Powhatan, (870) 878-6595
YOU’RE BOOKING the park’s only rental yurt—a round Mongolian tent home—a couple of weeks ahead of your trip and sleeping on a bunk bed instead of the ground. Just don’t forget to bring bed sheets.
YOU’RE PACKING your swimwear, floats and shades. The gently sloping, sandy beach can be used free of charge and is an ideal spot for some scenic lounging.
YOU’RE TOUCHING the armored skin of an American alligator or the bumpy shells of aquatic turtles at the Nature Center, which houses 60 species of reptiles, amphibians and fish. But you’ll have to wait until next summer. The center is only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Pocahontas, (870) 892-4708
YOU’RE COZYING up in a tent at campsite #16 which, thanks to its wooded location, offers seclusion for the privacy-starved city dweller. Arriving in an RV? Campsite #13 offers better satellite reception. If A/C is your idea of fresh air, Hotel Rhea—a historic hotel destroyed by fire in 1914 and extensively renovated in 2012—is just 23 minutes away in Walnut Ridge.
YOU’RE APPRECIATING the preserved history of this 200-year-old town unearthed by archaeologists in the late ’70s. You’ll catch glimpses of what life was like in Davidsonville during the early 19th century along the Historic Townsite Trail.
YOU’RE LOADING your costumed little ones into the car for the park’s spooky (well, spooky-ish) annual Ghosts of Davidsonville Fall Festival. With games, face painting, costume contests and a hayride, they’ll most definitely be entertained.
to OZARK FOLK STATE PARK
The Ozark Folk Center might be the only Arkansas state park that celebrates indoor pleasures rather than outdoor. It honors and preserves the traditions of hill-dwellers past—how they made candles, wove fabric, forged horseshoes and shaped plows. The tunes they fiddled and ballads they sang. As the center’s craft director, lifelong fiber artist Jeanette Larson makes sure all of the 50-plus resident artisans have everything they need to demonstrate, create and sell their crafts in the center’s 21 stores.
The park’s Skillet Restaurant is famous for its Thanksgiving dinner, according to both Larson and CNN, which featured it on-air last November. The craft village is open Thanksgiving Day, so come early and get your name on the restaurant’s waiting list—the Skillet doesn’t take reservations, even on holidays—and get a jump-start on your holiday shopping in the village stores.
Best Personal Connections
The center stays pretty crowded during the summer months and during peak fall-foliage season, but visit in early October or after the park opens in early April and you’ll have a better chance to spend some quality time with the park’s artisans and musicians. “They’ll be playing for two or three people at time,” Larson says of the musicians who regularly play the park’s stage. “They have great conversations.”
It’s not all traditions all the time at this park. Most people don‘t know it, Larson says, but the Ozark Folk Center also has a geocache loop.
The craft village closes at 5 p.m. each day, but the Mountain View town square stays open for business into the evening as a family-friendly outdoor gathering spot for musicians playing bluegrass, country, folk, Elvis tunes and just about anything else they fancy.
Mammoth Spring, (870) 625-7364
YOU’RE WORKING up the nerve to plunge into the 60-degree Spring Lake, which is formed by the largest spring in Arkansas, the aptly named Mammoth Spring. A National Natural Landmark, the spring flows at a rate of almost 10 million gallons of water per hour. (That’s enough to fill 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools, BTW.)
YOU’RE GETTING a dose of aromatherapy in the park’s herb garden, which is maintained by the Mammoth Spring Garden Club. Though it might be tempting to pick some lavender, sweet tarragon or Russian sage, you’ll have to wait until the club’s annual herb sale in May.
YOU’RE LEARNING about endangered native species—Ozark Hellbender salamanders, sturgeon—at the nearby Mammoth Spring National Fish Hatchery, one of the oldest hatcheries in the U.S.
Powhatan, (870) 878-0032
YOU’RE TOURING the 1888 Italianate-style courthouse, the historic Powhatan Jail and other preserved buildings in this 19th-century steamboat town.
YOU’RE DINING at the Parachute Inn, the Walnut Ridge restaurant housed in a reconfigured Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 about 25 minutes away.
YOU’RE NOT WORRYING about the sweltering heat or spending too much time under the sun. All of the historic structures in this day-use park are air-conditioned.
Paragould, (870) 573-6751
YOU’RE MINGLING with friends and family. Thanks to a group lodging area—five rustic bunk cabins with a recently renovated large kitchen, a dining hall, lake views and space for 60 people—this park is practically begging to play host for a family reunion.
YOU’RE PAUSING to look at the flume that carries water from the wishing well down to Lake Ponder. The well can be seen along the trail that encircles the swimming lake—preferably in the fall, when trees flaunt their spectacular colors. (The lake is drained during winter months.)
YOU’RE REMEMBERING to grab your fishing license before leaving home. Aluminum boats are available for anglers—but you can’t fish without a license.
