Flights From $39: Hike With Your Family in the Mountains of Northwest Arkansas
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Just a few weeks ago, Frontier announced its newest city — Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA). Yes, that is right — Frontier is essentially flying to the home of Walmart, with Bentonville just 12 miles away.
This is the second ultra low-cost carrier to start flying to/from XNA Airport (Allegiant Air has been serving this airport for the past decade), and hopefully, Frontier’s entry will help bring the cost of a ticket down. (I used to fly to Bentonville for work every single week for a few years, and flights could easily cost between $500 and $1,000 round-trip at that time.)
While the development is good news for business travelers flying in every single week, it’s also great for families looking for a new place to vacation in what some mistakenly dub “flyover country“.
If you are an outdoorsy family, you’ll absolutely love your time spent in Northwest Arkansas. With many lakes and the Ozark Mountains, there is a ton to do — plus the area has many points-friendly properties at extremely low prices (both in points and paid rooms).
What to Do in Northwest Arkansas
Here are just a few things your family might enjoy on a trip to Northwest Arkansas.
Crystal Bridges Museum
The Crystal Bridges Museum opened in 2011 and is a great addition to downtown Bentonville. The 120-acre museum features walking trails, art exhibitions, special events and even a library. The museum caters to families of all ages and — best of all — general admission is free (some special events throughout the year come with a fee).
Special art exhibits rotate every few months. There are 3.5 miles of hiking trails, where you’ll find everything from natural springs to native plants and animals. You’ll also find many special events, such nature workshops and evening concerts and films. If you happen to be visiting on a Sunday, the entire day is dedicated to family activities, with everything from live entertainment to art projects to creative play. All you have to do is show up and participate.
Devil’s Den State Park
Devil’s Den State Park is in West Fork, Arkansas, which is about an hour from downtown Bentonville (an easy drive straight down Route 49). There are 11 hiking trails ranging from 0.25 mile to 15 miles — good for a variety of tastes and abilities. There is also a swimming pool (ages 6+ is $5; ages 2–5 is $4; free if staying on site) and an 8-acre lake with boat rentals and caves.
There are many daily events (primarily during the weekends) where you can learn more about the park and the animals you’ll find, partake in art projects and fun games, and even embark on a guided mountain bike ride.
For those looking to stay away from your traditional hotel, there are also 17 full-service cabins ranging between a studio and three-bedrooms and six camper cabins that can fit up to four guests. You can camp on site as well. Rates vary by season but a cabin for five people in July priced out at $150/night while a camper cabin for four was just $65/night.
Lake Fayetteville is also along Route 49, but just 30 minutes south of downtown Bentonville. Here you will find plenty to do between the walking and biking trails, taking a boat on the lake, the botanical gardens, the playground, volleyball nets and games of Frisbee golf. With 458 acres of land and 194 acres of water, there is plenty to keep your family occupied for the entire day and beyond.
War Eagle Cavern on Beaver Lake
War Eagle Cavern on Beaver Lake is a great place to take the kids for a cave tour. While there are many cave tours throughout Northwest Arkansas, this one is probably the closest to Bentonville (approximately 45 minutes away). There are two different tour types — the Traditional Cave Tours, which depart every 20 minutes (no reservations needed) and the Spelunker Tours that are for the more advanced and only for ages 12 and up (reservations required 48 hours in advance). Adult admission is about $17 and kids 4–12 pay $10. Children 3 and younger are free and the site is stroller accessible.
In addition to your one- to 2.5-hour tour (depending on which one you choose), your kids can enjoy panning for gems and a mystery maze.
Where to Stay
For those looking to stay in a chain hotel, there are a ton of options to use your points from almost every single hotel chain. Here are options close to Bentonville, but you can also use your points to stay in Fayetteville, where the University of Arkansas is located.
Hyatt Place Rogers/Bentonville
At only 5,000 World of Hyatt points a night, you absolutely cannot go wrong with this property. You can reserve rooms with one king bed plus pull-out sofa or a room with two double beds plus pull-out sofa. To top it off, your entire family will receive the typical Hyatt Place complimentary hot breakfast every morning (as long as you book the stay directly with Hyatt).
This is one of the swankier hotels in the area. This property starts at just 17,500 Marriott Bonvoy points a night, and you can reserve a room with one king bed or two queen beds.
There are actually seven Marriott properties in the Rogers/Bentonville area, all from 17,500 Marriott Bonvoy points a night. (If you desire a suite, you might opt for the Residence Inn Bentonville Rogers). When targeting those sort of award rates, a 100,000 Bonus Points bonus (after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months) from the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, can be stretched to max, especially if you take advantage of the fifth award night free.
Embassy Suites by Hilton Northwest Arkansas
This all-suite property will cost you between 30,000 and 35,000 Hilton Honors points per night. Your family will also be able to enjoy a cooked-to-order breakfast and an evening reception. This property is close to the Pinnacle Hills Promenade, which is a nice outdoor mall with many restaurant options.
There are five Hilton properties in the area, so depending on the day of arrival, you might want to look at all options through the Hilton site to see which hotel requires the least number of points for that particular day. Here are several pathways to lots of Hilton points in a hurry.
If you are looking to use your IHG Rewards Club points, Candlewood Suites requires the least number of points at just 10,000 IHG points a night. You can reserve a room with two double beds; all rooms have a full kitchen.
$39+ Flights to Northwest Arkansas
Right now, the only new nonstop option to/from Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport on Frontier is from Denver. You can easily fly to XNA from many other Frontier cities with a layover in Denver, although the total flight time might not be ideal (for example, you can get there from Boston, but the total flight time is over 12 hours).
As of right now, the two-hour nonstop route is scheduled three days a week (Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday) with fares starting at just $39 one way. If you fly during one of its many “Kids Fly Free” days, a family of four, for example, could travel for just $78 one way. At that price, even when adding in any extra baggage and a seat assignment fee, you’ll still come out way ahead of flying with another airline.
If Frontier just isn’t your bag, we have seen some competitive fares to XNA from other airlines on select dates and routes. In fact, at times airlines such as United are meeting or beating Frontier’s fares, especially out of Denver.
Northwest Arkansas is a great place for a family vacation, particularly for those who like the outdoors. My fingers are crossed that Frontier does well with this market and decides to expand its routes to give travelers more flight options to arrive in XNA at a more reasonable price than was previously possible.
If this is your first time looking to fly Frontier Airlines, here’s everything you need to know.
Featured image by Wesley Hitt / Getty Images.