Stretching from Missouri to Arkansas, the Ozark Mountains are home to many surprisingly quirky little gems. There's a lot to do and see, all tucked away among the green-covered mountains, peaceful lakes and shady forests. Make sure you don't overlook any of these hidden treasures as you road trip through the beautiful and offbeat Ozarks!
If you've been anywhere near Pinterest in the last few years, you've no doubt stumbled on pictures of Arkansas' Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs; it is, admittedly, utterly breathtaking (we've written about it before), but it's not the only glass chapel hidden in the forests of Arkansas; in fact, it's only one of three! All were designed by famed architect E. Fay Jones, a native of Arkansas.
It should come as no surprise that Jones was an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright-- they both employ a style that not only draws inspiration from nature, but blends seamlessly into natural surroundings. But while the two were close friends, Jones preferred the quiet comfort of the Ozark forests to traveling around the country. It makes sense, then, that his most famous buildings were inspired by and were built within those forests that he loved so much. Thorncrown was the first of the three-- it was commissioned by a retired schoolteacher and was built in 1980. The wooden chapel looks like it's open-air, but it's actually made of glass. In fact, nothing on the chapel was bigger than anything that could be carried by two men; this cut down on transportation costs and allowed it to be built in a more secluded area. The reaction to Thorncrown Chapel was immediate: people were enchanted by the serene space. In fact, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000--- a rare occurrence, since almost everything added to the list is over 50 years old.
Remember being a kid and exploring outdoors, looking for the coolest fossils and rocks and flowers? Most people eventually grow out of this childlike wonder of the natural world, but not Elise Quigley. Even as an adult, she kept her fascination with all things outdoorsy-- in fact, she was so enchanted by the outdoors that she designed her home to bring it all inside. Elise lived with her husband Albert in a lumber shack-- it was the Great Depression and he was plugging along running a lumber mill, but Elise wasn't exactly content with their little home. After months of pestering him to build her a new house, Elise had had about enough, and resorted to drastic measures: one day in June, she had her children help her tear down their shack, board by board, and move Albert's stuff into a chicken coop, forcing him to allow her to build her dream home, which she had already designed. She even made a miniature model of it out of matchsticks and cardboard.
She had two main requests: something big enough to hold their large family, and a vibe that made it feel as if she were "living in the world instead of in a box". The house was buily by hand for $2,000-- they even waited three years to get glass pane for the 28 large windows Elise dreamed of. Another quirky aspect of the house was the 4 feet of dirt around next to the walls, which she used to plant trees and flowers and greenery. She decorated the outside of the "castle" with her rock collection, bits of glass, fossils, crystals, arrowheads, and other natural finds. There was even a huge garden in addition to the plants inside.
Albert died in 1972 and Elise followed in 1984, but their house remains standing. The grandchildren have opened the offbeat home to the public for tours. Today, more than ever, the house feels like a forest-- the tropical plants that Elise put inside the house are now 65+ years old and have grown to reach the second floor of the "castle"-- even Elise couldn't imagine how charming her nature-themed home would turn out to be!
For a real thrill, hike out to Whitaker Point and take in the mindblowing view-- there's a good reason this craggy rock is one of the most photographed places in Arkansas-- and it's also one of the best places in the state to share a smooch. Make the hike out to the rock in the spring (for waterfalls and wildflowers) or fall (imagine the woodland along the trail and below the cliff lit up in its autumn colors). Plus, it's only about 3 miles round trip... totally doable for even the most casual outdoorsperson.
The state is also home to a unique waterfall known as the Glory Hole, which features water from Dismal Creek that trickles into a cave through a hole in the roof. It's best viewed after a rainstorm, but even if it's just a trickle when you visit, it's still a neat natural feature. You can even visit in winter to see the waterfall as an icicle!
Falling Water Falls
The Ozarks have plenty of other waterfalls guaranteed to not disappoint. Drive down 5 miles of winding dirt road through shady forest until you reach Falling Water Falls. It's a peaceful little spot that's far enough off the beaten path that it won't be overcrowded. Pack a picnic and spend some time soaking in the natural beauty!
Not too far from Falling Water Falls is the slightly larger Twin Falls. It's not too hard of a hike, but since cell reception across the Ozarks is hit or miss, you should bring along a paper map... just in case!
Beckham Creek Cave Lodge
The area is known for its many caves as well-- if you're so inclined, you can spend the night in your own personal Batcave at the Beckham Creek Cave Lodge. It's not cheap, but come on... how cool would it be to spend the night in a cave? This one has 4 bedrooms, showers built into the cave walls, even a private helipad. That's because the guy who built it (John Hays, founder of Celestial Seasonings Tea Company) wanted it in case of an apocalyptic end of times scenario.
If spending that much time underground sounds a little too dark and creepy for you, consider renting a cabin perilously perched on the very edge of cliff! The Cliff House Inn also has a restaurant, with sweeping views of the Ozarks. If you stay the night, make sure to wake up extra early to watch the sun rise over the landscape.
Ozark Folk Center State Park
The Ozarks are more than just a region... it's a culture, with its own cuisine, music, stories, dances, and more. Learn about the little things that make this part of the country so special at Ozark Folk Center State Park. Crafts, workshops and classes, live music, a restaurant, a zipline, fishing, and tons more make this a great place to spend a day.
From waterfalls to caves to cultural gems, the Ozarks are a unique place where you can immerse yourself in the beauty of nature and the wonder of the forest!
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