Tips for a Weekend Trip in Northwest Arkansas

I am a slightly reluctant to share how much my family deeply loves our trips to Northwest Arkansas. It’s not because we don’t highly recommend it, but rather a part of me wants me to keep these spots sacred! But, I realize fellow parents like myself are looking for any excuse to be untethered. If that is the case for you and your family, then this particular area is the quick and easy trip you must consider.

Why Northwest Arkansas?

Arkansas is named the “Natural State,” and for good reason. With the valleys, the lakes and rivers, lush trees, there’s so much beauty in the landscape. We have visited with infants in tow, toddlers running amok and an almost ten-year-old, and each time we found it suitable for any and all ages, rather it be for exploring or relaxing.

I grew up visiting these areas with my parents and brothers. Looking back I love and appreciate the fact we were given the kind of vacations where we could get dirty and seek our own adventures. For three kids who loved being outside, it epitomized our ideal childhood adventure, and I wanted a chance to give my boys that same uninhibited experience.

Vacations don’t always have to be this extravagant affair where you save for years, plan for months and stress over seeing all the latest attractions. Of course these kinds of trips are wonderful, but vacation can also be as unpretentious as driving a few hours, parking chairs near a beautiful body of water and seeing where the day takes you.

As a parent, I also welcome the simplicity of it all.

  • A manageable drive
  • Affordable
  • Less pressure to see and do
  • Little to no crowds
  • Simple packing and preparation
  • Friendly for children of all ages

Where should you begin your planning? I recommend narrowing it down to two specific areas: Beaver Lake and the White River.

Beaver Lake

Although the Lake of the Ozarks is a shorter drive, we prefer to head to Beaver Lake instead. A Corps of Engineers lake, it was man-made as a way to control the White River, and also provide a meaningful natural resource for people of the area. The smart planning is why we love to visit often. Not crowded with docks and houses, the views are more unobstructed and the boating traffic is significantly less than neighboring bodies of water. It also provides beautiful and well-maintained trails, campsites, swimming beaches, picnic spots and safe play areas for children.

fishing on the bank of our Beaver Lake rental.

We always seek housing with a safe swimming shore or bank for the kids, preferably in a cove, away from boat traffic.

Housing Tip

When searching for rental houses or cabins, we tend to lean toward the area of Lost Bridge Village as our first choice, both for the drive time and abundance of available accommodations. VRBO and AirBnB are our go-to rental sites, and with pandemic uncertainties, we appreciate the reassurance of a refund in case of sickness or inability to travel.

While we are there, we hike, fish, go boating, and swim until we can’t anymore. Then we head back to our rental, sit on the deck with a simple meal, play games and sleep hard at night.

Once settled, one can head to Eureka Springs, Bentonville or Rogers, Arkansas for a quick day trip. In any of the areas, you will find nice restaurants, quaint shops, golf courses and beautiful state parks. These towns have really exploded in the last 20 years thanks to the influx of people working at the Wal-Mart headquarters, so there’s an endless amount of attractions to help support those growing communities. All are extremely family-friendly!

Boating on the lake in a rental from Starkey Marina.

Additional outings to consider during your visit

  • Rent a pontoon for a day and take the kids water tubing or skiing on the lake. Starkey Marina is our top recommendation.
  • Swim in the clear waters of the lake at one of several public beaches.
  • Visit War Eagle Mill for gem panning, hiking and picnicking.
  • Spend a day exploring Hobbs State Park.
  • Walk along the quaint streets of Eureka Springs, watch the motorcycles fly by, and check out unique artisan shops.
  • Spend an afternoon at Crystal Bridges Museum.
  • Hit up Amazeum in Bentonville.

White River

The White River is the true gem of Northwest Arkansas, packed with breathtaking beauty.

Cotter or Flippin, Arkansas are the two communities you will want to seek when looking for a (keyword: riverfront) house or cabin. The cold river hits the warm air of the spring and summer mornings and creates the most beautiful fog you will not want to miss!

boats on White River in Northwest Arkansas
Fishing with a two guides from Dally’s Fly Shop on the White River.

While we are there our family loves to fly fish. For firsttimers, this sounds daunting, but trust me when I say it is the perfect activity for wiggly kids as it is constantly active!

If you are a fly fishing novice, I highly recommend hiring a guide from Dally’s Fly Shop. Every single guide there is absolutely wonderful with beginners to expert level, kids included. They will teach techniques and safety all while catching loads of fish either on foot on in a river specific boat, and provide all equipment needed.

Catching rainbow trout at Dry Run Creek.

Another must see is a kid-only fishing preserve called Dry Run Creek, which is part of and adjacent to a trout hatchery. Take the time to explore the shaded stream, traverse rocks, feed the fish or simply feel the coolness of the water during the warmer months. It’s a magical little place.

If float trips are your thing, the Buffalo National River (very close by) is the perfect destination to add to the itinerary. Plan on seeing bald eagles and other wildlife playing amongst the cliffs framing the river. Rent canoes or bring your own kayaks for a multitude of different types of floats.

A few things to note

you can float the White River, but I wouldn’t recommend it with kids. It’s fast moving and cold, and the water rises or falls by the hour depending on time of year, energy needs and what is happening near the dam. Real time information regarding the river can be found here. Instead, head to the Buffalo River, where you can experience a much safer float.

Before going to on a float trip or visiting a river ALWAYS call a local outfitter or fly shop. They are experts in the area and water conditions and can tell you how to be safe, where to float or fish, and how to do so effectively.

Mom and sons on a hiking trip!

Hiking is another perfect activity for the area, with trails ranging from easy to moderate. Find some great ones here! We have completed several with all three kids in tow. We take our time, stop to splash in creeks and ponder animal tracks, have them carry their own snacks and water bottles in a backpack and try to remember it is about the journey when it comes to hiking with kids!

Hiking and fishing will really spark up an appetite so we can’t forget where to eat! Our top recommendations for family-friendly dining when you don’t feel like cooking:

Additional Mom Tested and Approved Recommendations

  • Always stop in Springfield, Missouri at Bass Pro Shops to break up the trip on the way to Arkansas.
  • On the return trip, reserve a few hours for Dogwood Canyon outside of Big Cedar Lodge, to run off energy and get one last dose of nature. Cost is $12 per visitor.
  • Take a large cooler and hit a grocery store in Rogers or Flippin, Arkansas for meals during your stay.
  • Bring wine or alcoholic beverages with you, as some counties in Arkansas are dry.

I hope you will check out these two areas, but promise not to tell too many people about it! I am certain you will love them as much as we do. Happy vacationing!

Kristin is a Lee’s Summit suburb transplant, after living in the Brookside and Plaza areas for over eight years. Raising three young boys with her husband, Jake, has helped her to embrace the messy, wild side of life where love is expressed in bear hugs and body slams. Professionally, she can be found teaching classes as an adjunct professor in the areas of Business, Marketing and PR. She is able to provide her students with applicable, real-life knowledge as she draws from several years working in the corporate sector. “Free time” (ha!, what's that again?) is spent on an occasional date night to favorite local restaurants, reading blogs on everything from home design to politics, riding her sweet beach cruiser bike and thinking of ways to convince her husband to do yet another home improvement project.