Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
News of a recent record diamond find in Southwest Arkansas at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro has been making national and international headlines. The diamond, an 8.52-carat white diamond, was the fifth largest diamond found by a park visitor since the state park opened in 1972. At the popular park, the world’s only diamond-producing site open to the public, visitors can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep their finds.
Searching for diamonds is one of many outdoor activities available in Southwest Arkansas, one of the six geographic regions of the state.
You can dig for crystals in Mount Ida, which is surrounded by the Ouachita Mountains and known for its bountiful quartz crystal deposits. A sign with the designation “Quartz Crystal Capital of the World” can be seen as you enter the area.
Find family-owned rock shops in town and dig for crystals at Wegner Quartz Crystal Mines and other nearby mines such as Sweet Surrender Crystals. Each October, Mount Ida is also the scene of the World Championship Quartz Crystal Dig. Also enjoy live outdoor music at the Front Porch Stage downtown. This outdoor family friendly live music venue showcases regional music and has free performances every Saturday night May through October.
For scenic drives, Mena has panoramic views from vistas found along the winding roads of the Talimena National Scenic Byway. The route, which is popular with motorcycle riders, takes you 54 miles along Rich Mountain (home of Queen Wilhelmina State Park) and Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest. The lodge at Queen Wilhelmina State Park has recently re-opened following a $9.7-million renovation that includes additions such as a new porch for visitors to take in the view from Arkansas’s second highest mountain.
Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, which is surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest and houses famous Bathhouse Row, has over 25 miles of hiking trails including the 10 mile Sunset Trail, the longest trail in the park. This national park protects 47 naturally flowing thermal springs and has the distinction of being the first federally protected area in the nation. Camping is available at Gulpha Gorge Campground.
Nationally renowned hiking, biking, and paddling outlets can be found throughout Southwest Arkansas.
In the Ouachita National Forest, home to the famous 223-mile Ouachita National Recreation Trail, options range from day hikes to multi-day backpacking routes.
Two Epic mountain bike trails are located in the region: The Womble Trail and the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail. The latter includes around 45 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails along the southern shore of Lake Ouachita, the largest lake in Arkansas. Epic routes, a recognition given by IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association), are known around the country and world as “must ride” trails for mountain bikers to try out. Overall, Arkansas is home to four trails that have this Epic status designation.
The 26-mile Cossatot River, which is part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system, is one of the most challenging whitewater streams in the state with ratings that can reach V (expert) in difficulty on some portions of the stream. Of note, floatable river levels are dependent on rainfall. Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area in Wickes is located along a 12-mile stretch of this river. The park offers guided kayaking tours (along with other educational programs) and hiking trails there include the 14-mile River Corridor Trail.
Rowdy Adventures Zip Line Adventure Park in Okolona holds title as the largest zip line park in the South. There are 14 zip lines including the famous Hole in the Sky line. Along with zip lining, the park has other outdoor options like horseback riding and river floats on the Little Missouri River.
Many state parks in Southwest Arkansas showcase the lakes and rivers that can be found throughout the region. Each offers distinct interpretive programs to teach visitors about the local wildlife and surrounding terrain.
Among these is Daisy State Park. This park, which is celebrating a 60th anniversary this year, is on the shore of Lake Greeson and is popular for its scenic views of the lake. Lake Ouachita State Park, which is also celebrating a 60th anniversary this year, is located on the eastern shore of Lake Ouachita, which consistently ranks as one of the top bass lakes in the country. Scuba diving, kayaking, sailing, water skiing, an undeveloped shoreline, and over 100 islands for camping can all be found there.
The state’s only resort state park is located in Southwest Arkansas: DeGray Lake Resort State Park. The park is on the north shore of DeGray Lake and watersports, birding, boating and fishing are popular there. A new addition to the park is stand-up paddleboard rentals and lessons.
Near Bluff City, White Oak Lake State Park is located on the shore of Lower White Oak Lake and is known for fishing and a quiet setting. Moro Bay State Park, located around 20 miles northeast of El Dorado, offers a peaceful setting and prime fishing and kayaking with access to the Ouachita River, Moro Bay, and Raymond Lake.
Logoly State Park, near Magnolia, is the state’s first environmental education state park and a new visitor center (with plans to open in 2016) is currently in the works there.
This is just a sample of the destinations and state parks you can find in Southwest Arkansas. For more options, check out Arkansas.com/places-to-go/southwest. For more details about the 52 state parks in Arkansas, check out ArkansasStateParks.com.
Looking for new attractions to cover in Arkansas? Check out updated story ideas, attraction lists, and “What’s New for 2015” at www.ArkansasMediaRoom.com.
Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, 501-682-7606
May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
“Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism”