“If you came to Hot Springs, you probably couldn’t spend $1,800,” said Aundrea Crary, marketing manager of the Magic Springs & Crystal Falls theme park. And even if your tax rebate is smaller, you could easily get a cabin for half a week at Mount Nebo State Park or stay in Eureka Springs, which is nicknamed the “Victorian Mountain Village” for its late 19th and early 20th century architecture.
“We think we have a world of diverse attractions that can satisfy almost everyone’s desires,” said Joe David Rice, Arkansas’ tourism director. “They’re affordable, and with the high gas prices, it might be able to benefit us.”
Arkansas has an amusement park, the Ozark and Ouachita mountains, a national river, outdoor activities, the Clinton Presidential Library and hiking trails. It doesn’t have casinos, but maybe “we can position ourselves as an alternative,” Rice said.
As part of an economic incentive program, the IRS this spring is issuing rebates to most taxpayers — up to $1,800. For the rebate-spending season, Arkansas is targeting some advertising to big cities in nearby states: Dallas and Houston, Kansas City and St. Louis, plus Nashville, New Orleans and even Chicago.
“Arkansas offers something to people looking for a respite from the urban life: waterfalls, lakes, mountains. They can reconnect,” Rice said.
At the state park that covers the top of Mount Nebo, it’s possible to save precious drops of fuel by parking the car and walking everywhere — or renting a bicycle at the park’s headquarters ($3.50-$6.50 per hour or $28.50-$33.50 all day).
Cabins start at $89 a night and each has easy access to trails that ring the mountain just below the summit. Camp sites with water and electricity cost $17 per night.
“The Rim Trail will give the hiker a beautiful view of the valley and visit some of the historic spots where the Civilian Conservation Corps had its barracks” when building the park in the 1930s, park Superintendent Mike Hall said. “Wherever you are, you can tell you’re on a mountain — except when the fog rolls in.”
Mount Nebo, which turns 75 on July 12, is Arkansas’ second-oldest state park and is accessible only via a series of switchback curves along Arkansas 155 just west of Dardanelle. (Trailers over 24 feet are not permitted on the roadway because of the twists and turns.) Petit Jean State Park, 30 miles east, is a couple months older.
Because of the limited access to the mountaintop, Mount Nebo offers fewer services than Petit Jean — but that can be a plus if you’re trying to get away from it all. It was the perfect spot for a honeymoon for this writer 27 years ago - and remains so today. All cabins have kitchens but there is no general food service.
If you’re traveling with kids, you will want to make a side trip to Petit Jean, which has more interpretive programs aimed at younger audiences. After visiting the waterfall at Petit Jean, hit the restaurant at Mather Lodge (try the pie — any kind).
Crary recommends the Arkansas Twister at Hot Springs’ Magic Springs amusement park (although she admits it’s the only roller coaster she’s ever ridden).
“I’ll hold your stuff if you want to go on,” Crary said. She said she is sure the park’s three other roller coasters are fun, too.
The X-Coaster gained a measure of fame last year when riders were stuck, generating a number of jokes on CBS’ “The Late Show with David Letterman,” including a Top Ten List of what riders were thinking: “I never realized how beautiful Hot Springs, Arkansas, is upside down.”
The incident happened when a squirrel in a power station cut electricity to the ride. “How do you get prepared for kamikaze squirrels?” Crary asked.
Magic Springs charges $45.99 per person for most tickets, though some discounts are available, and a season pass is available for only $4 more. The amusement and water park also have free soft drinks, free sunscreen and free float-tube rentals.
Hotels in the city generally range from $69-$109 a night, some with park packages available. Some hotels also have spas, taking advantage of the hot springs that give the city and Hot Springs National Park its name.
“You can do all this and still go home with some of your money,” Crary said.
Eureka Springs in far northwestern Arkansas developed around thermal springs said to have healing powers. Commercial development has bypassed much of the small community, leaving much of the area’s economic activity around a quaint downtown built into the side of a hill. Downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the town is also home to the renowned Thorncrown Chapel, an architectural marvel designed made from 6,000 panes of glass.
Bed-and-breakfasts dot the town and treehouse-type cottages can be found in the surrounding woods. The Mount Victoria B&B features rooms for about $150 a night. Other weekend lodging rates run about $100 a night at many places, and midweek rates can run $50 or less.
“My wife and I visited here a dozen times before we moved here,” said Ken Rundel, a spokesman for the town’s advertising and promotion commission. “What we love about it is everything. No malls. No stop lights. Very few chain stores.
“It’s off the beaten track,” he said. “You will feel you’re in a different world here.”
Associated Press photo
This undated photo released by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism shows people enjoying a part of the Rim Trail at Mount Nebo State Park in Dardanelle, Ark.
Fact BoxIf You Go
MOUNT NEBO STATE PARK: http://www.arkansasstateparks.com/mountnebo or 479-229-3655. The mountaintop park is located at the end of Arkansas 155 west of Dardanelle. From Interstate 40, exit at Arkansas 7, head south across the Arkansas River and turn west onto Arkansas 22. After less than a half-mile, Arkansas 155 will be on the left.
MAGIC SPRINGS & CRYSTAL FALLS: http://www.magicsprings.com or 501-624-0100. The amusement park is located along U.S. 70 just east of Hot Springs. From Interstate 30 southwest of Little Rock, take U.S. 70 west for about a half-hour.
HOT SPRINGS: Tourist information: http://www.hotsprings.org or 501-321-2835. Hot Springs National Park: http://www.nps.gov/hosp/.
EUREKA SPRINGS: http://www.eurekasprings.org or 866-947-4387. Eureka Springs is located along U.S. 62 in Carroll County, Ark.