2016 Top Events and Festivals in Arkansas
Jan. 15-April 16: Live Thoroughbred racing at Oaklawn Park, Hot Springs.
Enjoy live Thoroughbred racing at a first-rate track. Oaklawn offers a variety of dining options and simulcast and instant racing the remainder of the year. The park’s “Racing Festival of the South” attracts the nation’s top horses and the Arkansas Derby winner becomes eligible for the famous Triple Crown.
CONTACT: 1-800-OAKLAWN, www.Oaklawn.com.
March 17: The First Ever 12th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Hot Springs.
The event features Celebrity Grand Marshals Kevin and Michael Bacon, green fireworks, Irish belly dancers, floats, the Irish Order of Elvi (a group of Elvis look-alikes), marchers, Irish Wolfhounds and more. The Official Starter of the parade this year is actor Gary Busey. The event is held on historic Bridge Street, which became famous in the 1940s when Ripley’s Believe It or Not designated it “The Shortest Street in the World.”
CONTACT: 501-321-2851, www.HotSprings.org.
March 18-20: Jonquil Festival, Washington (Historic Washington State Park).
This celebration of spring features thousands of blooming jonquils in a 19th-century restoration village. Other attractions include craft vendors, musicians performing varied types of music, surrey rides, food vendors, special interpretive programs and historic tours, buffet meals at Williams Tavern Restaurant and more.
CONTACT: 870-983-2684, www.HistoricWashingtonStatePark.com.
April and June: Riverfest, Little Rock.
The 39th annual Riverfest celebration will take on a new, expanded format with “Springfest” offered free on Saturday, April 2, and the traditional Riverfest music experience, minus the family activities, presented Friday through Sunday, June 3-5. Springfest will fill Riverfront Park with many of the most popular daytime activities Riverfest traditionally has offered, including International Village, the Super Retriever Series dog jumping competitions, the Jesse White Tumblers and other attractions, Ruff on the River, the Rock ’n’ Stroll 5k Fun Run and children’s arts and crafts activities. A concert by acclaimed musical duo Trout Fishing in America will close Springfest. Flowing on the River, the festival’s separately ticketed wine and craft beer event, will kick off Riverfest 2016 on Friday, June 3. As in years past, concerts by top-name musical acts, along with local and regional performers, will be presented on stages in Riverfront Park and the grounds of the Clinton Presidential Center on Saturday and Sunday, June 4-5. Market Row vendors and popular Riverfest food and drink merchants will be featured during the weekend.
CONTACT: 501-255-3378, www.RiverfestArkansas.com.
April 8-10: 37th annual Arkansas Scottish Festival, Batesville (Lyon College).
The sound of bagpipes echoes through the Ozarks again this spring, as Lyon College in Batesville hosts the 37th annual Arkansas Scottish Festival April 8-10. The festival, honoring Scottish heritage and traditions, features a vast array of events and exhibits, pipe bands competition, food vendors offering traditional Scottish dishes, Celtic music, sheepdog demonstrations and, of course, bagpipes. A traditional Feast and Ceilidh is celebrated on Saturday evening and an Iona Worship Service takes place on Sunday morning.
April 15-16: Arkansas Folk Festival, Mountain View (Court Square, Ozark Folk Center State Park).
Annual spring celebration featuring handmade crafts, frontier life demonstrations, parade, folk and bluegrass music, dancing on the courthouse square and window decorating contest. A great fun family festival. Ozark Folk Center opens for the season. Free admission to the Crafts Village during this weekend. Free shuttle from downtown to the Folk Center.
CONTACT: 870-269-8068, www.YourPlaceInTheMountains.com.
April 21-24: Wild Hog Musicfest & Motorcycle Rally, Helena-West Helena (Downtown Historic District).
The four-day event spotlights motorcycles and music. Features food and merchandise vendors, field events, a motorcycle parade, a Ms. Wild Hog contest and live music.
April 23: Tales of the Crypt, Fort Smith.
Tales of the Crypt is a popular, family-friendly living history tour of Oak Cemetery featuring storytelling by some of the pre-Civil War cemetery’s most famous “residents.”
CONTACT: 479-784-1006, www.FortSmithParks.com.
April 29-May 1: 35th Annual Toad Suck Daze, downtown Conway.
