Shops just about 15 minutes from the zoo. It may not be as large as the one in Memphis, but pair that with the Outlets of Little Rock right next store, and you still have a great shopping experience.
Cabot Aquatic Park
Yesterday was far too much walking so today we’re staying close and floating down a lazy river. The Cabot Aquatic Park is the perfect size with hours of fun. This big little park has a kids section, swimming pool for laps, a lazy river and two large twisty slides for the bigger kids.
So grab some sunblock and beach towels and get ready to float the day away.
Local Farm Stand
Right next to the Cabot Aquatic Park is Holland Bottom Farm. Stop in a pick up some fresh fruits and veggies for dinner. Better yet, if it’s strawberry season, pick up a flat of strawberries and make some homemade strawberry shortcake. Because after a fun afternoon in the sun, strawberry shortcake with fresh whipped cream is completely acceptable for dinner!
Now I also have to mention my absolutely favorite farm stand, Barnhill Orchards. This amazing little farm stand has the best lettuce I’ve ever tasted and it’s ruined me! So make the extra drive and head over to Barnhill Orchards for all the in season goodies.
There are a few different ways we can spend the day up in Heber Springs, but first we’re going to need to stop at…
Ozark Country Market
On the way to Heber Springs be sure to stop by the Ozark Country Market. It’s a great place to pick up specialty snacks, chocolate, salsas, local honey and many more gifts and souvenirs to take home.
If you’re looking for a great place to go swimming, check out Dam Site Marina. There is an entry fee per vehicle but the park is very clean and you can walk to a little island right off the beach.
Or if you’d rather something with a bit more sand, you can check out Old Highway 25 Beach Park.
Neither swimming area has lifeguards on duty so swim at your own risk and watch your kiddos very closely.
During the fall months we love to hike up in Heber Springs. A few of our favorite hikes are Collins Creek, Josh Park Memorial Trail, Bridal Falls and Sugar Loaf Mountain. Although Bridal Falls can get a bit busy and it’s more of a stroll around the waterfall and overlook area.
Collins Creek is a great little hike coming in at just 1.2 miles. Just as soon as you start your hike you’ll find a beautiful cascading waterfall area. Eventually the trail gives way as you follow the damn, but it’s a great hike and perfect for our old man dog who moves a little slower these days.
Dinner on the Little Red River
At Cafe Klaser you can enjoy dinner outdoors right by the Little Red River. Of course the world is a little backwards at the moment, so be sure to follow newest guidelines, but even dinner to go is great. (The burgers are delicious!)
It’s easy to get wrapped up into thinking that it’s your job to entertain company. To play tour guide and be the perfect host.
But they are here to see you and your family. Try to enjoy some down time because some of the best memories happen right at home, playing board games around the kitchen table.
I hope this post gives you a few ideas to some fun local things to do. But remember that homemade waffles, coffee and hot chocolate is also a perfect way to catch up with family you haven’t see in a while.
So plan a day trip or two! and then get out the checkers and cocoa.
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