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Picturesque rolling hills with romantic streets color the enclave of Northwest Arkansas called Eureka Springs. Maybe you’ve visited, as I did years ago with my husband, when we celebrated a wedding anniversary, pre-children. We strolled, we dined, we enjoyed an adults-only bed and breakfast. I didn’t realize how much fun we could have years later with a growing family. Visiting Eureka Spring with kids was surprisingly busy with activities and destinations that interested everyone!
Eureka Springs today offers two sorts of destinations. There’s the stay downtown, pedestrian way of enjoying the town, with shopping, dining and entertainment all in one location. Then there’s the driving experience that takes you through the forest or into the countryside. We were given the chance to traverse both of those worlds. The Best Western Eureka Springs Inn is cleverly located at what they call the Gateway to Eureka, at the beginning of the historic loop and within short walking distance of the Planer Hill Park & Ride Welcome Center for the public transit system.
The weather was mild spring perfection when we visited, so our family walked easily from the hotel into downtown for some sightseeing, shopping and buying dinner on the balcony of the historic Basin Park Hotel. Sure, there was a mix of cultures, but the setting was generally what I would consider family friendly. We saw several bikers in town and folks still celebrating after a festive St. Patrick’s Day parade.
It’s essential when visiting this city built on abundant springs and the “healing” powers of its waters, that you visit at least one spring. We found lovely Harding Spring gurgling from the bluff when we were driving later on the hill overlooking downtown. We couldn’t get a good view of the spring at Basin Park, although that park is frequently shown in downtown tourism photos. If we’d had more time, we could have hiked throughout nearly the entire town from sidewalks to parks and an ever-expanding series of greenways.
The Arkansas countryside is worth the short drive past rolling pastures to visit Cosmic Cavern in nearby Berryville. My kids were enthralled by the stories of miners, bats (none seen on this visit), and underground lakes. Not touching the growing cave formations was very difficult for the kids, but added to the intrigue. Some passages were narrow and steep in this cavern that has been visited by scientists doing paleolithic research.
Owner Randy Langhover’s favorite tours are for busloads of schoolchildren, all fascinated by the calcite formations left behind from years of dissolving limestone. The cave story includes how early miners were searching for minerals and may have marred areas near the entrance with things like smoke while trying to drive out bats. Cosmic Cavern’s real claim to fame is the newest room called Silent Splendor that was discovered in the early 90s and holds a pristine collection of delicate mineral ribbons and straws.
West of Eureka Springs, we learned that the flooded cavern at Blue Spring has been explored by divers and documented in a film that will send chills down the spine of anyone who’s claustrophobic. We saw a preview of the divers’ video at the Blue Spring Heritage Center.
Blue Spring boasts of the mysterious origin from which 38 million gallons of water spill each day. It’s considered an important Native American site, having been a stop on the Trail of Tears, with a Bluff Shelter near the spring listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The area only gets prettier as spring and summer flowers bloom each year. No visit is complete without touching the 54-degree waters for yourself.
We found a different sort of wild adventure at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, where we could visit big cats living in confined sanctuary. The refuge is for exotic pets typically removed from residential homes that are unfit to ever be released into the wild.
We met a tiger named Luna who’d been rescued from a University of Missouri fraternity house, a bobcat named Tiger who’d bitten a baby’s face, and a black bear named Sugar who used to live in a junkyard. The kids were enthralled by the chance to see all of these exotic mammals up close. The safety precautions like double fencing made photography a challenge, although the kids had fun trying.
If we’d stayed longer, we could have visited even more family friendly destinations, including more caves and live, local shows. My kids could have spent about a million dollars (if they only had it) on interesting little things they found at the souvenir shops. Warming weather is what makes that large pool at the Eureka Inn look tempting for families with avid swimmers. Eureka Springs will always have a rare appeal for honeymooners and lovers of folklore. The natural beauty inspires folks to also care for the natural resources around them. If you plan ahead and allow time for both car and pedestrian adventures, you can find plenty to keep the kids entertained.
A note about getting away from it all in Eureka Springs: cell phone service is not reliable for everyone. So, it’s the perfect place to disconnect for a while. Because I needed to take part in a mid-day Twitter chat, I found the most reliable downtown wi-fi at the Eureka Springs Daily Roast, across the street from the Basin Park Hotel (which, by the way, did not have reliable wi-fi at its restaurant).
If you think I should visit and post about your tourist spot, drop me a note at Anne@FlourSackMama.com.