School is out for the summer, and around here that means a week at grandma’s for my boys. While they have their vacation filled with what I can only assume is too much screen time, staying up too late, and eating too much sugar, HBW Hubby and I took off for a few days to ourselves. Given other trips we have planned this summer, we wanted something relatively close, so we took to Google to see what we could find.
HBW Hubby came across a cute little town called Eureka Springs, located in Arkansas nestled in the Ozarks and founded in 1880 around the ancient natural springs in the area. It’s about 5 hours from Saint Louis and while getting in and around the town is a bit hilly, as you would expect in the mountains, it was incredibly scenic.
People began to settle the area at the end of the 19th century as they came in search of the miraculous healing waters of the various mineral springs, setting up temporary shelters. Soon, as often happens, people saw an opportunity to make money, so the area was developed into the town it is today. While there were fires that burned much of the original structures, many of the rebuilt structures as well as a couple of the original limestone structures survive today. Eureka Springs is famous for its preserved Victorian buildings in the Historic District, including America’s 3rd most haunted hotel, the Crescent Hotel. And I might have even caught a ghostly apparition on camera! More on that in a bit.
We only had a few days and didn’t do everything there is to do, but hopefully this will give you an idea in case you want to plan a trip of your own. I can’t possibly show you all the pictures I took on this trip, but I did try to get more of them included in the video that I created from our trip. You’ll find that below to supplement the blog post.
Beautifully preserved Victorian buildings, unique shops and art galleries, restaurants, and painted murals and steps around the town give this hilly town a distinct charm, all centered around Basin Spring, the original natural spring that the town was founded around.
Thorncrown Chapel + Leatherwood Lake
Not far from Eureka is the beautiful Thorncrown Chapel, a marvel of architecture made of wood and glass and one of the most peaceful places of worship that I’ve experienced. Located just off Highway 62 just outside Eureka Springs, make sure you stop and see this if you’re in town.
Thorncrown is a privately owned chapel that is generously opened to the public. There is no entrance fee but donations are appreciated. For more information on this beautiful chapel, visit thorncrown.com.
Before heading back to town, HBW Hubby and I stopped at nearby Leatherwood Lake. The park boasts a handful of camping sites, a playground, swimming, and boat rentals for paddle boats, kayaks, and canoes. If you are looking for a scenic way to spend half a day, rent a boat and head out on the water!
There are a couple of different caves around Eureka to explore, but we opted for Cosmic Cavern, which is about 30 minutes out of town in Berryville, AR. This cave is privately owned and there is an entrance fee that varies depending on the tour type you take. What I found interesting about Cosmic Cavern was the multitude of different formation found within, including an underground lake.
Word of advice when visiting any caves, wear old clothes that you don’t care about getting muddy or caked with clay, wear sneakers, and don’t touch anything you’re not expressly told you may touch. Also, watch your head! For more information about Cosmic Cavern, including hours and tour information, see their website.
After our cave tour, we decided to stop at the “Ozarks Strangest Dwelling,” Quigley’s Castle. This quirky cottage is unique in every sense of the word. The woman who designed the house wanted to bring nature indoors and surround herself with it. Her two-story house is filled with large windows to let sun shine on the plants growing from her indoor garden, which reach from the first floor to the second. The house was built so that four feet of dirt surround the interior foundation and flooring on three sides, allowing for nature to come inside. The house is decorated with rocks, gems, shells and more that Elise Fioravanti collected throughout her life and cemented to the outside walls of her house, interior décor and various containers and structures around it. Be sure to check this out in the video for a better glimpse of the butterfly wall.
Quigley’s Castle is still owned by Elise’s family and is still lived in today. The family opens their private residence to the public for a small fee. For more information, see their website.
The Crescent Hotel
Finally, I saved the best for last! The Crescent Hotel is the oldest surviving structure in Eureka Springs, and as you might expect of buildings of a certain age, there are tales of ghost sightings all over the hotel.
Opening in 1886 as a resort for the rich and famous, this hotel has been many things over the years including a women’s college, multiple versions of hotel, and, more infamously, as a cancer center run by the nefarious Norman Baker, who posed as a doctor and took money from patients in exchange for his “treatment” that would 100% cure their cancer. Needless to say, he did NOT cure their cancer, and even after their death, he continued to write letters to the family of deceased patients as the patient so as to extract additional funds for treatment. Crazy, right? Ghosts of some of those patients, a nurse, the son of the president of the women’s college and most especially the ghost of the young Irish stone mason who fell to his death during construction are all reported to haunt this hotel. Even previous hotel cat Morris haunts the hotel!
The hotel is open to stay and also offers a spa and dining options, but many come for the ghost tours. HBW Hubby and I went on one of the tours, where we were able to walk in haunted hallways, near the haunted rooms of Michael the stone mason and patients of “Doctor” Baker, and into the basement that served as the morgue for Baker during the hotel’s cancer hospital days. After our tour guide pointed out a hallway that’s been known to show faces in the glass frames of the French doors at the end of the hallway, I of course went to snap a burst of photos. Since none of my other attempts at catching anything on camera had yielded anything throughout the tour, I was surprised and a bit unnerved to find what looks to be the partial figure of a woman in some of my photos.
Check out the below series of photos showing a set of windowed French doors. In the third row of the right hand door, the middle pane of the first picture shows the two round newel post finials reflected from the staircase behind me, which I highlighted in a zoomed in cut out. But then the next two show what appears to be the head and torso of a woman with a late 19th century hairstyle in 3-quarter profile looking away from us then turning again further away from us. Then the final picture shows the round finials again. If it were a reflection of someone behind me (I looked, no one was there), wouldn’t they have legs? Have a look and you be the judge!
Dining + Things to Know
There are several restaurants within walking distance if you are downtown offering everything from breakfast to dessert and anything in between. We ate at Mud Street Cafe, Basin Park Hotel’s Balcony Bar & Restaurant, Local Flavor, Eureka Springs Coffee House (pictured below and whose unique ceiling made of doors is featured in the video), and Skybar at The Crescent Hotel, whose pizza was ah-mazing. There are many other options as well, but one thing we ran into both in restaurants and shopping were that places had very specific hours and days that they were open and Google wasn’t always up to date. So if there is somewhere you don’t want to miss eating at, you should call to verify their hours.
There are just as many options for lodging as there are places to eat and shop. If staying in a haunted hotel isn’t your idea of fun, then maybe stay away from The Crescent Hotel and Basin Park Hotel, but if that is your idea of fun, go for it! There are tons of cute cabins, houses, and apartments available to rent directly or by VRBO or Airbnb. You can stay in town or just a little outside of it. But something to keep in mind is parking. If staying downtown, parking will usually be available to you. Check with your host to confirm. If camping nearby or renting a cabin on the outskirts of town, you may have need of the trolley because parking is limited in Downtown Eureka, not to mention that the streets are narrow, steep in places, and there’s a lot of foot traffic. We opted to stay downtown at the New Orleans Hotel which was a perfect location, had tons of history and charm, and the suites were super comfortable.
Aside from the things we did, there are still lots of different options to entertain, whether you’re there as a couple, as a family, or even a girls getaway. Be sure to check out Eureka Spring’s official tourism site to get all the latest information for staying, playing, shopping and dining.
Until next time, happy travels!
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