Mountain Pine, (501) 767-9366
YOU’RE RECLINING in an Adirondack chair on the deck of your three-bedroom lakeview cabin. And you’ve brought nine friends with you. Because why not? There’s plenty of room.
YOU’RE HIKING in your Chacos and bathing suit along Caddo Bend Trail, which follows Point 50 Peninsula for 4 miles. If you get hot while taking in the wildflowers, rolling hills and panoramic lake views—and let’s face it, you will, this is Arkansas—you can just cannonball into the water, right off the trail.
YOU’RE SETTING up camp on one of Lake Ouachita’s 100-some islands after paddling for five hours with a crew of fellow adventurers during the park’s next Kayak Campout on Oct. 10.
Hot Springs, (501) 844-4176
YOU’RE FISHING right off the cabin porch. The CCC-era fishermen’s barracks turned studio-style duplex isn’t just waterfront—it literally hangs out over the mouth of Slunger Creek. Cabins #1-5 also offer that iconic CCC charm as well as waterfront views, woodburning fireplaces and nearby docks for fishing and boating.
YOU’RE SURROUNDED by water. From the 1,940-acre lake—one of the state’s famed Diamond Lakes—to the sandy beach and the 12-foot but oh-so-photogenic Falls Creek Falls, Lake Catherine has it all.
YOU’RE GAZING upon downtown Hot Springs from the natural overlook on the 3.5-mile Horseshoe Mountain Trail. The view is best in winter, when there’s no foliage to get in the way.
to PETIT JEAN STATE PARK
The winding road up the mountain, the breathtaking view from the terrace behind Mather Lodge, the sun setting over the flat rock outcropping on the park’s western end, Cedar Falls, the legend and the grave of the doomed Petit Jean herself—Petit Jean State Park is an assemblage of icons, and Danny Hale knows them well. The retiree, who spent 25 years as a land surveyor, founded Takahik, a Russellville-based group that regularly hikes along the park’s trails.
It’s no secret that Arkansas’ mountains put on a show in the fall, and Petit Jean’s forests play their part. But spring is for waterfall hunting, Hale says, and the park has its share of those as well. The 1-mile Canyon Trail goes past several smaller falls along Cedar Creek. Oh, and then there’s Cedar Falls, which, by the way, isn’t so bad itself.
The Seven Hollows Trail is Hale’s favorite, as much for what’s to be found off the trail as what’s on it. Venture a little off the marked path and you just might find evidence of the mountain’s past as a haven for moonshiners, as well as hidden caves, interesting rock formations and even ancient Native American pictographs. Hale recommends taking a guided hike and asking the park ranger if you want hints about exactly where to look.
Best place to get away
Head out on the Boy Scout Trail if you’re looking for solitude, Hale says. It’s one of the prettier hikes, cutting around the bluffs and around the Winthrop Rockefeller house. Don’t be intimidated by the stated 13-mile length. You can start at Mather Lodge and do a shorter 5- or 6-mile loop that avoids the trail’s most rugged terrain.
Just about every Takahik outing to Petit Jean includes a stop at the restaurant at Mather Lodge. Hale is partial to the burger and fries—simple fare, but Mather does it well. Hike during the week, and you can hit the lunch buffet at the River Rock Grill at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, just a couple of miles from the park entrance. If you’re up for the half-hour drive into Morrilton, Hale recommends local favorite Yesterday’s Restaurant.
JENKINS FERRY BATTLEGROUND
Leola, (501) 844-4176
YOU’RE SITTING down for a picnic lunch and a swim at this 40-acre park, grateful that you remembered to read Harvest of Death: The Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas written by local history buff Joe Walker (his website, 1864arkansas.com, is a must-read as well). Without it, you’d never have known about, say, the Confederate general and Union lieutenant who, years after the battle, found themselves sitting together in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Little Rock, (501) 868-5806
YOU’RE TAKING the road less traveled. Although most folks tend to high-step it up the west summit, the northern leg of the 2.5-mile base trail leading to the craggy (and more difficult) eastern slope offers something verdant and picturesque behind every forested hill and switchback.
YOU’RE LOOKING at all the pretty horses—and riding them, too. Just across the road from the east summit parking lot, Chief Whitehorse’s Trail Rides offers guided horseback tours of the park. Even those who’ve never saddled up ought to feel welcome.
YOU’RE HOOFING it down the road to camp. There might not be any campsites at Pinnacle—but there are 128 fully equipped ones at Maumelle Park.
PLANTATION AGRICULTURE MUSEUM
Scott, (501) 961-1409
YOU’RE REALIZING that 12,500 square feet of space is larger than you’d expect—something made amply clear in the sprawling Seed Warehouse #5, which has been restored to its 1948 appearance. What’s more, thanks to the 10,000 items the museum has in its collection (of which roughly 1,250, or 1/8, are on display), you’re also realizing there’s a lot more to the legacy of cash crops in Arkansas than you ever thought possible.
YOU’RE REMEMBERING to make reservations (and save plenty of room) for the Outdoor Dutch Oven Chili Dinner, where you’ll learn about the cast-iron ovens—and then get a full-course lunch of white-bean chili, cornbread and apple turnovers. (Also, contrary to what you might think, this “dinner” happens from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Greenbrier, (501) 679-2098
YOU’RE NOT EXACTLY roughing it. Your campsite is shady and offers views of Lake Bennett, and a bathhouse—running water! hot showers! snack bar!—is just a stroll away.
YOU’RE CATCHING your breath on the lake’s sandy beach after a spin around the new Enders Fault Mountain Bike Trail, which is named for the active seismic fault line north of the park.
YOU’RE PLAYING pioneer during the park’s annual Mountain Man Rendezvous in April, when reenactors dressed in fur-trapping attire take you back in time to Arkansas circa 1840.
Scott, (501) 961-9442
YOU’RE CHARTING the changing of the seasons with the help of these archeological wonders. We’ll likely never know how much the native people who built the 18 mounds (of which three remain) knew about the heavens, but we do know that the sun sets directly behind different mounds on certain seasonal equinoxes. (Be sure to mark your calendar for the winter solstice on Dec. 22.)
YOU’RE DOING a double take upon hearing the name because—fun fact—the people who built the mounds were totally not the Toltecs. Although archaeologists corrected this back in 1883 (the native people were actually part of what is called the Plum Bayou culture), the name stuck.