For the Arkansas outdoors enthusiast, sometimes it seems life is just waiting. Specifically, waiting for the hot, humid and bug-ridden summer to release its grip only to enjoy a few brief months before winter stakes its icy claim. But for those tired of waiting—for those who don’t want to just sit back and take it—here are four outdoor adventures you can do indoors, central heating included.
LEARN THE ROPES
Arkansas’ mountains and sandstone cliffs may offer some of the best rock climbing between the Appalachians and the Rockies, but during the darkest depths of winter, it’s hard to find the motivation to brave the elements. The good news? You don’t have to. Arkansas is awash with indoor climbing walls that cater to every skill level. Plus, if you’re one of the skill-less, you can use the season to prep for the real thing in a safe environment (and make a few knowledgeable friends along the way).
Little Rock Climbing Center
This west Little Rock climbing gym offers programs for beginner climbers, team-building exercises, birthday parties and more, but more seasoned athletes will be interested in its competitive team and climbing trips. (12120 Colonel Glenn Road, Little Rock; littlerockclimbingcenter.com)
A day pass, monthly or yearly membership gets you access to a rotating mix of over 100 top-rope and bouldering routes at this Russellville facility. (1605 N. Phoenix Ave., Russellville; thewallrussellville.com)
Ozark Bouldering Gym
While it lacks top-rope routes, this gym specializes in bouldering—shorter, more complicated routes done without a rope. Think of it as solving a vertical puzzle with your body. (875 E. Robinson Ave., Springdale; ozarkclimbing.com)
Elevate Sports Gym
More than just a climbing gym, Elevate bills itself as an indoor fitness facility and backs up the claim with Ninja Warrior– and parkour-style obstacles, monkey bars, gymnastic rings and more. (805 Cottonwood Road, Harrison; elevatesportsgym.com)
Zion Climbing Center
Combining rock climbing with a mission, the nonprofit Zion Climbing Center seeks to help its community grow physically and spiritually. (118 N. Spruce St., Searcy; zionclimbingcenter.com)
DIVE, Dive, Dive
It’s easy to spend these cold gray days dreaming about white sand beaches and colorful coral reefs. So rather than waste your winter away, why not use these drab months to prep for your next Caribbean adventure? These five scuba schools offer classes in heated indoor pools, and if you time it right, you can graduate just as the weather turns warm. Not up for that big of a commitment? Many also offer guided single sessions for testing the waters.
The Dive Shop II
A father-son operation in west Little Rock, this dive shop offers group and private lessons for beginners and divers looking to advance their skills. (1222 Westpark Drive, Little Rock; diveshopii.com)
Rick’s Dive ‘n Travel Center
Founded in 1978, this full-service shop’s current facility opened in 1985 and features a sun deck for pool parties. (2323 N. Poplar St., North Little Rock; ricksdivecenter.com)
Scuba and Archery Center
After perfecting your skills in the pool this winter, you can explore Lake Ouachita from the shop’s floating dive center at Brady Mountain Resort. (121 Gilchrist St., Hot Springs; scuba-archery.com)
Sportsco Scuba and Snorkeling Center
With private classes available days, nights and weekends, this Springdale dive shop makes it easy to pencil in your certification. (2079 W. Sunset Ave., Springdale; sportscoscuba.com)
Scuba Doo Dive Shop
In addition to open-water through dive-master certifications, this shop offers swim lessons, women’s pool aerobics, open swims, lifeguard classes and pool parties. (6137 Arkansas 62 E., Mountain Home; scubadoodiveshop.com)
ROW YOUR BOAT
Arkansas has a small but passionate community of white-water kayakers, and they don’t let the short days, low water and oh-so-cold winter weather get in their way. The Arkansas Canoe Club has pool sessions in Little Rock, Springdale and Fort Smith, during which its members can practice their strokes and perfect their white-water kayak rolls to stay sharp for the spring paddling season.
If you are new to the sport or don’t have any equipment, don’t worry. Though there is no formal instruction, members often loan out equipment and act as volunteer teachers for those learning to roll. Be sure to check their website for times and dates, and drop them a line on their message board to let them know you’re coming.
There are plenty of outdoor adventures to be had this winter at Arkansas’ state parks (arkansasstateparks.com) such as hiking Lake Catherine’s Horseshoe Mountain Trail for a view of downtown Hot Springs that can only be enjoyed after the trees drop their leaves. But our favorite winter activity at the parks is quite a bit toastier. Nothing beats snuggling up in a cabin, sipping a cup of hot chocolate and stoking the fire—an activity that can only be had at one of these 10 state parks.
If a crackling fire’s not enough to keep you warm, all of the cabins at this lakeside park come equipped with spa tubs to soak the day away. (1200 Catherine Park Road, Hot Springs; (501) 844-4176)
Book cabins 1 through 5 for that classic Civilian Conservation Corps charm complete with wood-burning fireplaces and nearby docks. (5451 Mountain Pine Road, Mountain Pine; (501) 767-9366)
Many of this mountaintop park’s cabins include wood-burning fireplaces, but trust us: Book the Honeymoon Creek Cabin. It’s set apart from the other cabins and includes a hot tub. (1285 Petit Jean Mountain Road, Morrilton; (501) 727-5441)
Once the leaves fall, three-bedroom cabin 8 offers one of the best views of the park’s 17 cabins. Oh, and did we mention it includes a spa tub? (Notice a trend here?) (11333 Arkansas 74 W., West Fork; (479) 761-3325)
Lake Fort Smith
Built in 2013, these 10 modern cabins are some of the newest in the park system and include reclaimed-stone fireplaces and covered decks. (Shepherd Spring Road, Mountainburg; (479) 369-2469)
Take in the view of the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake from your hot tub at one of these 13 ridge-top cabins. (Lodge Drive, Paris; (479) 963-8502)
With mountain views, fireplaces and spa tubs, the rustic cabins at Mount Nebo are perfect for a cozy winter weekend. (16728 Arkansas 155 W., Dardanelle; (479) 229-3655)
Perfect for large families, the cabins at this small state park near Paragould sleep four to six campers. (For really big families, there’s even a group-lodging area that can fit 60. (2092 Arkansas 168 N., Paragould; (870) 573-6751)
While the weather likely won’t cooperate for a full 18 holes, you can still enjoy the view from cabin 4, which overlooks the park’s 27-hole golf course. (201 County Road 754, Wynne; (870) 238-9406)
The cold is a natural insect repellent, which means winter may be the best time to book one of the 15 cabins at this lakefront state park. (2542 Arkansas 257, Lake Village; (870) 265-5480)