Rogers, (479) 789-5000
YOU’RE BEDDING down outside of the park—unless you’re keen on a 4-mile trek to one of the primitive campsites along the Pigeon Roost Trail. Rogers is a 20-minute drive; scenic Eureka Springs, about 30 minutes.
YOU’RE PACKING your hiking boots. Thirty-five miles of trail wind their way through the 18.8-sqaure-mile park—Arkansas’ largest. More of a mountain biker? Tackle the park’s 24-mile, multiuse Hidden Diversity Trail on two wheels.
YOU’RE CRUISING the coves of Beaver Lake on one of the guided, bald-eagle-watch tours that depart from Rocky Branch Marina November through February.
PRAIRIE GROVE BATTLEFIELD
Prairie Grove, (479) 846-2990
YOU’RE LEARNING about the site’s Civil War battle—one of the bloodiest in Arkansas’ history—before you arrive at the park, thanks to the engaging interactive timeline created by the University of Arkansas’ Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies. (pg.cast.uark.edu)
YOU’RE WALKING through history along the mile-long Battlefield Trail, cutting a path through the ridge-lined river valley where the heaviest fighting took place on Dec. 7, 1862. Though it was technically a draw—each side suffered about 1,300 casualties—the battle enabled the Union army to stake a claim to Northwest Arkansas.
YOU’RE MARKING your calendar for the park’s next battle reenactment on Dec. 2016. The biennial event usually draws some 5,000 Civil War buffs and tourists.
to DEVIL’S DEN STATE PARK
This park, originally built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, has become Northwest Arkansas’ collective backyard. It’s an easy drive from Fayetteville, and its picnic areas, 5-acre lake and network of trails lure a steady stream of day-trippers and campers alike. Tim Scott knows just about every nook and cranny of the place—not only is he a park ranger, he’s also a legend in the world of Arkansas mountain biking.
Best Crowd Avoidance
Despite its location in the middle of 64,000 acres of national forest, solitude is in short supply at popular Devil’s Den. Scott suggests visiting during the week, if you can, or picking a weekend when the Razorbacks aren’t playing and the fall foliage is past its prime. For a less crowded hike, head out on the Fossil Flats Trail (which, as many mistakenly believe, is not the sole territory of mountain bikes) or the 15-mile Butterfield Trail.
If you can live without an electrical hookup, go for Campground A, Scott says. It’s close to Lee Creek and several trailheads, and is on the quieter side.
The Yellow Rock Trail is the star of Devil’s Den for good reason: It leads out onto an exposed sandstone bluff where hikers will find the best views in the park. “It’s not barricaded, so you’ve got to use good sense, but you can walk right to the edge of it,” Scott says. “You’re 300 to 400 feet above the creek, and the way it’s situated, you can look up and down the watershed.”
The Long and Short of It
The trails are the thing at Devil’s Den, but hiking expertise is not required. From a quarter-mile to 15 miles, paved paths or rough terrain, “there’s something that can fit about everybody’s capabilities,” Scott says. You’ll see something different on every trail, too: scenic vistas on the Yellow Rock, natural bridges on the Gorley King and the park’s original Civilian Conservation Corps buildings on the short CCC Interpretive Trail.
Huntsville, (479) 559-2593
YOU’RE PITCHING your tent under a canopy of Ozark hardwoods—the park’s 30 campsites and modern bathhouse are tucked among the trees.
YOU’RE AVOIDING the springtime crowds on the Buffalo and paddling quieter War Eagle Creek instead, using Withrow Springs as base camp. In the off-season, you can still make the most of the creek along the 2-mile War Eagle Trail, where you can catch a glimpse of the stream from atop a 150-foot limestone bluff.
YOU’RE TAKING the long way home. Arkansas 23—aka the Pig Trail—offers heart-stopping views as you snake through the Boston Mountains from Huntsville to Ozark. (Both lanes of Arkansas 23 are closed near Arkansas 215 due to a landslide but are scheduled to reopen Oct. 30.)
