Fort Smith’s slogan, “Where the New South Meets the Old West,” is a nod to this Arkansas city’s history as a frontier border town during the country’s westward expansion. Named for the fort built in 1817, the city of Fort Smith has everything from opulent Victorian mansions to museums dedicated to members of the military and law enforcement.

Fort Smith is located at the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau rivers and has been an important catalyst for the city’s growth. At Fort Smith National Historic Site, groups will hear about the significance of the fort for many people, including soldiers in the Mexican War and Civil War, Indigenous Americans, and outlaws of the Wild West. Learn more about the city’s past at the nearby Fort Smith Museum of History. Permanent exhibits include a timeline of the city’s past and information on hometown hero William O. Darby—the founder of Darby’s Rangers in World War II, known today as Army Rangers.

Fort Smith National Historic Site
Credit: Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau

For more military history with a pop culture twist, groups can visit the Chaffee Barbershop Museum, where rock ’n’ roll legend Elvis Presley received “the haircut heard ‘round the world” when he buzzed his famous hair in 1958 after being drafted to serve in the U.S. Army.

The new United States Marshals Museum is scheduled to open to the public later this year. Since 1789, the U.S. Marshals have served as the oldest law enforcement agency in the country. This immersive museum will honor 230 years of history and examine the important role of the U.S. Marshals in upholding American law and in everyday life.

Downtown Fort Smith is a great place to dine, shop, and explore the city’s civilian past and public art. Of the many buildings that were once part of Fort Smith’s Old West red light district, Miss Laura’s Visitor Center is the only Victorian mansion preserved from this sordid period of history. The former bordello is on the National Register of Historic Places, and groups can tour the opulent interior to learn about Fort Smith’s colorful past. To see more mansions from this era, groups can explore the Belle Grove Historic District, which contains 22 blocks of Victorian architecture.

The parlor in Miss Laura’s Visitor Center
Credit: Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau

Northwest Arkansas is known for its stunning landscape, and Fort Smith is an excellent access point for groups to appreciate the region. Visit the 170-acre Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center and peruse exhibits and trails featuring Arkansas’ native wildlife. Climb aboard the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad’s passenger train, which takes groups on a scenic tour of the Arkansas River Valley and the Boston and Ozark mountains. Choose from several excursions of varying lengths, and take in the natural beauty of northwest Arkansas from the comfort of refurbished antique passenger railcars.

Fort Smith’s historic downtown, immersive museums, and natural beauty are a strong draw for groups in search of a unique experience. Located equidistant between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Little Rock, Arkansas, Fort Smith is a great addition to tours across the South.

Main Image: Arkansas & Missouri Railroad; Credit: Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau