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5 hours in Hardy

It's quaint.

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Should you find yourself with extra time on the road between St. Louis and Central Arkansas, consider a brief detour to the quirky downtown district of Hardy and the nearby Mammoth Spring. As it's in North Arkansas, but nowhere near the bustling northwest corner or easterly Jonesboro, it's a pocket of the state that often goes unexplored.

Start with a meal at the Corner Booth Cafe

This cozy little diner at 106 W. Main St. is only open until 2 p.m., so be sure to grab a seat before you get carried away with the shops in downtown Hardy. Seated in the wooden-backed booths, you'll find yourself leaning sideways to take in the full effect of the tiny place's ceiling decor: glittery gold crown molding, faux Tiffany antique light fixtures, model planes, dolls, figurines, china, a birdcage. The walls are equally busy, with old black-and-white photos, a Wild West "Wanted" sign, a Betty Boop print and an ad for the Titanic. Outside, a sign reads "Lunch Special: $5.50." The server will know everyone's name and the pinto beans are the real slow-cooked deal. It also serves breakfast all day: generous fluffy omelets, pancake stacks and ham 'n' egg platters.

Take a stroll down the Old Hardy Town Strip

"Old Town Hardy" is a fitting name, if not entirely accurate. There have been many decidedly modern storefronts on Main Street over the years, but the buildings that house them are relics, and the street is on the National Register of Historic Places. Stroll around, let the tiny signs — some visible only to the pedestrian — guide you to Miller's Leather Shop, the Old Time Candy Shoppe, the Ozark Classic Crafts Mall, Jade's clothing boutique, Memories on Main St. antiques, the Main Street Flea Market and even a Wiccan supply shop called The Silver Dragon, nee Goths R Us.

HISTORIC HARDY: The Main Street is on the National Register, and offers shops galore. The Corner Booth Store is a cozy eatery; nearby Mammoth Spring will drown out nature with the roar of millions of gallons pouring over the dam.
  • HISTORIC HARDY: The Main Street is on the National Register, and offers shops galore. The Corner Booth Store is a cozy eatery; nearby Mammoth Spring will drown out nature with the roar of millions of gallons pouring over the dam.

Mammoth Spring State Park and the Spring River

It's just a 20-minute drive on U.S. Highway 63 to the Missouri-Arkansas border, where you can hear the roar of the seventh-largest natural spring in the world, flowing at an average rate of 9.78 million gallons per hour with a constant water temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit. The thunderous sound of Mammoth Spring's output, tumbling across a 198-foot limestone dam, is evidence of its force, and a sidewalk above the water line allows you to stroll right into the adjacent hydroelectric plant control tower, which supplied power to the area until 1972. Mammoth Spring feeds the Spring River, a destination for paddlers and trout fishermen, if you want to make more than a day of it. The Many Islands campground will also rent you a canoe.


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