12 Things To Do With Family In Jacksonville, Arkansas

Last Updated on February 15, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, Jacksonville is a charming city with a rich history and plenty of family-friendly activities. From exploring Historic Main Street to admiring aircraft at the Air Force museum, there are many ways to make memories with your loved ones in this Central Arkansas town.

With its tree-lined neighborhoods, small-town feel and variety of museums, parks and attractions, Jacksonville has something for travelers of all ages and interests. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the numerous hiking and biking trails, while history buffs can tour landmarks from the Civil War era. And you’re only a short drive from Little Rock for even more options.

Here are 12 of the top things to do with family in Jacksonville, Arkansas:

Explore Historic Main Street

Designated a National Historic Landmark District, Jacksonville’s Main Street transports visitors back in time with its preserved 19th century buildings. Start your tour at the Visitor Center & Museum (514 N. Main St.), housed in a 1910 railroad depot, to admire artifacts and photos from the city’s past.

Then stroll down Main Street, stopping into antique shops like Grandma’s Attic Antiques Mall (407 N. James St.) and Bayou Meto Antique Mall (201 S. First St.). Grab an old-fashioned treat like salt water taffy at Reed’s Bridge Station (201 E. Reed’s Bridge Rd.) before snapping photos of landmark structures like St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the Orchard House.

Don’t miss the Jacksonville Museum of Military History’s heritage campus either. Spread among seven historic buildings are exhibits spotlighting local veterans. End your walk at one of Main Street’s eateries, such as Main Street Coffee (506 Main St.) or The Bread Company (400 N. First St.).

Tour the Little Rock Air Force Base

Located just seven miles from downtown Jacksonville, the Little Rock Air Force Base offers families a chance to see aircraft up close and learn about our nation’s aviation history.

Start at the main gate Visitor Control Center to pick up passes before heading to the 19th Airlift Wing headquarters. There you can explore the Airlift Diamond library’s extensive collection chronicling aerial warfare. Static displays nearby include aircraft like the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and Boeing C-17 Globemaster.

Don’t miss the Air Force museum, which traces the branch’s lineage with artifacts, photographs and over 20 restored planes. Stand under the B-52 Stratofortress’ impressive wingspan and walk through the cabin of the iconic “Hanoi Taxi” Lockheed C-141. Kids will especially love the interactive Science on a Sphere exhibit demonstrating global weather patterns.

Before you leave, grab a bite at the flight line’s Wings Cafe or shop for squadron souvenirs. Time permitting, catch one of the base’s family-friendly events like April’s Thundering Herd Open House.

Hike at Dupree Park

Boasting over seven miles of woodland trails, Dupree Park offers families a scenic spot for hiking and communing with nature just minutes from Jacksonville’s downtown.

Start at the main trailhead before branching onto paths that wind through pine and cypress trees along Dupree Creek. While hiking, keep eyes peeled for local wildlife including deer, foxes and over 90 species of birds that call the park home.

Several routes cater to young explorers, like the 1.3 mile Greenway Trail spanning terrain that’s flat and wide. Opt to traverse parts of the challenging Ouachita Trail, which connects to the 223-mile route crossing Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains.

Pack a picnic to enjoy at one of Dupree Park’s three pavilions after working up an appetite on the paths. Kids will love romping around Imagination Playground, which features life-size versions of classic games like checkers. Nature lovers shouldn’t miss the native wildflower garden blooming brightly during spring and summer.

Before heading out, stop by the visitor center to browse educational exhibits spotlighting Dupree Park’s ecosystems. Friendly park staff are happy to recommend routes catering to your family’s skill level and interests too.

Marvel at Historic Homes

In addition to its preserved Main Street, Jacksonville tempts sightseers with several magnificent historic houses that provide a glimpse into 19th century life.

A standout is the 1911 Reed House (608 N. Main St.), the lavish abode of lumber tycoon Martin Reed. Guided tours through the three-story Beaux Arts mansion reveal original features like a 1,200 pound bronze front door, gold leaf ceilings and marble staircase.

History buffs will appreciate exhibits displaying Victorian Era furniture and the Reeds’ vast fine china collection too. Outside, little ones love playing hide-and-seek in the expansive English-style gardens. Don’t miss the gift shop inside the carriage house stocked with local treats and souvenirs.

Nearby, the 1850s Patterson House (323 N. Pine St.) enchants visitors with a lovingly preserved parlor, dining room and double staircase straight out of the antebellum South. Period furnishings fill the rooms, along with antebellum ladies’ garb for kids to try on. Be sure to explore exhibits inside the reconstructed kitchen outbuilding too.

For an even more immersive experience, visitors can opt for a themed tour led by guides in period costume shedding light on 19th century customs. Special events held regularly let your family experience living history at the Patterson House firsthand.

