Free things to do in Ft. Smith Arkansas

We recently attended my niece’s graduation in Fort Smith, AR. The trip was short but while we were there we decided to do a little site seeing. We first made a visit to St. Scholastica Monastery and then on to the Fort Smith National Historic Site.

St. Scholastica Monastery

We stopped in St. Scholastica Monastery, rang the front door bell and were given a free tour of the monastery. We had read that morning that reservations are not needed. Sister Ethel Marie guided us through a small museum containing items for the monastery’s history, down the original art lined hallways and to the beautiful stained glass filled chapel. Sister Ethel Marie was so sweet and took her time to tell us as much as she knew about her church and home. We had to cut our tour short because a group (that had made reservations) was arriving.  Afterward we took a stroll through the peaceful garden and stopped by the gift shop.  The tour is free but we did purchase a few small items and left a donation to help support the nuns and their missions.

cross made in paris

Fort Smith National Historic Site

After lunch at Rolando’s we decided to check out the little park across the street.  The plan was to let the boys run off some energy and visit with their cousins just a bit longer before our long car ride home.  We didn’t realize at first that the little park was actually a national historic site.  What a treat!  We explored the second Fort Smith, what was left of the first Fort Smith, walked part of the heartbreaking Cherokee Trail of Tears and learned so much more about our country’s history. The site had a paved walking path and many posts around the park telling about the history made there.

trail of tears

We stopped in the Ft. Smith Visitor Center on the grounds and watched a short movie about the fort and toured the original jail.  The jail was nicknamed Hell on the Border due to the ghastly living conditions of prisoners awaiting trial. A Park Ranger told us more about the jail and living conditions of the prisoners.  It was absolutely horrendous! There were no windows, no lighting, no bathing and the toilet buckets were dumped only once a day.  The youngest prisoner ever held there was a nine year old boy being held for killing a man while trying to protect his mother.

fort smith visitor center

For a small fee you can tour the second story of the Visitor Center.  $6 for adults, children are free.  If you are short on time or money, I say go ahead and pass.  The upstairs includes Judge Parker’s courtroom, the new jail, and several exhibits about the history of Ft. Smith.  The exhibits take some time to go through because they involve quite a bit of reading and many were about infamous criminals.  My boys (and me too) weren’t super impressed with the upstairs portion. If you have older children or are particularly interested in this part of American/Arkansas history you may very well enjoy it.

indian territory

Fort Smith is full of history and a great place to stop to stretch your legs while on a road trip.  Pack a picnic lunch and explore! If you don’t have a lunch packed, check out Rolando’s Nueva Latina Restaurant.  Anytime we are in Fort Smith or Hot Springs, AR we make sure to get our Rolando’s fix!