In an era where everyone constantly stares at their screens, there’s only one true fix: Go outdoors. Arkansas has long been known as the Natural State and is brimming with diverse beauty and outdoor activity. With so many outdoor attractions, it can be overwhelming to choose just a few, but planners can always rely on Arkansas Parks & Tourism to help find the best fit for each group.
Even in the bustling capital city of Little Rock, it’s easy to get away for some natural downtime, according to Libby Doss Lloyd, communications manager for the Little Rock CVB.
“We’ve done some really great outdoor activities with our groups,” she said. “Some include the Tale of Four Bridges Tour, a 19-mile loop along the Arkansas River that’s connected by multiple pedestrian bridges, the P. Allen Smith Tour at his Moss Mountain Farm just outside Little Rock, and the Urban Outdoor Big Maumelle River Adventure Tour at Pinnacle Mountain State Park.”
Just a few minutes northwest of Little Rock, the view from atop Pinnacle Mountain makes a visit to Pinnacle Mountain State Park worthwhile. Attendees can climb up the western slope and end 1,000 feet above Arkansas’ River Valley. The park also boasts more than 40 miles of trails, the Arkansas Arboretum and lots of picnic tables for an alfresco lunch. Afterward, groups can travel to the river for canoeing and kayaking.
Another option for canoeing is Fourche Creek, which runs through downtown Little Rock and is one of the country’s largest urban wetlands. Within its 1,800 acres, the watershed is home to wildlife, ancient bald cypress trees and more than 50 species of fish. Groups can kayak through, getting in touch with nature without leaving the city.
In the hilly terrain of the northwest Ozarks, outdoor adventure beckons around every corner. One sport takes advantage of that terrain: mountain biking.
“Bentonville is being recognized for the single-track mountain bike trails,” said Kalene D. Griffith, president of Visit Bentonville. “We have over 40 miles of trails in Bentonville and 200 miles in the region. We are seeing over a half-million people riding annually on our trails, and our trails have created opportunities to host numerous bike conferences and events for 2018.”
If bikers are looking for a thrill, Griffith has a recommendation.
“Our newest trail, Coler Preserve Bike Trails, has some of the most advanced drops and jumps for the thrill-seeker and adventurous rider,” she said.
For those who prefer walking, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art offers 3.5 miles of walking, hiking and biking trails. The trails wind around the museum grounds, showcasing natural beauty and manmade sculptures. Groups that visit the museum can take a little extra time to enjoy the trails, including a created grotto featuring hundreds of quartz crystals excavated from across Arkansas.
Nearby, the town of Rogers also has plenty of outdoor opportunities available just a few minutes out of town. Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area covers more than 12,000 acres and offers several trails, including the popular Hidden Diversity Multi-Use Trail.
Two meeting rooms are available at the park’s visitor center, and more recreation awaits where the park meets Beaver Lake, a prime spot for fishing, boating and swimming. Just a short drive from the park is War Eagle Mill, a historic site with a working grist mill. Groups can stop for a bite in the restaurant and enjoy cornbread made with ingredients ground at the mill itself.
Located east of the Bentonville/Rogers area is Mountain View, which boasts one of the most impressive tour caves in the state. Blanchard Springs Caverns is a massive living cave, so the formations continue to grow and change as time passes. The largest room is the Cathedral Room, which could fit three football fields inside comfortably.
A selection of tours is available for groups, but one is reserved strictly for thrill-seekers who want to explore parts of the cavern not usually accessible to the public, according to Rianna Morrison, executive assistant for the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce.
“You can take what’s called a Wild Cave Tour,” she said. “This is just with one guide, usually, and you have to go between small spaces, down hills and around cave formations all while being in the dark. You can’t be afraid of tight places or the creepy crawlers! And don’t forget about the bats. You definitely have to be brave to do a Wild Cave Tour.”
Outside the cave, groups can enjoy about 100 miles of hiking trails, a waterfall and the famed Ozark Folk Center State Park craft village in the town of Mountain View.
Southwest of Mountain View is the town of Ponca and the Buffalo Outdoor Center, where groups can play in one of the state’s most beautiful untouched sites: the Buffalo National River. Hiking trails, ziplines and camping are popular, but the true outdoor fan heads straight for the canoes for unparalleled views of majestic bluffs and wildlife.
In Hot Springs, nature takes a different form. The historic town, which is famous for natural hot springs, features several spas that offer mineral baths. But attendees can work up some steam before those stress-pummeling baths by tackling the hiking trails at Hot Springs National Park, flying above trees on a zipline at Adventureworks or getting down and dirty at Hot Springs Off-road Vehicle Park.
Planners can also arrange tournament-level fishing excursions on several lakes, including Catherine, Ouachita and Hamilton. For a different type of adventure, groups can enjoy some downtime at Magic Springs Theme and Water Park, which offers special group picnic packages.
Just a short drive from Hot Springs is Mount Ida, known as the Quartz Crystal Capital of the World. Groups can find crystals in gift shops or go out to the hilltop mines and dig for their own crystals under a deep blue sky. Digging for crystals has one advantage over hiking—at the end, attendees have a handful of well-earned rewards to take home.
In the River Valley, fishermen head for Fort Smith and the Arkansas River. A series of locks and dams plus well-stocked waters means this area offers some of the best fishing in the state.
For those who want a step up from mining quartz, Murfreesboro offers the next-level reward—diamonds. At Crater of Diamonds State Park, attendees can take on a truly one-of-a-kind experience and dig for their own diamonds. The park is located in the world’s eighth largest diamond-bearing volcanic crater, and the 37 acres of digging grounds are regularly plowed to offer each diamond hunter a fair chance.
Not everyone finds a diamond, but if they do it’s theirs to keep. Visitors can also find amethyst, garnet and other stones as well. The park also offers picnic areas, a restaurant and hiking trails.
In Helena, exploring the outdoors is as easy as heading downtown, where the Mississippi River flows past. An easily accessible boat ramp means that groups can head out for a catfish fishing trip or enjoy paddling and boating on one of the few remaining untamed and untouched stretches of the mighty river.
Mountain bike enthusiasts can ride through St. Francis National Forest, just 10 minutes from downtown, or head out to the Delta Heritage Trail State Park and ride on 14 miles of trails transformed from old railroad tracks.
West Memphis also sits along the river and is featured on the Great River Road National Scenic Byway. Big River Crossing is a popular spot for walking and bike riding.
Near West Memphis in Turrell, the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge offers hiking trails and excellent birdwatching opportunities. The refuge is along the migratory path and visitors can often spot bald eagles, blue herons, great egrets and more.
CVB Contact Information
Arkansas Parks and Tourism
Fort Smith CVB
Helena Advertising and Promotion Commission
Little Rock CVB
Mountain View Chamber of Commerce
Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce
Visit Hot Springs
West Memphis CVB