Photo by Matthew Martin

Photo by Matthew Martin

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There’s so much to see and do in Arkansas, it’s hard to know where to start. Fear not, itinerant traveler—we’ve compiled a list of 20 great adventures to suit every mood and vacation goal. Whether you like thrills, love to chill, need to plan for the kids or just want to explore, we’ve got something to suit your taste.

By Luke Coop, Stacey Bowers, Aprille Hanson & Drew Harris


Photo Courtesy of: Hot Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau

Photo Courtesy of: Hot Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau

1. Outdoor adventures, just minutes away

When nature harmoniously meets city life, as it does in downtown Hot Springs, roughing it can be overrated. 

Imagine stepping outside your hotel, hiking the Hot Springs Mountain Trail, the Gulpha Gorge Trail or one of the many National Park System trails nearby, then cooling off after your hike with a beer brewed with spring water at Superior Bathhouse Brewery. 

Don’t forget your bike. About 10 minutes from downtown lies the recently refurbished Northwoods Trails. Northwoods offers 16 miles of bike trails ranging from beginner level to advanced. 

A Hot Springs getaway wouldn’t be complete without time spent lakeside. With Lakes Hamilton, Catherine and Ouachita nearby, there’s ample opportunity for boating. Some local outfitters will deliver kayaks, SUPs or a fishing kayak to your lake of choice and pick them up, so you can cruise back to the hotel after a day on the lake without the hassle of transporting gear. —SB

 
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2. A treasure around every corner

There are more than 12,000 hidden treasures in Arkansas. But it’s not about the loot—it’s about the adventure of searching. Geocaching involves searching for a hidden container called a cache and signing the log sheet within. Some caches include an item, or “swag,” which geocachers are encouraged to take and replace with something else. 

Download the Geocaching app to reveal coordinates for caches nearby. A compass guides the person to caches; coordinates can also be loaded into a GPS tracker. —AH

Five commandments of Geocaching  
• If a geocacher hides a cache, they must list the coordinates at Geocaching.com for people to find it.
• After a cache is found, the finder signs the log sheet, then logs it in their Geocaching app.
• If a cache contains an item and the finder takes it, they must replace it with a trinket of equal or greater value.
• Some caches contain trackables, to migrate from cache to cache toward a final destination. The finder logs the number online, then places it in another geocache one step closer to its goal. 
• A cache is never buried and should always be put back in the same place for the next person to find. Geocaching.com

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Photo Courtesy of: Horseshoe Canyon Ranch

Photo Courtesy of: Horseshoe Canyon Ranch

3. Giddyup buckaroos

For a different kind of wild this summer, lasso your herd and head to Newton County to meet up at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. Nominated as one of USA Today’s Ten Best Guest Ranches, Horseshoe Canyon provides an amazing dude ranch experience. 

Choose from trail rides on the 640-acre spread, zip-lining across a canyon, rock climbing, critter watching (domestic and wild) or lounging by the pool. 

Once the corral is shut, watch the light fade from the porch of your modern rustic cabin or head over to the lodge for dinner or a snack.  

Other activities in the area include floating the Buffalo (rain dependent), enjoying spectacular hikes with world-class scenery or just kicking around in the quaint little mountain town of Jasper a mere 7.5 miles away.  —LC

Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Jasper, AR (36.0047° N, 93.2928° W)
More Information: horseshoecanyonduderanch.com

 

4. Underground trailroad

Photo by Drew Harris

Photo by Drew Harris

If you’ve got the subterranean homesick blues, Arkansas has the cure. The Natural State was, after all, covered by a shallow inland sea a mere 350 million years ago. The silt and sediment created limestone, which is porous and easily eroded into caves.

Most caves are on private property and off-limits due to White Nose Syndrome, a disease which has decimated the native bat population by up to 80 percent. However, there are still numerous Show Caves accessible to the public.

