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Arkansas Travel Guide

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Arkansas River valley © Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism

With Arkansas' alluring forests, lakes and mountains, it's no wonder most of the state's visitors come in search of outdoor adventure. The state's rock climbing opportunities, particularly in the sandstone crags of the northwest, are first rate; its rivers and streams, bursting with trout, are perfect for fishing, canoeing and rafting; hunters enjoy abundant wildlife and comparatively liberal regulations; more than 50 parks scattered across the state offer excellent hiking, backpacking and mountain biking; and digging sites enable holiday 'geologists' to unearth their own quartz, judged to be among the world's finest, and occasionally even find a diamond. The Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only diamond mine in the world where visitors can pay an entry fee and keep whatever gems they find. The state's off-the-beaten-path reputation makes it quite an affordable holiday destination as well.

Once, however, Arkansas had a slightly different reputation among travellers. In the early 1900s, due to its thermal springs, it was an elite hideaway for those seeking health, rejuvenation and luxury. Hot Springs National Park, with its magnificent stone and marble bathhouses, now historic landmarks, was the most famous spa, and it remains the most visited spot in Arkansas, attracting both bathers and history buffs. Eureka Springs is another picturesque historic town that grew up around its hot springs, far north in the fabled Ozark Mountains.

The Ozarks are one of the unique cultural regions in America. This mountainous plateau covering northern Arkansas as well as parts of bordering states was settled mainly by Scottish-Irish immigrants. As in Appalachia, the area's beautiful but harsh terrain led to a hardscrabble existence. However, from this lifestyle blossomed an ingenuity that has led to generations of Ozark artisans excelling in quilting, knife and instrument making, wood carving and other crafts. 'Mountain music', in which masters of the fiddle, dulcimer, autoharp and banjo join together for jamborees, is another intrinsic part of Ozark heritage. The Ozark Folk Center is dedicated to maintaining a living history of the Ozark way of life.

The southern region of Arkansas opens up into flatter land, reflecting Arkansas' agricultural background. Two of Arkansas' most famous sons, Johnny Cash and Bill Clinton, were born in this area. Clinton's birthplace is the town of Hope, but his true Arkansas legacy is to be found in the capital, Little Rock. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum houses history's largest collection of presidential papers and artefacts. It is located in Little Rock's vibrant River Market District, on the banks of the Arkansas River, a revitalized warehouse area that now hosts a thriving farmers' market and is home to countless funky galleries and boutiques, fine southern restaurants, trendy cafés and lively bars. Travellers in search of more history can visit the Little Rock Central High School, now a national historic site, where, in 1957, President Eisenhower dispatched federal paratroopers to force the local government to allow nine African-American students to attend the school.

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