Ashdown, (870) 898-2800
YOU’RE FISHING for prizewinning bass on the 29,260-acre Millwood Lake, scanning the tree line for eagles or renting kayaks at the marina (when the park reopens) to explore among the sunken timber stands.
YOU’RE WAITING until next year for an overnight visit. The only facility open after this summer’s flooding is Millwood’s visitor center, and many changes to the park may come as the site is repaired.
YOU’RE AVOIDING the alligators that cruise the lake and are sometimes spotted along the park’s 4-mile Wildlife Lane wilderness trail.
Bradley, (888) 287-2757
YOU’RE PAYING your respects to James Sevier Conway, Arkansas’ first governor. Born in 1796, Conway came to Arkansas from Tennessee by way of St. Louis and surveyed what is now the Oklahoma-Arkansas border from the Red River north to Fort Smith. He was elected to the state’s highest office in 1836.
YOU’RE PLANNING your trip for March when nearby Bradley celebrates Gov. Conway with an annual arts-and-crafts festival that includes live music, children’s activities and a classic car show.
to DEGRAY LAKE RESORT STATE PARK
Hiking and camping aren’t the only ways to enjoy Arkansas’ state parks. You can do both at DeGray Lake Resort, of course, but the 18-hole championship golf course, built into the park’s scenic hills, promises a fine outdoor experience that’s both rewarding and potentially profanity-inducing. Leon Schwebke, the park’s resident golf pro, is still a relative newcomer to DeGray, but he already talks about the resort’s course as if it were an old, occasionally frustrating friend. And he’s getting to know the rest of the park pretty well, too, including the full-service lodge that occupies its own island.
The course at DeGray is scenic, for sure, but don’t let it fool you. “It requires a lot of thought to play this golf course well,” Schwebke says. Because it’s so hilly, sometimes you’re swinging at a ball that’s above or below your feet. And watch out for the semi-hidden, second water hazard on trickster Hole 7—hit too far and you could lose your ball without realizing it.
If you’re up for something a little different, Schwebke suggests booking a yurt. Like the sleepaway camps of your childhood, yurts walk a line between tent and cabin. And seeing as they come furnished with bunk beds, you won’t have to worry about spending your evening battling rocks wedged beneath your sleeping bag.
Skip the hiking boots, grab an oar and hit DeGray’s brand-new Islets Cove Paddle Trail. You’ll give your arms a workout as you canoe, kayak or paddleboard along the 3-mile trail and learn about the lake’s ecology at the eight interpretive stops marked by yellow blazes.
Schwebke is a fan of the lodge’s Shoreline Restaurant. More than just a convenient location, this lakefront eatery’s menu includes everything from steak and seared salmon to pizza and nachos. But if you’re looking to go further afield, head about 12 miles southeast on Arkansas 7 and check out Slim and Shorty’s in Arkadelphia.
There’s usually nothing better than kicking back in a hammock after a long day of outdoor adventuring. Usually. At DeGray Lake Resort, though, you can treat your achy self to a massage at the on-site Blue Heron Spa.
Washington, (870) 983-2684
YOU’RE CHATTING with interpretive guides (who are dressed in period-appropriate clothing, of course) as you tour a rotating mix of Greek Revival, Italianate, Federal and vernacular architecture. The town-turned-park also features a historic-weapons museum, a print shop and the blacksmith shop where it’s claimed one of the original Bowie knives was forged.
YOU’RE GETTING hip with technology because Grace Cottage—a B&B just outside the park and the town’s lone accommodation—can only be rented through Airbnb.
YOU’RE TUCKING into Southern classics like cornbread, chicken-fried steak and black-eyed pea salad inside the park’s Williams’ Tavern, a public house originally built in 1832 in nearby Marlbrook and transported to the historic village in the 1980s.
WHITE OAK LAKE
Bluff City, (870) 685-2748
YOU’RE HIKING through bottomland hardwoods on the 10-mile Fern Hollow Trail, past rare Arkansas oaks, and among the resurrection ferns that seemingly spring from the dead when the weather turns from dry to moist.
YOU’RE STALKING the big one. The lake produced a 22-pound, 14-ounce catfish—a previous state record—and is known for its big bass.
YOU’RE KEEPING an eye out for great blue herons, egrets, ospreys and—during the winter months—migrating bald eagles.
POISON SPRINGS BATTLEGROUND
Camden, (888) 287-2757
YOU’RE WALKING on hallowed ground—the first battle of the ill-fated Camden Expedition was fought here April 18, 1864, when a force of over 3,500 Confederates ambushed 1,169 Union troops. The outcome was inevitable, but the Confederate victory was marred by accounts of Southern soldiers killing black Union fighters who were attempting to surrender. Learn more from the interpretive exhibits that line the half-mile nature trail.
McNeil, (870) 695-3561
YOU’RE LEARNING about global ecology, pollution, sustainability and other issues of environmental concern through the interactive exhibits, live animal demonstrations, seminars and living classrooms at Arkansas’ first environmental-education state park.
YOU’RE PACKING your camera. The park’s three short nature trails offer boardwalks and nature blinds, perfect for snapping photos of deer, wild turkey, beavers, snakes and wading birds such as herons and egrets.
YOU’RE SITTING tight. The construction of the park’s new 7,161-square-foot, LEED-certified visitor center is slated for completion in 2016.
SOUTH ARKANSAS ARBORETUM
El Dorado, (870) 862-8131
YOU’RE ONLY a handful of blocks from downtown El Dorado. Despite being one of Arkansas’ only state parks inside a city, with native flora like the Louisiana iris and exotic plants such as orange-flowered kwanso, the arboretum is an urban oasis.
YOU’RE ENCIRCLED by color. Autumn sees wildflowers like goldenrods, camellias and asters bloom, and tree leaves turn bright yellow, vibrant orange and deep red.
YOU’RE RETURNING in summer to see the butterflies flit across the 12-acre park. Be sure to pick up a butterfly checklist from the visitor center to help researchers gather data on the arboretum’s butterfly population.
ARKANSAS MUSEUM OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Smackover, (870) 725-2877
YOU’RE TRANSCENDING space and time, thanks to a series of immersive exhibits that explore the years before the oil boom—about 200 million years ago, to be precise—and the gradual evolution of industry. In addition to the permanent exhibits, which include seven examples of oil production on the adjacent 5-acre Oil Field Park, the museum rotates others through (Dinosaur fossils, anyone?)
Wikers, (870) 385-2201
YOU’RE PACKING a filter and plenty of water. The riverside park’s 22 campsites are all primitive, meaning no power, no bathrooms and—most importantly—no water.
YOU’RE FLOATING, swimming and fishing the 12 miles of park that stretch along the Cossatot River. But while the park offers one great swimming hole after another, when the water is high—around 3.4 feet and above—only experts should attempt this National Wild and Scenic River. (Cossatot roughly translates to “skull crusher” for a reason.)
YOU’RE PLANNING your trip for peak paddling season in spring. The park usually offers interpreter-led kayak tours May through June.
CRATER OF DIAMONDS
Murfreesboro, (870) 285-3113
YOU’RE SURFING the web from your tent. The park offers free Wi-Fi for its 47 drive-in and five walk-in campsites.
YOU’RE SCANNING the surface, not digging holes in the ground. While wet or dry sifting—using a series of mesh-wire grates to isolate the precious stones—offer the best chance for finding a diamond, many of the biggest diamonds were found by simply walking and searching the surface.
YOU’RE BEATING the summer heat at the facility’s Diamond Springs Water Park, which features waterfalls, slides, a splash pad and a 4,166-square-foot wading pool.
Kirby, (870) 392-4487
YOU’RE ENJOYING the cool lake breezes at campsites #24 and #25, right on the very tip of a peninsula, or making the most of your RV thanks to spacious campsite #103, right on the cove.
YOU’RE WATER SKIING and fishing for northern pike on the crystal waters of Lake Greeson, casting flies for trout on the Little Missouri River or tearing up the 31-mile Bear Creek Motorcycle Trail on your ATV.
YOU’RE BOOKING your trip in advance. Reservations for holiday weekends fill up a year in advance.
Mena, (479) 394-2863
YOU’RE TAKING in the view atop Arkansas’ second-highest peak from your room in the recently renovated lodge. Five of its 40 rooms offer fireplaces and spa tubs, but be sure to book well in advance. While walk-ins are allowed, rooms are almost never available at the last minute, and holidays can fill up a year in advance.
YOU’RE SHIFTING gears. The state park is located on the 54-mile Talimena National Scenic Byway, a strip of ribbon-candy road that stretches across the Ouachitas in Arkansas to the Winding Stair Mountains in Oklahoma.
YOU’RE WATCHING the monarch butterflies that descend on Rich Mountain early each October (read more on page 101).