Spring Into Outdoor Adventure

Shake off winter’s chill with Natural State fun

By Jim Harris, Michael Roberts and Erin Taylor / Photography By Novo Studio and Arkansas State Parks

 Jorn Holt takes in the amazing view of Greer's Ferry Lake from Sugar Loaf Mountain Island.

Jorn Holt takes in the amazing view of Greer's Ferry Lake from Sugar Loaf Mountain Island.

 

The early morning sun shimmering on the surface of Greer’s Ferry Lake is a sight to behold, and it’s made even better by the rush of crisp air kicked up by a speeding pontoon boat. The clear water lapping against cliffs and coves is almost hypnotic, creating a sense that this is an entirely different world that exists in secret, apart from the rigors of daily life. There’s no choice but to feel refreshed and renewed from the surging thrill that comes just as soon as the boat leaves its slip.

 The Indian Rock Cave in Fairfield Bay is one of Arkansas' most awe-inspiring photo opportunities.

The Indian Rock Cave in Fairfield Bay is one of Arkansas' most awe-inspiring photo opportunities.

It seems almost unfair to call the town of Fairfield Bay a hidden gem. After all, attractions like the Indian Rock Cave have been drawing visitors for more than 50 years. But talking to the people of the town, it’s clear they feel there’s something to prove about this resort community on the shores of Greer’s Ferry Lake—and they’re more than proud to show all comers the numerous parks, sights and facilities. It’s a spirit found all around our state, an infectious excitement that makes getting outside imperative as the days warm up and the trees begin to bud. Are you looking for an adventure? No matter what you love to do, there’s no better place to go outside than Arkansas.

 
 
Sugar Loaf & Surrounding Areas
 The Fairfield Bay Marina has everything from pontoon boats to stand-up paddle boards for rent.

The Fairfield Bay Marina has everything from pontoon boats to stand-up paddle boards for rent.

 Majestic Sugar Loaf Mountain Island dominates the Greer's Ferry Lake horizon in Fairfield Bay.

Majestic Sugar Loaf Mountain Island dominates the Greer's Ferry Lake horizon in Fairfield Bay.

 The Greer's Ferry Hatchery supplies brown and rainbow trout for lakes and rivers across Arkansas.

The Greer's Ferry Hatchery supplies brown and rainbow trout for lakes and rivers across Arkansas.

 

FISH & FLOAT

Want to get out on Greer’s Ferry Lake? Of course you do, and Fairfield Bay Marina is ground zero for great ways to do it. Rent a pontoon boat for the whole family, or take off for the amazing cliffs, coves and vistas around the lake in a kayak or stand-up paddle board. And if dock fishing’s your thing, the marina’s got you covered there, too. visitfairfieldbay.com

Maybe a leisurely tour around the lake is more your speed. If so, stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer aboard the Belle of the Bay, an enclosed, heated-and-cooled tour boat that explores Greer’s Ferry Lake. Be sure to get dockmaster Jorn Holt talking about the sights—his stories of cliff diving and big fish are an added bonus. visitfairfieldbay.com

Grab your pole and bait your hook—there are lots of great places to fish! Spots like the Five Fingers, Vick’s Creek, Little Peter Creek and Johnson Hole are teeming with trout, walleye and bass. World record fish have been caught on Greer’s Ferry Lake, so every cast could mean a place in the record books! greersferry.org

If you’re looking for a different way to catch your limit, find out where all those trout come from with a trip to the Greer’s Ferry Hatchery in Heber Springs. Take the self-guided tour, then head on over to the adjacent trout fishing areas on the Little Red River for a chance to haul in some of the 707,000 rainbow trout raised annually. fws.gov/greersferry

 
 Hikers make the final ascent of Sugar Loaf Mountain island on Greer's Ferry Lake.

Hikers make the final ascent of Sugar Loaf Mountain island on Greer's Ferry Lake.

 

BIKE & HIKE

You’ll need a boat to get out to Sugar Loaf Mountain Island, but that’s just another great reason to get into a kayak or head out on a stand-up paddle board. The Mule Trail to the top can be arduous, but the view from the top is even more breathtaking. visitfairfieldbay.com

Is a shorter trek more your thing? You’ll want to visit the Indian Hills Golf Course—it’s hiding something spectacular: A huge rock cave down off the ninth fairway. The trail is less than a mile, so it’s perfect for kids. visitfairfieldbay.com

Grab your bikes, because since its formation in 2010, the Greer’s Ferry Lake Trails Council has planned and opened miles of multiuse trails, starting with a 10-mile section along an old M&N Railroad Route. There are trails for every skill level here, so print a map and plan your route. gfltc.com

 
 
 Heber Springs is home to Arkansas' land-locked Sugar Loaf Mountain, another great place to hike and climb.

Heber Springs is home to Arkansas' land-locked Sugar Loaf Mountain, another great place to hike and climb.

 
 

There aren’t many sights prettier than Bridal Veil Falls in Heber Springs. These falls pour down from 584 feet above sea level. And the trails down to the falls have been recently upgraded, making the walk down to see the water almost as lovely as the falls themselves. heberspringsparksandrec.com

 
 There are few spots in the state as lovely as Bridal Veil Falls in Heber Springs.

There are few spots in the state as lovely as Bridal Veil Falls in Heber Springs.

 

Bonus Hike: Did you know there are two Sugar Loaf Mountains? Once you’ve hiked the island, head over to Heber Springs to hike the landlocked mesa also known as “Sugar Loaf.”

 
 These cliffs near Fairfield Bay are one of the best and most unique diving spots in The Natural State.

These cliffs near Fairfield Bay are one of the best and most unique diving spots in The Natural State.

 Relaxing after a day of adventure is easy at Lindsey's Resort on the Little Red River in Heber Springs.

Relaxing after a day of adventure is easy at Lindsey's Resort on the Little Red River in Heber Springs.

 

STAY & SWIM

The old town of Higden was flooded when the Greer’s Ferry Dam opened, but you can still dive down into the clear waters of Greer’s Ferry Lake to see the former location. There are old homes and other buildings, plus natural rock formations around the lake worth seeing all on their own. divesitesinarkansas.com

For a family friendly fishing experience, Lindsey’s Resort in Heber Springs is just the ticket. Hook up your RV, pitch a tent or stay in one of Lindsey’s cabins—they’re comfortable and fully furnished. The resort’s guides can show you where to catch trout on the Little Red River, and there’s even a shoreline lunch for folks looking to catch their supper. lindseysresort.com 

Looking for a place to stay? The John F. Kennedy Campground on the Little Red River has all the hookups you’ll need to stay comfortable. recreation.gov

DON’T MISS

Every adventure needs good eats, and Janssen’s Lakefront Restaurant in Edgemont is the place to get them. Steak and seafood dishes are mouthwatering, and the full bar makes unwinding with a drink a snap, too. janssenslakefront.com

There’s nothing better than a hearty breakfast, and the Rustic Inn in Heber Springs is the place to go for it. The biscuits are fluffy, the coffee is fresh and a sizzling plate of hash browns is just the thing to get a day of adventuring off to a great start. janssenslakefront.com

 
 
Northwest
 An  Arkansas Wild  favorite, canoeing and enjoying the majestic cliffs along the Buffalo River.

An Arkansas Wild favorite, canoeing and enjoying the majestic cliffs along the Buffalo River.

 Turner Bend store is one of Arkansas' best spots for outfitting your float trip.

Turner Bend store is one of Arkansas' best spots for outfitting your float trip.

 

FISH & FLOAT

The Buffalo River and Tyler Bend outside Marshall are awesome for tubing,. Riding the current on an inner tube is the best way to get up close and personal with the river. nps.gov

Jim Gaston may no longer be with us, but his spirit abides at Gaston’s White River Resort in Lakeview. There is great trout fishing below the dam, with able guides to get the novice or semi-fisherman started and in the right spots. And once the day is done, refuel at Gaston’srestaurant or take a load off back in one of the resort’s signature pink cabins. gastons.com

If you can’t wait to get your canoe in the water, the Turner Bend Store in Ozark has everything to get you going. They’ll ferry you up the river about 6 miles for the float back. It’s best to bring someone who knows what they're doing—but for the novice tagging along, it's a terrific way to become indoctrinated in Arkansas paddling. turnerbend.com

 
 

BIKE & HIKE

Test your mountain bike prowess on the 40 miles of singletrack that make up the Upper Buffalo Mountain Bike Trail in Madison County. It’s one of Arkansas’ “epic” mountain bike trails, and the deep hardwood forest makes wildlife spotting an added bonus. imba.com

 
 
 Make a day of it on the Razorback Greenway.

Make a day of it on the Razorback Greenway.

