With 17.2 million acres of forestland, 16,000 campsites, 9,000 miles of rivers and streams and four temperate (albeit frequently erratic) seasons in which to enjoy it all, it’s safe to say that our beloved state is more than deserving of its widely touted moniker. And with some of the most varied landscapes in the region within our borders—from tupelo-draped bayous to fog-misted mountaintops—we’ve been given quite the outdoor playground to explore, no matter the bent of our adventurist tendencies. With that in mind, we offer here an entire year’s worth of excuses to get out and play—as if you even needed one.
1. Step back in time.
What’s most remarkable about the Lakeport Plantation in Lake Village isn’t the oversized front door. Or the wooden mantles painted to look like marble. Or any of the architectural idiosyncrasies built into the structure. The reason you visit, after all, is because, interesting as those details might be, what’s most remarkable about the only remaining antebellum Arkansas plantation on the Mississippi (constructed in 1859) is that it looks exactly how it always has. And, unlike other locations throughout the nation, the preservationists at ASU, through a gift from the Sam Epstein Angel family, have opted to make it “not just another pretty house.” It’s the way it was when slavery was on the decline, and sharecropper- and tenant-farming on the rise. There’s something raw there, and in seeing the cotton fields, remembering what all they signified, both then and now, you’re forced to confront a history that is both uncomfortable and compelling for the same reason—which is why you go. —jph
2. Manifest Your Destiny
You remember the details from your elementary-school history lessons: Thomas Jefferson opened the doors to the West by brokering a deal with Napoleon in 1803, buying a mass of land for 3 cents an acre, doubling the size of the fledgling nation. What you may not realize, though, is that the starting point for the survey of the land acquired in that Louisiana Purchase lies 21 miles south of Brinkley in the middle of an east Arkansas headwater swamp, commemorated beneath canopies of cypress and swamp tupelo by a humble granite marker. Walking to the stone along the park’s boardwalk, which meanders for two-tenths of a mile over Little Cypress Creek, you can almost imagine the state as it was in those pioneer days: wet, wild and positively welling over with possibilities. —kb
3. Go up, up and away.
Sure, the hot swwwwish of the burners might set your nerves to tingling. The tether’s thwap! and release might momentarily make your heart stop short. But soon, the rushing heat will give way to sweeping silence as Ozark forests turn to bushels of broccoli, winding roads become ribbons, and the whole of the landscape—from horizon to horizon—spreads out beneath you in miniature. You’ll grip the basket’s edge, remind yourself to breathe—and then silently thank yourself for making this year the year you finally gave hot-air ballooning a go. (For more information, visit balloonridesover-arkansas.com.) —kb
4. Come for the scenery; stay for the music (and the classes and the crafts and the folks).
Don’t let the name fool you. While Ozark Folk Center State Park has plenty of beautiful natural scenery (including the nearby Blanchard Springs Caverns), the real draw to this park is the people—specifically, the dozens of artists, musicians, crafters and reenactors who work and volunteer at the park in Mountain View to preserve and teach about life in the Ozark region. The park’s calendar is packed year-round with historical demonstrations and classes where visitors can learn to throw a pot, weave a rug, play a banjo or grow native herbs and plants. Need more music? Mountain View—nicknamed the Folk Music Capital of the World—hosts a major folk-fest each April that draws fiddlers and pickers from across the U.S. —evz
5. Tell a fish story.
Since 1965, the Greers Ferry National Fish Hatchery in Heber Springs has been producing rainbow and brook trout—around 1 million annually—for stocking public fishing waters in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The facility below Greers Ferry Dam is open for self-guided tours from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and in a world where nearly everything costs something, a visit here is absolutely free. Inside the hatchery building, from August through February, you’ll see tanks crowded with dark, swirling schools of brilliantly colored juvenile fish—thousands upon thousands of them. The biggest surprise awaits you outdoors, however, in the long concrete raceways where trout are fed and cared for until they reach 11-inch stocking size. Some of the bigger trout you’ll see are as long as a person’s leg—wouldn’t you love to catch a beast like that? —ks
