After debating for several weeks on where to venture after a mind blowing experience in Kansas (either head west towards free open spaces or try something new), Eric and I settled on Arkansas. It may seem like an odd choice, but with its beautiful rolling hills in the north, crystal clear waters of the west, and ever growing bicycling community, we thought we should probably give the state a fair shot before snubbing our noses and running for the West. I mean, we are in the market for a new “home” after all. While I’m not convinced we’ll ever find another Boise, I do have hopes that we’ll uncover another diamond in the ruff. Unfortunately, Arkansas was not the gem we’d hoped for. Not for us anyways.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first because there are plenty of positives. Here are three major reasons Arkansas just wasn’t for us.
- Copious amounts of trash in every nook and cranny throughout the state. From people’s yards to rural roads to forests, there are large quantities of trash everywhere. Major turn-off.
- Not to sound like a beer snob (or an alcoholic), but 34 of the 75 counties in Arkansas are dry. Yeah. DRY. It’s 2020 Arkansas! So, finding a local brew to try was tough and finding a good beer—nearly impossible.
- It’s just not the West. (Yes, that can be a reason) It may sound pretentious, but being funneled into busy campgrounds when you’re used to roaming freely in the wild outdoors is a bit like putting an animal in a cage. We don’t want to live in a zoo.
Although Arkansas will likely never be our home base (though we have many more areas we could explore there), we did discover some really cool places during our visit. The following is a more positive take on why Arkansas definitely has potential.
Arkansas is home to some nice, long distance trails: the Ozark Highland Trail (OHT-currently 218 miles long and growing), the Ouachita National Recreation Trail (now 223 miles), and for mountain bikers, the famous Womble Trail in the Ouachita National Forest.
Grizz and I were lucky enough to do a few sections of the OHT which is where I learned just how much this pup LOVES the trail! I’ll talk more about each trail in the breakdown by state parks and you’ll see why next.
Let the funneling begin. Fortunately, we had one thing going for us which did help with the crowds: COLD and RAIN. Lots and lots and lots of rain! Nevertheless, the state parks were still on the crowded side and many days, due to Grizz’s anxiety, we had to walk the trails right before dark or the paved roads when it was pitch black just to get him out of the van. Overall, he did pretty well. I mean, if I was a dog, I would have eaten all the annoying small children and their even more annoying parents. So, there’s that.
Devil’s Den SP
Devil’s Den State Park was our first stop. Well, us and thousands of other people visiting over the Thanksgiving holiday. No, we did not plan it that way. In fact, our idea was to be hiding out in the Ozark National Forest on an empty forest service road miles away from all people, services, and any noise that didn’t belong in the wilderness. But, sometimes plans don’t always work out. The rain was relentless making many roads impassable without 4×4. Additionally, the forests in this part of the country are filled with houses, cabins, and homesteads. We searched and searched, but after coming up empty handed, we drove with our tails between our legs and succumbed to the funneling. Funnel, funnel, funnel. Blah.
Fossil Flats Trail
Since this seemed to be the less popular of the trails from 6-9am and 3-5pm, Grizz and I strolled this one for hours at a time at least twice a day. We were easily walking 10-12 miles just to get away from the campground and anxiety inducing noises for a few hours. It was good for both of us!
This trail was quite fun with several rollers and foresty delights to photograph such as moss colored rocks and fungi. Ultimately, Grizz and I enjoyed our time out here despite the wet damp cold.
A large portion of the trail ran along the Lee Creek offering some subtle views of the bare-leaved trees lined along massive hillsides. We had many gloomy, wet days while we were here. But, when the sun did decide to come out, the colors really popped and it was quite beautiful.
Lee Creek Trail
Lee Creek Trail is basically the other side of the creek (opposite the campground) and runs mostly parallel with Fossil Flats Trail.
Grizz (im)patiently waiting for Mommy to decide if she wants to take her shoes off to cross the creek. If I only had 4×4 paws like him we’d be unstoppable!
Yellow Rock Trail
This trail was generally packed. I would say, it was likely the #2 most hiked trail in the park. The heart pumping climb up was worth the view of the rocks and a scenic overlook among the trees. Grizz and I had fun with this one, but due to crowds and covid, we cut it short and headed back down before it got too late. Here are a few pics though!
