Those seeking a fun outdoor adventure can visit these fabulous state parks
The statement “We live in stressful times” has rarely been more apt than it is these days.
With the Covid-19 pandemic still surging across the United States, travelers are searching for adventures that will also offer social distancing options. Arkansas, and its 52 state parks, has just the thing for those seeking outdoor nirvana.
A recent survey by Outdoorsy found 94 percent of North American families feel reduced stress after taking a road trip and spending time outdoors. Here are five Arkansas state parks that are perfect destinations for groups of all ages.
DEGRAY LAKE RESORT STATE PARK
Located near Hot Springs and Little Rock, Arkansas’s resort state park resides on the shores of picturesque, 13,800-acre DeGray Lake. The park has a wide range of choices for those who love outdoor activities and camping. It is also home to a 96-room lodge with a conference center, 81 campsites, three rent-a-yurts, an 18-hole championship golf course with a driving range, a practice green and pro shop, disc golf, swimming, tennis, hiking trails and guided horseback riding. There are also world-class mountain biking trails nearby and the full-service marina has bait and tackle, fuel and boat rentals. The resort is home to two covered pavilions that may be rented for group or family events. Located two miles from DeGray Lake Resort State Park Lodge, each pavilion has seating for 72 guests.
MOUNT MAGAZINE STATE PARK
Arkansas’s highest point at 2,753 feet, Mount Magazine provides dramatic views and is a renowned locale for relaxation, exploration and nature study. Fans of outdoor sports and extreme adventures can hike, bike, and ride on horses and ATVs on the mountain’s rugged terrain. It is also one of only two parks in Arkansas to offer hang gliding launch areas. One of its most popular activities is mountain climbing.
This flat-topped mountain with its furrowed bluffs, deep canyons and natural diversity is ideal for bouldering and sport climbing as well as rappelling. When your adventurous day has come to a close, The Lodge at Mount Magazine offers incredible views of the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake. Its first-class facilities make the lodge a top choice for getaways, weddings, conferences and corporate retreats. It features 60 guest rooms, a restaurant, a conference center, heated indoor swimming pool, fitness center and game room.
OZARK FOLK CENTER STATE PARK
This Arkansas living history state park in Mountain View is dedicated to preserving Ozark cultural heritage and its tradition. Open mid-April to mid-November, the park gives visitors the chance to watch artisans work, stroll through the Heritage Herb Garden (where old-time plants, medicinal herbs, native plants and edible herbs are grown) and listen to live Southern mountain music. In the Craft Village at Ozark Folk Center, more than 20 working artisans create and sell handmade items like flame-painted copper jewelry, leather purses and goods, baskets, brooms, stained glass, ironwork, pottery, knives, weavings, quilts, wood carvings and candles. The Craft village closes during the winter months.
Music resides at the heart of this park, with fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and autoharp producing the Ozark Mountain sound. A 1,000-seat theater hosts live concerts in season, bringing legendary artists from all facets of American music to the stage. When booking a visit, The Cabins at Dry Creek at the park provide a pleasing blend of homespun décor, modern comforts and friendly service. Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, these cabins all reside at ground level, featuring different layouts and options to suit your stay. Most rooms have an option of a secured pass-through door allowing guests the chance to combine rooms.
PETIT JEAN STATE PARK
An Arkansas original, 3,471-acre Petit Jean State Park resides atop Petit Jean Mountain. The park mirrors the mountain’s beauty with its rustic-style, native log and stone facilities constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps beginning in 1933. The CCC built trails, roads, bridges, cabins and the focal point of the park, the historic Mather Lodge, a 24-room lodge overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon.
Upstream from Cedar Creek Canyon is Lake Bailey, which is a perfect locale for fishing, kayaking and pedal boating. The 170-acre lake is also optimal for pedal and flat bottom boats and water bikes. Guests are welcome to rent their favorite during the summer months or bring their own year-round. The lodge at Petit Jean State Park features a restaurant (which serves classic Southern cuisine), meeting rooms and a gift shop. One of the centerpieces of the lodge is a fireplace in the lobby which is a welcoming gathering place in the winter. If the lodge is full, other options can be found nearby including 33 cabins (21 with kitchens) along the bluff that offer views of the canyon.
QUEEN WILHELMINA STATE PARK
Making its home atop 2,681-foot Rich Mountain, Arkansas’s second highest peak, Queen Wilhelmina State Park provides some of the finest views in the state from its fully renovated lodge. The original lodge was built in the late 1800s as a Victorian resort which honored Wilhelmina, the young Queen of the Netherlands who reigned from 1890 until 1948. Today, the lodge is the most popular attraction at the park as it features 40 rooms and a conference room with a private balcony that accommodates up to 75. Guests can also savor Southern cuisine and first-class hospitality in the Queen’s Restaurant. Take advantage of the ranger-led interpretive programs and hikes that share the park’s unique flora, fauna and geology. The park is also home to 41 campsites, picnic areas and trails.
There’s no better way to explore The Natural State than from an Arkansas State Park grand lodge. Begin planning at arkansasstateparks.com/accommodations/lodges
by Jason Paha