When you enter a cave, you’re almost immediately immersed in an environment that might best be described as alien. It isn’t. Species like the moth fly, camel cricket and Ozark Zig Zag salamander have been around for millions of years. You can feast your eyes on cave bacon and cave popcorn as you duck behind a cave curtain. More than 20 semiprecious stones are found in Arkansas caves.  —DH

Blanchard Springs Cavern, Fifty Six  (35.9639° N, 92.1793° W)
blanchardsprings.org

Onyx Cave, Eureka Springs  (36.4412° N, 93.6842° W)
onyxcaveeurekasprings.com

Mystic Caverns, Marble Falls  (36.1196° N, 93.1267° W) 
mysticcaverns.com  

Bull Shoals Caverns, Bull Shoals  (36.3795° N, 92.5836° W) 
bullshoalscaverns.com

 

5. Ah, sugar, sugar

On state Highway 110 near the Little Red River in Heber Springs, adventure is hard to miss; in fact, it’s towering at 690 feet, Sugarloaf Mountain. 

“[Sugarloaf is] a real high-quality experience that can be done in a short period of time or you can spend all day out there,” said Frank Barton, founding council member of the Sugarloaf Heritage Council. 

There are four main trails:
Summit Trail:
The 0.66-mile roundtrip hike is the main attraction, offering spectacular views up and down the lower Red River Valley. The trail requires some fitness and agility, there are no stairs to the top and no guardrails when you get there. 
Tonowanda Base Trail: The 1.3-mile trail is moderately difficult but includes benches and has bridges across deep ravines. It circumnavigates the base of the mountain with its many native trees and wildflowers. 
Hidden Pond Trail: This 0.25-mile paved trail is the easiest and is ADA-compliant. It leads to a “pretty little spring-fed pond in the middle of the woods,” Barton said. 
Wildlife Trail: Located in the bottoms area west of the mountain, the one-mile trail is the most recent edition by the council, part of a proposed 11-mile trail heading into the city. —AH
Sugarloaf Mountain, Heber Springs (34.5204° N, 93.0821° W)
More Information: sugarloafheritagecouncil.org

 
Photo Courtesy of: Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission

Photo Courtesy of: Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission

6. Slow things down at Cherokee Prairie

If you want to get away from it all and relax in the simplest way possible, consider an excursion to Cherokee Prairie. With gorgeous wildflowers, beautiful butterflies and huge expanses of open sky, the prairie is the perfect setting for a picnic. 

Cherokee Prairie Natural Area is one of the largest remaining tracts of tallgrass prairie in the Arkansas Valley ecoregion. Gazing out over Cherokee Prairie is like looking into history. When settlers arrived in the area, there were approximately 135,000 acres of prairie; it’s estimated that less than 1 percent of the tallgrass area remains, as most was converted to pasture and farmland. 

See the prairie in May and June, when wildflowers and butterflies abound. Be sure to practice “leave no trace” principles, meaning carry out everything you bring into the area. Only foot traffic is allowed, so leave bikes and ATVs at home. Stay informed about hunting seasons through the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. —SB

Cherokee Prairie Natural Area (35°20’07.9”N 94°02’18.0”W)
Presson-Oglesby Preserve (35.2970° N, 94.0363° W)
H.E. Flanagan Prairie Natural Area (35°21’32.8”N 93°59’51.2”W)


Photo Courtesy of: National Parks Service

Photo Courtesy of: National Parks Service

7. Chasing waterfalls

In Arkansas, April showers bring more than May flowers; during the rainy spring months, The Natural State’s waterfalls really put on a show. To avoid the deluge of tourists at more high-profile falls, consider visiting a less-traveled trail for a more off-the-beaten-path experience with a gratifying view at the finish. 

Thunder Canyon Falls in the Buffalo National River Wilderness is an especially rugged adventure. Seekers should have a solid understanding of navigation using a topographical map. 

For a less involved adventure, consider a trip to Triple Falls (Twin Falls), a Buffalo area beauty that’s just a two-minute walk from a parking lot. The incredibly photogenic falls are located on private property at Camp Orr Boy Scout Camp, which kindly allows public access.  

While the most breathtaking views are when waterfalls are flowing heavily, high water can mean blocked roadways. Call ahead to a ranger station or outfitter to check conditions. —SB


8. High on the natural state

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The phrase mountaineering may bring places like Mount Everest, K2 or the Matterhorn to mind, but Arkansas’s rocks deliver just as much challenge and thrill. 

