Eureka Springs: A Brief History

According to tour guide Joe Gunnels, local Indian tribes knew about the healing springs long before the first white settlers came to the area around 1829, when the newcomers camped around the springs, bathing in and drinking the waters. First sustained by hunting in the mountains and fishing in the White and the King’s rivers, the city was founded in 1879. Eureka means, “I found it;” with 63 springs inside today’s city limits and more than 1,200 springs within a seven-mile radius, “I found springs” is certainly an accurate name.

Starting with 400 people, health spas opened to offer the healing properties of the spring waters, and population soon exceeded 11,000 people. By the 1900s, the golden age of the spas had ended, and Eureka Springs’ popularity – and population – dwindled to the present number of approximately 1,900. The tourism turnaround started in the 1960s, with the completion of the Christ of the Ozarks Statue and the opening of The Great Passion Play. Country music theaters opened in the 1970s, and the preservation of many historic homes began in the 1980s with their conversion into B&Bs.

According to Ripley's Believe It or Not:

Eureka Springs has over 230 streets, and none of them cross each other at right angles.

One enters Saint Elizabeth Catholic Church through the bell tower.

Some buildings have more than a single number and street name because of the way they are built on the hillsides.

The Basin Park Hotel has seven floors of rooms, and they are all considered to be ground floor rooms.


Eureka Springs, Arkansas  

Photo courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism

Whether you’re interested in a romantic getaway, a celebration of Ozark arts and culture, shopping in distinctive boutiques and craft shops, or the chance to enjoy great hiking, biking, and all water sports, you’re guaranteed a great escape to Eureka Springs, a Victorian village located in the northwest corner of Arkansas.

Getting Around
Eureka Springs is about 50 miles northeast of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA); thanks to Wal-Mart, headquartered in nearby Bentonville, service is good, reasonably priced, and frequent. It’s about 53 miles southwest of Branson, MO; combine these two destinations for an appealing getaway.

You’ll need a car to get to Eureka Springs, but parking is limited in season. Leave your car at your B&B, then either stroll or take advantage of the trolley system, with stops at almost every B&B; unlimited travel costs about $4 daily, plus $1 extra for a narrated tour.

When to Go
With an elevation of 1,200 feet, Eureka Springs enjoys four distinct but mild seasons, neither too cold in winter nor too hot in summer. Best of all are the flowers in spring and the colorful fall foliage. As always, midweek visits are the best for avoiding crowds and congestion.

Sights & Activities
Spiritual: The Great Passion Play, depicting Christ’s last days on earth, His death and resurrection, has attracted crowds for the past 35 years; the seven-story Christ of the Ozarks statue on its grounds is visible for miles around. Thorncrown Chapel is an architectural masterpiece, with 425 windows and over 6,000 square feet of glass.

Nature: An old Ozark folk saying explains that, "It's not that the mountains are so high, it's just that the valleys are so deep." This deeply eroded limestone plateau has created a recreational wonderland of caves, rivers, lakes, and forested trails, perfect for caving, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and hiking. About 10 miles west of Eureka Springs is Beaver Lake, a 28,000-acre lake, created by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s, offering all water sports and extensive hiking trails. More information…

If you’d like to experience fauna along with the flora, take time to visit Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge and Foundation, a refuge for abandoned, abused and neglected “big cats,” especially tigers, lions, leopards and cougars. You can even stay overnight at one of their cabins.

For more information on shopping, crafts, festivals, nightlife, and much more, visit the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Restaurants: Check with your innkeeper for local favorites, but we especially enjoyed Gaskin’s Cabin, about three miles north of town on Highway 23. A log cabin built in 1864, Gaskin’s is famous for steaks (with vegetarian alternatives), great atmosphere, and affordable prices on their specials. In town, Café Soleil features international and contemporary American cuisine with creative vegetarian offerings; we enjoyed lunch so much that we returned to dinner. Another long-time favorite is Ermilio’s Italian Home Cooking, located in a restored Victorian house.