6. Tri somewhere new.
It’s safe to say that Arkansas’ temperate climate, warm waters and burgeoning trail network have turned The Natural State into a mecca for triathletes, both those established in the sport and folks new to the game. It’s also safe to say that most triathletes can only take so much of the same old routine: bike here, run there, sneak a few laps in at the pool, rinse and repeat. Why not mix it up a bit by taking your workout on a little weekend getaway? Training in and around Eureka Springs’ pristine lake waters, challenging hills and shady trails might be just the motivation injection you need before the next Big Race. If you’re gearing up for Ironman season, head to the hills in early August for the Eureka Springs Multisport Festival, a three-day tri-fest that will test your swim/bike/run mettle with back-to-back-to-back races—namely, a competitive sprint-distance tri, a 100-mile ride and a wallop of a 10K run. —kb
Cole Fennel, author of Rock Climbing Arkansas, on the best routes to rock:
7. Cowell: “With a wide range of difficulty and styles of rock climbing, it’s no wonder that the miles of sandstone cliff north of Cowell have become a climbing hot spot for both locals and traveling climbers alike.”
8. Sam’s Throne Region: “One of Arkansas’ oldest and best areas, the Sam’s Throne region offers, without a doubt, the best traditional climbing in The Natural State. A recent surge of new development has resulted in some excellent sport-climbing options as well.”
9. Richland Creek Area: “With a prerequisite of 14 miles of dirt road to reach the cliffs, the Richland Creek area is known as Arkansas’ most remote climbing area—by far. Those willing to partake in the adventure are rewarded with stellar stone in an unbelievably gorgeous setting.”
10. Get all starry-eyed.
Some of the purest darkness available in the state can be found on the eastern end of the Buffalo National River, east of U.S. Highway 65 between Harrison and Marshall. Thanks to the Buffalo River and the surrounding Ozark National Forest, the nearest strong city lights are whole counties away. Here, one can still get a sense of why the ancients named it the “Milky Way,” as the foggy light of distant stars stretches to infinity above you. Camping is available at the Taylor Bend Visitor Center or farther east at Buffalo Point Ranger Station. —zm
11. Tame your favorite trail.
With the onset of fall comes a storm of colors, bringing into fiery relief some of the most beautiful vistas around. Also: the realization that an entire quarter of the year has slipped by without any (or much) maintenance on many of the state’s major trails that lead to said picturesque vistas. And as poke salad and downed limbs lack the motivation to clear themselves, volunteer groups around the state—such as Friends of the Ouachita Trail and the Ozark Highlands Trail—are left with the task. It’s not that you have to do it, but when you consider all the hours that have been expended to enable your wilderness tromping, sometimes you just want to give a little back. —jph
12. Go hog wild.
Winding and crimped through the upper midsection of the state, Arkansas Highway 16 seems not unlike a student’s first attempt at cursive writing—if the student in question were using his toes. But of course, you don’t take this much-less-traveled route because you’re anxious to reach your destination (in this case Clinton or Fayetteville, which bookend the four-hour stretch). Rather, you choose the route because, for the dualie set, it offers some of the most compelling arguments for taking the road-less-traveled: cresting the ridge of the Ozark landscape through bends and turns (with a minimum of hairpins), and bumping along through small hamlets—Pelsor and Fallsville in particular—that scarcely appear on the map. (Check out David Ball’s cruisetheozarks.com for more rides and information.) —jph
13. Leave no stone unturned.
I once found shark teeth, not at a beach on the Redneck Riviera, but in Malvern, hidden in a small outcropping of Cretaceous-period rock on the Ouachita River. I’ve seen whole boulders of crinoid stems near Siloam Springs and ancient mollusks near Little Rock. Arkansas abounds in fossil sites that mark our prehistoric past as the bottom of an ancient ocean. There is something wonder-filled in holding the remnants of a creature that lived millions of years ago. Angling for a bite of your own? Search for shark teeth and other fossils near Malvern, just off Haltom Road at the access points on the Ouachita River, or try a site listed on fossilsites.com. —rs
Steve Shepherd, longtime canoeist with the Arkansas Canoe Club, on the best places to paddle:
14. Little Missouri, from the Albert Pike Campground to Highway 84: “Mostly Class 2 with three Class 3 rapids, the Little Missouri runs through a very small watershed, so you have to catch it within a day or two of a big rain. If there is not enough water in the upper river, you can run from Highway 84 to Highway 70.”
15. Middle Fork–Illinois Bayou, from Snow Creek to Highway 27: “A short run (2.3 miles) with lots of Class 2 action, the Snow Creek run offers almost continuous rapids for its short distance. The big draw is that it’s close enough to Little Rock that you can get one or two runs in when you only have a half day to paddle.”
16. Cadron Creek, from Pinnacle Springs to Highway 65: “A great way to get some paddling time when you only have a half day, this stretch of Class 1 and Class 2 rapids features some interesting bluffs on both sides of the river, and it feels fairly remote until you get close to the Highway 65 Bridge.”
17. Accomplish something “Epic.”
The Syllamo Mountain Bike Trail is one of Arkansas’ best when it comes to having a mix of beauty and versatility. Whether for hiking or mountain biking, this trail through the Ozarks near Mountain View offers waterfalls, beautiful creek-crossings and more than 50 miles of trails. Mountain bikers will find single-track trail that presents challenges for experienced riders, but also plenty of areas accessible to beginners. Because the trail can get “fast, furious and fun,” and some sections have terrain that “will widen the eyes of seasoned riders,” the International Mountain Biking Association dubbed the Syllamo Trail as an “Epic Ride,” the highest trail-rating available. (It’s one of only two “Epic” trails in the state—the other is the Womble Trail in the Ouachitas west of Hot Springs.) —rs
18. Fly through the air with the greatest of ease.
Mountain View, with its wholesome emphasis on artisan crafts and down-home music, might not immediately strike you as a weekend adventure destination. But combine the nearby Syllamo Trail (#17 on this list) and a wild-caving trip through Blanchard Springs Caverns (#30) with the 35 heart-stopping obstacles tucked into the canopy at Loco Ropes, and you might just change your mind. From ziplines to Tarzan swings to rope bridges and climbing walls, this self-proclaimed “high-wire forest adventure” is a must-stop for Arkansas adrenaline junkies. You’ll laugh, you’ll scream, you’ll be sore in places you never thought possible. In fact, the only thing you won’t do is fall—the Loco Ropes folks take safety seriously, training you fully before harnessing you into their continuous- belay system that will keep you snugly connected, from nerve-tingling liftoff to look-what-I-did! touchdown. —kb
19. Feast on the fruits of your labor.
If your Instagram is aching for a few shots of freshly picked produce, take a drive to one of the pick-your-own produce farms around the state. While many operations stick to peaches, apples or strawberries, Collins Round Mountain Orchards near Conway offers nongreen thumbs a chance to try their hands at cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, muscadines and more on Collins’ 150 acres. The sprawling, sunny farm has its rows packed with families from June through August, and through October for gala apples. Not close to Conway? Check out arkansas.com/dining/fresh-farms for a full list of you-pick farms in Arkansas. —evz
20. Hike with haunts.
In the early 1900s, the aptly named hamlet of Rush was a booming mining town, drawing regional prospectors with big dreams and empty pockets to the Ozark hills. These days, Rush claims to be the only ghost town between the Mississippi and the Rockies, offering an eerie hike through history on the Rush Mountain Trail loop, just off Arkansas Highway 14 near the Buffalo River. The moderately strenuous trail leads past dilapidated buildings and boarded-up mine shafts—all listed on the National Historic Register—before winding up the mountain toward a breathtakingly beautiful vantage point overlooking the winding river below. —kb
21. ’Scope out the sky.