Arkansas’s elevation tops out at 2,753 feet, so you won’t need oxygen. Technically on the Ozark Plateau, the rugged Boston Mountains in northwest Arkansas offer big-time adventure and spectacular views from the top.

The sire for climbing in Arkansas, Sam’s Throne (35°52’43.31N, 93°02’41.67”) on state Highway 123 south of Mount Judea is tough to beat with multiple trad routes and fewer sport routes.

The climbing area near Cowell (35°52’34.23”N, 93°07’36.44”W) off Highway 7 offers a great mix of sport or trad climbing and bouldering. Great for a family outing or picnic, it’s a splendid area to explore and take in the sights. —DH 

For the uninitiated, Trad describes traditional mountaineering with no help from those who’ve gone before you. Sport routes let climbers take advantage of known routes with bolts already in place. Bouldering requires nothing but a helmet; you only climb as high as you feel comfortable falling.


Photo Courtesy of: Brannon Pack, OORC Photo

Photo Courtesy of: Brannon Pack, OORC Photo

9. Great rides for kids

Pondering a summer single track weekend for the family? Ozark Off Road Cyclists has you covered. Read on for a small sampling of the adventure to be had.

Great Passion Play Trails, Eureka Springs
Perched above Eureka Springs and spanning 600 hilltop acres, this property is home to a multiuse and bike-only trail complex. Of particular note is the Genesis trail, built for beginners and families.

Runway Bike Park, Jones Center, Springdale
An all-weather park, Runway focuses on the progression of every kind of rider. It’s home to the largest asphalt pump track of its kind in the country and best of all, it’s free!

Fossil Flats Trail, Devil’s Den State Park, Winslow
Fossil Flats was The Natural State’s first official mountain bike trail and still delivers family-friendly thrills every day. 

For more information visit Ozark Off Road Cyclists. ozarkoffroadcyclists.org—LC

 
Photo by Drew Harris

Photo by Drew Harris

11. Bucket list trout fishing on the Norfork

The Norfork River, a tailwater below Norfork Lake, is a scant 4.8 miles before its confluence with the White River. Despite its length, this river offers some of the best trout fishing in the world.

The grand slam of trout fishing—meaning a cutthroat, rainbow, brown and brook trout—is there for the taking.  

The Norfork offers year-round fishing with patterns dependent on water level and flow. With higher water levels, throw streamers or flesh flies with sinking line. Lower water means smaller patterns like a bead head or midge.  

Before you go, check fishing regulations at agfc.com/en/zone-map/fishing-map/694/ —DH

 

10. Slow ride

Looking for water that moves but doesn’t move too fast? Heed the call of the Caddo River, suitable for any able-bodied floater in a kayak, canoe, raft or tube. 

A popular section is Caddo Gap to Glenwood offering the perfect mix of water and speed for an easy, family-friendly thrill. For a slower pace try Glenwood to Amity and don’t forget your rod and reel. 

Whichever section of the Caddo you choose to float, odds are you’ll have a great day. 

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Make sure to check water-levels, 5.6-7.25 feet on upper sections, 5.2-6 feet on lower sections are ideal. —LC

Caddo River Class I-I+
Put in:
Caddo Gap (34.4001° N, 93.6194° W) 
Take out: Amity (34.2648° N, 93.4610° W)
Additional Guidance: caddoriver.com
arkansascanoeclub.com
arkansas.com/fishing-spot/caddo-river-0

 
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12. Mighty fine wine

The rolling countryside sitting atop the Arkansas River Valley on state Highway 186, running north and south between I-40 and U.S. Highway 64, is dotted with small ponds and acre after acre of vineyards. This region of the state is the heart of Arkansas Wine Country 

You can easily spend a day here sampling the local vino; every grower has a tasting room, some with cafes to fuel your adventures.  Chances are, the grower or a member of their immediate family will be personally pouring you a taste and can tell you anything you want to know about its production.