Good thing we came back down when we did. There were 6 cars full of people donning their warm-weather gear when we exited the trail and made a run for the van! Early birds get the worm, but Burrr, it was a cold one!
Devil’s Den Trail seemed to be the most popular hike as we watched countless numbers of people fall in line, one after the other to do the trail. I guess caves really excite folks here despite not being able to enter due to the White-nose Syndrome. Needless to say, we skipped this one. Not enough social distancing for my taste with OR without covid!
Mt. Nebo SP
This park was probably my favorite just because of the novelty of it. Despite an elevation of only 1,345 feet, we had to climb a wet (but paved) road featuring 11 switchbacks at an 18% grade. It was crazy! There were a few times I wasn’t sure we had enough momentum to make it up—but we did!
It was oh so cold and oh so windy but Grizz and I suited up and ventured out to explore the area. Knowing we’d only be here one night, we wanted to take advantage. Typical me. If I’m paying over $25/night, I best be getting my money’s worth! I’m so glad we did. This was one of the coolest trails ever and we didn’t see a soul the entire time! Win. Win.
The Rim Trail
When they say RIM, they mean RIM. This trail felt like we were on the edge of the world. I would argue, at times, we were! This trail is not for the vertigo-challenged, inexperienced, and/or faint of heart hiker. I would also like to question my sanity for bringing Grizz who loves to challenge my balance while walking on leash by tugging the line at the worst possible times. Luckily, we made it!
Grizz my not be afraid of heights but I did have him questioning the descent down along the rim of the mountain. Ok, maybe not. He’s a brave little dog and he’s always more than willing to go first.
I have to say, the coolest part of the trail is just thinking about the hardworking visionaries that built this trail. All I have to say is, Thank you! This, for me, was the highlight of Arkansas. I just wish the weather would have been more cooperative because there were several more equally awesome trails to hit by foot and bike. Unfortunately, most all were closed due to rain/mud. Enjoy the views from the rest of the hike.
Beyond the State Parks of Arkansas
Despite being a little cranky for having to stay at campgrounds as we made our way through western Arkansas, we did get lucky twice!
North Fork Lake
After tiring of the funneling, Eric and I put on our explorer hats and ventured out one day to find some dispersed camping. As luck would have it, we stumbled upon North Fork Lake. Judging by the amounts of trash, broken glass, toilet paper and what I think was human waste, we weren’t the only ones to have discovered this little gem of a place. Despite the mess, we spent one night during the middle of the week just for some solitude. A small price to pay for silence if you ask me! Here are some photos from our time here.
Cassatot River Area
We dodged a bit of a bullet here after meeting a local who also just happened to be a super cool, chatty Park Ranger full of stories. He told us about a nearby dispersed camping spot right along the river. Well, of course, right after he told us a story about the Salvadorian drug cartel bust a few years back. Drugs. Guns. The works. Evil, funny man he was.
The spot did turn out to be fantastic. Secluded and quiet despite being right off a (not so main) road. This entire area was probably our favorite in all of Arkansas. It was beautiful, offered some great hiking trails, and was absolutely in the middle of nowhere. Perfection. The only downside is that it rained, rained and then rained some more. Luckily, we were able to get through all of the FS roads with no issues despite the mud and hills.
Here are a few photos of the area:
Ozark Highland Trail (OHT)
Most of the sections of the OHT that Grizz and I hiked all looked like this. Lots and lots of trees and multiple creek crossings. Despite the fact that we didn’t find any expansive views beyond the trees, hiking the hills proved to be a good workout and the weather couldn’t have been better! What more can you really ask for? Not much!
Although Arkansas wasn’t what we may have imagined (shame on us for having expectations), we did have a good time. The expense of paying for state parks, gathering with others and endless days of rain and cold played a toll on our enthusiasm and our spirits. More than anything, Eric and I were just ready for a dry dog, dry floors, dry clothes, and some dry air. Honestly, I think we hit the area just a little late in the year. Winter wasn’t around the corner—it was there!
Perhaps someday we will attempt Arkansas again armed with a better understanding of how to navigate the national forests of the South.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the blog!