Bono, (870) 932-2615
YOU’RE FISHING for saugeye and bass in a 14-foot fishing boat you rented for the whole day from the marina for $15.
YOU’RE PICNICKING near the lake, where there are tables, grills and restrooms nearby. If the scorching heat becomes too much to handle, just take it inside, thanks to a climate-controlled pavilion overlooking Lake Frierson.
Harrisburg, (870) 578-2064
YOU’RE CASTING your line in the shallow, 640-acre lake, which is perfect for snagging large stringers of bass, crappie, bream and catfish. It isn’t dubbed the “fisherman’s haven” for nothing.
YOU’RE MAKING the trip Oct. 23-24 or 30-31, when the Parker Pioneer Homestead in Harrisburg holds their Haunted Homestead event—a long walk in the deep, dark woods with scares and screams (and thus not recommended for small children). For a less frightening experience, come during the Homestead Festival (the second and third weekends of October) and enjoy a day of butter churning, kettle-corn popping and wagon riding.
Newport, (870) 523-2143
YOU’RE ROASTING weenies, gorging on campfire s’mores and, let’s face it, swatting mosquitoes at campsite #13, which is nestled right on the edge of the White River. The trees provide a bit of respite from the sun, and there’s a shaded picnic table as well as an unobstructed view of the lake.
YOU’RE TAKING in the history of this town, once occupied by both Confederate and Union forces because of its strategic location. Its courthouse is now a museum boasting several exhibits which detail life in this steamboat town from its early heydays before the Civil War until its gradual decline.
YOU’RE BIRD-WATCHING on the Tunstall River Walk, a favorite feeding area along the White River for eagles, owls, blue herons, orioles and ducks. Falling in the Mississippi Flyway, the park is habitat for a vast array of Arkansas birds. (The flocks will only increase in number with the blooming of wildflowers next spring, by the way.)
Manila, (888) 287-2757
YOU’RE STARING up at the life-sized marble statue of Herman Davis, a Manila native named by General Pershing as fourth among America’s 100 greatest WWI heroes.
YOU’RE FOLLOWING in his footsteps through the nearby Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge, one of the oldest inland refuges in the U.S.—a sprawl of 11,038 acres. Davis is said to have honed his skills as an expert outdoorsman and sharpshooter in these wooded swamps.
Wilson, (870) 655-8622
YOU’RE TOURING the Hampson Archeological Museum, which houses aboriginal artifacts found in this historic indigenous heartland. Don’t have time to make the trip? The Virtual Hampson Museum brings the collections to your computer screen, thanks to the modern marvels of 3D laser scanning and visualization. (hampson.cast.uark.edu)
YOU’RE CRUISING past small towns, farmland and out-of-the way sights along Arkansas 61, instead of Interstate 55. This trip is about both the journey and the destination.
YOU’RE HAVING dinner at Wilson Cafe, perhaps even sipping a glass of wine. Only five minutes from the park, the cafe boasts an indulgent menu—including such delicacies as blueberry-glazed salmon and bone-in pork chops—that makes the place a gem in downtown Wilson.
Parkin, (870) 755-2500
YOU’RE PLANNING the perfect day trip, spending your afternoon at this day-use park—the site of a 17-acre Mississippian period (1000 A.D. to 1600 A.D.) American-Indian village, where a large platform mound still remains—and having dinner at Memphis’ Porcellino’s Craft Butcher, only an hour away. (Trust us, it’s worth the drive).
YOU’RE SCHEDULING your guided tour ahead of time, especially if your family and friends are tagging along. With a limited number of staff, booking reservations for group tours can get slightly tricky.
YOU’RE LETTING the river be your guide as you stroll up and down the 3/4-mile Village Trail that borders the St. Francis River, which served as an important water source in this Late-Mississippian culture.
Wynne, (870) 238-9406
YOU’RE STAYING in cabin #4, overlooking the park’s 27-hole golf course which stretches more than 7,400 yards through this hilly hardwood forest.
YOU’RE BRINGING your horse along—that is, if you have one. There’s a horse barn and a trail for equestrians.
YOU’RE STOCKING up on candy if you’re there on Oct. 24, during the park’s annual Trick or Treat—a nature-themed Halloween event featuring owl prowls, live animals, campfire stories and campsite decorations provided by 42 local businesses.
LOWER WHITE RIVER MUSEUM
Des Arc, (870) 256-3711
YOU’RE LISTENING to the first-hand accounts of a river-boat captain, a schoolteacher, a settler and a slave—whose likenesses (in mannequin form) greet visitors in the main foyer of the museum—via recordings of the oral histories they left behind.
YOU’RE ADMIRING the museum’s one-of-a-kind exhibits, including the painstakingly executed details of a button factory painted on the inside of a mussel shell—a shell that would have been used back in the day to make, um, buttons.
YOU’RE SWINGING by Dondie’s, the steamboat-replica restaurant on the banks of the White River, for a catfish dinner, and watching the river flow just outside the window.