Located in the Northwest Arkansas town of Bentonville, Crystal Bridges Museum has gained attention because of its distinct art and architecture. Contributing writers Barbara and Jim Twardowski recently visited Bentonville and explored the surrounding area. They share their tips for visiting the museum, checking out the local nature trails, and seeing the town itself, which is all easily accessible with mobility equipment.
My husband and I made a fall pilgrimage to Bentonville, Arkansas. The ten-hour road trip to the middle of the country was worth the drive. The small town in the northwestern corner of the state is home to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Set in a ravine carved by Crystal Springs and flanked by two hills, the museum encompasses 120 acres. Walking from one gallery to another, windows provide dramatic views of the unspoiled Ozark landscape. The museum opened on 11-11-11, with a mission to unite art with nature. Besides paying homage to American masterpieces, we discovered some appealing attractions which also met my need for wheelchair accessibility.
Plan to spend a full day at Crystal Bridges Museum. One of the best ways to see the museum is with a tour guide. Several one-hour Drop-In Tours are conducted by trained volunteers each day. The free tours cover highlights of the museum’s permanent collection or temporary exhibits, architecture, nature, or special topics. On the third Saturday of each month, an American Sign Language Interpretation is offered with the Collections Highlight tour.
The Crystal Bridges permanent collection features American masterworks and lesser-known pieces from the Colonial period to modern day. Temporary and traveling exhibits are held throughout the year. The two currently on display are Chihuly In the Forest, ending November 27, 2017, and Stuart Davis: in Full Swing, ending January 1, 2018. You can learn more about the upcoming exhibits here. Admission to the museum is free, courtesy of Walmart. The costs for special exhibits vary.
The museum’s eight outdoor trails range from a 1/4 mile to 1 1/2 miles in length. A description of each can be found online or you can download the handy CB Outdoors app. Twenty sculptures are located on the trails, and much of it can be easily viewed by wheelchair users. A little before dusk, we strolled the Art or Trail and spied a doe with her two fawns. In the evening, we traversed the winding North Forest Trail under the moonlight to see Chihuly’s illuminated glass.
Don’t miss the Museum Store. Designed by a Fayetteville architect, the cherry wood ceiling mimics the underside of a mushroom. The store carries a delightful selection of decorative items, books, toys, and jewelry. Not enough room in your suitcase? It will ship the items for you. The museum’s restaurant Eleven serves brunch, lunch, and dinner on select days. Reservations for brunch and dinner are available to book online and are highly recommended. Grab and go items are offered at the Coffee Bar just off the main lobby.
The museum’s interior is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant and has several family restrooms. Manual wheelchairs may be borrowed on a first-come, first-served basis. Handicapped parking is limited and located on the lower level of the parking garage.
Crystal Bridges is open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed on Tuesdays, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. The trails and grounds are open from sunrise to sunset daily.
While Bentonville may be small with a population less than 50,000, the town is also the home base for Walmart, the largest retailer in the world. The company’s humble beginnings and homage to founder Sam Walton are represented at The Walmart Museum. There’s nothing fancy about the museum, which is filled with family photos, mementos, and milestone markers throughout the mega corporation’s history. The wheelchair-accessible museum also houses the Walton’s 5 & 10, featuring a nostalgic collection of candies, games, and toys. Step back in time at the Spark Cafe Soda Fountain where a single scoop ice cream cone only costs 99 cents. Our favorite was the icebox lemon pie. Admission is free. The museum is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m.
The seasonally open (April through October) Bentonville Farmers Market closes the downtown square to vehicular traffic every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wheelchair users can effortlessly roll from one booth to another. Vendors sell produce, flowers, chocolate, leather goods, furniture, health products, crafts, toys, and more. An online map of vendor locations makes finding that special item easy. Pick up a breakfast burrito from one of the food trucks or walk to the 21c Museum Hotel for a delicious sit down meal. Allow some extra time to explore the hotel’s contemporary art collection.
Worth the Drive
Hop in a car and make the trek to Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, which is ten miles from Rogers, Arkansas. Obey the speed limit—the roads are crooked and steep. Nestled beside the south shore of Beaver Lake, the 12,000-acre park is the largest in the state.The lodge-like Visitor Center includes taxidermy mounts, exhibits, a gift shop, tons of informational brochures and maps, and a helpful staff. We explored the Ozark Plateau Trail—a barrier-free hard surface path designed for wheelchairs, baby strollers, and foot traffic.The inner loop is a quarter of a mile of concrete while the outer loop is half of a mile of crushed stone. This trail is steps away from the Visitor Center and accessed by a paved sidewalk. Be sure to visit the wildlife observation area on the way to the trail. Benches are located throughout the trail. The Visitor Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Lovingly built from grassroots funding and the support of countless volunteers, the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks (BGO) in Fayetteville, Arkansas is a whimsical place with 12 themed gardens and a Butterfly House. The wheelchair accessible garden has paved and graveled paths. Two wheelchairs are available to borrow. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $7.
Where to Stay
The DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Bentonville is a good choice for travelers who need two separate sleeping areas. The hotel has 140 suites. Our guest room featured a bedroom with a roll-in shower and a king bed. The sofa sleeper, located in the living room, makes traveling with a companion or family more comfortable. Amenities we appreciate include a microwave, mini fridge, coffee maker, free Wi-Fi, onsite restaurant, indoor heated swimming pool with a chairlift, and free self-parking.
Click here to learn more about visiting Arkansas.
Want to learn more about accessible travel destinations around the world? Check out:
- 6 Tips for Wheelchair Accessible Travel in Berlin
- How to Navigate New York City in a Wheelchair
- Wheelchair Accessible San Antonio: The Riverwalk & Beyond
By Barbara and Jim Twardowski for PeterGreenberg.com