The unusually-named festival includes arts and crafts, the Toadal Kids Zone, a carnival, local and national entertainment, food, rock wall, petting zoo, Stuck on a Truck, 5K/10K, golf tournament, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, magicians, and The World Championship Toad Races. Proceeds support higher education in Faulkner County. The event’s unique name comes from the colorful Legend of Toad Suck. Long ago, steamboats traveled the Arkansas River when the water was at the right depth. When it wasn’t, the captains and their crew tied up to wait where the Toad Suck Lock and Dam now spans the river. While they waited, they refreshed themselves at the local tavern there, to the dismay of the folks living nearby, who said: “They suck on the bottle ’til they swell up like toads.” Hence, the name Toad Suck. The tavern is long gone, but the legend and fun live on at Toad Suck Daze.
CONTACT: 501-327-7788, www.ToadSuck.org.
May 3-8: Bentonville Film Festival, Bentonville.
Harnessing plenty of star power, the festival is a one-of-a-kind event designed to champion women and diversity in film. Hosted by ARC Entertainment, Walmart, Coca-Cola and AMC Theatres and chaired by Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis, the festival screens approximately 75 films in competition, ranging from studio premieres to independent features and documentaries. The Festival’s Advisory Board is comprised of entertainment industry leaders and artists including Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Randy Jackson, Eva Longoria, Julianne Moore, Paula Patton, Natalie Portman, Nina Tassler and Shailene Woodley. During and after the festival, each advisory board member will lead activities ranging from mentoring and film selection advising to jury participation.
The festival is the first and only film competition in the world to offer guaranteed theatrical, television, digital and retail home entertainment distribution for its winners. Films that are given the Audience, Jury Selection and Best Family Film awards at the Bentonville Film Festival will receive a distribution agreement with a guaranteed traditional theatrical release on a minimum of 25 screens from AMC Theatres. AMC Theatres will also participate in the film submission and jury selection process. CONTACT: http://www.BentonvilleFilmFestival.com.
May (dates TBA): Old Fort Days Rodeo, Fort Smith.
The annual Old Fort Days Rodeo in Fort Smith has been entertaining rodeo enthusiasts with talented cowboys, high prize money and quality rodeo livestock for more than 80 years. The fast paced action includes calf roping, barrel racing, wild horse racing, bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, the Old Fort Days Dandies, and bull riding. It is held at Kay Rodgers Park.
CONTACT: 479-783-2393, www.OldFortDaysRodeo.com.
May 20-21: Magnolia Blossom Festival & World Championship Steak Cook-Off, Magnolia.
This event has arts and crafts, a sidewalk art show and sale, a 5K run, a fishing tournament, food booths, live entertainment, a championship steak cook-off and more.
CONTACT: 870 234-4352, www.BlossomFestival.org.
May 20-22: 32nd Annual International Greek Food Festival, Greek Orthodox Church, Little Rock.
Billed as the largest ethnic festival in the state, it features a huge array of homemade items from cooks from various culinary traditions, such as Greek, Armenian, Georgian, Romanian, Russian, Indian, Middle Eastern, English and American. Both savory and sweet dishes are offered. All types of entertainment, an Old World Market, a children’s area and church tours also take place. Since its beginning, the Greek Food Festival has raised and donated over $1 million dollars to more than 20 charities.
CONTACT: 501-221-5300, www.GreekFoodFest.com.
June 3-4: Portfest, Newport (Jacksonport State Park).
Start summer with a bang at the 35th annual Portfest in Newport with the excitement of live music and fireworks. Held along the banks of the White River at Jacksonport State Park, Portfest’s features live music on Friday night. Saturday’s events include a large carnival, activities for children, a bass tournament and arts and crafts and live music. Saturday evening concludes with a fireworks extravaganza.
CONTACT: 870-523-3618, www.Portfest.org.
June 5-18: Hot Springs Music Festival, Hot Springs.
This festival brings together over 250 international musicians. Over the course of the festival 20 concerts and over 250 open rehearsals are available to enjoy. The festival takes place in a variety of non-traditional venues including historic buildings, art galleries and open air spaces.
CONTACT: 501-623-4763, www.HotMusic.org.
June 10-11: Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, Warren.
This event is celebrating a 60th anniversary this year. The event has an all-tomato luncheon, tomato eating and packing contests, a carnival, parade, a Miss Pink Tomato pageant, arts, crafts, an antique car show, live music and more.