Outdoor adventures don’t need to be limited to Saturdays and Sundays. If you find your Wednesday nights open, consider making the drive to Conway on the first or third Wednesday of the month to soak up some starry views. The University of Central Arkansas Department of Physics and Astronomy is home to the only planetarium and observatory open to the public in central Arkansas. On the third Wednesday of each month, a few hours after dark, professor and astronomer Scott Austin guides visitors up a narrow wooden staircase at the Lewis Science Center’s observatory to the school’s 14-inch telescope to get an up-close look at stars too dim to be seen by the naked eye. Austin runs a show at the school’s 60-seat planetarium—also in the Lewis Science Center—at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of the month. As the lights dim, a projector displays a replica of the season’s night sky on the dome, making the show perfect for stargazers who need a brush-up on their constellation spotting. (Admission to both events is free; more information can be found at uca.edu/physics.) —evz
22. Brush up on botanicals.
There’s a certain part of us that just wants to take the Cherokee Prairie Natural Area as what it is: stunning. However, the realization of how special the place is only comes when you look things up. You realize that not only does the vast expanse translate into a quantifiable 584 acres, but that it’s part of the 1 percent of the remaining uncultivated grasslands in the state—the natural equivalent of a time capsule. What’s more, you realize that the swells of colors have names. Purples become prairie blazing stars and grass pink orchids. Reds, Indian paintbrush. Yellows, narrow-leaf sunflowers and yellow puccoon. You realize that any given acre of the prairie could sustain 150 native species, and that there’s a fair share of it facing extinction. And you feel like you should have looked it all up beforehand. —jph
23. Give shooting a shot.
Turning into the parking lot with the windows up, you can hear pops and some deafening reports echoing from the range—specifically, from the 200-yard rifle range, 50-yard pistol range, five stations for trap shooting and eight stations for skeet. All of which is to say there are more people at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Camp Robinson firing range than you might expect at 9:30 a.m. on a Thursday. However, when you consider that 31,203 people came to the range during the 2012 fiscal year (a fair share of whom comprise the state’s youth trapshooting program—the nation’s largest), that the site plays host to everyone from church groups to the Secret Service, or that you’re far enough from town that deer have been known to cross the range (“They’re so used to the gunfire they just walk right across,” according to range manager Grant Tomlin), the appeal of the outdoor range becomes a whole lot clearer. Give it a shot. You’ll enjoy it. —jph
Keith “Catfish” Sutton, Arkansas outdoors writer, on the three fish you need to hook this year:
24. Catfish: “In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck caught a Mississippi River ‘cat-fish that was as big as a man, being six foot two inches long, and weighed over 200 pounds.’ Chances are good blue cats that size really lurk here. Several topping 100 pounds have been caught in the river near Memphis in recent years.”
25. Gator gar: “Think Polaris missiles with teeth. That’s a good description of the alligator gar, an armored leviathan of Arkansas’ big bottomland rivers. Its size impresses—sometimes more than 8 feet and 300 pounds. Play your cards right, and you could catch one of these monsters in a big river like the Arkansas, White, Cache or St. Francis.”
26. Frankenfish! “These reptilian flesh-eaters look like the embodiment of pure evil, with evil eyes and jutting jaws full of jagged teeth. As one angler put it, ‘These fish strike like a cobra and fight like a bull.’ A good place to try: the Piney bottoms in Lee County, where the first Arkansas snakeheads were found.”
27. Seek out some smallmouth.
The Ozarks were originally smallmouth-bass habitat before our hydroelectric dams slowed and cooled the waters deep in our lakes. Crooked Creek near Harrison preserves the original character of our mountain fishery, providing blue-ribbon smallmouth-bass fishing appropriate for 5 weight (trout-sized) fly-fishing gear. Plan to fish from a canoe or kayak, and bring plenty of crawdad imitations and topwater-popping bugs. Floating fly-line works, but for bigger fish, use sinking lines. —zm