Audrey House, owner of Chateau Aux Arc (chateauauxarc.com), said anytime is the right time to visit Altus and the key to success is simply not to be in a hurry. “We have something very unique that stands up to the rest of the world,” she said. “When people come to an Arkansas winery, they’re taking a piece of Arkansas home with them.” —DH


13. Wet and wild whitewater

Photo Courtesy of: Parks and Tourism

Photo Courtesy of: Parks and Tourism

If you’re able-bodied and a good swimmer, Big Piney is considered one of the best water rides in the state for all kinds of recreational traffic. But the 10-mile stretch between Helton Farm and Longpool is where the fast action is, featuring heart-pounding spots like Roller Coaster, Surfing Hole and Cascades of Extinction.

Tips for success on Big Piney include:
Be a competent swimmer. 
Wear your PFD. 
Seek (and heed) expert advice. Moore Outdoors, (moreoutdoors.com) has been hooking folks up on the Big Piney for 41 years. This makes them the go-to for the beginner and experienced paddler alike. —LC

Big Piney Creek, Class I-II+
Put in:  Helton Farm (35.6126° N, 93.1613° W {Treat})
Take out: Long Pool Recreation Area (35.5489° N, 93.1609° W)  
Additional Guidance: Arkansascanoeclub.com
arkansas.com/fishing-spot/big-piney-creek


Photo by Drew Harris

Photo by Drew Harris

14. Ride the pig trail 

When you think of exciting roads for motorcycling in The Natural State, nothing comes to mind faster than the Pig Trail, state Highway 23. Recognized by a USA Today reader’s poll as the No.1 ride in the United States, this National Forest Scenic Byway is a great ride any time of the year.

The 24-mile route runs north and south between Highway 16 at Brashears and I-40 at Ozark. Headed north from Ozark, you can take respite from the road at Turner Bend on the Mulberry River or a trailhead on the Ozark Highlands Trail just before the Franklin and Washington county lines. The Federal Highway Administration designated the Pig Trail Scenic Byway a National Forest Scenic Byway in 1989.

Aside from the traditional safety gear motorcyclists should always wear, avid biker Duke Boyne of Rogers says the key to success on the Pig Trail is looking ahead, “through the hairpin corners. If you fixate your vision on the side of the road, you’re gonna go to it and end up in the woods, wrecked,” he said. Boyne also suggests giving plenty of space between you and your riding partners, “for obvious reasons.”

Was it named for the backroads route to the big game in Fayetteville or for the twisty tail of a feral swine? Decide after the ride. —DH

The Pig Trail
Route:
Brashears (35.8117° N, 93.7956° W) to Oark (35.6895° N, 93.5724° W)
Roadside Attractions: Turner Bend has been open since 1911 and offers a wide assortment of aids to motorists, including food and drink, restrooms, canoe rentals and campgrounds along the beautiful Mulberry River. 

At Oark, be sure to visit the Oark General Store and Café. Opened in 1890, it is the oldest continually operating store in Arkansas. Try the burgers and get a taste of history.

Photo Courtesy of: Mel White

Photo Courtesy of: Mel White

15. Try birding on your next vacation

Bird watching is more than just watching birds, it’s a natural history lesson. The state boasts about 400 bird species out of 10,000 in the world. All you need is a good pair of binoculars and some time to enjoy this relaxing activity —AH

Check out these recommended birding spots: 
Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge, Pope County (35.1408° N, 93.0597° W) 
Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge, Crittenden County (35.3437° N, 90.2127° W) 
Millwood Lake, Little River County (33.7438° N, 93.9776° W)


 
Photo Courtesy of: Fayettefall

Photo Courtesy of: Fayettefall

16. It’s a bird, it’s a plane...

To find the Holy Grail of thrill-seeking in Arkansas, look to the sky. Whether hang gliding or parachuting, there are plenty of airborne thrills for any adventurer. 

For the past two years, Fayettefall has been helping skydiving rookies cross this extreme sport off their bucket lists while providing a home base for local parachuting fanatics. 

For first-timers, pilot Jacob Crutchfield and veteran skydiver Brandon Cawood facilitate a breathtaking time. Beginners are encouraged to jump tandem first, with a guide joining them to make sure they’re comfortable. Once the newbie is confident, they can try diving solo. 