 
 

Riding the Razorback Regional Greenway is fun in and of itself, but it’s the stop-offs in the six cities and downtown areas it connects that make for a true adventure. Go for a coffee at Fayetteville’s famous Arsaga’s, or drink something a little harder at the Black Apple Crossing Cidery in Springdale. nwatrails.org

The city of Rogers has become a mountain bike destination. Test your skills at the Railyard Bike Park, then ride the newly renovated trails that surround Lake Atalanta. rogersar.gov

Sure, the mountain biking on the Fossil Flats trail is outstanding, but the real challenge at Devil’s Den State Park in West Fork is for hikers. Test your mettle on the 18-mile Butterfield Trail, which heads deep into the Ozark National Forest. It’s a hidden gem of a trail. arkansasstateparks.com/devilsden

One of the most underrated trails in Arkansas is the Blowing Springs Trail in Bella Vista. The ride itself is only moderately difficult, but the caves, springs and cliffs are both awe-inspiring and fun to traverse. nwatrails.org

STAY & SWIM

Sometimes, after a hard day out on the trail, a bit of luxury is just the thing. That’s where Mount Magazine Lodge comes in. Sure, the views of the Petit Jean River Valley are spectacular, but the soft beds, tasty restaurant and indoor swimming pool make this lodge worth a visit, too. mountmagazinestatepark.com

There are few places more exciting than Buffalo Point. The camping is first-rate, and so are the hiking trails—including some fantastic caves along the Indian Rockhouse Trail and expansive views of the Buffalo River on the Overlook Trail. And don’t miss the swimming areas, where the refreshing waters of the Buffalo pass beneath some truly spectacular bluffs. nps.gov

DON’T MISS

 Multi-use trails full of sculpture surround Crystal Bridges Art Museum.

Multi-use trails full of sculpture surround Crystal Bridges Art Museum.

A unique way to get moving and enjoy art all at once, the Walking Trails at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art are a wonderful combination of sculpture, wildlife, native Ozark plants and scenic views of the Bentonville area that covers over three miles of trails. crystalbridges.org

Head over to Oark to visit the Oark General Store—it’s Arkansas’ oldest continually operating business. And if historic value doesn’t hook you, the store’s famous pies certainly should! oarkgeneralstore.com

 
 
Southwest
 The Cossatot River has some of the state's most challenging rapids.

The Cossatot River has some of the state's most challenging rapids.

 

FISH & FLOAT

The Cossatot River in the Ouachita Mountains is considered one of Arkansas’ premier whitewater floating experiences, with class IV and V rapids providing a challenge to the most experienced canoeists and kayakers. For paddle-based adrenalin, it doesn’t get much better than the Cossatot. When water levels are lower, the lake becomes a friendly place for swimmers and casual floaters. arkansasstateparks.com

If getting on the water is your thing, Lake Ouachita State Park offers public swimming areas where outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the clear, clean water—or take a boat trip out to see the wonders of Arkansas’ largest lake. The lake is a humongous 40,000 acres, with 975 miles of undeveloped shoreline lined with hundreds of quiet coves and islands waiting for you. Park interpreters offer guided tours of these coves, and they also schedule overnight kayak trips that are great for families. arkansasstateparks.com

One of Arkansas’ best tubing rivers is the Caddo River in Glenwood. The river is just exciting enough to get hearts racing at parts, but there are leisurely stretches where tubers can just sit back, relax and enjoy floating through the Ouachita Mountains. caddoriver.com

Fishermen have long loved Millwood Lake near Ashdown for its crappie, largemouth bass, catfish and bream fishing, while birdwatchers flock to the lake to see the eagles. A marina offers fishing boats, canoes, kayaks, pedal boats and hydro bikes for rent, making a day on the lake as easy as dipping a paddle in the water.

BIKE & HIKE

 
 
 Mountain bikers test themselves on the "epic" rated LOViT.

Mountain bikers test themselves on the "epic" rated LOViT.

 
 

The Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOViT) is one of Arkansas' "epic" mountain biking trails, and the scenic overlooks are an added bonus that provide a lot to love for hikers, too. lakeouachitavistatrail.org

STAY & SWIM

When it comes to lodging, DeGray Resort State Park has some great options. The park’s lodge provides a first-class resort experience, but for a nice mix of rustic camping and full-service hookups, stay in one of the park’s yurts. It’s a cross between a tent and cabin that truly is a one-of-a-kind outdoor experience. degray.com

 
 For a unique retreat, Diamond John's in Murfreesboro's teepees are unbeatable.

