What are the best things to do in Fayetteville and Bentonville?

Caroline Patek

When planning a trip to Fayetteville and Bentonville, be sure to pencil these activities into your itinerary:

1. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. While Fayetteville and Bentonville have had a thriving arts and entertainment scene for years, the region's offerings hit a new high with the late-2011 opening of this museum. Founded by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. heir Alice Walton, Crystal Bridges is a premier national art institute focused on collecting, exhibiting, interpreting and preserving the outstanding works and masterpieces of American art that illuminate our heritage and artistic endeavors. The globally noted museum was designed by Moshe Safdie. Beautifully situated and landscaped, the attraction sits on 140 acres of Ozark forest in the heart of Bentonville. The museum's permanent collection spans five centuries of American masterworks, ranging from the Colonial era to the present day.

2. Thorncrown Chapel. The fourth-most beautifully designed building of the 20th century, according to the American Institute of Architects, this sanctuary is a breathtaking example of architect E. Fay Jones' “Ozark Gothic” style. Located on a blemish-free hillside just a few miles outside the historic, Victorian mountain village of Eureka Springs, Thorncrown Chapel rises 48 feet into the sky with more than 6,000 square feet of glass and 425 windows. The chapel is made with all organic materials, except for the diamond-shaped steel reinforcements in the wooden trusses. The winner of multiple top architectural awards, the chapel never looks quite the same as light, shadows and reflections play a major role in its ambience.

3. Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. Perched on 98 acres inside Fayetteville city limits is this oasis of greenery, one of only two such gardens in the state of Arkansas. More than 40,000 visitors a year flock to the Garden, which is a collection of nine themed gardens and includes the area's only butterfly house. The not-for-profit organization emphasizes community educational and recreational opportunities to help increase visitors' appreciation of the Ozarks' native and natural ecosystem.

4. Arkansas and Missouri Railroad. The special passenger excursion train offers visitors “A Window Seat to History,” an opportunity to travel in the style of a bygone era. On the A&M, passengers can still enjoy the leisurely elegance of real train travel through the mountains and valleys of Northwest Arkansas. Over trestles with views for miles and through a quarter-mile tunnel, the A&M passenger train journey will take you all the way to the top of the scenic Boston Mountains on the edge of the Ozarks and into the historic Arkansas River Basin. It's a fantastic and relaxing way to view the untouched beauty of the mountainous region surrounding Fayetteville and Bentonville.

5. Devil's Den State Park. Located outside Winslow, 15 miles south of Fayetteville just off Interstate 540, this is a treasure for nature lovers. Nestled in picturesque Lee Creek Valley in the Ozark Mountains, Devil's Den is one of Arkansas's five original state parks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, where the rustic-style facilities mirror the rugged natural beauty that surround them. In the heart of Devil's Den, a rock dam spans Lee Creek forming Lake Devil. This eight-acre lake is a serene setting for fishing, canoeing, kayaking and pedal boating. There are caves, crevices and bluff overlooks galore to explore, and 11 walking and hiking trails of different difficulty levels. And, of course, camping for all tastes (from luxury cabins to primitive camp areas).