Winter in Arkansas can be wet and dreary, leaving us all looking for fun indoor activities. Come to think of it, summer is brutally hot. Spring is full of pollen, and we get approximately two days of fall, so in reality, visiting a museum in Arkansas is a good idea year-round! From world-class art hubs to Native American treasures and interactive children’s zones, Arkansas museums offer a plethora of educational and fun activities for the whole family. If you’re on a mission to increase your family’s cultural knowledge, or just looking for something out of the ordinary to do this Saturday, consider one of these amazing Arkansas institutions!
Discover the pioneer way of life at Arkansas Frontier!
When October rolls around, step back in time to the days of America’s first settlers. At Arkansas Frontier, we offer your family a chance to dive into our past with Native American exhibits, a traditional one-room schoolhouse, and a real-life pioneer village! In addition to our open-air museums, we have a stellar pumpkin patch, wagon rides, and loads of games as part of our epic fall festival! Our farm was created by teachers, and we’re dedicated to educating this generation about previous ones who paved the way. If you’re looking for a fantastic homeschool field trip or simply a scholastic Saturday, we’re waiting for you on the Frontier!
The best Arkansas museums: What does Arkansas have on offer?
Tiny Arkansas may surprise you with its variety of cultural experiences. From Civil War historic sites to important landmarks in the Civil Rights Movement and the unique cultural heritage of the Ozark Mountains, Arkansas is rich in culture and history. Due to its strong legacy of industry, Arkansas is home to a world-class art museum, courtesy of the Walmart Foundation. The first Federal Reservation dwells within the state limits, predating the National Park system by forty years.
Arkansas also boasts a rich Native American heritage, and unfortunately, hundreds of miles of the historic Trail of Tears. From quirky fashion exhibits to stately art institutions, each of the Arkansas museums below pays tribute to an essential narrative in the history of The Natural State, and they’re all worth a visit! Here are the 30 best museums in Arkansas, in no particular order.
The Best Museums in Northwest Arkansas
1. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art – Bentonville
Created and funded by Alice Walton, the heir of Arkansas’s most successful business, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art hosts the state’s premier art collection. It’s a masterpiece of architecture and innovation. The brainchild of master architect Moshe Safdie, the integrative design is strikingly modern but fits seamlessly into its Ozark Mountain surroundings. The curators have taken great advantage of the local landscape, incorporating water features, a technologically stimulating Listening Forest, and a top-notch art collection.
The museum’s primary collection focuses on American art through the decades. The collection is worth more than $500 million and is a well-rounded exhibit detailing the progression of art in the United States. While special exhibits and the Listening Forest require a paid ticket, the permanent collection at Crystal Bridges is always free to the public. With high-end art, stunning nature, glorious architecture, and innovative technological exhibits, this premier art museum is one of the best free Arkansas attractions!
Note: If you want to learn more about Arkansas industry and the beginning of the Walmart empire, The Walmart Museum features Walton memorabilia and everything you ever wanted to know about the mega market and its founding family. It’s also home to the Spark Café soda fountain where you can enjoy a tasty treat made from Arkansas’ famous ice cream brand—Yarnell’s!
2. Scott Family Amazeum – Bentonville
Sharing a campus and parking lot with Crystal Bridges, the Scott Family Amazeum is a fun spot for the kiddos. The museum features 50,000 square feet of learning space packed with hands-on activities. Children of all ages are encouraged to climb, tinker, and touch it all! Apart from their permanent display, the Amazeum excels at organized activities ranging from age-appropriate arts and crafts to full-on science experiments!
3. Museum of Native American History – Bentonville
Rounding out Bentonville’s impressive array of institutions, the Museum of Native American History showcases the ancient history of our state. Detailing Pre-Colonial society, the site features thousands of artifacts that span 24,000 years of history. It’s a fantastic place to dive into Native culture. The museum was founded in 2006 by registered member of the Cherokee Nation, and local businessman, David Bogle. The museum is not tribe-specific but rather focuses on Native American society and culture across the whole of the Americas. Best of all… it’s free to enter!