B&Bs and Inns
Eureka Springs climbs up and down countless ravines, making for shady glens and scenic vistas, as well as plenty of steep staircases and limited parking. If you have difficulties with stairs and/or walking, be sure to let the innkeeper know when making reservations. In general, B&B rates are an excellent value; most guest rooms have whirlpool tubs, and many have fireplaces, plus refrigerators stocked with soda and bottled water; light snacks and free wireless Internet, all included in the price. Although few (if any) innkeepers are native to the city, they love their adopted home town and are delighted to recommend its many features, from great restaurants to intriguing shops and galleries, to a plethora of area outdoor activities. Limited time did not permit us to visit to all the city’s lovely B&Bs; click here for a complete list.

Richard and Jan Grinnell are the gracious hosts and hard-working innkeepers of 5 Ojo Inn. One of the top values in Eureka is the Honeymoon Hideaway, newly redone in blue, white, and yellow – crisp, sunny, and inviting, with a queen-size bed, whirlpool tub, and primitive antiques. Our tasty breakfast included fresh fruit with cream and a blueberry muffin, followed by spiced pancakes with peppered bacon.

Doug and Beverly Breitling welcome you to Arsenic & Old Lace, a Victorian-style home built as a B&B. Furnishings combine period charm with whirlpool tubs and oversize multi-headed showers. We enjoyed an amazing breakfast of baked bananas with granola, ham strata, home fries, just-baked pastry, and melon, watching a wonderful variety of birds breakfasting at the garden feeders. The Treetop Suite has a king-size bed and wonderful light streaming in from the turreted ceiling.

The 1884 Bridgeford House has an ideal location on Spring Street, in a beautiful residential area, yet an easy walk to appealing shops. We liked the Mary Bridgeford and the Georgianna Suites best.

You’ll find Beaver Lake Cottages & Suites about 10 miles from town, with luxurious, private lodgings overlooking the lake, including Jacuzzis for two, glass and marble showers, fireplaces, and king beds; the cabins include kitchens, decks, and BBQ grills.

Equally appealing are Beaver Lakefront Cabins, with similarly luxurious accommodations and amenities. Cabins overlook the lake; additional features include an indoor fishing area and a 64-foot swimming and boating dock.

Just up the hill from Main Street is Candlestick Cottage, with a peaceful woodsy setting, close to shops and restaurants. Owners Denise and Rita are cheerful and welcoming, serving breakfast year-round on the enclosed treetops porch overlooking a shady ravine.

For a secluded setting in the woods, with extremely spacious guest rooms (all with king-size beds and double whirlpool tubs), ask for a room close to the deck and gazebo at Evening Shade Inn Bed and Breakfast; a full breakfast will be delivered to your door.

On the historic loop, close to downtown shopping is the Heart of the Hills, with three private ground-floor guest rooms, each with private entrances. Comfortable accommodations, friendly innkeepers, affordable priced.

One of Eureka’s first B&Bs, the Heartstone Inn has guest rooms in the original Victorian house, with additional accommodations in the added wing and cottage. Owners Rick and Cheri Rojak are friendly and enthusiastic innkeepers. We especially like the Victorian Suite and the Country Cottage.

Inn at Rose Hall is a handsome recreation of an 1880s Victorian mansion, with five suites decorated with period antiques and stained glass windows. Owner Zoie Kaye pampers her guests with such breakfast menus as sunrise smoothies, sunshine muffins, and Mexican eggs. The inn’s romantic atmosphere, makes it perfect for small weddings and honeymoons.

Set on the Upper Historic Loop, one block from the Crescent Hotel, Chris & Lisa McCants have done a wonderful job of renovating the four suites at the Mount Victoria. Chris, a trained chef, serves amazing breakfasts; you can enjoy them in your room or in the dining room. Our favorite was the Clayton Suite, with an intriguing safari accent.

A Colonial Revival home built in 1891, Red Bud Manor offers a convenient location in the historic district plus comfortable, affordably priced guest rooms, and a friendly, welcoming innkeeper, Deborah Stroup.

Peabody House has an ideal location on a quiet lane a flight of steps up from Main Street. Sophisticated décor from the Painted Lady exterior to the elegant common areas and guest rooms. Innkeeper Faryl promises to spoil you with privacy, luxury and convenience.

Dating back to 1930s, the Rock Cottage Gardens offers charming stone cottages in a garden setting, with an in-town location that’s quiet yet convenient. Owner Linda Little makes sure her guests are comfortable, serving full breakfasts is the dining room of the main house. A small chapel is available for intimate weddings.

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