Top 9 Things That Make Eureka Springs “Curious, Indeed”
You could say that Eureka Springs was destined to be quirky. It starts with the city’s earliest history.
Native Americans revered the area for the sacred powers of its many natural springs. Then, in 1856, a Dr. Alvah Jackson happened upon what is now Basin Spring and claimed that the waters had healed his eyes. During the Civil War, he established a “hospital” in a local cave and treated his patients with the water. Afterward, he began selling it as “Dr. Jackson’s Eye Water.”
Soon enough, word got out that this very special water could heal other debilitating diseases, and people from around the country flocked to this narrow valley in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas in search of miracle cures. The advent of modern medicine brought an end to Eureka Springs’ reputation as a healing mecca, but it remained a popular travel destination.
But the town’s aura of healing, mysticism and magic lives on to this day. And Eureka Springs has embraced its reputation for being a little…different. It’s one of the reasons visitors come here to the tune of about a million people a year.
The entire destination has a vibe all its own, but here are nine things that affirm Eureka Springs’ renowned quirkiness.
A Heavenly Welcome
If you were to arrive in Eureka Springs by helicopter, the first thing you’d see, rising from a vast expanse of green, is a 65-foot-tall modernist sculpture of Jesus, arms outstretched, welcoming you. It’s called Christ of the Ozarks, and sits atop Magnetic Mountain, looking benevolently upon downtown and beyond. The 55-year-old statue is located a two-mile drive from downtown on the beautifully landscaped grounds of the Great Passion Play. Curiously enough, the grounds include 20 miles of hair-raising mountain bike trails — perfect for anyone who rides religiously. (See what we did there?)
A Stair-Step Town
Effectively chiseled out of the Ozarks, Eureka Springs is a town where homes are stacked, one behind the other, on 20 steep hills divided by 19 ravines, fortified by 200 miles of limestone retaining walls. Hence, a “stair-step town.” The streets of Historic Downtown, the entirety of which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970, were laid out following the old paths of Native Americans and animals, which originally provided the easiest route to the Indian healing spring. As a result, the hilly downtown is a patchwork of winding streets, none of which cross at right angles. Oh, and you won’t find a single traffic light in Eureka Springs.
A Victorian Enclave Amid the Ozarks
From its downtown business district to its stately homes on the hills to its tiny cabins, Eureka Springs is known for its Victorian architecture. No less an authority than Architectural Digest has called the town’s eclectic style “Eureka Victorian,” a mishmash of Queen Anne, Stick, Gothic Revival, Craftsman and Neoclassical. Eureka Springs reportedly has the largest collection of Victorian houses in the central United States. Adding to the pizazz, our homeowners are fond of unique exterior colors. You’ll spot houses in bold reds and oranges, light pinks and greens and blues — a panoply of hues. Most of the Historic Downtown buildings, constructed in the late 1800s, look the same today as when they were built. Eureka Springs even has its own flatiron building, one of the most photographed spots in Arkansas. The landmark building houses four luxury suites known as Flatiron Flats.
Old, Hallowed, Haunted Hotels
Eureka Springs has a number of brand-name places to stay — e.g. Best Western, Quality Inn — but there’s real character to be found in the establishments in and around downtown, a few of which date back more than a hundred years. Because the 1905 Basin Park Hotel was built into the side of a mountain, it’s in Ripley’s Believe it or Not (how’s that for quirky?) for the distinction of every floor being a ground floor. Many decades ago, the place was a popular speakeasy. You can join the Eureka Springs Paranormal Investigators for an hour-long tour of the hotel’s “most active spaces” — code for “haunted” — Wed.-Sun. at 10:30 p.m.
And if you’re really into getting spooked, the 1886 Crescent Hotel, a stately place that overlooks downtown, is hailed as “America’s most haunted hotel” (it’s been featured on Ghost Hunters) and offers one of the most well-attended ghost tours in the country. For still more chills, check out Haunted Eureka Springs Tours, a walking trek that ends by going through the city’s longest stretch of underground tunnels.
Lodging That’s Even More Curious
Eureka Springs is rife with hotels of varying vintage, lodges, bed-and-breakfasts and Airbnbs, many of which have their own distinctive character. And then there’s the next level of uniqueness. Eureka Springs Treehouses, Caves, Castles and Hobbits, on the southeast side of downtown, offers just what it says. Hogsveil includes four “mystic cottages,” each of which features a secret door that leads to a sauna and jacuzzi for two. Hogsveil elves take guests on a free walking tour of downtown Eureka Springs on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. There’s more. Treehouse Cottages has eight units, roughly 25 feet above ground. Enchanted Treehouses sits on 52 serene, private acres. Oak Crest Cottages & Treehouses is another charming option. Each of these unusual establishments comes with breathtaking views of The Ozarks.
An Arts Haven
Within a town of 2,000 people are some 300 working artists. As a result, Eureka Springs has a plethora of galleries, street art and festivals, as well as 2nd Saturday Gallery Strolls, April through November. Is it cool to say that our artist residents add to the town eccentricities? (We don’t think they’ll mind.) Art runs through the city’s veins, adding substantially to its overall quirkiness. A must-stop for art lovers is the Art Colony of Eureka Springs, a ramshackle enclave of delightful oddness where artists have studios and “storefronts” for their work. Adding to the town’s arts cred, there’s Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow, where scribes can find peace, quiet and inspiration.
Master Illusionists and Prestidigitators
What city with a population of 2,000 has a world-class magic show that features elaborate sets, costumes and a wealth of dazzle? Well, we can think of at least one. Intrigue Theater, located in a 110-year-old stone chapel building, showcases the talents of Sean Paul and Juliana Fay, who’ve been seen on such national TV shows as Penn & Teller: Fool Us, Masters of Illusion and America’s Got Talent, and have held residencies in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Their large-scale show in a small-scale city is a family-friendly experience. Shows run three to five days a week. Additionally, as you walk around Eureka Springs, you may encounter up-and-coming prestidigitators performing street magic.
The Springs, Still Magical
You’re apt to encounter crystal clear water running down, around and through rock formations all over Eureka Springs. The 60-plus natural springs within city limits provide relaxing spots to stop and behold our town’s natural beauty. They’re also perfect for romantic moments. You can come across these gurgling marvels at random, or take a planned excursion on the Eureka Springs Natural Springs Trail.
And it’s not just outdoors: One wall of Grotto Wood-Fired Grill is solid rock with a continuously gurgling spring. The springs and their lasting influence are the main reason our town abounds with spas, massage therapists and other holistic centers.
Little Surprises, Big Delights
Walk, bike, drive or tram around Eureka Springs and it won’t be long before you run into something unexpected, amusing or downright weird. Downtown is filled with exterior stairways, which is quirky in and of itself. Some are stone, some are wood, and part of the adventure is finding out where they lead. The most popular of these is the Rainbow Stairs, a long stretch whose full length is a colorful mural. You might even say it’s psychedelic.
Another high-profile piece of public art is Humpty Dumpty on a Wall. The whimsical statue — nearly 1,500 pounds and carved from solid oak — sits on a stone retaining wall on private property at the intersection of Spring and Main streets.
Adora Zerlina Astra, a mermaid-ish statue wearing a crown and holding a staff, overlooks quaint Basin Spring Park. The artist says she “celebrates the feminine energy of the cosmos.”
The Rainbow Stairs, Humpty, and Adora are just a few of the quirky finds in Eureka Springs. You’ll delight in the many small sculptures of animals, musical instruments, bells and other figures scattered throughout downtown. And all you have to do to find them…is come visit us!