Photos Courtesy of Casey Crocker,
Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism
Last time I checked, the powers-to-be in the college football world have scheduled 39 bowl games for this upcoming holiday season. Let’s say you exercise some discretion and catch only around a quarter of them. These 10 games will consume about 40 precious hours of your life and subject you to approximately 1,350 mind-numbing television commercials. Watching any NFL contests or basketball action will only add to those distressing numbers.
Here’s a better idea for both your health and sanity. Abandon that couch, turn off the television and explore some new sights in Arkansas during the holidays. And take some family members or friends with you. Like you, they’ll appreciate an exciting antidote to cabin fever.
There’s a surprising wealth of options that you can choose from. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.
We’ll begin in northeast Arkansas with “Lights in the Delta,” the 6-million-light extravaganza in Blytheville. Running from November 25 through December 27, this fascinating mile-and-half-drive includes 48 major motion displays and attracts some 40,000 guests a year. The cost is $10 per car (half that on Tuesdays), and Santa poses for free photos on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings. For a special adventure, enjoy the spectacle by foot on Monday, December 2. Details can be found at the www.lightsofthedelta.com website.
One of the premier holiday opportunities in the state can be found outside Mountain View at Blanchard Springs Caverns. This “Caroling in the Caverns” event is absolutely breathtaking, combining the spectacular beauty of the cave’s formations with the music of your favorite Christmas songs. The hour-long performances, beginning at 6 p.m. and featuring local musicians, run from November 29 through December 22, but demand for the $25 tickets is high and some shows are already sold out. Tickets can be purchased from the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce at www.yourplaceinthemountains.com.
Since 2011, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville has made one remarkable contribution after another to the state. The museum will expand upon that legacy with “North Forest Lights,” the signature piece for its 2019 holiday program. Beginning on October 26 and continuing through February 16, this multimedia encounter will delight visitors, offering a night time experience unlike anything Crystal Bridges has ever presented. Using light, sound and special effects, five distinct installations by the Montreal-based and internationally recognized studio Moment Factory will astound guests by bringing the soul and rhythm of the forest to life. Coffee, hot cocoa and snacks will be available for purchase. Adult tickets are $22; youth (7 – 18) tickets are $10. Tickets for adult members to the museum are $15; youth members (7 – 18) tickets are $7. Kids 6 and under get in free. For additional information, please visit www.crystalbridges.org.
Eureka Springs, of course, is always a great holiday destination, and 2019 is no exception. The Great Passion Play will present a drive-through light display from November 26 through January 1 (Thursdays through Sundays; donations encouraged). Beginning on December 1 and running through January 1, the grounds of the Crescent Hotel will be graced by a “Christmas Tree Forest” with 30 stellar examples of decorated splendor. Not to be missed is the town’s annual “Christmas Parade of Lights” with its collection of beautifully decorated floats, bands and thousands of twinkling lights. For a list of Eureka’s holiday festivities, go to the www.eurekasprings.org/Christmas website.
The good folks in Hot Springs also know how to celebrate the season. One of the state’s truly outstanding attractions is Garvan Woodland Gardens, and its “Holiday Lights 2019” promises to be the best yet. Running from November 23 to December 31 (4 p.m. – 9 p.m.; closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas days only), the ticketed event includes over 4.5 million lights spread throughout a range of natural settings. The 50-feet-tall holiday tree and its animated light show is a popular photo op as is the Parterre Garden on the Great Lawn. Live reindeer and Santa’s sleigh can be seen November 25 – 27. No dogs are allowed with this one exception: The Jingle Dog Pup Parade on Monday evening, December 2. Members get in free; other adults, $15; 4 -12 years old, $5; three and under, free. See the www.garvangardens.org website for full details.
While many of our state parks have scheduled enticing holiday events (see www.arkansasstateparks.com for complete details), I’ve selected three of particular interest.
The first is “Christmas & Candlelight” (December 7 and 14). Candlelight tours from 5–8 pm; costs are $10.00 for adults and $6.00 for children ages 6 – 12) at Historic Washington State Park in southwest Arkansas near Hope. Meet at the 1874 Courthouse and then take a leisurely walk through this historic village, lit by thousands of luminaries. The restored antebellum homes are adorned with period decorations of pine cones, grapevines and magnolia leaves. The Williams’ Tavern will feature a Christmas buffet (11 a.m. through 8 p.m.) and horse-drawn surrey rides are available.
For those hankering for a classic “Caroling in the Forest” evening, plan on visiting Pinnacle Mountain State Park (west of Little Rock) on Saturday, December 21. Beginning at 7 p.m., park interpreters will lead visitors on a candlelight stroll along the Kingfisher Trail (handicapped accessible) where Christmas music and caroling will be enjoyed by all, followed by refreshing beverages and a hand-warming fire at the pavilion. Admission is free.
The staff at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park (east of Little Rock near Scott) will hold the annual “Winter Solstice Celebration” on December 21. Beginning at 3:30 p.m., park interpreters will help you celebrate the longest night of the year by describing the society that built these ancient mounds. A guided tour will then take visitors to Mound S to observe the sun’s southernmost alignment, a practice that first began here over 1,000 years ago. Following the sunset, guests are invited to the picnic area for hot cocoa, cider, smores and Native American storytelling. Costs are $4 for adults, $3 for kids ages 6 – 12, and no charge for those under 6.
Dozens upon dozens of other holiday festivities can be seen throughout the state to include outstanding displays in Fort Smith, Pine Bluff, El Dorado, Rogers, Bentonville, Magnolia, Fayetteville and Texarkana. And, don’t overlook the lighting of the Arkansas State Capitol, now going on its 81st year. For a thorough guide, check out “Arkansas’s Trail of Holiday Lights” at www.arkansas.com/discover-arkansas/2018-12.
Lastly, let me suggest that you begin 2020 with a fine outdoor memory courtesy of your Arkansas State Park system. A dozen of the parks are hosting “First Day Hikes” on Wednesday, January 1 — and I cannot think of a better way to begin the New Year.
Here are your options, by region:
Northwest Arkansas – Lake Fort Smith, Prairie Grove, Bull Shoals/White River.
Northeast Arkansas – Davidsonville, Crowley’s Ridge, Lake Charles.
Southeast Arkansas – Lake Chicot.
Southwest Arkansas – Logoly, Queen Wilhelmina, Lake Ouachita.
Central Arkansas – Dardanelle, Pinnacle Mountain.
If you’re a little wary about striking out on your own, join up with a naturalist for these tours. For additional information, visit the www.arkansasstateparks.com website.