An October 2005 trip
to Eureka Springs by Jose Kevo
Quote: Long-time favorite Eurkea Springs, known as the Little Switzerland of the Ozarks, offers the best of scenic outdoor and historical activities in northwest Arkansas.
Autumn in the Ozarks is a site to behold--the way hills and dales roll-on forever splashed with vibrant colors. For people in Middle America, heading off to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is as natural as New Yorkers flocking to New England. As a kid, rare trips coming here were about as foreign as things ever got. The picturesque village, clinging to steep embankments, is billed as Little Switzerland of the Ozarks. More than four worldly decades and a dozen visits later, this was my first solo attempt with freedom to really explore.
If coming from the west, the day could quickly slip away without ever making it into town thanks to an abundance of outdoor activities. The Beaver Lake Dam is responsible for one of the cleanest lakes in the Midwest. It's great for fishing and offers water sports, with State Park camping nearby. From there, the White River trails toward Eureka Springs with numerous Overlook Decks and Observation Towers, which indulge countryside vistas.
Historic 62 Business Loop is worth the drive alone. The narrow road descends the mountain along streets lined with Victorian Mansions, and the haunted Crescent Hotel offers some of the best overviews of town. The drive funnels into the downtown area, where numerous shopping opportunities await, embraced by more than just the obvious.
One things for certain--frequently returning to Eureka Springs a day at a time, it will take the rest of my lifetime to accomplish all this Hot Spot has to offer!
Aside from treacherous winter roads, Eureka Springs is a year-round draw that potentially frustrates off-season travelers since commerce changes and/or limits their hours of operation, or close, period. The height of tourism coincides with running of the Passion Play. Fall senior bus tours from nearby Branson, and frequent City Festivals also add to congestion, especially on weekends.
Accommodations are abundant but options appear to be outdated and rather limited. The majority of lodgings are vintage motels. From the outside, most appear well-maintained, and while signs suggest modern amenities, the individual small cabins are totally retro. There's also a growing number of bed-and-breakfasts operated in Victorian mansions, but outdoor types shouldn't write off the plethora of nearby campgrounds.
Eureka Springs has turned into a hotbed for weddings and honeymoons. Pricey shindigs can be booked at Thorncrown Chapel. Otherwise, head for City Hall, which the downtown parking lots center around. Same-day marriage licenses are available, and they'll connect couples with a justice of the peace or local pastor. If you haven't scouted a romantic setting for the ceremony, they also have numerous suggestions.
Eureka Springs is situated in such a way that no one would ever happen to pass near the town without a little effort and planning. Highway 62 is the main artery running east to west. The two-lane road is very precarious, weaving through the Ozark mountains along hairpin curves and steep inclines. While distances might not appear that great, double expected driving time, especially if traffic is heavy.
The most direct route, coming from the west, is off Arkansas Interstate 540, taking the Highway 62 exit north of Rogers. Coming from the Springfield/Branson, Missouri, area to the northeast, take Highway 65 to Highway 86's turn-off, which leads to Berryville, Arkansas, and Highway 62.
From the Middle of Nowhere, the 78-mile drive takes about 2 hours, taking Highway 37 off Interstate 44. The 60-mile stretch to the state line ambles through small-town America, dotted fertile farmlands accented with picturesque barns. The highway terminates in Gateway, Arkansas, at Highway 62. Eureka Springs is 18 miles to the left.
Once in the town's vicinity, almost everything is located along the main highway or along the Historic 62 Business Loop, which is well worth the detour. While downtown, there's parking with Free Trolley Service or walking for explorations.
Restaurant | "The Smokehouse and Guido's BBQ"
When approaching Eureka Springs from West Highway 62, keep an eye out for The Smokehouse and Guido's BBQ on the left, but don't let the name fool you. Buried among advertisement clutter is a sign proclaiming Home of the World's Largest Biscuit, and that's why this unsuspecting cafe is worth remembering.
On family outings, this was always our first stop to inexpensively load up for the day, and how. Years later, the giant biscuit, with a side of country gravy, is still modestly priced at $3.89. The loaf-sized biscuit could easily be split between two people, but since the growing age of 11, when first allowed to devour my own, there's been no sharing with anyone!
There's an art of properly savoring such a gluttonous portion: slice the biscuit like it's a loaf of bread. This helps to keep the remaining part warm. My proven method has always been to enjoy the first half with gravy, but a meal this big needs dessert. The second portion is best enjoyed slathering the warm bread with melted butter, honey and sorghum, or jelly condiments, which laden tables.
