Originally Published April 11, 2017 on Prowdr.com
America has bountiful natural beauty and an abundance of unique destinations to choose from. Yet for some of us in the LGBT community, domestic tourism has become very black and white…or rather red and blue.
Aside from major urban centers like Dallas, Atlanta or Charleston; Red States have been characterized as risky destinations for LGBT visitors. This is a great misconception. Progressive enclaves exist throughout the US, embracing diversity no matter where they’re situated. A perfect example of this is Eureka Springs, located in the Ozarksof northwestern Arkansas.
Eureka Springs is a picturesque town surrounded by pristine wilderness. Beautiful Victorian buildings line the historic downtown area many of which were built using local stone. Its streets are steep and winding, curving around the five-mile loop of town without a single ninety degree intersection. Many of the buildings have street level entrances on different floors. “I think Eureka Springs rolling topography makes it like a small San Francisco in some respects,” says Mike Maloney, the Executive Director of the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission. In fact, it’s lovingly nicknamed, “The Stairstep Town.”
This is a town about 2000 people. Yet, since the late 1800’s, its economy has been built around tourism when the local springs were thought to have medicinal properties. Maloney points out, “on any given weekend, the population can swell to 10,000 or more.”
While the Victorian charm would be enough to attract many, Eureka Springs stands out for LGBT travellers because of its inclusive culture. It is one of the few cities in the state of Arkansas to pass a sweeping anti-discrimination ordinance, called Act 2223. “It’s a fairly substantial piece of legislation,” says Maloney. “Act 2223 let everyone know that there is a place for you in this community, no matter who you love or what you look like.”
Three times a year (in April, August and October), Eureka Springs hosts LGBT centered Diversity Weekends, which attracts people from a fairly broad area. “It’s not so much that there are grandiose parades or celebrations – it’s more of a gathering place for people to come, to feel more comfortable being themselves than they can in their own worlds,” says Maloney.
Over the course of the weekends, there are drag shows, a PDA kiss-in (the largest PDA event in the Midwest), shopping and dining specials, and Diversity in the Park, a “show of love” event with performances and exhibitor booths at Basin Spring Park.
“Mostly,” Maloney adds, “it’s people getting away and coming to a town where they don’t have to worry about holding hands on the street. That’s the nature of what happens in Eureka Springs – people can do what they want and be who they want without issues. It’s a good community.”
Eureka Springs’ location in the Ozarks makes it ideal for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. It has two rivers, two lakes, and plenty of trails for hiking and camping. For bicyclists and motorcyclists, there are miles of curves to test your skills and enjoy the natural beauty.
A giant component of the Eureka Springs community is its art scene, which culminates every year in the May Festival of the Arts. This is a month-long celebration with tons of events including Gallery strolls, artist receptions, the ArtRageous Parade and the Taste of Art hosted at local restaurants.
There are about 200 different lodging opportunities in Eureka Springs, including historic hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, inns, rental cottages and lakefront properties. It’s also a culinary destination, with over seventy restaurants. The Eureka Springs website, has a full list of accommodations and restaurants To explore.
How to get there
Eureka Springs is a drive-to destination, attracting people from Kansas City, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Little Rock, and the St. Louis Area. If you plan to fly, you‘ll need to rent a car. The closest airport is NorthWest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA), a little over an hours drive. It has fourteen direct flights daily.