In the heart of the scenic Ouachita Mountains, Mena, Arkansas, is a hidden gem for families wanting to experience the upcoming solar eclipse on the line of totality. With incredible outdoor experiences, historical charm, and a wide variety of unique indoor and outdoor kid-friendly activities, Mena is the perfect destination for those seeking a memorable family getaway and the ideal location to witness the eclipse with your family. Arkansas mom of two, Nichole Holze, will show us all the unique experiences that Mena has to offer families, including a detailed itinerary for your trip. Let’s explore the charm and adventure that make Mena, Arkansas, a must-visit destination for families seeking a one-of-a-kind getaway.

*This post is part of a sponsored series of blog posts with Arkansas Tourism about the total eclipse.

family friendly mena arkansas blue zip line and farm pinterest coleyraeh

Experience the total eclipse in Arkansas

A total solar eclipse is a magical experience. My children and I traveled to Casper, Wyoming for the last eclipse and lived out of our minivan camper for a month on the road. The high point of our trip was experiencing the eclipse along the line of totality. We camped in a field directly on the center line of totality and experienced it in a way that was absolutely magical. We will never forget that life-changing experience.

If you didn’t get a chance to experience the last solar eclipse along the line of totality, don’t worry! There’s is another eclipse coming up this April 2024, and I’m thrilled to help other families have that same experience in my home state of Arkansas. The center line of totality for the 2024 eclipse bisects the state, and most of Arkansas will have excellent viewing.

One of the cities to experience totality in is Mena! Keep reading for family-friendly things to do in Mena, Arkansas, and check out our recommended itinerary. This is the first post in a series all about some of the best places to view the eclipse in Arkansas, and what you can do with your family while you’re there! 

the falls area at cossatot river state park by coleyraeh

Where is Mena, Arkansas?

Mena, Arkansas, is a charming town in west-central Arkansas. It’s near the Oklahoma border, surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest. It is in the direct line of totality for the April 2024 total solar eclipse. Mena will experience totality for four minutes and 8 seconds!

There are several festivals and events just for the eclipse happening as well. It’s a great place to visit, and there are lots of family-friendly things to do in Mena, Arkansas, and the surrounding areas. The Ouachita National Forest and mountains are nearby, and there are plenty of open spaces to play, explore, and experience the total solar eclipse!

the visitor center at cossatot river state park

Outdoor things to do in Mena, Arkansas

Some of the family-friendly things to do in Mena, Arkansas, include visiting the state parks! The town is lucky to have two beautiful state parks close by. Arkansas State Parks are wonderful things for families with kids of all ages to visit. There are always activities going on, so be sure to check the state park’s calendar so you don’t miss anything!

Queen Wilhelmina State Park

One of the most iconic state parks in the western half of Arkansas is Queen Wilhelmina State Park, just a quick drive up the mountains from downtown Mena. The route has two options, and I recommend taking the Talimena Scenic Drive. It’s a beautiful route that winds through the Ouachita Mountains from Mena, Arkansas to Talihina, Oklahoma. There are overlooks and scenic pull outs along the way.

In the spring, the route is dotted with wildflowers as the forest comes alive, and it’s beautiful! Be sure to plan some extra time to enjoy your drive up the mountain and back down. The entire mountaintop park is a great place to view the eclipse. 

Things to do at Queen Wilhelmina State Park

A unique thing about Queen Wilhelmina State Park is the lodge that sits perched atop the mountain. It’s a great place to stay but also a great place to just visit for the day. There is a restaurant called The Queen’s Restaurant, open daily from 7 AM to 9 PM. They have a great menu that includes some gluten-free options. The park is also home to Mountain Glory Train Station, an adorable mini train that takes all ages on a scenic ride around the mountaintop.

Family-friendly things to do in Queen Wilhelmina State Park also include going on a tour of the Wonder House and grabbing a photo next to the big steam engine. The visitor center has a cute gift shop, and the interior of the lodge has some neat history to read.

There are a few hiking trails, too. Lover’s Leap is a beautiful trail that goes around the top of the mountain with an overlook halfway through. The Reservoir Trail is another great hike for kids. Both trails are around one mile. 

Hiking the Lover's Leap Trail at Queen Wilhelmina State Park

lovers leap overlook at queen wilhelmina state park

Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area

Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area is a beautiful park that’s only about forty minutes from Mena. It’s a unique state park destination that’s actually one of the top whitewater kayaking spots in the state. There can be class IV and class V drops when the weather is right, including the legendary “skull crusher.” The water is only high enough for kayaking in the spring or after significant rainfall, but the Cossatot River is beautiful all year long.

The state park visitor center is a must see for families because of the wonderful nature center. It has some great hands-on learning opportunities. A playground sits next to the visitor center, and so does the Waterleaf Interpretive Trail, which is about one mile long and partially ADA accessible.

