Little Rock Offers Big Fun
Little Rock is smaller than popular road trip destinations like Dallas and Kansas City, but it offers plenty of family friendly activities.
Are you searching for a quick family getaway between now and your annual Spring Break or summer vacation? Sometimes simply hopping in the car offers new and exciting discoveries. Often, short road trips steer Tulsans toward more bustling nearby metropolises like Dallas/Fort-Worth and Kansas City, but Arkansas’ Little Rock, similar in distance from T-town, can provide a boatload of fun, too.
The Natural State’s capital, settled in 1812, is named after a small rock formation along the banks of the Arkansas River. It was discovered by French explorer Bernard de la Harpe. He earmarked the rock as a landmark for river crossing. Today, inhabited by over 770,000 in the metro area, “Le Petit Rocher” is regarded as one of the friendliest and cleanest cities throughout the South and is serving up big-time family fun.
Small Southern Charm
One of the key differences is the size of Little Rock vs. Big D and K.C. With the smaller size comes a noticeably more laid-back vibe, warmed with Southern charm and hospitality that feels more like a grandmother’s welcome than a cattleman’s slap on the back. Like in Tulsa, there’s a robust revitalization effort underway. Shopping, dining and entertainment districts draw both locals and visitors year-round. And, because the city is built in to the Ouachita Mountains’ foothills, Little Rock is home to gorgeous parks and natural sights. When you’re not busy breathing in the fresh outdoor air, there are plenty of kid-friendly museums to explore.
Areas along Little Rock’s waterfront have been transformed into pedestrian-friendly districts, each with its own distinct neighborhood feel. The River Market, MacArthur Park and the Creative Corridor districts all have unique cultural attractions, vibrant restaurants and shops to check out. The food scene is comprised of local cheese makers, cake bakers and brew masters, and it also serves up some great burgers and barbeque.
At night, downtown comes alive with the dazzling River Lights in The Rocks light show. Three river bridges—The Clinton Presidential Center, Main Street and Junction Bridges—illuminate the night sky with millions upon millions of high-efficiency LED lights, beautifying the cityscape. This is no ordinary bridge lighting, I might add. The Color Kinetics team, well-seasoned lighting professionals, along with Philips Lighting, was chosen for the project and they’ve worked on internationally famous structures, including the Empire State Building, the London Bridge, the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House.
Natural Beauty Excites
From downtown, you can soak up the beauty of the Natural State simply by admiring the views along the riverfront. For extra exposure, nature lovers can enjoy the mostly flat Arkansas River Trail on foot or by bike. The trail runs a 15+-mile loop within the city from the Clinton Presidential Bridge to the Big Dam Bridge and back. (The extended trail is almost 90 miles for those with more time and who want a more expansive experience.)
There’s also an opportunity to trek across the 90-foot high Big Dam Bridge, which, at a length of 4226 feet, makes it the longest bridge on the continent built solely for pedestrian and bicycle use. Big Dam also connects miles and miles of scenic riverside trails between Little Rock and North Little Rock.
The natural crown jewel in the region is 2,000-acre Pinnacle Mountain State Park, located a mere mile to the northwest of downtown. With an elevation of over 1000 feet, Pinnacle Mountain offers hikers a nice workout with a great reward: sweeping views of the Arkansas River Valley and its city, bridges and river below.
Little Rock does not fall short when it comes to places to enhance your knowledge. Here’s a small sampling of historical sites/museums to visit.
Heifer International/Heifer Village—-Suited more for older children, taking a tour of Heifer International and the village is highly recommended. It will teach them about sustainable living and how to help feed the hungry worldwide. Additionally, the building, an architectural masterpiece, is eco-friendly, earning accolades for being one of the “greenest” nationwide.
Museum of Discovery—-For the young and young at heart, this is a captivating and thrilling place for all those interested in science. Children are easily engaged in hands-on learning and can spend hours “playing” with interactive exhibits.
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum—Housed along the banks of the river, you will find a wealth of information about Clinton’s oval office experiences. Beforehand, download the free app for an audio tour narrated by President Clinton himself. The building has nice river views and is architecturally impressive.
Getting Around/Where To Stay
The River Rail trolley system is a fun way to get around. Everyone will love the replica trolleys running along a 2.5-mile route from morning until night. They go all over the River Market District and through the Argenta District in North Little Rock, across the Arkansas River.
After a long day, there are nice overnight stay options downtown. The Capital Hotel provides a historic spin while the Marriott, Homewood Suites and Residence Inn offer amenities that traveling families may prefer.
There’s clearly more to Little Rock than Bill, Hillary, Chelsea and Socks, the cat. In addition to being a smaller, more charming urban environment than regionally popular cities, you will most likely agree that there are some big reasons to add Little Rock to the family travel bucket list. For lots more information, see www.littlerock.com.