Small towns dot the sprawling Ozark Mountains like scattered leaves across a field. Here are a few of the villages we think you should visit. These gems, each defined by its own local color, make a fun drive for those with a wandering spirit. Though they lie only about 20 minutes apart, they afford miles of memories for a perfect fall weekend.
Friday--A Day of Discovery
For a special stay, check in to Magnolia Gardens Inn, located at 500 North Main Street in Springdale. From the Roosevelt Room with a hammered copper tub to the Willows Room with twin beds (ideal choice for those with kids), each choice will cost just $80 to $100. Quaint and tucked away, this small inn pairs nicely with a slow-paced weekend; (479) 756-5744.
For lunch, head 11 miles to the Crumpet Tea Room in nearby Rogers. The restaurant, tucked inside a historic building on First and Elm Streets downtown, serves some of the best quiches, soups, and chicken salads in the area. The real treats, however, are the homemade orange rolls (85 cents).
Once finished, stop in next door at Poor Richard's Gifts & Confectionery. Visitors discover bath and home accessories plus Arkansas memorabilia. Thirsty? Refresh yourself with one of their famous cream sodas. The old-time soda fountain with a Formica counter and retro stools has customers slurping their way back in time.
Bag one last stop before dinner by heading south to Tontitown. Here autumn rolls right up to your nose at Hanna's Candle Factory Outlet (1080 West Henry de Tonti Blvd.). Cinnamon Sticky Bun and Orange Clove Torte are scented candles that will be a pleasant reminder of your weekend.
For dinner, try the River Grille Steakhouse in Bentonville. One of the newest and nicest restaurants in town, it impresses with a stylish atmosphere and sumptuous menu. House specialties include the beef tenderloin filet ($27.95) with à la carte sides.
Saturday--Touring by Train
Breakfast on the sunporch at Magnolia Gardens Inn makes your morning merrier. Fluffy, thick biscuits with creamy white gravy, eggs, bacon, and fresh fruit are tasty treasures.
Afterward, head to the Springdale depot for a ride on the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad. Take the 134-mile round-trip trek from Springdale to Van Buren ($45), which departs at 8 a.m. sharp. Settled on emerald green seats and surrounded by African mahogany from restored 1920s railcars, visitors catch gorgeous glimpses of the Boston Mountains.
The scenery whizzes by like old-time moving pictures. Snapshots of simple towns dot the stretch. Then, of course, there is sweet Mrs. France, a fixture on the route who stands on her front porch and waves as the train passes. "If you don't wave at her she will call the depot on you," says conductor Glen Brown sternly.
In Van Buren, a tiny town touted for its Victorian-era architecture, you'll find a slew of antiques and crafts shops. Seek out something a little different at a store appropriately named A Little Bit of Mexico. Shoppers find south-of-the-border trinkets such as colorful pottery, silver jewelry, beaded necklaces, handwoven tapestries, and decorative tiles.
To discover the secret life of bees, visit La Rue's Bee Hive & Honey House on Seventh Street. Mr. Alfred La Rue spouts out bee facts faster than a swarm of traveling wasps. Take a jar of his clover honey ($8.95) for the ride home.
When ready for a treat, one place in particular ranks tops. Our House Too Restaurant dishes up signature Italian pastas ($5.99), charbroiled burgers ($4.49 to $5.29), and homemade desserts good enough to kill the qualms of big-city skeptics.
You'll get back from your train trip around 4:30. Once you're fully rested, spend your last dinner in Bentonville at The Vineyard. Paris-trained chef Terry Held brings his exceptional, bistro-style cooking, which includes everything from Middle Eastern cuisine to English-inspired entrées, to this community.
Sunday--Savoring the Season
Have breakfast at the War Eagle Mill and Bean Palace Restaurant, located off State 12, approximately 12 miles east of Rogers. A working gristmill, War Eagle grinds its meal and flour daily. When hunger calls, answer with the Buckwheat Waffle Supreme served with blueberry toppings ($5.50).
For more country character, visit Pumpkin Hollow Pumpkin Patch in Lowell, just outside of Springdale. Families can take a hayride, and then kids peruse the strange-shaped gourds ($2 to $40, depending on size). Fall mums in colors that pop like Fourth of July fireworks decorate the scenery. The scent of September rises in the air. It's a gentle reminder of the simple yet special times experienced during an Ozark autumn.
For More Information
Contact the Springdale Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-972-7261. For train reservations, contact Arkansas & Missouri Railroad at 1-800-687-8600.
This article is from the September 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.