For a unique retreat, Diamond John's in Murfreesboro's teepees are unbeatable.

 Yurts at DeGray State Park make for roughing it in style.  

Yurts at DeGray State Park make for roughing it in style.  

 

Everybody knows that digging for diamonds is the thing to do in Murfreesboro, but once the treasure-hunting is over, take a trip to Diamond John’s Riverside Retreat and spend the night in one of four teepees. These unique accommodations are near the Diamond Springs Water Park, so be sure to pack your swimsuit. diamondjohns.com

DON’T MISS

The Diamond Lakes Region is known for its bald eagles, so no trip is complete without trying to spot one of these majestic birds or their huge nests. Eagle tours are available all around the Hot Springs area. diamondlakes.dina.org

 
 
Delta
 Lake Mallard is a fishing and wildlife spotting paradise.

Lake Mallard is a fishing and wildlife spotting paradise.

 

FISH & FLOAT

The Arkansas record largemouth bass was caught on Lake Mallard near Manila in 1976—so it’s high time someone broke that record! The lake itself is maintained by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and even if fishing isn’t your thing, wildlife spotting opportunities abound. agfc.com

Many of the state’s parks can get the family into kayaking without a lot of anxiety. Such is the case at Lake Charles State Park near Powhatan in Lawrence County. The family will enjoy a one-and-a-half-hour guided tour among nature where they can take in the eastern edge of the Ozarks on a 645-acre lake of spring-fed waters. Just make reservations at the visitor center. arkansasstateparks.com

How about a kayaking tour of Cane Creek near Star City under a full-lit moon? You can plan for that at Cane Creek State Park, where abound opportunities to paddle all year. We’re talking about paddling in your own good time among tall cypress and plenty of wildlife. Park interpreters lead guided kayaking adventures, or you can rent a kayak and go it alone.

BIKE & HIKE

 
 Craighead Forest Park in Jonesboro has an abundance of multi-use trails that connect hikers and bikers to Crowley's Ridge.

Craighead Forest Park in Jonesboro has an abundance of multi-use trails that connect hikers and bikers to Crowley's Ridge.

 Run, walk or even scoot your way along the scenic paths of Lake Charles State Park.

Run, walk or even scoot your way along the scenic paths of Lake Charles State Park.

 Even young hikers can enjoy Village Creek State Park.

Even young hikers can enjoy Village Creek State Park.

 

The Craighead Forest Park in Jonesboro offers sports facilities for basketball, disc golf, softball and volleyball, but it’s the bike and hiking trails that will make you fall in love. Nearly 15 miles of mountain bike trails for beginner and advanced riders make the park a worthy destination on its own, but with three trails connecting to the Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center, the park becomes an urban gateway to one of Arkansas’ most unique places. jonesboro.org

Hikers can enjoy five park trails on their own at Village Creek State Park, including one that traces the original path of the Trail of Tears. And don’t miss the fishing and swimming on Lake Austell and Lake Dunn—whether splashing for fun or catching bass, bream, crappie or catfish, these two bodies of water have it all.

STAY & SWIM

Folks generally think of Bear Creek Lake in Marianna as a hotspot for largemouth bass, bluegill, red-ear sunfish and catfish. But once the fish are caught, don’t leave without taking advantage of the lake’s picnic areas and public swim beach—two areas of the lake that are worth a visit all on their own. arkansas.com

 Felsenthal Wildlife Refuge is a perfect backdrop for bird watching and wildlife spotting.

Felsenthal Wildlife Refuge is a perfect backdrop for bird watching and wildlife spotting.

DON’T MISS

The area where the Ouachita and Saline rivers meet is home to Felsenthal Wildlife Refuge, a wonderland of waterfowl, endangered bird species like the red-cockaded woodpecker and the North American alligator. Wildlife spotters and birdwatchers will love the land and water trails. fws.gov

Sure, Lake Chicot is considered a must-fish lake in the Delta region, but it has long been a popular destination for birdwatchers eager to spot the area’s black-necked stilts, bald eagles, red-headed woodpeckers and more. There are birds here that can be seen nowhere else in the world. arkansasstateparks.com

Just south of Wynne lies the city of Marianna, where diners can eat James Beard Award-winning barbecue at Jones Barbecue. Order by the pound and take it with you—there isn’t anything else like it around.