Wandering the trails, cooling off in the swimming hole, celebrating reunions and weddings . . . locals and neighbors of Paragould, Arkansas, have been enjoying Crowley’s Ridge State Park for generations. Now it’s your turn.
A Natural Wonder
Crowley’s Ridge State Park is so interwoven with life in Northwest Arkansas, it’s easy for locals to forget how rare the park’s geology and ecology are. The ridge is actually an island formed by ancient paths of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. It stretches more than 200 miles from Missouri to Arkansas with its mix of gentle hills and dramatic rises, some 200 feet above the plain. The foliage is just as unique. In one direction, oak and hickory trees mimic the setting of the Ozarks; in another direction, maple, beech, cherry and the only tulip trees in the state form a patchwork of broadleaf specimens you won’t find anywhere else in Arkansas.
The Civilian Conservation Corps
Between 1933 and 1938, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked to build some of Crowley Ridge State Park’s most enduring features. Look for structures of native log and stone, accompanied by descriptive signage, along the Lake Ponder Trail. The CCC Pavilion is a favorite for its rustic construction and its proximity to one of the park’s most beloved amenities, Lake Ponder.
Get Out on the Lake
Lake Ponder is a classic swimming hole. Cool off in the spring-fed water; lounge on the beach; rent a pedal-boat or kayak; join in a volleyball game on the sand. In summer, lifeguards stand duty.
The park’s Walcott Lake is all about fishing. It’s cozy, but the catches are trophy-sized, from largemouth bass to catfish. Cast from the barrier-free pier or launch a boat (fishing boats and kayaks are available for rent onsite).
If you’re a park-goer who is also a water-lover, check the events schedule before you go. Programs regularly focus on the water, from kayaking workshops and boat education courses to kids’ fishing derbies.
Explore the Trails
Crowley’s Ridge State Park trails were another gift of the CCC. Today, that’s nearly five miles of paths for you to follow.
Of course, you’ll want to see the CCC Pavilion that marks the Lake Ponder trailhead, but don’t skip the trail itself. Its boardwalk and overlook conjure the construction style of the CCC and provide an elevated view of marshland, ferns and natural springs. The half-mile loop is barrier-free and easy terrain, making it accessible to all.
Dancing Rabbit is the park’s longest trail, a loop of just over one mile that’s rated as moderate: you’ll navigate a swinging bridge and gulley, nicknamed the Dancing Rabbit Arroyo by native Americans.
Other paths include the Walcott Lake, Spider Creek and Amphitheater trails. Wander the Walcott atop the lake’s levee to spots for birdwatching and fishing, including a pier. Great blue herons and belted kingfishers are common sights. The Spider Creek loop starts at the picnic area, so combine a hike with lunch. Depending on the season, you might see a rainbow of wildflowers, fiery fall foliage, the variegated greens of the forest or a gray fox. The Amphitheater Trail leads to the remnants of a CCC venue, the first tier of which has been restored.
One last thing: if you spend a day at Crowley’s Ridge State Park and don’t want to leave, you can always stay the night. Modern cabins, some pet-friendly, and shaded RV and tent campsites are available.