Walking tours of Eureka

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In this fitness-conscious world, one of the best places to walk for exercise is Eureka Springs.

There are tree-shaded sidewalks, springs, caves, stone bluffs, historic houses, the downtown shopping district, all sorts of things to look at during your stroll.

Walking was a very important part of Eureka's early resort history. In the late 1800s and early 1900s when visitors came here to "take the waters," walking was a part of the daily regime.

In those days, getting away from the busy city life and coming to Eureka for scenic beauty, good food, exercise, healing waters and rest were the priorities.

Today, you can take out the healing waters and put in shopping and you still have a winning combination for a vacation in Eureka.

The springs do not actually provide water that is safe to drink. The water fountains alongside many of the springs on the Historic Loop are fed by treated water from the city's water distribution system.

Eureka offers a much slower pace of life to those who care to enjoy it. Although many visitors, and locals, power walk in the early mornings or evenings, the brisk walk or casual stroll might be better suited to many.

In the late 1980s, six walking trails were identified and marked within the town by the Eureka Springs Preservation Society.

A pocket-size booklet identifying the trails, historic homes, springs and other places of interest are described in the material. Maps are easily readable, even for first-time visitors.

Compass directions in Eureka Springs are often difficult to determine. The valley runs northeast/southwest. It is best to have a booklet with the tour maps to help find yourself if you think you are lost.

Remember, Eureka is a small town. You are rarely far from a major street. Locals are glad to give directions. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

The booklet is $2 and is available at the Eureka Springs Historic Museum, 95 S. Main St.. The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

The most readily identifiable walk in town is the Historic Loop, a jaunt of approximately three miles.

The shortest walk or hike is in Basin Park, in the downtown area. There are stairs on either edge of the park.

A walker can climb the stairs, go across the hillside behind the band shell and come down on the other side.

Once "up top," the walker is removed from the noise of the busy street, in a shaded wooded area planted with flowers. Let your imagination go for a moment and you can pretend you are one of the first hunters coming down the hillside, about to discover the large spring in the middle of the park.

A water bottle or canteen is recommended for the longer walks.

There are public restrooms in the downtown area at the Main Street side of the City Auditorium, the downtown trolley depot, and at Pendergrass Corner, where Spring Street makes a sharp turn near the New Orleans Hotel.

Comfortable shoes with thick, rubber soles are suggested. Some of the walking is on pavement, some in rocky gravel and some up or down steep slopes.

There are picnic areas and water fountains near the springs in some areas.

If you are walking in wooded or weedy areas, stay on the paths. There is an abundance of poison ivy and poison oak in the Ozarks' woods.

The rule to identify poison ivy is: "Leaves of three, leave it be!"

The following information is provided from the Preservation Society's booklet, with permission. There is much more information about the areas, buildings and natural locations in the booklet. This is just a sampling.

The tour trails are marked with small cream-colored signs.

Walking Tour One

Approximate walking time is 45 minutes. There are public restrooms and water fountains available.

This walking tour begins at the Historical Museum. There is parking for vehicles nearby.

As you leave the front door of the museum, cross Main Street to Armstrong Street.

Armstrong runs along the hillside, above Main Street. As you walk along Armstrong Street, the level of Main Street drops considerably. On your left will be the Bank of Eureka Springs, then the downtown trolley depot.

When you go past the City Auditorium, notice your are almost at roof level with the building. If you look into the windows, you can see the balcony area of the theater portion of the facility.

At the end of Armstrong, you can go to the left, around the Grand Central Hotel, and follow Main Street back to the Museum. You can take a right here on Douglas Street and start Tour Two.

Walking Tour Two

Approximate walking time 45 minutes. There are water fountains and picnic tables, but no restrooms.

There is vehicle parking available nearby.

Starting from the intersection of Armstrong and Douglas streets, go to the right. You will immediately start walking up a steep hill.

The homes along Douglas Street are smaller than those on other streets, but just as old.

The area becomes a bit more wooded as you proceed along the walk. You do have an opportunity to see the natural limestone bluffs along the way. You may also see white tail deer, possums, raccoons and armadillos in the area.

There are four springs along this walk. The first one is Cave Spring. It is protected by an iron gate.

As you walk along, look across the hollow (not a valley) to view a series of 13 stone terraces built by Swiss gardener Hugo Lund. He spent 17 years building rock gardens on his property.

