15 Best Things to Do in Russellville, AR

Russellville, AR
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Considered one of the key cities along Scenic Highway 7, Russellville is Pope County’s largest city and serves as its county seat.

It’s bordered by Lake Dardanelle—a 34,000-acre lake famous for its bass fishing—and the Arkansas River—the sixth-longest river in the country known for trout fishing.

The town, previously named Chactas Prairie, was said to have been explored by Hernando de Soto in 1541 when the Osage Indians lived in the area.

In the early 1800s, the Cherokee people occupied the land but were forcibly relocated to accommodate white settlers.

In 1834, J.C. Holledger built the first house in the area, and a year later, it was bought by Dr. Thomas Russell, a well-respected doctor and surgeon.

To name their town, the residents had two choices: Shinnville after Jacob Shinn, who established the first business in town, and Russellville after Dr. Russell, and the latter ultimately won.

It was incorporated as a city in 1870 and today serves as the principal city of the Russellville Micropolitan Statistical Area.

Here are the best things to do in Russellville, Arkansas:

Commemorate the Cherokee People at Lake Dardanelle State Park

Beautiful sunset over Lake Dardanelle State Park
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Located on State Park Drive, Lake Dardanelle State Park is a 34,300-acre reservoir on the Arkansas River that runs through the cities of Russellville and Darndelle.

Its Russellville area contains the Sport Fishing Weigh-in Pavilion, a fishing pier, trails, and five aquariums housed in the Visitor Center.

The park is one of the certified Trail of Tears National Historic Sites, which are hundreds of miles of trails traversing nine states that witnessed the forced removal of the Cherokees from their homelands.

The waters of Lake Dardanelle State Park
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These trails commemorate the Cherokees’ journey westward to rebuild their community in present-day Oklahoma after the federal Indian Removal Act of 1830 was passed.

Get a scenic view of the river from the Visitor Center, where you can also learn more about the removal story through their exhibits.

Remember the Cherokees and the other tribes that were victims of this mass removal by walking the same routes they walked on at Lake Dardanelle State Park.

Go Birdwatching at Bona Dea Trails & Sanctuary

“Bona Dea” is a Latin phrase that translates to “Good Goddess,” and it does seem like this place has been blessed by a goddess.

Located on Lake Front Drive, Bona Dea Trails & Sanctuary is a 186-acre sanctuary of wetlands and a lowland forest filled with cypress, water oak, and wildflowers that serve as a habitat for a variety of wildlife.

The six-mile-long trail is divided into sections: the one-mile Rabbit Run; the 1.5-mile Prairie Creek; the 2.6-mile Walden Way; and the 3.5-mile Serendipity Trail that leads to a flood plain.

See turtles lounging freely and watch birds hunting for food in the shallow waters of Prairie Creek.

The paved paths are great for biking and running, while a parcourse with 18 exercise stations can be found throughout the trail system.

Be one with nature while achieving your fitness goals by walking Bona Dea Trails & Sanctuary.

Have a Relaxing Stroll around Washburn Park

Washburn Park is located on Lake Front Drive, just down the highway from the Bona Dea Trails.

It was named after Reverend Cephas Washburn, a Christian missionary and educator who worked with the Cherokees of Arkansas.

The park has a playground, a lighted pavilion, a grilling area, and picnic tables scattered on the hillside with views of Lake Dardanelle.

Climb the bluffs and admire the rock formations.

Across the street from the park is the Ouita Boat Launch, which will give you access to the lake.

Stroll around and relax at Washburn Park.

Buy Fresh Produce from the Pope County Farmers Market

Located at the Downtown Russellville Depot, the Pope County Farmers Market is a place for small farmers to sell their produce.

The market boasts its all-local lineup, with produce from farms within 50 miles of the city.

Find fresh meats, baked goods, local raw honey, and other homemade items you can buy as souvenirs.

Other homegrown offerings include turnip greens, peas, potatoes, squash, cabbage, and cucumbers.

Support the local farmers by buying your produce from the Pope County Farmers Market.

Attend an Open Mic Night at Dog Ear Books

If you feel like spending a lazy afternoon in the park while reading a book, Dog Ear Books has got you covered.

This family-owned bookshop in Downton Russellville has a wide selection of new and used books for all ages.

Kids will especially love this place, with half the store dedicated to children’s books.

Grab manga and anime books, bobbleheads, candles, shirts, and stuffed animals.

Board games, cards, and box sets are also available for the whole family to enjoy.

The store occasionally hosts book readings, open mic nights, and book club events.

There’s a quiet little area inside the shop where you can read your newly purchased book while enjoying a cup of coffee from the cafe next door.

Unleash your inner bookworm and check out Dog Ear Books.

Visit the Historic Missouri-Pacific Depot

Exterior of the Missouri-Pacific Depot
Valis55, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The historic Missouri-Pacific Depot, or the Russellville Station, is a red brick and stucco single-story masonry building on West C Street.

It was built in 1916 as part of the Missouri-Pacific Railroad and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In front of the depot is a statue of a man with a pocket watch in hand, calling on the passengers to go aboard the train, aptly titled Mr. Conductor.

The building has been rehabilitated and features railroad memorabilia from when the MoPac was still operating.

The Missouri-Pacific Depot also houses the offices of Main Street Russellville and is available for rent for public and private events.

Get Your Coffee Fix at Retro Roasts

Located on North Commerce Avenue, Retro Roasts is a local coffee shop that mixes local history into its business.

Founded by Emily Young, the cafe has another location on West Main Street.

Emily and her wife Nikkila have partnered with Café Imports, which sources their green beans for their coffee roasts.

The cafe swears by only purchasing fair trade, organic beans from selective countries around the world like Colombia and Guatemala.

