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Statewide Travel 0

6 Natural State Outdoor Activities to do this Winter

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I grew up in Vermont, so my first few Arkansas summers were almost the death of me. But when winter rolled around, I was totally winning. With very little snow and temperatures mostly above freezing, an Arkansas winter felt more akin to late spring in Vermont. Summer may have kept me seeking the solace of my air conditioner, but winter had me excited for all the outdoor opportunities The Natural State had to offer.

More than 20 years have passed since that first year here. Though the hot and sultry summers have grown on me, I still love getting outside in the cold. If you’re new to the state or just looking to rediscover the beauty of Arkansas winters, you won’t want to pass up a single one of these activities ideal for seasonal thrills.

Photo by Julie Kohl

1. Visit the Swans in Heber Springs

If you haven’t been to see the swans in Heber Springs, you are missing out on a unique opportunity. The swans arrive every November and stay through mid-February. Read more about how they ended up in Arkansas, and then plan a trip to see the captivating birds. To make your experience even better:

  • Go early in the morning or just before sunset as the swans often travel up to 50 miles during the day to feed from other ponds.
  • The swans will stick closer if it is foggy or rainy, so you have a chance of seeing more in that kind of weather.
  • Bring a bag of cracked corn to toss to the swans (but please don’t feed them bread or birdseed).
  • After you visit the swans on Magness Lake, head to the pond at 2728-2904 Hiram Road in Wilburn to see more.
  • Remember that swans are wild animals. Keep your distance.
  • Both viewing locations are on private property, and the owners have graciously allowed public access. Return the favor by treating the animals and the properties with respect.

Photo provided by Arkansas Department of Park and Tourism

2. Visit one of Arkansas’s State Parks

One February, my husband and I booked a weekend trip at Mount Magazine. Snow on the ground greeted us upon our arrival, but our time was filled with bright sunshine and breathtaking views. We enjoyed hiking, fun interpretive programs and delicious food, resulting in a romantic weekend away from the real world.

These state parks offer hotel-style lodges and dining:

If you prefer to stay in a cabin or yurt, check out these state parks:

Photo provided by Arkansas Department of Park and Tourism

3. Go Fish

Fishing season is always open in Arkansas, and some of the greatest fishing can be done in the winter. Because a lot of the vegetation around the lakes and streams has died, you can access areas hard to reach during spring and summer. If you’re in a boat, you have the advantage of deeper water levels and less crowded waterways. If you’re in the market for a specific species of fish, ask around about what’s biting or follow these general guidelines:

  • November is perfect for trout fishing.
  • Blue catfish can be found along the Mississippi River.
  • Winter panfish are abundant in the dam tailwaters of the Arkansas River.
  • Head to Greers Ferry Lake for lunker walleye when it’s really cold.
  • Winter crappie will be at their peak in February and can be found in the shoreline shallows of oxbow lakes.

Photo provided by Arkansas Department of Park and Tourism

4. Go Hunting

Winter hunting makes perfect sense; the mosquitoes are gone, and the chances of crossing a snake’s path are slim. Bundle up in your best camo and head out to the woods. Who knows? You might even bring home a nice beast for your Christmas feast.

The 2019-2020 winter hunting dates:

Deer

  • Modern Gun – Dec. 26-28
  • Muzzleloader – Dec. 14-16
  • Youth Hunt – Jan. 4-5

Small Game

  • Quail – Nov. 1 – Feb. 2
  • Swamp/Cottontail Rabbit – Sept. 1 – Feb. 29
  • Squirrel – May 15 – Feb. 29

Waterfowl

  • Dates and limits vary by species, but seasons typically run through January for most waterfowl.

Dove

  • Dec. 14 – Jan. 15

Furbearers

  • Dates and limits vary by species.

Check with Arkansas Game and Fish for any rules or regulation changes, updated bag limits and zone closures.

Photo provided by Arkansas Department of Park and Tourism

5. Go Hiking

Did you know Arkansas state parks hold more than 300 miles of established trails?

When the leaves are off the trees, the views are enhanced. A hike in the snow allows for easy spotting of animal tracks, scat and maybe even a few animals themselves.

Check out these family-friendly winter hiking spots and these tips for winter hiking in Arkansas.

A few tips for safe winter hiking:

  • Dress in layers. Temperatures can plummet quickly as you climb to higher elevations and as the sun goes down.
  • Start early to ensure that you have enough daylight to return to your starting point.
  • Check the weather. Don’t head out if winter storms are expected.
  • Bring water and snacks. A warm beverage like tea or cocoa is also advisable.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.
  • Carry emergency gear.

Photo provided by Arkansas Department of Park and Tourism

6. Take an Eagle Cruise

I get a little teary-eyed every time I see a bald eagle. In the 1800s, over 100,000 bald eagles made our country their home. When I was born in 1978, that number had dwindled to only a few hundred breeding pairs and the birds were officially placed on the endangered list. Over the last 40 years, the eagle has made an impressive comeback: there are nearly 10,000 breeding pairs across the United States. Recent surveys have suggested that more than 1,000 bald eagles make Arkansas their home for at least part of the year, and the state ranks in the top 10 as wintering grounds for bald eagles.

Where to view the eagles:

 

How will you be exploring and enjoying The Natural State this winter?

Header photo by Julie Kohl

Meet the
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Julie Kohl works from home as a writer and virtual assistant while raising her young son. A former Yankee who was "converted" to the south by her husband, Julie has grasped on to rural life in a sleepy, blink-your-eyes-and-you'll-miss-it town in central Arkansas. Julie loves adventure. Not necessarily "scare-your-pants-off" adventure but the kind where you seek out new and exciting things. New foods, new places, new experiences. On her blog, Seek Adventures, Julie shares about the outdoor and travel adventures of her family as they camp and standup paddleboard across the South. You can also learn more about her writing on her site Seek Adventures Media.

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