LAKE FORT SMITH
Mountainburg, (479) 369-2469
YOU’RE BOOKING one of the park’s 10 posh cabins, built in 2013. (Don’t fret over which one is best—the park superintendent assures they’re all top notch.) What the cabins lack in lake views due to the reservoir’s buffer zone, they make up in reclaimed-stone fireplaces and elevated covered decks.
YOU’RE ENJOYING some hard-earned R&R if you’ve walked 165 miles to get here. The park is the western terminus of the Ozark Highlands Trail, which winds east through the Ozark National Forest to the Buffalo River.
YOU’RE BRINGING the kiddos. With kayak tours, guided hikes, owl prowls, stargazing lessons, a pool and a splash pad—not to mention 1,400 acres of cool, clear lake—they won’t have time to get bored.
Paris, (479) 963-8502
YOU’RE FETCHING Fido, since cabin #4, with its covered deck, outdoor hot tub, sweeping valley views and exposed wood beams, is dog-friendly. If you don’t have a pup in tow, you’ve got the, um, pick of the litter: 13 cabins and 60 lodge guest rooms share the bluff-top views.
YOU’RE STANDING on the highest point in Arkansas—2,753-foot Signal Hill—which is accessible via a moderately easy 1.5-mile-loop trail. At the top, you can explore a 400-square-foot, to-scale topographic map of Arkansas, chiseled in stone.
YOU’RE HUNTING for the rare plant species—maple-leaf oaks, orchids, hay-scented ferns—that call Mount Magazine home, thanks to its unique microclimate.
Russellville, (479) 967-5516
YOU’RE ROASTING marshmallows with a view if you booked one of the campsites on the Russellville side of the park, which faces a westward expanse of open water. You’ll find more peace and quiet on the Dardanelle side—there are fewer sites and no visitor center—but you’ll miss out on that sunset view.
YOU’RE ANGLING for catfish and bass from the rock breakwater or the shade of the covered wooden fishing pier—there’s a reason, after all, that Bassmaster magazine named Dardanelle one of the nation’s best bass lakes. If the fish aren’t biting, take your tiny anglers to the visitor center, where 8,000 gallons of aquariums and a touch tank are filled with turtles and fish commonly found in the watershed, including some record bass that have been caught during the park’s 30-some annual tournaments.
YOU’RE EXPLORING the quiet coves the big boats can’t get to, in a kayak rented from the park marina.
Dardanelle, (479) 229-3655
YOU’RE GETTING comfortable in a rustic CCC cabin built in the 1930s—ideally, cabin #63, which is equipped with a two-person spa tub, a view and some privacy from the cars whooshing down Sunrise Circle. For a more authentic experience, cabin #62 boasts the original wood, as well as the door and most of the window latches.
YOU’RE SOAKING up the Arkansas River Valley scenery from Sunset Point’s enchanting vista—a 360-degree view of Lake Dardanelle, Mount Magazine and Hot Springs. Think this view is breathtaking? Wait until you see the hang gliders launch.
YOU’RE DRIVING the steep, winding hairpin turns carefully—ideally not in an RV. The road to the park climbs 1,400 feet in 2 miles.
BULL SHOALS-WHITE RIVER
Bull Shoals, (870) 445-3629
YOU’RE REVELING in nature’s air conditioning at one of the 55 campsites on the banks of the White—the river’s 52 degrees keep things cool even in the heart of summer. No gear? Book the park’s Rent-A-Camp, which provides a platform tent, cots, stove, cooler and lights, aka almost everything you’ll need.
YOU’RE HIGHTAILING it to the park’s trout dock to rent a boat, find out where the rainbows are biting and swap fish stories. If you’re new to the sport, park interpreters frequently offer talks on trout-fishing basics; pick up a schedule when you check in. If you’re looking to break a record, you’ll need to “hook a lunker” to the tune of 19.5 pounds.
YOU’RE SNACKING on smoked trout poppers and enjoying the river views at Gaston’s White River Resort, just a four-minute drive from the park.