28. Soak up the setting.
Should you travel Winona Scenic Drive in autumn—and you should—be sure to hike the trail from the road to the top of the 1,550-foot-tall Flatside Pinnacle. The path is easy to follow and not too rough on your calves as it switchbacks up the slope about a half-mile to the top edge of the mountain. What you see from the precipice will take your breath away—a seemingly never-ending view of the 9,507-acre Flatside Wilderness Area and miles of forested ridge tops in hues of crimson, gold and green. Photographer Tim Ernst says, “I believe this to be the finest view in all of the Ouachitas, and one of the very best in this part of the country.” Turn off Winona Scenic Drive onto Forest Road 94, and it’s 2.9 miles to the trailhead. —ks
29. Fawn over flora.
Once I planted a garden in my yard. What I didn’t realize was that I had one all along–not a tame garden, but a wild abundance of food ripe for the picking. There were wild plantains and dandelions whose leaves made for a good salad. There was a hackberry tree that would bear fruit once a year. On damp days, puffball mushrooms would pop up. Such food is free, wild and—once you’ve consulted a wild-plant guide—seemingly available in every corner of the state. Even better? You may not have to venture very far, as most city parks from Allsopp to Rebsamen (both in Little Rock) are also good bets for plantains, dandelions and white balls of mushrooms in late summer and fall. —rs
30. Go deep.
Twelve miles northwest of Mountain View and 200 feet below ground, the guide for the wild cave tour says to turn off the lights. As people slip into the black with a click, until there’s just one person fumbling with his headlamp, it gets darker and darker until there’s nothing. You can’t tell if your eyes are open. Lying on your back in the Blanchard Springs Caverns, feeling the cool of the rock through green denim coveralls as external stimuli fade, you can hear the deep exhalation of your fellow-cavers. Your mind wanders to Tower of Pisa-like formations and passages like the “corkscrew” and “ham sandwich” and “birth canal” (for which the nomenclature couldn’t be more perfect). Then, as the headlamps are reignited a few minutes later, the vaulted cathedral-like ceilings of the cave system estimated to be between 50 and 70 million years old come back into focus, and you get ready to press on for the rest of the one-mile loop through the Earth. —jph
31. Horse around.
Whether you need to borrow a horse or are willing to BYO, many Arkansas parks offer opportunities to take in trail views saddle-side. At Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Chief Whitehorse’s Trail Rides has set up shop with one-hour rides for $25. (The horses are experts, so riders don’t have to be.) The trail, near the base of Pinnacle Mountain, takes riders through a winding wooded path with several shallow creek crossings. The park can get crowded in the afternoons, so try an early-morning ride for the best chance at spotting wildlife and feeling like you have the mountain to yourself. Beginners and children are welcome, but you’ll need to pack your own helmet. Want to hit the trail with your own horse? Check out the options at Devil’s Den, where a horse camp area includes electricity at each site, a bathing area for horses and plenty of water, along with access to 20 miles of riding trails in Lee Creek Valley. —evz
32. Get your feet wet.
You’ll find exactly what the name claims at the Big Creek Natural Area in Cleburne County, so that won’t be much of a surprise. What will surprise you, though, is just how big said creek is—it winds for 38 miles before emptying into the Little Red—and just how varied the 1,500-acre natural area can be, thanks to its atypical-for-Arkansas environment. As you walk along the three-quarter-mile creekside trail, or atop the 200-foot bluffs that stretch out below the rim trail, skim the signs that point out the area’s flora and fauna, featuring species of fern and moss that are typically hard to come by in The Natural State. Then dip your toes in the creek’s waters, which ebb and flow over stones and boulders before puddling in the cool emerald pools that dot the landscape. —kb
33. Namaste in nature.
Few things bring peace and calm to the body like a beautiful natural setting … or yoga. Combine the two, and take the yoga you’ve learned in the studio outside. No need for those New Age CDs; the calming sounds of birds, water and wind will be enough. Whether you practice yoga with a teacher or just a few friends, outdoor yoga will do good for body, mind and soul. No equipment is necessary, but loose clothes that can move with your body and a yoga mat are a plus. Blue Yoga Nyla in North Little Rock and Soul Yoga Lounge in Fayetteville and Little Rock offer outdoor yoga events around the year, including Soul Yoga’s “Yoga-ritas” event at Little Rock’s Murray Park on Oct. 4. —rs