The breakfast menu, served daily from 7am to noon, contains six different combination platters, ranging from $4.99 to the Mountain Man special of ham steak, three eggs, hash browns, and giant biscuit with gravy for $11.99. There's an additional $1 plate-split charge. A long list of side orders, for under $3, accommodates smaller appetites. The biscuit is the only breakfast item served after noon, and I've never tried anything else on any visit.
The menu for remainder of the day consists of seven smoked-meat sandwiches with chips for $5.50 and seven entree platters with two sides for $10.95. Ribs supposedly rival biscuits as the other house specialty, a half-rack priced at $12.95 and a whole rack at $22.95.
During the week, the restaurant opens at 8am, 7am on weekends, and closes at 8pm. Asking about the "live music" advertised for Sunday breakfasts, the young server mustered a peculiar look before explaining what packs in the senior circuit. The back area is sectioned off and is where patrons compete for small prizes, between mouthfuls, in rounds of Name that tune..., accompanied by a local silver-haired organ grinder. Throw in the hillbilly decor, the only thing that overpowers tantalizing smells coming from the kitchen, and you've got the makings for a unique, yet typical northwest Arkansas dining experience!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 13, 2005
Smokehouse and Guido's BBQ
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Restaurant | "Sparky's Roadhouse Café & Ultra Lounge"
Clearly posted on the entry, a notice infers that meals are prepared by order and could take 30 minutes or more when the restaurant is busy. And, if that's going to be a problem, find a place that has a drive-through window! If you've ever worked in the food service industry, Sparky's is a dream come true with their no-nonsense approach. It must work. Every time I've returned, the place has expanded, and for good reason.
In a tourist-driven town where restaurants come and go, Sparky's retains prominence where the only thing more eclectic than employees is the menu. Even side orders include French, Swiss and Danish cheeses, Cuban black beans, Middle Eastern tabouli, Greek olive tapenade, and authentic Mexican salsas! I've eaten here twice over recent years and was disappointed that the giant biscuit consumed earlier was still weighing heavy, because this place is worth saving room for!
Housed in a vintage roadhouse eatery, the latest development has annexed the old two-pump filling station next door and turned it into Sparky's Ultra Lounge with loaded happy hour and other daily drink specials. The original café still has its 1950s-style booths, counter-top bar, and tiled floor generically accenting shelves packed with timepiece memorabilia. Unless you're also hungry for nostalgia, request to be seated on the covered deck that's available year-round thanks to retractable plastic walls that enclose heat without blocking the Ozark scenery.
Eight ounces of salmon or sirloin, prepared six different ways, is priced between $15.50 and $19, while everything else runs under $9, including generous appetizer servings that could easily be entreés. I highly recommend the loaded nacho platters. There's a large selection of specialty salads and vegetarian dishes, but house specialties are the roadhouse half-pound burgers with unusual toppings, such as Black Bean Burgers, with jack cheese, and crumbled tortillas; Kid Creole Burgers, with spicy butter marinade, jack cheese, and grilled onions; or Bistro Burgers of French brie, grilled ham, and sauteed mushrooms. All are served with fries and an extra patty is an additional $3.
Thick, juicy burgers make me drool and are hard to come by across the border in Missouri, where state law requires burger meat be cooked well done. Zeroing in on the Guacamole Burger, further stacked with cheeses, jalapenos, and my added request of black beans, I was surprised when the waitress asked how to cook the meat. Requesting as rare as state health codes permitted, let's just say I forgot this was backwoods Arkansas! The warm toppings were a nice contrast to coolness from the extra-rare meat. It was one of the best burgers I've ever devoured.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 13, 2005
Sparky's Roadhouse Café & Ultra Lounge
147 East Van Buren
Eureka Springs, Arkansas 72632
In a section of the country where outdoor recreation centers around no less than a dozen lakes illustrating maps of the 4 States' corners, Beaver Lake leads the way as one of the most inviting thanks to the freshest and cleanest of waters. Years ago, when living in Kansas City and getting certified in scuba, the 4-hour drive to this northwest Arkansas gem was where scuba schools from across the region brought students for making deep-water dives beyond the classroom swimming pool.
Beaver Lake is 10 miles west of Eureka Springs, off Highway 62 on Highway 187. If coming from town, wait for the second turn-off, unless interested in a 9-mile stretch of scenic loop that runs through the Ozarks. Otherwise, the Beaver Lake Dam is 3 miles off the second turn-off. Even if you've no plans for boating, fishing, or camping, a quick detour is recommended for outdoor fiends.