At heights of 9,000 to 10,000 feet, divers are privy to incredible views, especially when the leaves are changing in autumn. After 25 to 30 seconds of free-falling, divers deploy their parachutes for a three- to five-minute descent – faster if you spiral on the way down. Cawood said the square parachutes used by Fayettefall provide a softer, smoother landing. —SB

More Information: fayettefall.com


Photo Courtesy of: Allen Tarver

Photo Courtesy of: Allen Tarver

17. Fly like an eagle

Soaring through the sky with a hang glider – an aluminum frame with a sail cloth wing and no motor—is as close to birds eye view as one can get. 

There are two main hang-gliding spots in Arkansas, reserved for certified hang gliders who use their own hang gliders.

Mount Magazine, Logan County (35.1673° N, 93.6449° W): It is the state’s highest point at 2,753 feet. Gliders take off from a ridge that is about seven miles long with beautiful views of Blue Mountain Lake. 

Mount Nebo, Yell County (35.2174° N, 93.2467° W): At 1,350 feet, it has three launch sights and multiple wind directions. The three miles take about 10 minutes.  —AH


Photo Courtesy of: Dwain Hebda

Photo Courtesy of: Dwain Hebda

18. On gossamer wings 

With flowers blooming and warm days, it’s prime time to view some of Arkansas’s most beautiful natural attractions, including dozens of species of butterflies. 

“In summer, the Diana fritillary (Speyeria diana), one of the most spectacular butterflies in the U.S. and the official state butterfly of Arkansas, can be found in open woodlands, especially in the Ouachita Mountains,” said Samantha Scheiman, grants coordinator, field assistant and resident butterfly enthusiast at the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. 

Scheiman advises butterfly seekers that the warmest part of the day, mid-morning to late afternoon, is the best time to search, especially on sunny days with little wind.  

She also recommends visiting the butterfly gardens at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks in Fayetteville. —SB

Cherokee Prairie Natural Area, Franklin County(35.3355° N, 94.0384° W)
Chesney Prairie Natural Area, Benton County (36.2187° N, 94.4821° W)
Middle Fork Barrens Natural Area, Saline County (34°38’15.3”N 92°50’31.5”W)
Terre Noire Natural Area, Clark County (34°05’13.1”N 93°10’23.6”W)
Warren Prairie Natural Area, Bradley and Drew counties (33.5799° N, 91.9845° W)
More Information: naturalheritage.com/natural-areas


Photo Courtesy of: Turpentine Creel Wildlife Refuge

Photo Courtesy of: Turpentine Creel Wildlife Refuge

19. Turpentine creek is the cat’s meow

Wanna get a little wild with the family this summer? Check out Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. It’s an enriching opportunity for family fun in a wild environment. 

Activities include guided walking and trolley tours, summer day camps for kids, volunteer opportunities, scavenger hunts and much more.  

If you want to stay and play (and you do), options range from air-conditioned, safari-style wall tents to luxury lodges. You can even book the tree house!  

Nearby outdoor activities, minus the lions, tigers and bears, include the Kings River, Beaver Lake and Table Rock Lake. —LC

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (36.3099° N, 93.7556° W)
More Information:  turpentinecreek.org

 


Photo Courtesy of: Buffalo River Canopy Tour.

Photo Courtesy of: Buffalo River Canopy Tour.

20. Zip-lining:  A great family adventure

Watching the flowing waters of the Buffalo River from the tree tops is the unique zip-lining adventure offered by Buffalo River Canopy Tour. The 2½-hour tours accommodate up to 10, ages 7 and up. 

Harnessed participants zip along cables at the mountaintop overlooking Ponca. Experienced tour guides share trivia about the area’s history and nature.  

On the ground, activities include canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, swimming, hiking and a mountain bike trail opening in June, what Albers described as “the largest downhill in the central U.S., dropping almost 1,300 feet.” —AH

Buffalo River Canopy Tour, Ponca, AR (36.0228° N, 93.3632° W)
More Information:  buffaloriver.com/pages/zip-line