18 Best Things to Do in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Adina Keeling Avatar

Fort Smith, AR welcome center
The Fort Smith Welcome Center. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism

Straddling the Arkansas River, Fort Smith is the perfect balance between new and old. This Arkansas city dates back to 1817 and still maintains many historic sites and attractions. Dive into the city’s history by exploring the Fort Smith Museum of History or visiting the Fort Smith National Historic Site. To enjoy the town’s modern attractions, check out the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum or spend a day at the Parrot Island Waterpark.

Fort Smith is also a great destination for outdoor lovers, who can relax at Lake Fort Smith State Park or see some wildlife at the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center. For more urban fun, explore downtown Fort Smith or sip a beer at Fort Smith Brewing Company.

Alongside the Oklahoma-Arkansas border, Fort Smith makes for a great weekend getaway or day trip from Oklahoma City or Little Rock. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Arkansas. No matter where you’re traveling from or how long you’re staying, we’ve compiled a list of the top things in Fort Smith to help build your itinerary.

A cannon being fired at the Fort Smith National Historic Site
A cannon being demonstrated at the Fort Smith National Historic Site. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

1. Time Travel at the Fort Smith National Historic Site

Visit the Fort Smith National Historic Site and trace the city’s history back to the start. This site preserves nearly 80 years of history, dating back to 1817 when the first Fort Smith was founded. Learn the history of the two forts that occupied the land, and discover the region’s Native American culture.

This site lived through the Trail of Tears, the Mexican War and the Civil War. Learn about these historical events through the museum’s indoor and outdoor exhibits. Pop in at the Visitor’s Center, located in the former barracks, which later became a jail and the courtroom of Judge Isaac C. Parker. And finally, enjoy a scenic view of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers while exploring Belle Point, the site of the first Fort Smith. The museum is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Consider staying at one of these Little Rock hotels and taking a day trip to Fort Smith.

2. Splash around at Parrot Island Waterpark

If you’re traveling with kids, put Parrot Island Waterpark on the top of your Fort Smith to-do list. Complete with a wave pool, a lazy river, an aquatic play area, water slides and a surfing machine, your kids will have a blast at this water park.

When you’re not splashing about, sit back and enjoy the facility’s comfy lounge chairs or grab something to eat at the on-site snack hut or ice cream shop. A park day pass starts at $19.99 for guests 48 inches or taller and $14.99 for those under 48 inches. The 2023 season begins May 13th.

3. Explore Creekmore Park

Located in downtown Fort Smith, Creekmore Park offers endless recreational activities. With a tennis court, a public pool, a playground, walking trails, a pavilion, picnic sites and a mini golf course, this community park is both adult and kid-friendly.

Take a ride on the free Creekmore Express Train through the park.

4. Visit Miss Laura’s Visitor Center

Miss Laura’s Social Club is Fort Smith’s official visitor center. This Victorian mansion used to be a brothel, located in Fort Smith’s red-light district. Over the years, the building ran through several owners and lay abandoned for some time. Eventually, it was restored and in 1992, it opened as the official visitor center.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers free guided tours seven days a week. Equipped with lots of helpful tourism brochures and Fort Smith experts, Miss Laura’s is also a great place to start your trip.

5. See the Park at West End

This beautiful downtown park is a great place to spend an afternoon. With a Ferris wheel, a carousel, a railcar diner, a splash pad and a bus concession stand, the park offers recreational fun and dining opportunities.

6. Visit the Fort Smith Museum of History

Established in 1910, this museum preserves and showcases Fort Smith history. The museum is located in the 1906 Atkinson-Williams Warehouse and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The museum’s highlights include a 1920s soda fountain, a hands-on telephone exhibit, a 1,500-piece doll exhibit and a Niloak poetry collection.

7. Stroll through the Belle Grove Historic District

Spanning 22 blocks, the Belle Grove Historic District is a beautifully preserved residential area that displays a variety of architectural styles, with the oldest home dating back to 1840.

Take a stroll through the district and check out some of its most prominent houses, including the John Rogers House, Casper Reutzel House, the Clayton House, the Belle Grove School and the Darby House. The area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is bounded by North 5th Street, North H Street, North 8th Street, and North C Street.

A woman admires the view of Lake Fort Smith at Lake Fort Smith State Park.
Enjoy scenic views at Lake Fort Smith State Park. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

8. Relax at the Lake Fort Smith State Park

Outdoor lovers can’t miss a trip to this 260-acre state park. Located on the banks of Lake Fort Smith, the park invites visitors to spend a day fishing, kayaking, hiking and biking.

There are cabins, campsites, a pool, picnic sites and a large kitchenette for those hoping to stay for a while. Start off your trip with a visit to the Visitor’s Center and check out artifacts and exhibits about the area’s history.

