Adventure in Arkansas: Rich Outdoor Recreation Await
The Natural State’s gorgeous scenery has earned the state a well-deserved reputation as an outdoor enthusiast’s Shangri-La. And there’s no wonder why. Home to 600,000 acres of lakes, more than 9,000 miles of streams and rivers, two major mountain regions and 52 state parks, Arkansas has something for everyone. Whether you seek tranquility, adventure or something in between, you’ll find it all in Arkansas.
Float a Stream
Roughly 150 miles long, the Buffalo National River has the distinction of being the nation’s first national river. Originating in the Boston Mountains, the river flows past sky-high bluffs, caves, waterfalls and canyons. Canoeing is possible all year on the Buffalo River except in the upper reaches, where it’s limited to the winter and spring months.
The Mulberry River originates in the Ozark Mountains near Fallsville and has a reputation as one of the most challenging rivers for white water rafting enthusiasts. Traditional floating months are late fall to June, but conditions vary according to local rainfall. For current conditions, call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ river level recording at 501-324-5150.
The National Park Service describes the Cossatot River as “probably the most challenging” white-water float in the state, something the early Native Americans knew when they named it Cossatot, or “skull crusher.” Much of the river’s white water is not recommended for the inexperienced canoeist, and experienced river-runners should always check water levels in advance.
Find out more here.
Discover a Park
Vacation in one of Arkansas’s 52 state parks and you’ll see that the recreational opportunities are endless. State parks include romantic cabins, gorgeous lakes, archaeological sites, campgrounds and more.
Arkansas’s only resort state park, DeGray Lake Resort State Park is set on DeGray Lake in Arkadelphia, a popular getaway for fishing, camping, swimming and water sports including scuba diving. The park features a 96-room lodge, an 18-hole championship golf course, hiking trails, tennis courts, a swimming beach and a marina.
Ozark Folk Center State Park is America’s only facility that strives to preserve the Ozark heritage and way of life of the Ozark Mountain people. Visitors can watch pottery-making, blacksmithing and a variety of other pioneer skills and crafts, as well as learn to jig dance or sample country cooking at the Skillet Restaurant.
Find out more: Call 888-287-2757, or click here to request your free Arkansas State Parks guidebook and vacation planning kit.
Ride a Bike
On mountain trails or secluded, scenic roads, biking is one of the best ways to get outdoors and see the beauty of Arkansas. Routes of varying difficulty are spread all across the state. Challenge the hills of the Ozarks or pedal across the entire state on rural roads that take you from one attraction to the next.
As a testament to the state’s commitment to biking, a $9.2 million pedestrian-bicycle bridge was completed in Little Rock in 2006. Dubbed the Big Dam Bridge, it’s the longest pedestrian-intended bridge in the U.S. and serves a vital link in the Arkansas River Trail, a 17-mile loop stretching from downtown Little Rock to Pinnacle Mountain State Park on the southern riverbank and from downtown North Little Rock to Cook’s Landing on the northern riverbank.
The trail is also accessible for those with physical disabilities, providing visitors and residents with the opportunity to safely exercise and enjoy the great outdoors in a comfortable setting.
Arkansas is home to several International Mountain Bicycling Association “Epic Routes,” including the Womble Trail and the Syllamo Trail.
Known as one of the top single-track hiking and biking trails in the country, the moderate-to-difficult Womble Trail is located 7 miles northeast of Mount Ida and runs for 37 miles alongside the Ouachita River from Northfork Lake to the Ouachita National Recreation Trail.
The Syllamo Trail is a 50-mile, single-track trail north of Mountain View that traverses the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. Marked by five color-coded loops of varying terrain, the trail offers options for beginners to experts, all-day rides or shorter tours.
Find out more here.
Watch Birds & Wildlife
More than 400 species of birds can be observed throughout the year in Arkansas, including majestic bald eagles, the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, waterfowl, short-eared owl, painted bunting, rusty blackbird and more.
Many other forms of wildlife can be seen in Arkansas as well, including more than 70 kinds of mammals, close to 115 reptiles and amphibians, and more than 155 butterflies.
White-tailed deer and bobcats are plentiful all across the state, while 16 different bat species live mainly in Ozark caves. Over the past few decades, elk and American black bears have made a comeback in Arkansas due to restocking efforts and habitat preservation efforts by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. A herd of about 450 elk can be seen late in the day in fields near the Buffalo National River, while around 3,000 black bears roam statewide.
The Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism, in partnership with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, has produced a Birding & Watchable Wildlife brochure, which includes information on different species found in The Natural State, best viewing locations, bird and wildlife watching tips and more. Pick one up at any of the 14 Arkansas Welcome Centers or call 800-NATURAL to request one.