34. Row your boat.
At less than five miles, a float down the Little Maumelle from Pinnacle Mountain to the Arkansas River makes a great starter trip for paddling newbies. Fill out some quick paperwork at the Pinnacle Mountain State Park visitor center, and for $35, a canoe or kayak is yours for the day. The park staff will bring your newly rented vessel to the boat launch near the end of the park’s main parking lot, and you’re on your way. Especially in summer, the twisting, shady route is especially well-trafficked by wildlife, including turtles, geese, woodpeckers and water snakes. While the river flows a little faster near the launch, things go slower the closer you get to the Arkansas River, where cypress trees and calm, murky waters give the last part of the float more of a swamp feel. Guided floats are occasionally offered along the route. (For more information, call (501) 868-5806 or go to arkansasstateparks.com/pinnaclemountain.) —evz
35. Keep an eye (and an ear) out for owls.
As the “Owl Prowl” park interpreter fires up the electronic screech-owl call, which sounds, he admits, not unlike a miniature pony’s whinny, silence falls over the crowd gathered in the dark of a DeGray Lake State Park summer night. Oak trees rustle in the breeze, cicadas chirp, and then it’s there—faintly, off to the right—a reply from a neighboring (and likely somewhat territorial) bird of prey. After listening to the interpreter explain that owls are like “the silent assassins of the night,” and after touching owl talons and learning that barred owls can be two feet tall, you’re not sure if you want the call to come closer. But it does. And then there’s another—off to the left. “It’s rare to see one of these birds,” the interpreter says. “But they’re here, all around. Watching.” It sends a shiver up your spine. As the crowd starts to file out of the amphitheater at the end of the program, back to cabins and tents and cozy rooms at the nearby lodge, you can’t help but wonder if you should stick around—see what you can see. But as the lights go out, and you’re left in the ink-black dark with nothing but a dim flashlight, you think, Nah, maybe another time. —kb
36. Straddle states.
Just shy of three miles on the trail, I can see the marker, a sign installed where the Missouri woods give way to Arkansas. Crossing the border, I admire the made-to-look-rustic marker as my wife, an avid amateur photographer, focuses her camera on the composite of lush Ozark scenery that makes up the surrounding Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. With gurgling streams, limestone bluffs and manicured landscaping, the park is a 10,000-acre oasis carved from the hills by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. It is, of course, a lot to take in. After a click, my wife aims the camera at me. “Smile!” she says, and I grin, a giant astride two states. A canopy of native black walnuts and Osage oranges casts a warm shadow as the moment is captured with a click. —mf
While visitors flock to Fayetteville’s historic military cemeteries over Memorial Day weekend, we recommend planning a self-guided tour in the fall. Both the Fayetteville National Cemetery and the Confederate Cemetery are packed with long-standing trees that burst into autumn color, a contrast to the worn headstones below. Located on Rock Street just north of Willow Street, the Confederate Cemetery sits up on a ridge, boasting a view into downtown when the leaves start to fall. The cemetery includes many soldiers who died in the nearby Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862; the bodies of Union soldiers are buried in the nearby Fayetteville National Cemetery (700 Government Ave.), a 14-acre cemetery with more than 7,000 buried. The cemetery was originally designed as a six-pointed star with headstones radiating from a center flagpole, and although the cemetery has expanded over the years, the original design can be seen by standing near the towering flagpole and facing out toward the grounds. Both cemeteries are open daily from sunrise to sunset and are free to the public. —evz