Try their White Mocha Latte and pair it with an apple scone for a light afternoon snack.

They also sell whole beans packaged in retro-inspired tin cans perfect for home brewing.

Grab the Russell Roast with nutty almond notes with bold citrus acidity, or the Nuclear Roast that will perk you up in the morning.

Swing by Retro Roasts and enjoy premium quality coffee.

Dine inside a Former Bank at The Old Bank Sports Grill

The Old Bank Sports Grill is located on West Main Street in Historic Downtown Russellville.

One of the casualties of a 1906 fire was the Bank of Russellville; all that remained was its vault.

The building has since been renovated into a bar guaranteed to feed your hunger for food and sports.

The bar has over 80 TVs, so you’ll never miss a game, even if you’re on vacation.

Some dishes on their menu even have sports references, like the Stanley Cup Burger and the Razorback Burger, named after the Arkansas Razorbacks.

There are live bands and karaoke nights if you’re not a huge sports enthusiast, but the overall fun atmosphere in the bar is sure to satisfy both the fans and non-fans.

Dine inside a historic building at The Old Bank Sports Grill.

Feast on a Burger and Milkshake Combo at Feltner’s Whatta-Burger

Founded in 1967 by Bob Feltner, Feltner’s Whatta-Burger is a Russellville institution that serves homemade burgers and delicious shakes.

The family-owned diner was initially only a takeout nook but has since expanded to accommodate dine-in customers.

Located on North Arkansas Avenue, Feltner’s Whatta-Burger’s old-style diner will transport you back to the 60s.

This Arkansas Food Hall of Famer continues to serve classic favorites like the Whatta-Burger, served in locally made buns, and the Strawberry Milkshake made in-house.

They’re also known for their heaping servings of fries and fried pies.

Visit this local favorite and get your hands on some of the best burgers in the state.

Have Breakfast at Stoby’s Restaurant

Located on West Parkway Drive, Stoby’s Restaurant has been championing comfort food since 1980.

It first opened its doors in Conway with David Stobaugh co-renting the space with the Mrs. Smith’s Pie Shop.

David initially sold sandwiches and acquired the pie shop’s equipment when the owner Mrs. Florence Smith decided to change directions.

She eventually joined the Stoby’s team and is credited for the recipes of the Italian Crème Cake, Strawberry Cake, and Peanut Butter Pie.

Stoby’s Restaurant expanded to Russellville in 1984 with a restaurant designed as a train car, drawing inspiration from the city’s train station.

Star your day with a hearty breakfast and try their made-from-scratch sausage paired with biscuits or one of their sandwiches served in your choice of bread.

The most famous item on their menu is the cheese dip made from 100% cheese that comes in two variants: original yellow or spicy white.

Wrap up your meal with a slice of Possum Pie.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Go Hang Gliding at Mount Nebo State Park

Welcome sign of Mount Nebo State Park
Tammy Chesney / Shutterstock.com

The Mount Nebo State Park sits atop the 1,350-foot-tall Mount Nebo in Dardanelle, just 16 minutes from Russellville.

The park has gorgeous views of Lake Dardanelle, the Arkansas River, and the surrounding mountains.

If you’d like a different view that will fire up your adrenaline, try hang gliding and soar above Petit Jean River Valley and Arkansas River Valley.

The park has two launch sites: Sunrise Point at the east end of the mountain; and an area behind the Visitor Center.

Scenic view from Mount Nebo State Park
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Before flying, you must register at the Visitor Center and provide proof of an advanced pilot license.

If you don’t have a license to fly, worry not, as the park has other activities to offer, like the 14-mile trail for hiking and mountain biking.

Mount Nebo State Park has 15 cabins, with 12 of them being located along the bluff, giving you spectacular views of the river valley.

Sunset point at Mount Nebo State Park
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See One of the Best-Preserved Stagecoach Stations at the Potts Inn Museum

Built in 1858 by Kirkbride Potts, the Potts Inn Museum is a former stagecoach inn in Pottsville, 10 minutes from Russellville.

The stagecoach served the Butterfield Overland Mail Route and was designed using antebellum architecture.

The Potts family lived here until it was sold to its present owners, the Pope County Historical Foundation, in the 1970s.

The two-story building has been restored and has period furnishings that will take you back to the mid-1800s.

Five log structures have been moved to the compound’s grounds: one houses an exhibit of antique clothing and hats, one showcases Indian artifacts, and a doll collection featuring replicas of gowns of Arkansas’s first ladies.

Antique farm equipment is displayed in the barn donated by Boyce Sinclair, while the fifth log building is the cabin donated by “Piney” Page Estate.

Admire the antiques at the Potts Inn Museum.

Go Canoeing on the Rapids of Big Piney Creek

A bridge over Big Piney Creek
Tammy Chesney / Shutterstock.com

Big Piney Creek is a 67-mile-long river located in the Ozark National Forest, 17 minutes from Russellville.

The river is known among whitewater enthusiasts for its moderately challenging Class I to III rapids that are perfect for canoeing adventures.

It’s also considered a prime sportfishing river, where smallmouth bass and spotted bass can be seen.

Big Piney’s hillsides are filled with hardwood and pine forests that serve as a habitat for deer, wild turkeys, and even black bears.

If you’re looking for a heart-pumping adventure, try canoeing the great rapids of Big Piney Creek.

Final Thoughts

Russellville’s location near Lake Dardanelle and the Arkansas River gives it a unique appeal that is hard to come by in cities.

Despite its proximity to big manufacturing plants, it hasn’t lost its small-town charm, thanks to the historic downtown area and the state parks home to a healthy wildlife population.

Try the best things to do in Russellville, Arkansas, and discover what this place has in store for you.

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