Before crossing over the dam, take a right at the sign and follow the road that trails along northern section of the lake. This passes along several boat launching places, a beach area, and one of the state park's main campgrounds, which has all the basic facilities for RV's/trailers and tent sites. During the off-season, patrons are on the honor system for dropping the listed fees in a deposit box. However, a more convenient recreational area is just off the dam's north side along a man-made land extension that has picnic areas, restrooms, a large sandy beach, and plenty of parking.
A colorful Ozarks' Autumn had been rather bland this year thanks to little moisture coupled with unusually warm temperatures. Under normal conditions, this hike would definitely provide a kaleidoscope of fall. Once the terrain levels off and trail has passed through the forest, thick knee-high grasses all but hide the path that passes along sheer bluffs hemming an overflow inlet. Even with the floor bone-dry, the canyon-like magnitude was rather impressive and well worth the effort. The trail eventually cuts back through the forest and heads downhill before looping back to the parking area.
Beaver Lake State Park
20344 East Highway 12
Eureka Springs, Arkansas 72756
Attraction | "Leatherwood City Park"
Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, Lake Leatherwood City Park is a welcomed 1,600-acre diversion with the area's highest concentration of outdoor activities. Whether stopping for a secluded weekday picnic or basing your entire stay from here, this preserve, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is well worth tracking down.
No Wake Lake slices through heart of the park before cold spring waters cascade over a hand-cut limestone dam on the northern end. A small marina just off the picnic grounds rents paddleboats, $6/$10; canoes, $7.50/$25; and fishing boats with trolling motors, $12/$40 by the hour or in 6-hour segments. They'll even "hook" you up with live bait, fishing poles, and an Arkansas State Fishing License.
Hiking is the park's other hidden feature, thoroughly traversing the unspoiled terrains with five routes classified as Valley Trails, covering 10 miles of lowlands, while four series of Ridge Trails take a bit more effort over 11 miles. Trails are also popular for cross-country running and biking. Free trail maps are available at the Visitor's Center and Marina. The Beachem Trail, at 4 miles, taking an estimated 2 hours and encircling the lake and dam, is the highest recommended.
Elaborate stone picnic shelters and a bath house crown a small hill that overlooks the lake's sandy beach stretch, which fades off into a large cove accented with lily pads and other underwater vegetation. Another secluded picnic area extends along the cove through a lower-level meadow, which conceals several trailheads where the forest takes over in the rear.
The park's serene settings were further pleasing on a weekday afternoon in the off-season, when no one else was around, quite the contrast to the hustle and bustle found closer to town. If it's natural sequestration you're after, considering basing time in Eureka Springs from here. Efficiency cabins with living space, kitchenette, bedroom, and bathroom are available for two people at $70 per night or $100 for four, March 1 through November 30. Additional persons are $7. A 1-night non-refundable deposit is required. Reservations are recommended and mandatory December-February.
Numerous campsites are also available March through November at $15 per night with hook-ups and $12 without for RV's and trailers. Sewer hook-up is an additional $5. There are also numerous sites for pitching tents with fees of $12 with electricity and $10 without based on two people with a limit of two tents per site. Additional persons are $2 per night, and children under 12 are free. Tent sites are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Check-out for all cabins and camping is 10am.
Lake Leatherwood City Park
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Highway 62, west of town, has developed into a bonafide tourist trap with wall-to-wall accommodations, restaurants, shops, and attractions competing for travelers' attention. Numerous lookout towers and free scenic overlooks flaunt the best of Ozark panoramas, but proceed with caution. Roadside parking areas are small, congested, and situated along blind curves on the busy highway. Pulling in/out can be rather risky.
Heading towards town, just beyond Leatherwood Park entrances, an unmarked turn-off on the left is easily missed, so look for the tall embanked wall that plainly states Thorncrown Chapel. Tucked away in the dense forest is an architectural marvel. The 48-foot-high chapel is encased with over 6,000 square feet of glass, accented with girders and beams, which complement natural vistas beyond.
Advertise a Featured in Ripley's Believe or Not sign and they will come. Why, I'm still not sure. The Balancing Rock and Stone Bridge characterize the term Tourist Trap! Entry is through a general store loaded with hillbilly-related kitsch crap. Once paying the $3 admission, patrons exit through a side door basically left to their own devices.
A paved trail weaves through woods along massive bluffs when coming to a covered opening in the rocks, which turned out to be the highly touted natural bridge, which was rather pathetic looking compared to photos. Just around the bend is the Balancing Rock poised atop another boulder but appearing unnaturally positioned just for the sake of luring tourists in. Actual highlight of the effort was the brief 5-minute walk through the woods from start to finish. Simply put, look at the picture below and save the $3!