CONTACT: 870-226-5225, www.BradleyPinkTomato.com.
June 14-18: Annual Petit Jean Show & Swap Meet, Morrilton.
More than 100 antique and classic cars compete for awards in various categories, from the turn of the 19th century to 25-year-old models, on the grounds of the Museum of Automobiles on Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton. Also an open car show for modified cars will be held, about 800 collectible cars will be for sale, and more than 1,000 vendor spaces filled with antique car parts and related items. Food vendors will be available on the museum grounds.
CONTACT: 501-727-5427, info@MOTAA.com, www.MOTAA.com.
June 24-26: Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival XVII, Paris.
The Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival is one of the most popular nature-related family events in Arkansas. Enjoy guided nature walks, garden tours, hands-on make-and-take nature crafts, nature related games, insect exhibits, live music and more. To truly understand and appreciate butterflies and other pollinators, immerse yourself in their natural habitat at Mount Magazine State Park. Additional activities take place in downtown Paris at the Logan County Fairgrounds, including a pageant for girls, 5K race, art show, photo contest, craft and food vendors, live butterfly observatory and Kidz Zone.
CONTACT: Mount Magazine State Park, 479-963-8502, MountMagazine@Arkansas.com, www.MountMagazineStatePark.com; or City of Paris, 479-963-2244, ParisCoC@gmail.com.
June 25: Purple Hull Pea Festival & World’s Championship Rotary Tiller Race, Emerson.
This is a rotary tiller race highlighted by “souped up” tillers. There is also a pea shelling contest, a purple hull pea cook-off, a pea dinner, a purple hull pea booth, arts, crafts and entertainment, children’s events, a parade and more.
CONTACT: 870 547-3500, www.PurpleHull.com.
July 1-4: Annual Rodeo of the Ozarks, Springdale (Parsons Stadium).
Authentic stagecoach rides, good food and entertainment at the Stagecoach Inn one week prior to the rodeo; two rodeo parades; over 500 contestants and professional athletes will compete in six PRCA and WPRA sanctioned events — Calf Roping, Steer Wrestling, Barrel Racing, Bareback Riding, Saddle Bronco Riding and the popular Bull Riding.
CONTACT: 1-877-92-RODEO, www.ParsonsStadium.com.
July 4: 33rd Annual Pops on the River, Riverfront Park, downtown Little Rock.
Over 30,000 gather annually on the banks of the Arkansas River to celebrate Independence Day with the Arkansas Symphony. The free event has expanded to include more activities, additional hours and a bigger fireworks show. The celebration features a Kid’s Pavilion and Car Pavilion, with free activities for kids and a marketplace with shopping, food trucks and other activities. Entertainment inside the First Security Amphitheater includes the Oh Say! Can you Sing? contest, live music, Salute the Troops campaign and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Bring lawn chairs and blankets.
CONTACT: 501-378-3807, Pops.ArkansasOnline.com.
July 25: Annual World Championship Cardboard Boat Races, Heber Springs (Greers Ferry Lake).
Put your creative talents – and boat building skills – to the test at this event. There are three divisions of competition in both adult and children’s races including one or two person, team and mechanical. All participants race a 200-yard-course. Past entries have been USS battleships, planes, trains and even the Starship Enterprise. Trophies awarded include the Pride of the Fleet, the Titanic Award, plus first, second and third places in each division for speed. Other activities include a tug of war, a watermelon eating contest, a treasure dig for kids, sand sculpting and the Cardboard Boat Demolition Derby.
CONTACT: 501-362-2444, 1-800-774-3237, Chamber@Heber-Springs.com; www.Heber-Springs.com.
July 30-Aug. 1: Johnson County Peach Festival, Clarksville.
This popular festival includes a terrapin derby, frog jump, peach pit spitting contest, parade, bicycle obstacle course, egg toss, barbershop quartet music, gospel sing, craft booths, concessions, banana split contest, street dance, greased pig chase, peach cobbler/jam & jelly bake-off, 4-mile run, water balloon toss, bass tournament, Miss Arkansas preliminary pageants and Princess Elberta pageant.
CONTACT: 479-754-9152, JoCoPeachFestival@yahoo.com, www.JoCoPeachFestival.8m.com.
August (dates TBA): Annual Tontitown Grape Festival, Tontitown.