See a Show at the Community Center

In addition to its preserved Main Street, Jacksonville tempts sightseers with several magnificent historic houses that provide a glimpse into 19th century life.

A standout is the 1911 Reed House (608 N. Main St.), the lavish abode of lumber tycoon Martin Reed. Guided tours through the three-story Beaux Arts mansion reveal original features like a 1,200 pound bronze front door, gold leaf ceilings and marble staircase.

History buffs will appreciate exhibits displaying Victorian Era furniture and the Reeds’ vast fine china collection too. Outside, little ones love playing hide-and-seek in the expansive English-style gardens. Don’t miss the gift shop inside the carriage house stocked with local treats and souvenirs.

Nearby, the 1850s Patterson House (323 N. Pine St.) enchants visitors with a lovingly preserved parlor, dining room and double staircase straight out of the antebellum South. Period furnishings fill the rooms, along with antebellum ladies’ garb for kids to try on. Be sure to explore exhibits inside the reconstructed kitchen outbuilding too.

For an even more immersive experience, visitors can opt for a themed tour led by guides in period costume shedding light on 19th century customs. Special events held regularly let your family experience living history at the Patterson House firsthand.

See Public Art Displays

Jacksonville invites families to admire over 70 works of public art sprinkled throughout the city. Grab a free Art Walk map at Jacksonville’s Visitor Center before embarking on this engaging scavenger hunt-style outing.

Downtown, must-see masterpieces include the bronzed AU-1 repair scene and propeller monument honoring the city’s ties to the long-running Little Rock Air Force Base. Avid readers will appreciate Backward Glances, a sculpture made from books gifted by Jacksonville natives at 608 North Main Street.

Just up the block sits one of Jacksonville’s most photographed public artworks – Ben Coupens’ 15-foot-tall glyceryl paint mural celebrating the city’s musical legacy. See if you can spot references to famous tracks recorded at historic blues hot spots like the B&J Cafe.

As you explore Jacksonville’s residential streets, keep eyes peeled for works showing off local artists’ creativity too. Sculptures, paintings and mosaics inject art into everyday spaces like parks, schools and the library. Treasure hunt for pieces with subtle natural themes tucked along trails and waterways as well.

Pick up a contest card at the visitor center and have kids check off artworks as you go for a chance to win Jacksonville souvenirs. Families will no doubt discover new favorite works while bonding over this unique, creative scavenger adventure.

Relax at Dupree Park

In addition to miles of scenic hiking trails, Dupree Park entices Jacksonville families with opportunities for fishing, kayaking and wildlife viewing on its peaceful creek.

Grab poles, tackle boxes and bait before heading out to fish for crappie, bream and catfish from Dupree Creek’s banks and wooden fishing piers. Local anglers also reel in smallmouth bass from a john boat launch point near the creek’s headwaters.

For a refreshing paddle, rent kayaks through the visitor center and embark on Dupree Creek. This tranquil waterway lazily winds past cypress knees and shaded alcoves that tempt families to stop for a picnic or swim. Launch from multiple access points catering to beginners or more experienced paddlers farther downstream.

Keep eyes peeled for turtles sunning themselves on logs and colorful kingfishers swooping by in search of snacks. Don’t forget the binoculars and field guides either to aid with bird and wildlife spotting fun for all ages.

When you’re done boating, stick around Dupree Park to enjoy a snack while watching the creek’s soothing flow under the pedestrian bridge near the visitor center. Let the kids wade in the rocky shoals there before heading back out on Dupree Creek’s meandering paths together.

Cheer at the Jacksonville High Football Game

Bond with your family while partaking in a beloved Arkansas fall tradition – cheering on a high school football team under the Friday night lights.

Throughout football season, the community passionately supports the Jacksonville High School Red Devils at their home turf, John E. Cain Stadium. Buy tickets in advance or upon arrival before grabbing refreshments and Jacksonville High swag from the concession stand.

Then snag seats in the bleachers to watch players battle intensely for gridiron glory. The atmosphere comes alive as cheering students and spirited bands root for their teams between tense plays. During halftime, enjoy top-notch performances by the lively cheerleading squad or the Red Devil Belles dance team if you’re lucky.

Younger kids will love patrolling the sidelines as play unfolds, being sure to high five blanket-wrapped youngsters when they pass by. Football fans young and old are sure to forge treasured memories while partaking in this time-honored local ritual under the glow of Friday night lights.

Explore the Military Museum

Offering in-depth exhibits spanning centuries, the extensive Jacksonville Museum of Military History is a must-visit for families interested in our nation’s armed forces.

The museum’s heritage campus includes several authentically restored buildings. Among them are an 1870s arsenal storing munitions during the Civil War, an 1880s Union commander’s headquarters and an 1890s cavalry barn.

