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One of the best natural resources Arkansas has is its state parks. Every year over 8 million people visit Arkansas State Parks. Arkansas has 52 state parks, and each has its own unique history and is worth a visit. We love them all, but we compiled a list of 10 of our favorites.
Petit Jean State Park has scenic views, cabins, camping and incredible trails.
Arkansas’s first state park, Petit Jean State Park combines history with nature for one captivating experience. Beginning in 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built roads and bridges, carved trails and built cabins and the historic Mather Lodge. Since that time, guests have enjoyed the park’s many trails, gathering at the lodge or swimming in its two swimming pools. The lodge, 34 rustic cabins and 125 campsites offer plenty of accommodations. Cedar Falls Trail is a must. The two-mile round trip hike cuts through the forest to Cedar Falls, a 95-foot waterfall, and one of the tallest in the state. Don’t miss Petit Jean’s gravesite at Stout’s Point. This site tells the history of the young French girl whose name now graces the mountain and offers a stunning view of the Arkansas River and the valley.
Yellow Rock Trail at Devil’s Den State Park is one of the most popular trails in Arkansas.
Devil’s Den State Park is another historic park that attracts thousands of visitors for its hiking trails, CCC history and proximity to Northwest Arkansas and the Ozark National Forest. The CCC built rock cabins, trails and a rock dam across Lee Creek, which created Lake Devil. This eight-acre lake in the center of the park is a favorite fishing spot and also has pedal boats and canoes for rent. Horseback riders and mountain bikers are also welcome on the trails, creating a park for everyone to enjoy. Yellow Rock Trail is the most popular trail, and at peak times, can be crowded. It leads to the overlook at Yellow Rock, which gives hikers an incredible view of Lee Creek Valley.
Lake Ouachita State Park is nestled in the Ouachita Mountains on Arkansas’s largest lake. The park offers 40,000 acres of water and is popular for all water sports, including fishing, water skiing, scuba diving and kayaking. The state park has 93 campsites and a limited number of cabins to enjoy. It also includes the Caddo Bend Trail and the historic Three Sisters Springs site. The Three Sisters Springs have been touted from the 1800s to have healing properties. Lake Ouachita State Park is only 15 miles from Hot Springs.
Dig for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park
Crater of Diamonds State Park isn’t just the most unique park in Arkansas, it’s one of the only places in the world where visitors can search the grounds for diamonds. The 37-acre diamond field has yielded over 33,100 diamonds so far, some proving to be the largest found in the U.S. The park includes a visitor’s center with a history of both Crater of Diamonds and educational exhibits on diamonds and how to search for them within the park. Visitors can stay at one of 47 Class AAA campsites or five walk-in tent sites. Though hiking isn’t the main attraction, Crater of Diamonds has hiking trails, picnic sites and Diamond Springs Water Park, an aquatic play area open in the summer.
With its close proximity to Little Rock, Pinnacle Mountain State Park is one of the most visited state parks in Arkansas. It is a day-use only park, but it features over 22 miles of trails and a hike up Pinnacle Mountain, which overlooks the Ouachita Mountains and the Arkansas, Big Maumelle and Little Maumelle Rivers. The summit is at an elevation of 1,011 feet. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail begins at the park’s visitor’s center and the first 3 miles are inside Pinnacle Mountain State Park. The park also includes the Arkansas Arboretum, a 71-acre tract which showcases trees and plants native to Arkansas with a 0.6-mile walking trail.
The Delta Heritage Trail is in the middle of a massive expansion. The Union Pacific donated 73 miles of railway corridor in 1992. The Arkansas State Parks program has developed the area into a rail-to-trail pathway that traverses the scenic Delta region. Currently, over 44 miles of crushed gravel trail is accessible for biking and walking. When the trail is complete, it will include 84.5 miles of trail. There are eight trailheads to choose from, but the Barton Trailhead is located at the Delta Heritage State Park’s Visitor’s Center.
History comes alive at Historic Washington State Park
With its collection of historic buildings, this park has a different feel and much to offer. Tour the 1836 county courthouse, the 1874 courthouse, the schoolhouse, blacksmith shop and more. This is the largest collection of 19th century buildings in the state and the park gives an excellent view into what life was like for pioneers. Tour the print museum and make your own candle at the candle shop. The park also includes William’s Tavern, a restaurant offering lunch six days a week.
Lake Chicot offers a unique view of nature in Arkansas.
Lake Chicot is the largest natural lake in the state and is perfect for fishing, boating, and enjoying nature. The 20-mile-long oxbow lake is home to many species of birds and the park’s barge tours help you spot various wildlife. The park also has 14 cabins and 122 campsites, a visitor’s center, a marina with boat rentals, and a seasonal swimming pool. The park is near Lake Village and close to the Mississippi River.
A historic cabin at the top of Mount Nebo.
At a height of 1,350 feet, Mount Nebo is all about the views. The park has 15 cabins and 34 campsites, many with views of the surrounding hills and valleys. The park also has 14 hiking trails to take advantage of the views around the park. If hiking isn’t enough, you can watch hang gliders launch from the top of the mountain. The park also has a swimming pool, tennis courts and a visitor’s center. Many of the park’s rustic cabins were built by the CCC. Hiking the 3.5-mile Rim Trail offers spectacular views and access to the other trails in the park.
Only 15 miles from Hot Springs, Lake Catherine is a popular getaway destination. The small lake offers quiet shores, hiking, boating and fishing. It has 20 cabins that trace its history back to the CCC and 70 campsites. Search for a waterfall while hiking, rent a kayak or pedal boat at the marina, or head to the stables to enjoy the park trails from horseback. Lake Catherine State Park has a full-service marina, guided trail tours and special programming throughout the year.
Visitors to Arkansas State Parks can pick up a free state parks passport and have them stamped at visitor’s centers. Visit some of Arkansas’s favorite state parks, then go on to fill your passport with visits to each of Arkansas’s 52 state parks. Visit arkansasstateparks.com to find out more about our favorite state parks.
Photos courtesy of Arkansas Parks and Tourism.
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