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While we continue to social distance, it’s time to get out and discover a quieter place in Arkansas.
As the Arkansas Tourism community teaches us to Rediscover Arkansas this summer and fall, we have 14 Socially Distant Summer Adventures in Arkansas to explore different corners of the state. These outdoor options are perfect for couples or families of all sizes. Beauty and adventure abound in The Natural State.
Rick Evans Grandview Prairie – An Arkansas Grandview Prairie Education Center, this wildlife management area is home to an ecosystem that naturally draws a variety of butterfly species, colorful birds and waterfowl to the lakes, ponds and wildflower fields. While the archery courses, educational buildings and shooting ranges are closed, the dirt roads and pullouts are open for self-paced exploring and watching wildlife. The fishing piers invite access until sunset. At this park, visitors can observe mammals, insects, birds and amphibians interacting in a world where undisturbed peace exists.
Mount Magazine State Park is home to the highest geographical point (2,753 feet) in the state. This park was established in 1983 but noted its earliest visitors in 1722 when the first Europeans began exploring. Get on top of the state by climbing to Signal Hill Point, a child-and-pet-friendly walk up a mountain trail to the 400-square foot stone map of Arkansas. If lookouts are more your style, head to the Cameron Bluff Overlook Drive for photos and views of the Petite Jean Valley and see why it’s a no-brainer that early settlers moved to these areas. If time allows, explore scenic Arkansas Hwy 23 on your entrance or return visit.
Historic Washington State Park is an ideal place for a family day while keeping a distance from others. Story-seekers, fact-finders, arborists and history buffs will find walking the important steps of some of Arkansas’s most notable moments in this state park a memorable opportunity. Throughout the summer, magnolia trees continue to bloom as well as lilies that line horse fences and medicinal herbs used in the 1800s. Historic Washington is home to the first established home by a Jewish family in Arkansas, the site of the Arkansas State Capitol during the Civil War and the presumed birthplace of the famed Bowie Knife. The Old Southwest Trail and Fort Townsend arm of the Trail of Tears all made their way through the old downtown streets. The 1874 courthouse and visitor center is currently open for tours, and placards on the porch of many of the other landmark structures tell the story of the residences and significance to early settlers. Williams’ Tavern is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The jams, jellies and fried catfish are still a delight.
The Little Missouri River Falls are located deep in the heart of the Ouachita National Forest. Getting to this beautiful location is not for the faint of heart; you might need a robust four-wheel drive to take you right to the gate. Many visitors experience this location as part of a trip to the Albert Pike National Forest area. It is the northern section of the Eagle Rock Trail loop, a harder walk that includes up to 28 miles of tough terrain, but getting to the falls is a simple walk down to a bridge. Plan to take water shoes and a change of clothes or swimsuits depending on how far you plan to experience the water. Also in this area, you can canoe the Caddo River.
Arkansas Post National Memorial is a monumental site at the point where the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers converge. It is here Henri de Tonti and his exploration team set up camp after safe negotiations with the Quapaw Indians. The point was the first European settlement along the Mississippi and was a thriving river port in the early 1800s. While the visitors center is closed, park rangers will bring out the stamps for your national park passport and briefly answer questions. Guests can walk the grounds of the national site, including the outline of the first bank, city streets path, and cannon footings found in the alligator marshlands. The park is a peaceful spot for picnicking and bird-watching with multiple opportunities for fishing. Make plans to visit and tour the Arkansas Post Museum State Parkand Rohwer Heritage Site. The state park does give walking tours of the Carnes Playhouse and cabin depicting early life in the delta, but temperature checks and masks are required. The Rohwer Site is outdoors and self-paced, but worth the visit since you are so close.
Louisiana Purchase State Park is also a National Historic Site and marks the initial point where lands bought through the Louisiana Purchase begin. The park contains a marked boardwalk trail lined with wayfinding signs that note the importance of the area and navigate the bald cypress ecosystem and marshlands.
Tanyard Creek Nature Trail and Pinion Creek Falls in Bella Vista. Both are quick family outings and easy to do with children or dogs. Tanyard Creek Trail begins at Tanyard Creek Park and offers multiple routes. Some meander more along a paved path with resting benches and are great for seeing wildflowers and butterflies. The Tanyard Loop includes a beautiful waterfall that runs all the time and rushes following a rain. The Pinion Creek Falls is a quick walk out from the road and will work well for families with smaller children who like a little independence.
The Talimena Drive to Queen Wilhelmina State Park allows for social distancing: a summer activity where you drive the famous route in a car or motorcycle. While hot summer days are sometimes miserable, the elevation makes for a cool breeze along the pullouts and trails. The Lodge at the Queen Wilhelmena State Park is open for lodging and dining at the restaurant; both require masks. The stunning views of the towns surrounding Mena and the western boundary of Arkansas are worth a full day of exploration. The children’s train rides are not yet running, but the steam engine area is open.
The Cossatot River State Park is a destination for those who seek scenic trails and fresh mountain water. The rapids and skull-crushing terrain make a nice combination for kayakers and floaters on the river. Others might choose to enjoy the day at the sand bar, a flat river bottom swimming area with ankle-deep water that provides a secure spot for families with small children. The river is a watershed project and gathers from nearby mountains coming out of the Ouachita National Forest. The visitor center is open, and the wildlife viewing areas are an essential part of the experience. But, the real magic of the park is experienced in the Cossatot Falls, whether it’s swimming in the fresh water or climbing on the rocks that have eroded and moved over time.
Blanchard Springs – While the caverns that usually draw people to the area are currently closed for tours, the waters from nearby Northern Sylamore Creek flow to form a blowing waterfall and meandering creek falls. Additionally, Mirror Lake is a popular fishing spot for rainbow trout, and the overflow at the dam creates a stunning backdrop for a family photo, especially when you incorporate the rock walls of the abandoned grist mill house. The day-use area provides open swim, and fields for families to primitive camp or experience for the day while the park is open to visitors.
Richland Creek Wildnerness Area, including Keefe Falls and Six Fingers Falls, begins at the Richland Creek Campground. This area was formed as part of the American Wilderness Act. It contains a large portion of the middle of the Boston Mountains and is home to seven waterfalls. Some are a brief trek off the main road, and others are steep, 7-mile journeys that are not child-friendly. This location is excellent for exploring with families of all sizes, and with the end result including water, it’s a refreshing experience in the heat of the summer.
Jasper and Ponca are often noted as fall destinations for chasing foliage and perfect foggy views with morning elk calls. But this area is also great for summer adventures exploring the Buffalo River waters and hidden swimming holes. Check-in with the Buffalo Outdoor Center when you arrive for an update of local water levels and best places to explore and keep your distance. Buffalo River Waterfall Trails lead to the depts of a region that provided natural shelters to early explorers and the native inhabitants who call this region home. Lost Valley is the most popular and easy to navigate with Hemmed in Hollow and Hideout Hollow, requiring much more experience but well-worth-it views.
King’s River Falls is a natural area based around the Springfield Plateau section of the Boston Mountains. Stay and enjoy the swimming hole and sought-after falls area. This excursion could be easily combined with Lost Valley and a picnic lunch.
Check out AllTrails.com is an excellent resource for learning more about trails and outdoor experiences to understand more about the difficulty of a trail as well as the potential gear needed to travel a new terrain. Have fun on your socially distant summer adventures!
Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.