38. Keep a lookout.
As we looked high above us to the cab of the old fire tower near the community of Alpine, my friend said, “The lookout people must have felt like God sitting up there, looking down on all his creation.” Although almost all of the original 105 towers have long since been demolished—and the 19 still standing have been locked up for safety—there’s an undeniable appeal and mystique associated with these soaring structures that once provided vantage points for forest workers scanning for wildfires. The 120-foot Crossroads Fire Tower, the state’s tallest, is on Arkansas Highway 133 near Hamburg. The Heber Springs Lookout Tower sits on the mountaintop above the Arkansas Highway 25 bypass. Our favorite? The Look-See Tree on Arkansas Highway 83 in Coleman, a huge old oak on the National Register of Historic Places used as a fire lookout from 1930 to 1940. For those interested in a more hands-on approach, you can actually climb an older tower on Rich Mountain near Mena. The tower is manned by volunteers on weekends between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. —ks
39. Chart your own quartz.
Walking the rocky side road to the mountaintop, every stone becomes a crystal—Arkansas diamonds. Although not of the Murfreesboro variety, these quartz crystals—known to be some of the finest in the land—glimmer underfoot with every step up the trek to the top. However, they’re only part of the treasure to be found on the Ouachita National Forest mountaintop: a beautiful vista overlooking Lake Winona. Crystal Mountain is easily reached on the 25-mile-long Winona Scenic Drive between Arkansas Highway 7 (37 miles north of Hot Springs) and Arkansas Highway 9 (13.5 miles south of Perryville). Drive slowly, and watch for the signs. Any crystals you find on the surface are yours to keep! —ks
Ali Williams, community organizer at Pack Rat Outdoor Center in Fayetteville, on the best places for trail running:
40. Buffalo River Trail, Ponca: “The Buffalo River isn’t just for floating and hiking. The intricate trail system that largely follows the river provides for some incredible running terrain, elevation and several points to jump in the river during your outing—especially the 10.1-mile stretch from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing.”
41. Mount Kessler, Fayetteville: “Mount Kessler is a technical 8.5 miles of trail located right in Fayetteville. From the starting point at Rock City Trailhead throughout the windy hillside, you will be instantly hooked on this local favorite.” (Note: This is private property—contact (479) 957-4069 for waiver information.)
42. Womble Trail, Mount Ida: “This 37-mile trail is easily accessible via many trailheads and is in the middle of the Ouachita Mountains. While it is a 2.5-hour drive from Northwest Arkansas, its landscape gives runners an ‘out West’ feel that is welcomed by all outdoor enthusiasts.”
43. Get giggin’.
Redneck television has taught us the appeal of “throwback” sports, such as gigging. Essentially spear-fishing with a trident (just like the ancient Greeks), the art is best practiced at night in a johnboat. The spearman holds a heavy metal pole tipped with a forged iron trident in one hand and a submerged light—often a car headlight hooked to a battery—in the other, while his teammate poles or paddles. At night, under the stars, the river lights up like an aquarium, exposing its bounty of delicious redhorse sucker. (The season opens Sept. 15. Gig after them yourself over at Kings River in Madison County.) —zm
44. Elevate your weekend ride.
There are vineyards and scenic vistas along the way, but it’s hardly noticeable between the sweat in your eyes and the pain in your legs that inevitably accompanies the 1,200 feet of elevation gain on the Wye Mountain loop, just northwest of Little Rock. Wye Mountain is hard for any cyclist, but the reward of the climb is at the top. Not only can you see the area’s famous daffodils abounding in early spring, but you can cruise back down with that wind-in-your-face feeling you had as a kid. Then follow the loop back around scenic Lake Maumelle. The ride follows Arkansas highways 300, 113, 10 and back to 300 again for a total of 40 miles. Most riders go early in the morning to avoid the moderate traffic that can appear later in the day on Arkansas 10. —rs
45. Hug a tree.
Among my favorite possessions is a fading photo of my sister and me with preteen arms stretched wide, hand-to-hand between grandparents, attempting to encircle an enormous tree. Standing there against the bark carapace on a carpet of pine needles, one can see our awe of this gentle old giant rising from the Ashley County clay. Named for Louis Morris, who grew up near the tree, the “Morris Pine” is a 300-plus-year-old loblolly just south of Hamburg that towers 117 feet tall and is more than 14 feet in circumference near the base. The Crossett Lumber Co. identified the tree for preservation in 1950 as an extraordinary specimen of original south Arkansas timber. Pictures similar to mine are no doubt pasted somewhere in hundreds of other family albums, spanning many generations—just like the old Morris. —jm