9. See the Fort Smith Trolley Museum

Learn about the history of electric powered streetcars and ride a 1926 railcar at the Fort Smith Trolley Museum. The museum’s working Birney railcar travels a 3/4 mile between Garrison Avenue and the Fort Smith National Cemetery.

Take a ride in the authentic streetcar after exploring the museum’s collection of old railcars. The trolley runs during select hours seven-days a week. Ride tokens cost $4 for adults and $2 for kids.

10. Visit the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum

This art museum showcases traveling art exhibitions by local and international artists. Housed in an abandoned mid-century modern bank, the 16,000-square-foot museum demonstrates the value of repurposing in the name of art.

In addition to its fine art exhibits, the museum offers workshops, events and lectures, so be sure to check out the website to see what’s happening during your visit. After perusing the art, support local artists by shopping at the museum’s gift shop. The museum is closed Mondays, but open every other day.

11. Shop at the Farmers Market

Whether you’re in the mood to shop or just looking to sightsee, be sure to add the farmers market to your Fort Smith itinerary. Hosted on Garrison Avenue, this little market is hosted year-round. More than 90 vendors participate in the market, selling produce, meet, candy, jewelry, art, flowers and more.

The market also invites local organizations, performers and musicians, so it’s a great way to get to know the Fort Smith community. The market is open every Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon all year-round. From late Spring through Fall, the market is also open on Wednesdays.

12. Visit the Clayton House

Travel back in time and tour the 6,000-plus square feet of Clayton House, located on North 6th Street. This Italianate-style mansion was built for William Henry Harrison Clayton and his family, who lived there between 1882 and 1897. Restored in the 70s, the mansion appears the way it did when the Clayton family occupied it.

In addition to preserving historic architecture, the home also exhibits authentic 19th century artifacts and furniture. Take a 50-minute guided tour and dive deeper into the home’s history. It is open Tuesday through Sunday.

13. Explore the Chaffee Crossing Historic District

Another Fort Smith historic district, the Chaffee Crossing is made up of several historic sites that demonstrate Fort Chaffee’s role in the US military history, dating back to World War II.

Take a stroll through the district and see some of the most prominent sites, including the Chaffee Barbershop Museum, the Maness School House and the Enchanted Chapel.

14. See the Chaffee Barbershop Museum

Located in the Chaffee Crossing Historic District, the Fort Chaffee Barbershop once provided haircuts for army enlistees, the most famous being Elvis Presley, who suspended his rock and roll career to serve in the army.

The barbershop was restored to its 1958 appearance, and allows visitors to travel back in time and see where thousands of army enlistees received their signature buzz cut.

15. Pay Respects at the Massard Prairie Battlefield Park

TThis park preserves a Civil War battle. In 1864, confederate soldiers led a surprise attack against Union soldiers in Massard Prairie, which served as a grazing site for troops.

Now, the site memorializes the men who lost their lives and preserves the battlefield. Learn more about the historic battle, visit the memorial flagstaff and check out the park’s walking trail.

16. Visit the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center

Spanning 170 acres, this stunning nature center is another Fort Smith must-see.

Built on land that used to be Fort Chaffee, this center offers lots of fun activities for the whole family. Spend some time in the education center, which features interactive displays, exhibits and live animals, including snakes, turtles and fish. After touring the building, head outdoors and see the area’s beautiful flora and fauna on one of the local hiking trails.

Located next to Wells Lake, the park is also a great destination for fishing and canoeing.

A large, colorful mural in Fort Smith, AR
A huge, colorful mural in Fort Smith, part of the Unexpected Murals Project. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism

17. Enjoy the Unexpected Murals Project

If you’re exploring downtown Fort Smith, you’ll notice lots of outdoor art scattered throughout the city. That’s all thanks to the Unexpected Murals Project, started in 2015. This downtown revitalization project sought to bring more art to Fort Smith, and now, more than 30 art works decorate the city.

If any of the works really resonate with you, head to the Miss Laura’s Visitors Center and buy a print!

18. Have a Beer at Fort Smith Brewing Company

Take a break from sightseeing and treat yourself to a cold craft beer from Fort Smith Brewing Company. Opened in 2017, this is the only brewery in Fort Smith.

In addition to serving more than 15 beers on tap, the brewery also boasts a tasty menu, with pub food in addition to a selection of pizzas, nachos, tacos, paninis and more. The brewery also hosts events including comedy shows and live music, so be sure to check out the calendar before your visit.

Adina Keeling Avatar
Adina Keeling is a freelance travel writer from San Diego, CA. She worked in local news for a year until her wanderlust drew her to Costa Rica, where she is now based while freelancing and traveling the world. She has lived in three different countries and traveled to 27. An avid solo traveler, Adina wants to empower other women to safely travel alone.
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