Arkansas doesn’t earn the title “The Natural State” for nothing. Our state has some of the most beautiful natural features in the country with a geographically diverse layout. If the pandemic has been good for anything, it’s been the chance to appreciate the freedom of being in nature.
With so many state parks and stunning sights to explore, this is the perfect time to travel the Natural State for what it was named for.
In no particular order, here is a list of Arkansas’ best:
- Petit Jean State Park: Arkansas’s first state park and the spark that essentially established the state park system we have today. Since the Civilian Conservation Corps’s (CCC) construction on the mountain in 1933, the park has grown substantially to accommodate the increasing number of visitors it receives each season. The focal point of the park, Petit Jean Mountain, stands as an Arkansas favorite for exciting trails and waterfalls. Other major geographical sights include bluffs, caves, canyons and more you’ll have to see for yourself. This park demands multiple trips as there is just too much for one outing or one weekend. In case you want to make the trip an extensive one, Mather Lodge has 24 rooms overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon, 33 cabins are spread along the bluff, 125 campsites are nearby, and four Renta-A-Yurts are ready for use. The lodge and cabin are implementing rest periods between guests to insure a thorough cleaning of the rooms in light of COVID-19. Explore our first state park today!
- Devil’s Den State Park: Another CCC project of the 1930s, Devil’s Den is one of the most intact CCC sites in the country, understandably so. The park features one of the most iconic overlooks in the state that is used in videos, nature photography and magazines: Yellow Rock Trail. This trail brings hikers and backpackers to a set of ledges hanging over rolling hills. The rock formations are unique in color and shape, making the perfect photo-op. Many other sights nestled within the park are must-sees for either your first or your hundredth visit. Devil’s Den Dam, caves, the Ozark National Forest and basically any of the rock formations scattered throughout. If you’re looking to stay a spell, cabins and campsites are both offered within the park. Catch a sunrise or a few!
- Mount Nebo State Park: If you ask any student at Arkansas Tech University where they go to escape college stress, they’re likely to tell you Mount Nebo. The drive up might be a little tricky with sharp turns, but the ride down has all the fun of a roller coaster. This mountain is a popular stop for motorcycle bikers to ride up and enjoy a sunrise or sunset at opposite ends of the expansive 1,350 foot tall formation. Motorcycles, bicycles, cars or on foot, there’s plenty to admire about Mount Nebo. Cabins constructed by the CCC and campsites offer wonderful views of the Arkansas River Valley below. Just remember that sharing is caring, and families of deer may want to watch the sunrise with you.
- Village Creek State Park: Almost 7,000 acres ready for you to explore. Thirty-three miles of trails for walking, biking and horseback riding are available along with campgrounds for humans and horses alike. The equestrian campgrounds include 66 stalls with all the amenities your equestrian family members require. The cabins at Village Creek were recently renovated for a more contemporary stay in the outdoors. Adding to the luxury, the park includes an Andy Dye-designed golf course: the Ridges at Village Creek. The course comes with the benefits of a full-service clubhouse for anything a golfer may need. In the Crowley’s Ridge region of the state, the park makes note that the soil is different from other types, meaning some trails may close when wet so as to protect the condition of the trails.
- Pinnacle Mountain State Park: Right in Central Arkansas’s backyard looms Pinnacle Mountain in all its glory. The mountain stands in the center of the state park surrounded by forests and rivers. The park covers 2,356 acres to the west of Little Rock. Ten trails allow visitors to journey through the expansive area with plenty left to discover. There is ample room to spread out, picnic and wander through the natural beauty of the park.
- Crater of Diamonds State Park: If you don’t know about the gem of the state, are you even an Arkansan? Our specialty, the symbol on our flag and the shiny thing that dwells in the dirt: the diamond. Bring your own equipment (COVID-19 accommodation) and start sifting through the 37-acre field. What was once a volcanic crater is now an attraction for people to visit from all over the world. Arkansas is one of the only places to allow the public to search for diamonds at their source with more than 33,100 diamonds found since the park’s opening in 1972. Though not impossible to find, don’t be upset if you don’t uncover a diamond equal to the size of the 40.23-carat Uncle Sam or the 15.33-carat Star of Arkansas. Regardless, there are plenty of gems to find and keep! Once you’ve gotten your hands dirty, enjoy the park’s walking trails, have a picnic or try your luck the next day after camping out. Happy digging!
- Cane Creek State Park: Have you ever wanted to see two geographical regions at once? Cane Creek State park, nestled in the Coastal Plain and the Mississippi Delta lets you. With views like Cane Creek Lake, Bayou Bartholomew (the longest bayou in the world) and the expansive land of the plains, there’s something for everyone and always something to do. Not only offering hiking trails, Cane Creek gives visitors the chance to take a trip on their kayak trail. The trail includes a paddle through dead and alive cypress trees, and, if you go during the summer, water lilies will guide you through the lake. Say hi to the beavers along your way as the small craftsmen build their lodges.
- Mount Magazine State Park: We may not be as tall as other mountains in the country, but at an elevation of 2,753 ft, Mt. Magazine brings us the closest to the sky. This beautiful state park features nine trails to explore different areas of the mountain and surroundings through hiking, mountain biking, horse-back riding and ATVs. If ground exploration isn’t your cup of tea, Mt. Magazine is one of two parks to offer hang-glide launch areas. If you’re tired from your adventure or hoping to stay for another day of beauty, the Lodge at Mt. Magazine has suites and cabins with wonderful overlooks off the mountain. Wanting to take the family camping? The park has 18 campsites for your s’mores and stargazing needs. Whether you’re going up the mountain for a day trip or to stay a while, the Skycrest Restaurant will take care of your hunger with delicious food and views of the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake. Take a hike!
- Delta Heritage Trail State Park: Calling all cyclists: this is the trail for you! With currently 44.4 miles of trail ready for use, the park plans for their completed rail-to-trail project to be a whopping 84.5 mile stretch including different branches of trails. In other words, you will need a map to find the perfect trailhead for you and the trek you are wanting to make that day, and luckily, a Geo-Enhanced map can be downloaded for smartphones. With such an extensive trail ahead, there are plenty of geographical features and wildlife to enjoy along the way. Walk or cycle your way through this gorgeous region of the state!
- Logoly State Park: Wanting to get the kids outside? Take them to Arkansas’s first environmental state park. Encompassing 370 acres, Logoly features mineral springs, a lush forest and spectacular plant species found in the region. This south Arkansan park has plenty of space for picnics and messing around on the playground. The visitor center includes a great variety of educational interactive activities for children to learn more about the natural sights around the park and in Arkansas. Due to COVID-19, limited capacity is available in the visitor center, but hey, it’s open!
- Hobbs State Park Conservation Area
- Cossatot River State Park
- Bull Shoals-White River State Park
- Woolly Hollow State Park
- Lake Catherine State Park
For the latest COVID-19 updates on each park, refer to the Arkansas State Parks’s response page.
Images courtesy of Arkansas State Parks