4. Arkansas Air & Military Museum-Fayetteville
The Arkansas Air & Military Museum displays original memorabilia detailing the history of Arkansas aviation. The WWII-era wooden hanger showcases a few aircraft that you can climb inside! There are three large structures housing aircraft from across the history of aviation, and many of them are still operational, taking to the skies for scheduled exhibitions. The collection is open to peruse Thursday through Saturday.
5. Headquarter’s House-Fayetteville
The historic home at 118 East Dickson Street served as the Headquarters House for both Confederate and Union troops during the Civil War. The home is now operated by the Washington County Historical Society and guided tours are available Tuesday-Thursday, and by appointment on weekends.
6. Ozark Folk Center State Park-Mountain View
The Ozark Folk Center is a living museum with exhibits highlighting Ozark Mountain culture, music, and folk art. Watch a blacksmith at work. Sit back and enjoy the ringing sound of the fiddle, banjo, and autoharp, or catch one of the folk artists at work making quilts, candles, or baskets. The park is open from mid-April to late October. It’s easily the best place to experience the unique culture of the Ozarks.
7. Fort Smith Trolley Museum
Fort Smith has a delightful and industrial downtown area near the river. Amongst cute coffee shops, famous street art, and grand Victorians in need of some love, you’ll find the Fort Smith Trolley Museum. This little museum is a must-see destination for train lovers. It features two fully restored streetcars, and you can ride them! The trolleys take visitors for a go seven days a week, from May to October, and on Weekends during the winter and spring. Aside from taking a ride, you’ll learn all about the street car and rail history of the region.
8. Fort Smith Museum of History
After your ride on the streetcar, pop over to the Fort Smith Museum of History—the oldest functioning museum in the state. You’ll explore permanent exhibits on the history of the Arkansas River town, including a collection on Judge Parker’s Hanging Court, famous war generals, and artifacts from the early days of the city, as well as exhibits on the U.S. Marshals and the history of the Arkansas Indian Territories. The museum hosts a slew of free activities throughout the year, which they update regularly on their Facebook page.
The Best Museums in Central Arkansas
9. Fordyce Bathhouse – Hot Springs
The glorious Fordyce Bathhouse serves as the visitor center for Hot Springs National Park and a museum detailing life in the heyday of the 1920s. Hot Springs is a gem when it comes to Arkansas history. The old spa town oozes glamour with its Art Deco visages, features fun family activities, boasts some of the best restaurants in the state, and happens to be the oldest set-aside Federal Reservation in the country.
The Fordyce has been completely renovated to its original splendor! It features a 1920s-era fitness gym, marble bathing rooms, furnished apartments, and period medical equipment. The museum details the prescriptive bathhouse treatment experienced by those who came to “take the waters.” A guided tour is sometimes performed by park rangers, but the facility is easily explored on a self-guided adventure. Stunning, historic, and oddly intriguing, the Fordyce offers a little something for everyone!
10. The Gangster Museum of America-Hot Springs
The guided tour through the Gangster Museum of America is a blast! Hot Springs was a hub of mafia activity during Prohibition, and this little museum does a good job summarizing the city in its heyday. I probably wouldn’t drive all the way to Hot Springs just to see this one, but there are so many cute and quirky museums in the area that in combination make a worthwhile trip, including the Fordyce Bathhouse and our next entry!
11. The Galaxy Connection-Hot Springs
The Galaxy Connection is for the Sci-Fi folks. It’s a collection of Star Wars memorabilia, movie props, and superhero toys and figures. Steeped in nostalgia and dipped in fun, the staff offers a fantastic guided tour for the whole family!
12. Mid-America Science Museum – Piney
If you grew up in Arkansas, then you’ve likely spent a field trip or two at Mid-America. It’s the state’s original hands-on science center for kids. With one of the largest Tesla coils in the world, the state-of-the-art Oaklawn Foundation Digital Dome, and frequent new exhibits, this old favorite still stands up to the competition. Take the DinoTrek or lean back into a world of wonder as you explore outer space in the high-tech Digital Dome. If you’ve got kids in tow, and you’re visiting Hot Springs, a jot out to Piney and Mid-America is an absolute must!
13. McArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History – Little Rock
If you’re a military history buff, then this one is for you! One of the highest decorated and longest-serving 5-star generals of the United States Army is a Little Rock native. General Douglas MacArthur served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. MacArthur was born to be a military hero. He was actually birthed in the museum when the structure was the army barracks in Little Rock. It now serves as the Main Building of the U.S. Arsenal at Little Rock, as well as the museum that bears his name. The military history museum documents not only MacArthur’s achievements on the battlefield but also an exhibit on women of war.
14. Old State House Museum – Little Rock
The Old State House Museum is located in the original state capitol building of Arkansas. It’s one of the most historic buildings in the region, as the oldest capitol building west of the Mississippi (that’s still standing). The structure now serves as a museum of Arkansas politics and history. It features permanent exhibits detailing the governors of Arkansas, its first ladies, and the 1836 House of Representatives Chamber. It also features a wide variety of traveling exhibits and temporary installations.
15. Museum of Discovery – Little Rock
Recently featured on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the experiments at the Museum of Discovery are legendary and over the top. Their mission is to get families excited about learning, and they’re doing an awesome job. With several brand-new galleries and more than 90 hands-on exhibits, there’s always something new and exciting going on. Aside from the permanent science exhibits, the museum has a full calendar of special events and educational opportunities for children of all ages.
16. Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Museum-Little Rock
The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame is a nonprofit scholarship program and museum that honors the most influential athletes and teams in Arkansas history. From Scottie Pippen to Jerry Jones, you’ll find quotes, memorabilia, and equipment honoring Arkansas’ superstars. The museum is open by appointment only these days, so make sure to call ahead!
17. Clinton Presidential Center-Little Rock
One of the United States Presidential Libraries, the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park was established by the 42nd President of the United States and details his presidency through historical documents and artifacts. The collection contains more than two million photos, millions of emails, and over 80,000 artifacts. The museum even houses an exact replica of the Oval Office as it was during Clinton’s presidency.
18. Esse Purse Museum-Little Rock
The Esse Purse Museum is a fun stop for fashionistas. It details purse style and contents throughout the 1900s and explores the lives of the women who carried them. After your visit, peruse the store for a unique piece of your own! As we all know, fashion is cyclical. You may just start a new/old trend with your Victorian velvet embellished clutch!
19. Mosaic Templars Cultural Center-Little Rock
The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is dedicated to preserving and presenting African-American history and culture in Arkansas from 1870 to today. The museum houses a permanent exhibit celebrating black achievements in business, politics, and art. It features an interactive children’s gallery and The Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.
20. Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts-Little Rock
The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts just opened a modern new establishment in the state capital. It hosts a permanent collection of more than 14,000 pieces, spanning eight centuries. The collection includes pieces from Rembrandt, Rubens, Degas, and Picasso, just to mention a few. It’s a fantastic art collection, and the foundation also hosts several well-received performing arts events throughout the year!
21. Plum Bayou Mounds Archeological State Park-Scott
Formerly known as Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park, Plum Bayou was a prehistoric Native American ceremonial ground. The site is the most complex Indian mound system in the state offering excellent guided tours. The visitor center for the state park serves as a history and archaeological museum, detailing the lives of the Plum Bayou People.
The Best Museums in Northeast Arkansas
22. Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum & Educational Center – Piggott
Managed by Arkansas State University, The Hemingway-Pfeiffer House is a historic house museum renowned as the hideaway of Ernest Hemingway when he was writing his 1929 novel, A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway spent his working hours in a barn, which he had converted to a writing studio. You can tour the studio today, still outfitted as it was when he was present. Ernest was the son-in-law of the well-to-do Pfeiffer family and spent much time in their home.
The house serves as a museum and education center detailing life in Arkansas in the 1920s and 1930s. The Pfeiffer family owned more than 60,000 acres in NE Arkansas, and they contributed handsomely to the development of the area. The home museum celebrates both their contributions and the literary works of their famous son-in-law.
23. Wings of Honor Museum- Walnut Ridge
Originally known as the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School Museum, Wings of Honor began as a way to celebrate and educate the public on the Army flying school, The Marine Corps Air Facility, and several local regimens. The museum tells the history of the WWII Walnut Ridge Army Air Field, honors those who served, and showcases WWII-era military memorabilia. Peruse the collection Warbird Bombers and 1940s weaponry while receiving a comprehensive overview of one of the most destructive wars in world history.
24. Johnny Cash Childhood Home-Dyess
Part of the Arkansas State University Heritage Site in NE Arkansas, the Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash (Dyess Colony) celebrates the life of the state’s most famous export. Dyess was one of the “colonies” where impoverished families relocated during the Great Depression. Not only will you learn all about “The Man in Black” and his influence on Arkansas, but the organization offers a guided combination tour that also explores the nearby Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza.
25. Mark Martin Museum-Batesville
Another famous Arkansan, Mark Martin is a legend in the world of NASCAR. Martin began his career on the dirt tracks of Batesville and worked his way to the top, being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017. The museum is home to eight of Martin’s former race cars, as well as trophies and important memorabilia from his career. Admission is free!
26. Sultana Disaster Museum-Marion
Ever heard of the Sultana Disaster? Yeah…I hadn’t either until researching this article. It happens to be the most devastating maritime disaster in the history of the United States. On April 27, 1865, the two-year-old steamboat Sultana was chugging up the Mississippi River through Arkansas when it went up in flames killing over 1,100 people. This small museum tells the story of the steamer and its passengers. The foundation has acquired a new structure and has broken ground on a huge renovation, so soon, it will be even more impressive!
The Best Museums in Southeast Arkansas
27. Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources-Smackover
The Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources is an open-air museum that’s part of the state parks system. The area was a major player in the 1920s oil boom. Walking the streets of the park today is like stepping back in time. You’ll explore vintage vehicles, old gas and oil dwelling equipment, the central power station, and a 112-foot derrick. There’s also an old jail and cafe. Admission is free and includes a special film in the theater on the oil boom. The state park also hosts several fun events throughout the year, like Tinker Fest and their Holiday Lights Extravaganza!
28. The Rowher Japanese American Internment Museum-McGehee
In a not-so-politically-correct move during WWII, the US government forced thousands of Japanese Americans into retainment camps for holding after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Two of those camps were in Arkansas, where more than 16,000 people were housed. The Rowher Japanese American Internment Museum is a simple place—no bells and whistles, but if you’re interested in this oft-overlooked tragedy in our history, it’s a great spot for an educational field trip! While very little is left of the camp itself, you can see where it was located as well.
29. Museum of the Arkansas Grand Prairie-Stuttgart
It wouldn’t be an Arkansas list if we didn’t include something for the country boys and girls. The Museum of Arkansas Grand Prairie displays over 10,000 artifacts detailing the settling of the Eastern Arkansas Prairie lands. Spanning from the early 1800s to the 1920s, the collection allows the visitor to relive defining moments in the progression of agriculture in the state. From old farm equipment to a 19th-century Lutheran church replica and a wildlife exhibit, this museum beautifully details the agricultural and natural history of SE Arkansas.
The Best Museums in Southwest Arkansas
30. Ka Do Ha Indian Village-Murfreesboro
If you have an active crew, a trip to Ka Do Ha Indian Village is just the ticket. Not only will you get the see the only open Native American mounds in the United States, but you’ll also get to peruse the fields for arrowheads and crystals. You even get to keep what you find, so you get an educational adventure with a unique souvenir…bonus!
Get out there and explore Arkansas in a new way!
Most of us know Arkansas as a gem for outdoor adventures, but if you’re looking for a new way to connect to the Natural State, then take some time to immerse yourself in the culture, history, and legends of our beautiful home. The best Arkansas museums are not only informative, but they’re interactive and fun—an adventure the whole family will love! Get out there and explore this winter!
For more fun, local adventures, check out “Exploring the Natural State with Kids: 60+ Fun Attractions in Arkansas“