By now, you should be making a sharp curve in the road. On your right, is a small dam holding back spring-fed Lake Eureka. The area has been renovated by owners of the land surrounding the lake.

Lake Eureka was the first swimming hole for the town. At one time, there was a large dance platform, a bath house and concessions around the lake.

When you have made the turn, you are now on Steele Street and headed back toward town. The layered limestone bluffs are much more exposed on this side of the hollow.

Water from the Little Eureka Spring was once prized for its purity, but the water in the springs is no longer considered safe to drink. Please use the water fountains.

One stop along this street is Hatchet Hall, once owned by Carrie Nation. Across the street is Carrie Nation Spring.

Further down is Onyx Spring. Here, you have another choice. You can continue ahead and walk uphill (about one flat block) to the East Mountain Overlook.

If you stay on Tour Two, you should start downhill on your left on Flint Street.

As you come out into the asphalt parking area, a creek is to your right. It comes down the hill parallel to Main Street, running behind the buildings, under some of them, until it is uncovered here.

The creek continues parallel to Highway 23 north of town for several miles, eventually emptying into Table Rock Lake.

Walking Tour Three

Approximate walking time 45 minutes. There are no water fountains or public restrooms. This walk is up and down a very steep hill.

This tour starts in the downtown area at the First Baptist Penn Memorial Church on Spring Street, between Mountain and Owen streets.

Vehicle parking in this area is sometimes difficult, although there is a small public parking lot about a block up Spring Street.

Walk up Owen on the right side of the church to Elk Street (just a few steps). Go right on Elk and continue uphill.

You will be above the Elmwood House. From here, you can see some of the brick buildings in Eureka -- the Elmwood, the Post Office, and the Wadsworth Building next to the Post Office.

Up the hill a bit and around the bend on the left is the Klock House, also made of brick.

On your right, about halfway up Elk Street, is the Elk Street Church. It is now the home of the Eureka Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which holds services on Sunday morning, and the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of the Living Spring, which has services on Sunday evenings.

At the top of the street, and the end, is White Street, the longest, flattest portion of the Historic Loop.

Turn left and walk along White Street about a block to the intersection with Mountain Street.

Turn left on Mountain and start downhill. The large white building on your right is the Christian Science Society Church and Reading Room.

You will see a fork ahead. Mountain Street goes to the left and down. Eureka Street goes fairly flatly ahead. As you walk ahead at the fork, Penn Castle is on your right.

As you start to make the turn on Eureka Street, to your right and down the hillside is the Basin Park Hotel on Spring Street.

As you go around the turn, when you start back up, you can see the dome of the First Baptist Penn Memorial Church across the way.

As you start up the hill, you are now on a street called Rogers Alley. It will intersect with Eureka Street, almost at the intersection with the start of the steep downhill part of Mountain Street.

Turn back to your right and go down Mountain. Be careful of your pace. The street is steep and occasionally has gravel on it.

At the bottom is the other side of the church from which you started up on Elk Street.

Walking Tour Four

Approximate walking time 45 minutes. Water fountains and picnic tables are available, but no public restrooms.

There is some parking available along the streets and in a small lot at the intersection of Howell and Spring Street.

This walk starts at Harding Spring on Spring Street, at the intersection with Howell Street.

There is a small park at the spring often used for picnics and weddings.

On the Howell Street side of the rock bluff, there is a wooden stairway which goes to the top of the bluff. There is quite a view of town from the top.

There is an optional gravel trail in this area that intersects with Kansas Street.

If you return to Howell Street and walk up, you will come to a set of stone stairs on the left. They lead up to the site of the Old Red Brick School which burned in 1988 after being struck by lightning.

At this point, you can turn left and go back down Kansas Street or turn right onto Singleton Street and head up.

Singleton Street still resembles the working class neighborhood it has been since the early 1900s.

At the top, Singleton intersects Prospect Avenue, also known as the upper part of the Historic Loop.

If you turn right and follow Prospect, you can get to the top of Howell Street, and eventually to the Crescent Hotel, in about five or six minutes.

Walking Tour Four actually takes you left on Prospect to the next street, Hilton. Turn left on Hilton and go down the street. About halfway down the hill, it intersects Butz Street. Here you can turn right and go to Pine Street, about 20 feet, or continue forward on an unmarked wooded lane called Webb Street.