Find out more here.
Hike a Trail
If you want to relax in the great outdoors, Arkansas has more than 250 hiking trails scattered in the state’s Corps of Engineers recreation areas, national forests and national and state parks. For extended backpacking excursions, visit the 165-mile Ozark Highlands National Recreation Trail or the challenging Ouachita National Recreation Trail.
Buffalo National River is home to more than 100 miles of maintained hiking trails, several of which are also open to horseback riders. Trails of varying difficulty meander along the breathtaking 150-mile river and through its dense surrounding woodlands.
In Northwest Arkansas, Devil’s Den State Park boasts 20 miles of hiking trails that weave over, under, around and through the Ozark Mountains. Explore Devil’s Den Cave, hike to Yellow Rock Overlook, identify wildflowers along the Woody Plant Trail or go on a backpacking adventure along the 15-mile Butterfield Hiking Trail.
For information about the Ozark trail, call 501-968-2354, and for the Ouachita trail, call 501-321-5202. Discover more about hiking at Arkansas State Parks here.
Find a Cache
With its acres and acres of hikeable terrain, Arkansas is heaven on earth for avid geocachers of all ages, or for those just getting warmed up to the hobby.
For the uninitiated, geocaching is an outdoor treasure-hunting activity in which the geocacher uses a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver and coordinates found online at www.Geocaching.com to seek out a “treasure.”
Treasures can be tangible, or it might just be the location itself that is the treasure, like a great view that is slightly off the beaten path.
Modeled after a similar nationwide program, Arkansas State Parks has developed the Arkansas State Parks ParkCache — a series of geocaches, one in each of the 52 state parks, that contain clues to a 53rd geocache hidden in Arkansas. It’s a perfect way for both locals and new residents to get to know Arkansas better while enjoying the state’s great outdoors.
Fly Through the Treetops
Zip lining has propelled toward popularity over the past few years, and several locations around the state offer the high-flying, perfect-for-all-ages adventures.
Loco Ropes Treetop Adventure Park at Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View offers a handful of different options. Guests can choose a tower adventure like the “Flying Pig ZipLine,” the “HotShot FreeFall” or the “Planks Peak Climbing Wall,” or a treetop adventure like the “End of the Line” zip line or the “Short Line” zip line.
Located on a mountain ridge near Ponca, Buffalo Outdoor Center offers Arkansas’s first guided zip line canopy tour. Zip liners glide along at a slower pace from tree to tree, landing on wooden platforms at each tree while experiencing the beautiful Ozark Mountain flora and fauna.
Rowdy Adventures, a 300-acre outdoor adventure park in Okolona at Copperhead Creek Preserve, has 13 zip lines and miles of cable. The zip line tour takes adventure-seekers on a 3-mile tour through the trees.
For information about Loco Ropes!, call 870-269-6566, or visit LocoRopes.com; for information about Buffalo Outdoor Center’s canopy tour, call 800-221-5514, or visit BuffaloRiver.com; and for more information about Rowdy Adventures, call 870-274-3001, or visit RowdyAdventures.com.
Bait a Hook.
Without a doubt, Arkansas is a fisherman’s paradise. The state has some of the finest lakes in the country and boasts more than 150 miles of trout-filled streams. The White, Little Red, North Fork and Spring rivers are the state’s best-known trout sites, with more than 2.5 million trout stocked annually. The tail waters below Norfork Lake, Bull Shoals Lake, Beaver Lake and Greers Ferry Lake provide top action for rainbows and browns.
Norfork Lake has a reputation for great bass, catfish, stripers and crappie action, and nearby North Fork River is an excellent fly-fishing stream.
Greers Ferry Lake, stretching from Clinton to Heber Springs, is well known for its white bass, largemouth, stripers, walleye, catfish and crappie.
Lake Ouachita, near Hot Springs, is known for its monster stripers, lunker bass, walleye and crappie, while Beaver Lake in Northwest Arkansas teems with striped, largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill and catfish.
Find out more: Arkansas has specific requirements for fishing, so contact the state’s Game & Fish Commission at 501-223-6300, or visit AGFC.com. Request an Arkansas Fishing Guide at Arkansas.com/Outdoors/Fishing.
Hit the Links
Arkansas’s mild climate provides for year-round golf, with more than 200 courses to choose from. Check out the Arkansas Golf Guide for a sample of some of the state’s best public and semi-private courses on the Natural State Golf Trail.
Find out more: NaturalStateGolfTrail.com