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Bentonville, Arkansas is a delightful destination for families seeking a relaxing, affordable and easy vacation. Its charming city square boasts a farmers market, The Walton Five and Dime museum and an old-fashioned soda fountain. From there, you can venture off on foot or by bike to explore the city’s many nature trails, gardens and free museums.
Bentonville in Northwest Arkansas
While visiting Northwest Arkansas with my children, Bentonville was a surprise family favorite. We immediately fell in love with its charming city square and meandering nature trails. It truly is one of the best small towns in America. From our hotel, we walked to food trailers and restaurants, explored art trails to public gardens and discovered free museums. After buying one-dollar ice cream cones, we cooled off in the downtown splash pad. We walked everywhere and never needed a car.
If you’re planning a southeast road trip, here’s why Bentonville deserves a stop.
Things to Do in Bentonville
On the second day of our Northwest Arkansas adventure, 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 3-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.
Just around the corner from the Amazeum is Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, where general admission is free. It took us about an hour to visit the indoor galleries. Then, we explored the museum’s 120-acre grounds. Climbing rocks outdoors was my energetic boys’ favorite part.
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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.
If we’d had bikes, we could have explored even more of the “Mountain Biking Capital of the World.” Bentonville has more than 60 miles of networked trails for riders of all abilities.
More Family Adventures in Northwest Arkansas
Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari
Where can you pet kangaroos, hand-feed giraffes, play with baby cougars and ride a camel? At the Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari in Gentry, a 40-minute drive from Bentonville. This 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. But, check the website before visiting because this family-owned farm operates seasonally.
We interacted with animals in the petting areas and took a four-mile safari drive. Navigating our car through a lush landscape of streams and ponds, we watched herds of animals 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 comfort of our car.
On Sunday, our final day in Northwest Arkansas, we wanted 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 to learn about the history of the area. Then, after working up a sweat, we headed a little farther down the road to cool off with a 58-degree cavern tour.
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. War Eagle Cavern also operates seasonally, so be sure to check the website for details.
On the way to Eureka Springs, we stopped at Turpentine Creek, a sanctuary 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 stop in Northwest Arkansas ensured we left the state wishing for more. We loved its Victorian architecture. The historic downtown district is a sight to behold and the colorful gingerbread homes made us smile. We can’t wait to return to this little corner of paradise.
Where To Stay in Bentonville: 21c Museum Hotel
We stayed in the 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville and loved it. This unique space is part 21st-century art gallery, part fine dining experience and part family-friendly boutique hotel. If you have ever dreamed of spending the night in a contemporary art museum, this is the hotel is for you.
We loved the many interactive works of art featured throughout the hotel, from a sculpture of fans that blow when you pass, 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 penguins 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 parents and unsuspecting hotel guests.
Where To Eat in Bentonville
Staying at 21c Museum Hotel, we were steps from everything. We walked to breakfast at Crêpes Paulette, to lunch at the farmers market, to dinner at Tusk and Trotter Brasserie and to dessert at The Spark Café. At dusk, we explored parks, playgrounds, gardens and nature trails. The kids caught fireflies and played in the splash pad.
Other Hotel and Vacation Rentals Near Bentonville
Looking for other kid-friendly Bentonville hotels or vacation rentals? Use this interactive map to find the right accommodations for your family!
When not running around on adventures with her five children, Heidi Gollub volunteers for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau and creates content for the local news. She frequently appears on television and was recently a speaker at Mom 2.0 and the Texas Conference for Women.