Spread throughout are fascinating chronological and themed displays using artifacts, photographs, weapons and uniforms. Learn how early settlers battled Native Americans and explore the pivotal role Jacksonville residents played in seminal conflicts. Don’t miss the Medal of Honor memorial commemorating Arkansas combat heroes either.

Kids will appreciate hands-on stations like trying on vintage military gear for photo ops. Other interactive highlights include mock infirmary stretchers and morse code transmitters. Outside, clamber atop artillery cannons and a Douglas A-26 Invader bomber with family.

When you’ve worked up an appetite, recharge at the on-site Sutler’s Store Café before perusing the gift shop’s expansive collection of military books and souvenirs. Schedule your visit to coincide with one of the museum’s frequent educational events for the full immersive experience.

Ride the Rails at the Railroad Museum

All aboard for engaging exhibits detailing Jacksonville’s rich railroad lineage at the Jacksonville Museum of Railroads. Housed in a restored Missouri Pacific freight depot on Main Street, this Smithsonian affiliate invites families to learn about train travel through displays and vintage locomotives.

Start in the 20th century passenger depot brimming with artifacts like conductor caps, vintage luggage and dining car china sets. Kids can dress up as engineers and conductors themselves before “punching” mock tickets. Be sure to pose for a photo behind the conductor’s desk too!

Head outside to explore 19 railcars spanning over a century of transit history. Climb into the workings of an 1887 steam switcher engine or tour immaculate Pullman sleeper cars once favored by railroad barons. Peek into the luxurious windowed domes offering panoramic views on early 20th century sightseeing routes as well.

Don’t miss the interactive kids’ gallery with engaging STEM exhibits on locomotive mechanics either. Budding conductors can ride track circuits in scale model trains and communicate with color position light signals. Your family is sure to forge special memories while learning at this highly engaging depot museum.

Shop Local Boutiques

While exploring Jacksonville’s National Historic Landmark District, save time for browsing the city’s collection of charming local boutiques. You’re sure to discover perfect souvenirs and gifts while supporting creative area enterprises.

Start your shop local experience in historic Reed’s Bridge Station (201 E. Reed’s Bridge Road.) where you’ll find pantry staples made in Arkansas. Peruse jams, sauces, mixes and sweets to take home or sample on the spot while chatting with founders.

Next, head to Main Street stalwart Rett’s Flowers (124 Main Street) brimming with fresh-cut blooms, houseplants and gift arrangements. Grab a bouquet to brighten your hotel room or peruse the adorable baby boutique Little Sprouts nestled just behind the greenhouse.

Make your way downtown to Finds & Designs (318 N. First St.) spotlighting over 50 local artisans’ wares under one roof. Let the kids pick their own presents here—perhaps rainbow earrings, a crocheted baby blanket or woodburned sign for their bedroom back home.

No Jacksonville shopping adventure is complete without browsing boutique chain Wortz By Mignonne’s (128 S. First St.) stock of Arkansas-themed apparel and novelties first. Beyond the signature screenprinted tees and razorback hats, discover approved local products like goat milk soap and leather wallets for memorable take-home gifts.

Learn at the Nature Center

Families can connect with Central Arkansas’ natural splendor at the Jacksonville Chamber Visitor Center and Nature Center (500 N. Little Rock Rd). Interactive exhibits here spotlight native ecosystems and the creatures that call them home.

Budding naturalists shouldn’t miss the kid-centric Discovery Room full of hands-on learning stations. Identify taxidermy specimens with touch boxes before assembling wildflower puzzles. Then have a scavenger hunt for painted river critters scattered around the bright muraled space.

In the Hall of Arkansas Habitat Dioramas, traverse room-sized scenes showcasing environments from grassy meadows to flooded bottomlands. Giggle at the animated fox and owl characters inside sharing cool nature facts and conservation tips.

Grab scavenger hunt sheets or borrow field guides and binoculars to hone your wildlife spotting skills on miles of nature trails just behind the center. Wind through wetland boardwalks and deciduous forests in search of local flora and fauna—like wild turkeys and Carolina wrens—with your family.

Wrap up your outdoor explorations back inside learning about Jacksonville’s green legacy at educational exhibits. Let the kids earn fun junior ranger merit badges for completing nature-themed challenges before hitting the trail store stocked with adventure gear and eco-friendly toys.

Conclusion

From touring historic homes to cheering on high school football teams, Jacksonville offers visiting families plenty of opportunities to bond while exploring this charming city’s heritage and natural splendor. Interactive museums, public art displays and outdoor recreation all cater to travelers craving cultural enrichment, creativity and adventure.

When you’ve worked up appetites trekking woodland paths or paddling cypress-lined creeks, Jacksonville’s cafes and sweet shops along quaint Main Street will refuel adventurers young and old. With such a winning variety of attractions, your crew is sure to create treasured memories during their Arkansas escape in Jacksonville.

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