Other kid-friendly recommended hikes in Cossatot River State Park:

  • Harris Creek Trail – just over 3 mile loop, moderate to challenging
  • River Corridor Trail – 12 miles, following the river, you can hike sections of it. Ed Banks to Sandbar is a favorite section. You can park at both the Ed Banks river access and the Sandbar access. 

visitor center at cossatot river state park

More remote areas of Cossatot River State Park

Part of what makes Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area one of our family’s favorite places to visit is the remoteness of the park. If you stop at the visitor center and ask about the Sandbar area and The Falls, they’ll give you directions for how to get there. It’s about a thirty-minute drive down the forest road.

Things to remember: 1) You’ll lose cell service, so save a map offline.  2) Please practice Leave No Trace principles and pack in what you pack out. 3) Both areas have campsites that are first come, first serve and do not have hookups. There are pit toilets at the Sandbar campground and The Falls campground.

Here are some practical tips for heading out into this remote area:

  • For older children and the adventurous: pack a picnic lunch in a backpack, wear water or hiking shoes with good grip, and spend the day out on the boulders at the falls area (also known as “sheeps den”). It’s a very scrambly hike over large boulders, but there are lots of great swimming holes and places to play. It’s a great place to watch the eclipse if you don’t mind being more remote. Talk to the park interpreters for more details about how to prepare and what to expect. 
  • For a calmer water play experience on the river: pack a lunch, water clothes and shoes, and some chairs and head to the sandbar area for the day. The visibility will not be quite as open, but it’s a great spot to sit and enjoy the beautiful Cossatot River. It’s a calm area that also has great fishing by the low-water bridge. 

sand bar area at cossatot river state park bass fishing coleyraeh

Digging for crystals in Mena, Arkansas

Another family-friendly thing to do in Mena, Arkansas, is to go hunting for quartz crystal! The Ouachita mountain range is a hot spot for quartz crystals, and Mena has its own place to go crystal digging.

Board Camp Crystal Mine is located just southeast of Mena and it’s a great place for kids and adults of all ages, because kids under 16 dig for free! Digging for quartz crystal is a bucket list experience and you can even dig for crystals while you enjoy the total solar eclipse! Board Camp Crystal Mine offers a more holistic approach to crystal digging, and while they do not open any large rock veins in the earth, they welcome surface hunting and shallow digging to find the treasures. 

Bigfoot and the UnXplained

In 2016, Board Camp Crystal Mine started having odd and unexplained events. So many, in fact, that they shut down their yearly folk music festival to focus on understanding what was going on. From strange lights, to levitating rocks, to Bigfoot footprints, they’ve had a little bit of everything happen at their property.

As an add-on to crystal digging or its own experience, you can go on one of their “unexplained tours” to learn all about what has transpired at their property over the last six years! Whether you believe or not, it’s a fascinating learning opportunity. 

Blue Zip Line and Farm

Did you know that there’s also a zip line? It’s one of the best family-friendly things to do in Mena, Arkansas. Blue Zipline and Farm offers a full zipline tour, along with camping spots with RV hookups. They have 160 acres and can offer full concierge services to set you up with a wide range of experiences, including ATVs, fishing, and hiking.

The zip lines are so much fun for families, and there are two really fast lines at this place! All participants must sign a waiver. The requirements are at least 5 years old, at least 60 pounds, and no more than 275 pounds. Children aged 5 to 15 must be accompanied by an adult. Be sure to reserve your time slot ahead of time, especially during the eclipse festival

Other outdoor adventures near Mena, Arkansas

There are so many family-friendly things to do in and around the Mena area and so many great outdoor adventures. Because of its location in the Ouachita National Forest, there are lots of outdoor recreation opportunities. Here are some more fun ways to explore the outdoors:

Parks and playgrounds inn Mena, Arkansas

Mena, Arkansas, has several wonderful parks within the city limits as well. The parks have lots of wide open spaces that are a great place to view the total solar eclipse. Be sure to plan out your day to arrive early and grab a spot. 

  • Janssen Park – the large park near downtown Mena. It offers a playground, splash pad, basketball court, natural spring and beautiful walking paths. The park also features a 100-year-old log cabin that’s said to have been a hideout for Jesse James! 
  • McMillan Park – seasonal swimming pool, pavilions, playgrounds and picnic area. 
  • Aubrey Tapley Park – sports fields, tennis courts, two playgrounds, and a walking/biking trail. 

Indoor family-friendly activities in Mena

While Mena, Arkansas, is a hot spot for outdoor recreation, there are still plenty of things to do indoors in the town. The historic downtown is charming and offers great specialty and gift shops to explore.

Here are a few of our favorite indoor things to do in Mena, Arkansas:

Mena, Arkansas, coffee shops and cafes

In our family, finding all the local coffee shops and cafes is a must! Mena has several great spots that are family-friendly and a must-see when you’re in town for the total solar eclipse in Arkansas. 