The name says it all, with everything imaginable imported from the Hawaiian Islands, whether expensive jewelry, handcrafted artifacts, and accent pieces or cheap plastic leis and hula dolls. Candies, coffees, and other food items are also worth consideration. I've gotten to know the transplanted owners about as well as they've came to understand that Hawaiian doesn't always jibe with Caribbean just because they're tropical islands. Still, I've never been disappointed finding unique items for Jose Kevo's, including island holiday decorations. Inventory is constantly growing, and a sewing shop on the side specializes in island prints, fabrics, needle point, and related handiwork items great for tablecloths, curtains, and upholstering.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on December 13, 2005
Highway 62 Countryside Attractions
West of Eureka Springs
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Attraction | "Crescent Hotel & Gardens"
When driving along Historic 62 Business Loop, the large ominous structure at the halfway point is a great place to stop and marvel at the man-made and natural components that have became signature icons. The Crescent Hotel has a very checkered passed, including the fabled hauntings from spirits. Guide Btwood2 pegs the ghost tales' details that were now decorated with pumpkins, cornstalks, and goblins less than a week before Halloween.
The main floor is surreal with historic timepiece decor, looking more like a museum. However, take a closer look and all that out-of-date elegance is largely cosmetic, and sadly so. The outside of the hotel is showing desperate needs of repair, but the inside turned out to be just as suspect when grabbing a polished banister that about pulled free from the wall, or hearing guests argue about taking the stairs vs. the questionable elevator.
The hotel is rather a tourist attraction, and no one seemed to mind that a non-guest was poking about. There's some upscale shops and a sunny café dining area with pricey menu off the main floor lobby. A bar is on the second floor, across from the access to one of the back porches that yields sweeping views across the valley, which were just as enjoyable from the hotel gardens below.
The outdoor expanse is rather small but has been landscaped into a natural beauty for hosting outdoor parties and weddings. A large gazebo focuses the manicured lawn hemmed with seasonal flowerbeds, which were now ablaze with mums and some of the largest dahlias I'd ever seen. A larger fountain is upstaged by the smaller single jet bubbling over in a nearby secluded lily pond, but even these aesthetics can't surpass the Ozark panoramas.
A deep valley separates the Crescent Hotel from the distant mountaintop crowned with the towering Christ of the Ozarks statue, which can be seen with outstretched arms as if watching over the town. Added appeal comes from the European-like domes, spires, and tower that rise from the chapel and Catholic church behind the hotel on the next lower-tiered level. It's possible to walk from the gardens to the houses of worship that have equally tended lawns and gardens. A series of smaller statues depict Christ carrying the cross to Calvary. Because the churches are built on the side of a steep mountain, the sidewalk entry level allows passing with head-on views of the cathedral's stained-glass medallion and other colorful windows.
Crescent Hotel & Gardens
75 Prospect Avenue
Eureka Springs, Arkansas 72632
Attraction | "Browsing the Historic 62 Business Loop"
If arriving from the east, drive onward to the western turn-off for entering downtown, which is threaded by Historic 62 Business Loop. The drive itself is one of Eureka Springs' greatest highlights, the way the narrow, winding road weaves down the mountain in dramatic fashion. The first half passes through residential neighborhoods filled with historic Victorian houses of various sizes, but all with great detail, especially around gingerbread-trimmed porches.
Perhaps need for stopping will arise since the majority of homes are doubling as B&B's or small shops and gathering places. The only thing more abundant than advertisements in yards will be real estate signs. If you're in the market, it would appear half the town is For Sale thanks to a very high cost of local living that depends upon seasonal income for maintaining structures according to historic preservation codes.
The Crescent Hotel is the halfway point, where a sharp turn to the left plunges downhill through forest, bluffs, and first of the natural springs. Unfortunately, there's no place for pulling over to gain a closer look. However, as clearings begin to open, glance back uphill. It's rather astounding how all those houses, which appear single-story from the street, actually have two or more floors built below ground level, extending down the mountain slope.
Once coming to what claims to be the World's Largest Frog Museum, positioned across from a massive bluff with colorful gardens and another bubbling spring, keep eyes peeled for street parking. Otherwise, you'll need wait until reaching the valley floor, where the downtown is centered. This brief mile stretch of Spring Street is lined with specialty shops, galleries, and cafés.
I don't recall ever making purchases, but no trip has ever lacked browsing, even if only remarveling the wall-to-wall stores stacked down side of the mountain. The historic structures have been fully restored with wrought-iron balconies, stained-glass windows, and sweeping porches all but resembling a hillbilly French Quarters. Added adventure comes from taking side staircases and walkways that conceal other businesses on lower levels.
Historic 62 Business Loop
Eureka Springs, Arkansas