46. Ride the rails.
In riding the rails of the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad from Springdale to Van Buren, there’s a rhythm that slips beat to beat and gradually becomes internalized. Drawn over the landscape on the day-long ride, looking out from the glass-embowered period compartments—the vintage Pullman coach, seats lined with velvet and mahogany for coach and club passengers; the opulence of a 1950s Parlor car for first-class passengers—the autumnal scenery takes on the romantic atmosphere within, where every mile feels unrushed and the destination irrelevant. Settling back, rocking on the seat during the fall-foliage excursion, you fall into the rhythm. (See amrailroad.com for additional details, schedules, routes—and possible local wine tours in 2014.) —jph
47. Hang ten.
They leap off the rock-faced cliffs of Mount Nebo when the wind is right, flying down toward the Arkansas River Valley below. These aren’t some mad jumpers; they are hard-core hobbyists—doctors, lawyers, editors—who spend their weekends flying with the birds with a kitelike glider attached to their bodies. You can’t just go jump, though. Much like scuba diving, hang gliding requires certification and training to do it well. The best place for Arkansans to be trained (you’ll need the United States Hangliding & Parasailing Associations’ first two pilot ratings, “beginner” and “novice,” to get the green light) is Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding on the Tennessee/Georgia border (hanglide.com). —rs
48. Find a new shortcut.
Back in the day, as rivers were dammed and became lakes, a system of state-run ferries criss-crossed Arkansas waters, ushering vehicles from point A to point B on tugboat-pushed barges. Soon, though, the building of bridges made ferry service irrelevant, and ferries began to close, until finally there was only one. The Peel Ferry still runs daily over a section of Arkansas Highway 125 that’s now some 70 feet beneath Bull Shoals Lake, offering a 20-minute trip that saves Missouri- or Arkansas-bound motorists from making a 55-mile detour around the lake’s shoreline. For locals, it’s a necessity; for visitors, a novelty (especially, it seems, for Branson-bound motorcyclists). There’s no cost—just drive down the ramp, park and enjoy the view. —kb
49. Tromp through the swamp.
Air, thick and eerie, hangs over murky water stained tannic by tupelo gum and cypress trees. This is Seven Devils Swamp, and shadowy movements in the dark woods just beyond the parking area seem to suggest that the name is forebodingly appropriate. Named for the seven or so sloughs that swell with seasonal rainfall, a deeper inspection reveals a world teaming with hundreds of bird species and loads of rough fish like spotted gar and grinnell (bowfin), as well as the occasional alligator. Although Seven Devils is an official Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Wildlife Management Area, stick to the marked trails and bring along a GPS and a compass. It’s unwise to get lost in a place that not just one, but seven devils call home. —jm
Steve “Wild Man” Wilson of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission on the best public hunting spots:
50. Mike Freeze Wattensaw WMA: “When I think of deer hunting, I can’t help but think back to almost 50 years ago when I killed my first deer in Prairie County at what is now called the Mike Freeze Wattensaw Wildlife Management Area. It is just under 20,000 acres of prime deer habitat with easy access and lots of deer.”
51. Winona WMA: “I think the thing I like most about Winona WMA is its location. Its 160,000 acres of Ouachita National Forest are less than an hour from downtown Little Rock and boast a variety of wildlife. You might spy a big buck deer, a flock of turkeys or one of Arkansas’ black bears.”
52. Gene Rush WMA: “The 20,000 acres that make up Gene Rush WMA in northwest Arkansas are managed for a variety of wildlife species, some of which you can’t find elsewhere in the state. Even though only a few of Arkansas’ elk are allowed to be hunted each year, it’s still worth the trip to see and hear these majestic creatures.”