More than 6,000 lbs. of homemade pasta and sauce will be served at the Italian spaghetti dinners; more than 100 crafts exhibitors, biathlon, entertainment, Queen Concordia pageant, plus nightly carnival.
CONTACT: 479-361-2615, www.TontitownGrapeFestival.com.
Aug. 11-13: Hope Watermelon Festival, Hope (Fair Park).
The Hope Watermelon Festival is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The event has a watermelon eating and seed spitting contest, the Watermelon Olympics, a variety of live music, fishing, archery, arm-wrestling and horseshoe tournaments, craft and food booth, car shows and more.
CONTACT: 870-777-3640, www.HopeMelonFest.com.
Aug. 27: 72nd annual White River Water Carnival, Batesville (Downtown).
The event features a Kids Zone with inflatables, arts and crafts, live music and fun festival food along the banks of the White River. Make sure and visit the Batesville Chamber of Commerce to get a free water gun that can be used to “soak” the floats in the “wet zone” during the festival parade.
CONTACT: 870-793-2378, www.MyBatesville.org.
Aug. 29-Sept. 6: Annual National Championship Chuck Wagon Races, Clinton.
Chuck wagon races, Snowy River Race, bronc fanning, Western music and dances, trail rides, non-denominational church services on Sunday morning, barn dances, Western trade show, music and food. Admission is $25 for adults.
CONTACT: 501-745-8407, www.ChuckwagonRaces.com.
Sept. 23-26: Bikes, Blues & BBQ Motorcycle Rally, Fayetteville.
Bikes, Blues & BBQ is the largest non-profit, family-friendly, motorcycle rally in the country for people seeking to enjoy the best in motorcycle riding, blues music and barbeque while at the same helping those in need.
CONTACT: 479-527-9993, info@BikesBluesAndBBQ.org, www.BikesBluesAndBBQ.org.
October (dates TBA): MusicFest El Dorado, El Dorado.
Whether you are into country, rock, R&B, bluegrass or blues, MusicFest El Dorado has something for everyone. This multi-year Arkansas Festival of the Year winner is the largest live music festival in south Arkansas. The event features over 30 acts on four stages over two days and takes place every October in downtown El Dorado. Past headliners have included Toby Keith, Brett Michaels, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the Charlie Daniels Band and more.
CONTACT: 870-862-4747, www.MusicfestElDorado.com.
October (dates TBA): Ding Dong Days, Dumas.
Have a ding-dong of a great time at the 37th annual Ding Dong Days Festival in Dumas in October. Watch as the Ding Dong Daddy and Ding Dong Momma are crowned. Join in for the Ding Dong eating contest. The festival also features rides and activities for children, a parade, live entertainment, and a variety of booths and concessions.
CONTACT: 870-382-5447, DumasChamber@DumasAR.net.
Oct. 6-8: 31st annual King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena-West Helena (Downtown Historic District).
The King Biscuit Blues Festival is three days of live music featuring legendary performers from Helena’s Delta blues heyday, leading contemporary blues acts and emerging blues practitioners; barbecue cook-off; 5-K run; food vendors; and an arts and crafts market.
CONTACT: 870-572-5223, www.KingBiscuitFestival.com.
Oct. 7-16: Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Hot Springs.
This ten-day festival showcases screenings of domestic and international documentary films including Academy Award-winning and nominated films. It is the oldest documentary film festival in the nation. Events include forums and lectures, question and answer sessions with filmmakers following many screenings, a gala banquet and visiting scholars and celebrities.
CONTACT: 501-538-2290, www.HSDFI.org.
Nov.-Dec.31: Arkansas Trail of Holiday Lights, Statewide.
Communities and towns across The Natural State help add sparkle to the holiday season during the Arkansas Trail of Holiday Lights. Approximately 60 communities participate while offering parades, open houses, tree and courthouse lightings, concerts and visits by Santa Claus. Our holiday hog mascot, Jingle, will be visiting celebrations around the state in honor of the anniversary.
CONTACT: 501-682-7606, www.Arkansas.com/TrailOfHolidayLights.
Nov. 25-26: Annual World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest and Wings Over the Prairie Festival, Stuttgart (Main Street).
The 81st annual World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest; World’s Championship Duck Gumbo Cook-off; annual Queen Mallard pageant; carnival; 10K race; sporting goods and collectibles shows; arts and crafts; commercial exhibits.
CONTACT: 870-673-1602, www.StuttgartArkansas.org.