  • Our personal favorite, which is a one-stop shop for coffee in the morning and a tap house and pizzeria for dinner, is The Ouachitas. 
  • The Q on Main serves coffee, ice cream, and a limited food menu. It’s also cute as can be and full of great photo ops. 
  • Sherwood Bistro is right across from the historic train depot. It has a great food menu, plus good coffee! PS – they have gluten-free bread and lots of baked potato options for allergy-friendly meals. 
  • Cossatot Grounds Cafe is on Highway 71 in nearby Wickes and a great place to stop on your way to or from Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area. They also share a building with a Mexican restaurant, and both have food menus. 

Family-friendly places to eat in Mena

Our number one favorite place to eat in Mena is The Ouachitas. They have a great menu with a range of options. But best of all, they have a gluten-free crust for pizza and hard cider on tap for adults with gluten allergies. It’s also a beautiful restaurant with a newly added outdoor dining porch.

For lunch, American Artisans Eatery and Bistro have gluten-free bread and a full menu of options. Cruizzers Drive In is a great place for families and is a retro-style drive-in restaurant, with some photo characters out front for photo ops.

Simple Simons is another great spot for pizza. For an upscale dining experience, check out Chopping Block Steakhouse, and be sure to make a reservation ahead of time if you do! 

Where to stay in Mena, Arkansas

The best place to stay in Mena, in my opinion, is Ouachita Wilde Luxury Tents. At the time of this publishing, they are not booked yet for the eclipse! This beautiful space is run by a mother-and-daughter team and features multiple glamping tents in a gorgeous private setting not far from downtown Mena. They can also do mobile setups and backyard parties.

Other unique stays include Be Boppers Inn and Youngblood Country Cabins. There are also many campgrounds, HipCamp sites, and Airbnb sites available around the Mena area. Check here for more lodging options

Sample itinerary for the eclipse in Mena, Arkansas

To help take the stress out of planning your trip, here’s a day-by-day breakdown with an itinerary of family-friendly things to do in Mena, Arkansas. 

Day before the eclipse

    • Pack a lunch. 
    • Grab coffee and breakfast at Cossatot Grounds Coffee Shop then drive to Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area 
    • Enjoy the visitor center and learn about the park, try the Waterleaf Interpretive Trail. 
    • Hike the Harris Creek Trail Loop. 
    • Drive to the Falls area and enjoy a picnic lunch. 
    • After lunch, explore the Falls area, or head to the Sandbar area to play. 
    • Drive back to where you’re staying and get cleaned up. 
    • Dinner at The Ouachitas in downtown Mena. 

The day of the eclipse

    • Grab coffee and breakfast at The Ouachitas. 
    • Explore downtown Mena. 
    • Get to your eclipse viewing location AT LEAST two hours before the eclipse begins. Totality occurs at 1:45 PM, so plan on being in your post by 11 AM at a minimum. I’d recommend going earlier. Bring some games and activities, and don’t forget your eclipse glasses!
    • Get dinner at Cruizzers or Simple Simons. 

Day after the eclipse

    • Breakfast and coffee at Sherwood Bistro. 
    • Check out the KCS Historic Train depot and grab a photo with the police cruiser. 
    • Go digging for crystals at Board Camp Crystal Mine. Pack a lunch to stay the day or head back to town for lunch when you’re done.
    • Lunch at American Artisans Eatery and Gallery. 
    • Go ziplining at Blue Zip Line and Farm. 
    • Dinner at Chopping Block Steakhouse. 
    • Dessert at The Q on Main. 

Experience the total solar eclipse in Mena, Arkansas

A total solar eclipse is an incredible event. This will be the third time in Arkansas history to experience a total eclipse. The last one was in 1918! Viewing it as a family is sure to be a memorable event. There are so many unique family-friendly things to do in Mena, and it’s the perfect spot to view the eclipse.

The top three locations I would recommend to view the eclipse are 1) Queen Wilhelmina State Park, 2) any of the city parks in and around Mena, and 3) Board Camp Crystal Mine or Blue Zip Line.

For the adventurous, I recommend The Falls area at Cossatot River State Park, or anywhere along the ridgeline on the Buckeye Mountain Trail. I hope you and your family get to have the experience of a lifetime and that you enjoy exploring all that the Mena, Arkansas, area has to offer! 

Have you made plans for the April 2024 eclipse yet?

About the author

Nichole is a writer, content creator, and family travel and adventure influencer residing in southwest Arkansas. Though she and her husband are originally from the Midwest, they’ve lived in Arkansas for ten years now and are thrilled to call it home. They have homeschooled their children from the beginning of their educational journey. They have a now 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter, along with a one-year Direwolf Dog puppy. Nichole is an avid outdoor adventurer and road tripper and has been taking her kids on adventures by herself since they were infants, it’s all part of what she calls being responsibly brave. She is also on the Executive Team for Run Wild My Child and has contributed to Wild and Free. Be sure to follow her on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with all of their shenanigans.