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7 Reasons to Make Van Buren, Arkansas, Your Next Getaway

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A woman in a hat, sunglasses, and jacket readies to cast as she fly fishes a creek in the woods.

Fort Smith, Little Rock, and Hot Springs are Arkansas locations that you’ve probably heard of and maybe visited a time or two. But Van Buren, Arkansas? You might not know of this one, much less planned to visit.

However, this city located off I-540 is worth a little getaway. Let’s take a closer look at why you should make Van Buren, Arkansas, your next vacation destination!

About Van Buren, Arkansas

Van Buren lies in western Arkansas, less than 10 miles from Oklahoma. It sits on the banks of the Arkansas River just minutes from Fort Smith. The Boston Mountains cast shadows on this charming community that has preserved its history. Once known as Phillips Landing, it changed its name to honor Martin Van Buren, the Secretary of State at the time.

In the 1800s, Van Buren was an important port city along the Arkansas River. It was also a major center of military activity during the Civil War. Even today, Van Buren, Arkansas, has maintained its unique historic charm. History lovers and leisurely shoppers enjoy visiting this Arkansas community.

Railroad tracks below a stunning sunset in Arkansas

What Is Van Buren, Arkansas, Known For? 

Van Buren, Arkansas, has beautifully restored buildings and historic charm. The entire downtown Main Street feels like a walk into the 1920s. Visitors enjoy the shopping and dining opportunities of the area.

Take a stroll along the Arkansas River, visit one of the museums, or enjoy a ride on the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad. This city of just under 24,000 is a hub of history and natural beauty.

7 Reasons to Take a Trip to Van Buren, Arkansas

Most of the time, us travelers want to visit the big cities or popular landmarks. We aren’t very interested in taking a detour to see smaller, unfamiliar towns. But there are several reasons you should check out Van Buren, Arkansas. One of the biggest reasons is history. This town is full of great American history and beautiful restorations. Let’s see seven reasons why you should visit.

1. Take a Train Ride Through the Boston Mountains

This two-hour excursion begins at The Old Frisco Depot. As you step into the opulent cars, you’ll feel as though you’ve gone back in time 100 years or more. The conductors will tell stories about this part of Arkansas and Missouri along the route. And you’ll revel in the beauty of the Boston Mountains and Ozark wildlife. It’s entertainment for the whole family.

Two women dressed for the 1920's board a vintage train car.

2. Soak up Classic Arkansas in the Historic District 

Main Street’s restored buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, these buildings are now home to shops, salons, galleries, and restaurants. In this historic district, you can visit Gunslinger’s Mall, the Van Buren River Valley Museum, and the Ralph Irwin Studio. There’s something for everyone. But you can also just meander down these six blocks and take in the beauty of the area.

3. Visit a 100-Year-Old Opera House

The King Opera House has sat on Main Street in Van Buren, Arkansas, for over 100 years. It has been restored over the years and is available for private use. It regularly hosts theater productions, too. When you walk in, you’ll feel the old charm of the 1920s with the restored wood and brass details. 

4. Stock Up on Sweets at Kopper Kettle Candies

Who doesn’t want to visit a chocolate shop with the slogan “the kind of chocolate Grandma made” and stock up on goodies before leaving town? You can sample a few candies or choose the build-a-box option. Some of the best-sellers are the dark chocolate pecan treats, the rum truffles, the chocolate nut clusters, and the whitebark.

If you want a tour, you can visit the factory location on Alma Highway. There, you’ll hear about Kopper Kettle Candies’ beginnings in the 1920s. Since then, four generations have been making these popular chocolate treats.

Did You Know? Arkansas has a fresh and vibrant wine scene. And, the Arkansas Wine Country Trail is a hidden gem you need to check out on your next visit.

5. Get Great Views at Lee Creek Trails

If you’re interested in outdoor adventure, head over to Lee Creek Park. These 104 acres make up the largest park in the City of Van Buren’s park system. Walk along the Arkansas River or put in your boat at the boat launch.

TripAdvisor users ranked the hiking trails as the second best thing to do in Van Buren, Arkansas. The clear markings make these appropriate even for families with children. Explore the wilderness and beautiful scenery while only venturing a few minutes from town.

6. Enjoy the Water at Lee Creek Reservoir

While at Lee Creek, visit the reservoir for recreational activities like kayaking, canoeing, and boating. Located only a few miles from Van Buren, the reservoir is great for spinning, fly fishing, or trolling. There’s also a four-mile biking trail around the reservoir that’s appropriate for all skill levels as well as additional, more difficult mountain biking trails. This is a great location to enjoy Arkansas.

7. Experience History at the Drennen-Scott House

All of Van Buren, Arkansas, is full of history. But you can experience even more at the Drennen-Scott House overlooking the Arkansas River. Built in 1838, it was the home of John Drennan and remained in the Drennan family until 2005 when the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith purchased it.

Colonel John Drennen House, Van Buren, Crawford County, AR
Source: Library of Congress

Currently, the university uses it as a laboratory for students to recreate history. The Drennan-Scott House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is linked to the Trail of Tears, the Underground Railroad, and the Civil War. It’s a great place to visit for the entire family, and it’s free.

Find Beauty and History in Van Buren, Arkansas

From beautifully-restored buildings to tales of the Underground Railroad to the scenic beauty of the Arkansas River, Van Buren, Arkansas, is a city worth visiting. It may only be 15-16 square miles, but you’ll find lots to do in this area. There are activities for families, single adults, and retirees.

The next time you’re driving down I-49 or along I-40, take the Van Buren exit and explore all that this city has to offer. Don’t forget to grab some of those rum truffles before you leave!

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