The idyllic town of Bentonville is a hidden gem, tucked away in a picturesque corner of Northwest Arkansas. Its colorful, bustling downtown square rivals Disney’s Main Street USA for small town charm. Bentonville, Arkansas, is the perfect destination for an easy and affordable vacation, if you’re looking to fill your holiday with good old-fashioned family fun.
Bentonville, Northwest Arkansas
I recently spent a weekend in Northwest Arkansas with my family of seven, using Bentonville as our home base. We stayed in the most amazing boutique hotel, strolled along art trails to public gardens and free museums, dined at farm-to-table restaurants and gourmet food trailers, experienced a festive farmer’s market, enjoyed dollar ice cream cones at a corner soda fountain, and cooled off in the downtown splash pad.
All this fun without ever getting our car out of the parking garage. We loved this walkable city, so full of public art and accessible adventures!
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Where to Stay in Bentonville: 21c Museum Hotel
The 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville is part gallery space devoted to 21st-century art installations, part award-winning fine dining experience, and part family-friendly hotel. If you have ever dreamed of spending the night in a museum, this unique experience is for you! My entire family loved the many interactive works of art featured throughout the hotel, from a sculpture of fans that blow when you pass by, to a glass coffee table full of sand that invites you to create sandstorms by turning a crank.
My kids also couldn’t get enough of the hotel’s mascot penguin sculptures that “roam” the property. Guests are invited to relocate the army of plastic penguins at will, which mischievous children (and teens) find irresistible. My kids spent the entire weekend sneaking around with oversized penguins, trying to prank each other, their father, and poor, unsuspecting hotel guests.
Staying at 21c Museum Hotel, we were steps from everything. We walked to breakfast at Crepes Paulette, lunch at the farmer’s market, dinner at Tusk and Trotter Brasserie, and dessert at The Walmart Museum’s Spark Café. At dusk, we explored parks, playgrounds, gardens, and nature trails. The kids caught fireflies and played in the splash pad. We also learned later that we could have rented bikes for free from the 21c Museum Hotel. Next time!
Where to Play in Bentonville
Scott Family Amazeum
On the second day of our Northwest Arkansas getaway, it started raining, so we headed to the nearby Scott Family Amazeum for some indoor play. But, of course, the first thing we did was head to the museum’s water room to get wet!
As the name implies, this children’s museum is amazing. Scott Family Amazeum offers endless opportunities for kids of all ages to learn through play, by tinkering, crafting, constructing, designing, climbing, and splashing! My three-year-old loved the Water Amazements room and the Canopy Climber. My 8, 10, and 14-year-old boys enjoyed trying stop-motion animation, testing paper airplanes, and designing sand patterns. Even my 16-year-old got in on some painting fun.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Just around the corner from the Amazeum is Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, where general admission to view 400 plus works of art is free! Schedule at least an hour to visit the indoor galleries, which take you on a chronological journey across the American art landscape, but be sure to allow extra time to explore Crystal Bridges’ 120-acre grounds as well. This was my energetic boys’ favorite part.
More than three miles of Crystal Bridges trails meander through native Ozark forest, featuring sculptures and a variety of plant life and terrain along the way. We followed the Art Trail from the museum back to our hotel, a mere half mile away. Then, after dinner, we took the path back again to experience artist James Turrell’s outdoor skyspace, titled The Way of Color, which is also free to visit.
Family Adventures in Northwest Arkansas
Wild Wildlife Drive-Through Safari
Where can you pet kangaroos, hand-feed giraffes, play with baby cougars, and ride a camel? At the Wild Wildlife Drive-Through Safari in Gentry, a 40-minute drive from Bentonville! This picturesque 400-acre property has 90 species of animals, with 3,500 of them on display at any given time. It’s an amazing place to spend a few hours getting up close and personal with a wide range of wildlife!
At this family owned and operated farm, we enjoyed interacting with animals in the 10-acre walk-through and petting areas, and taking an exciting four-mile safari drive through beautiful rolling hills and valleys. Navigating our car through a lush landscape of streams and ponds, we watched herds of animals frolicking, tussling and roaming free. Other parts of the property were set up like a drive-through zoo, with exotic animals housed in enclosures along the roadside. In all, we saw animals from six continents without ever leaving the air conditioned comfort of our car!
Hobbs State Park – Conservation Area
On Sunday, our final day in Northwest Arkansas, we ventured even further out of town to get a taste of the state’s beautiful parks, caverns, and lakes. After a brief stop at the Hobbs State Park Visitor Center for maps and recommendations, we struck out on a family hike to explore nearby historic sites. This was a great way to enjoy nature together as a family, and trick the kids into learning something about the history of the area. Then, after working up a sweat, we headed a little further down the road to cool off with a 58-degree cavern tour!
War Eagle Cavern on Beaver Lake
Visiting War Eagle Cavern was a delightful way to get out of the afternoon sun, and spend some time in another world, underground. Our tour guide was charming and full of stories, which entertained the kids and adults alike. It was an easy (chilly!) 60-minute walk through the many rooms of the cavern, with many interesting rock formations and bodies of water to see along the way.
The only slightly difficult part of the tour was the hike back up the mountainside, but we took it slow and enjoyed the scenery along Beaver Lake. Once back at the gift shop, my kids begged to try panning for gemstones, but I insisted we press on toward Eureka Springs!
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge
On the way to Eureka Springs, we stopped at Turpentine Creek, which is home to roughly 100 hundred exotic and native rescue animals. The 450-acre park is dedicated to providing forever homes and care for unwanted, neglected and abused wildlife, focusing on big cats and bears. We tried the walking tour, but the sun was out in full force, so we decided the guided (air conditioned!) trolley tour was a better bet. For nearly an hour, we tooled around the property in a shuttle bus, learning the history of the resident big cats from one of the refuge’s interns. The tour resonated with my 14-year-old animal lover, who talked about the rescue of neglected animals for days afterward.
Making Eureka Springs our final weekend stop ensured that we wrapped up our Northwest Arkansas adventure wishing for more! This charming town makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, to the turn of the 20th century. With Victorian architecture around every bend, the historic downtown district is a sight to behold and the colorful gingerbread homes are sure to make you smile. After an all-too-brief tour of the town, we headed out to the lovely Lake Leatherhead before traveling on through the Ozarks.
My family had such a wonderful weekend in Bentonville and beyond. We can’t wait to return to this little corner of paradise.