If you continue along Webb Street, you come to the top of another rock bluff and a steep set of stairs which take you down to Spring Street, just above Sweet Spring.

To get back to Howell Street, turn left and follow Spring Street around to the small park.

Walking Tour Five

Approximate walking time is one hour. There is a water fountain and picnic table, but no public restroom.

This walk is very steep. Take your time and stop to rest occasionally.

This tour begins at the corner of Howell and Spring streets. There is vehicle parking available on the street and in a small parking lot.

On Howell, go up the street to the intersection with Magnolia Street, just past the parking lot.

Turn to your right onto Magnolia. The original wooden sidewalk at the right was built in 1890 so ladies wouldn't get their long dresses in the mud.

As you go up the sidewalk, you will see a bridge leading to Crystal Terrace, a private home. The bottom of the ravine under the bridge is actually Tulip Street.

Magnolia Street winds around the hillside, past several large old homes.

At one turn, there is a concrete sidewalk to the right. This leads through a natural area of trees to the top of the path.

You can look up and see the historic Crescent Hotel. The street you are on is Crescent Drive. You can walk up to St. Elizabeth Catholic Church and the hotel. Or, you can walk down to Spring Street, into the residential area originally called "The Boulevard."

About 100 feet down the street where the sidewalk ends, there is a foot path on the right that also leads back to Spring Street. The path goes by some of the finest stone walls in the town.

The footpath ends at a stairway of cut stones with Crescent Spring and Gazebo just off to the right. The Presbyterian Church is across the street to the left.

Turn to the right onto the sidewalk to visit the Crescent Spring. Continue on past the Carnegie Public Library. (The library is an interesting place to visit. One of three elevators in town goes up from the ground to the library.)

Continue on past the old Methodist Church. (The new Methodist Church is on Highway 23 south.)

Keep going and you will pass the small parking lot and intersect with Howell Street, where you started.

You might want to look all the way up Howell Street from this point. In the winter, when there is snow and ice on the streets, this is the street used for sledding and sliding.

Walking Tour Six

Walking time is approximately one hour. There is a water fountain, picnic tables but no restrooms.

There is almost no parking in this residential area.

The tour begins at the intersection of Spring Street and Crescent Drive. This portion of Spring Street is in a neighborhood once called "The Boulevard."

Walk along the sidewalks through the residential area and see several architectural styles of homes.

One of the most famous is the Rosalie Tour Home, one of the first brick homes in town. It was also the location of the first privately operated telephone system in town.

As you walk around the curve, see the Fuller House on the left. This is a meticulous reconstruction of the house which once stood on the site. The original building burned in 1979. This house was rebuilt by the family that has owned the property since the early 1900s.

As you follow the street, you are walking through a natural wooded area, very quiet. To your right, way down the hill, is Dairy Hollow.

After a bit, you will come to Grotto Spring. It looks much like it has since the 1890s.

Continue along the street, because there is no sidewalk in this area. Watch for cars and other vehicles, occasionally horse-drawn.

At one point, the street appears to dead end at a log building. The building originally had an open center and was the entrance to the Summer Assembly Grounds. The building is now the office for the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

From the log building, the street goes up a long but deceptively steep hill. You may want to rest a moment before starting up. You still have to walk in the street.

The Walking Tour goes down Dairy Hollow Road a few feet to the entrance to Harmon Park, on the left.

You can follow the track road through this portion of the park, or walk to the left side of the log cabin and join the path behind the building.

From the path behind the cabin, you will see a a gravel road, Fuller Street. At the top, it intersects with Prospect Avenue.

Turn left onto Prospect Street, on the Historic Loop.

You will pass a simple frame building, St. James Episcopal Church. It was originally built as a school.

Continue along Prospect to the intersection of Prospect and Crescent Drive, which goes down to your right, around and behind the Crescent Hotel. It also passes St. Elizabeth Catholic Church and intersects with Spring Street. This is where you began this walking tour.

You can continue ahead on Prospect and visit the Crescent Hotel, a landmark for the city since it was built in 1886.

Once you have walked through the town of Eureka Springs, you have a much greater sense of its dignity, history, architecture, fun and place in time.

You really should get the $2 booklet at the Historical Museum so you can read more about the history of the places you are walking past.

Enjoy Eureka, the town made for walking.

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