One of the many perks of hiking in Arkansas is that it can be done year-round. Winter is a beautiful time to get outside and hit the trail at an Arkansas State Park. The wide range of trails and terrain found throughout the state park system adds to the adventure.
“Winter hiking in Arkansas can be incredibly rewarding because it provides an opportunity to reflect on us being a four-season state,” said Kelly Farrell, Chief of Interpretation at Arkansas State Parks. “Our winters are wintery without being harsh, meaning we can get out and enjoy outdoor recreation year round, provided we dress for colder temperatures. In addition, for those who observe closely, there can be a surprising amount of life and color in the winter forests: verdant mosses and ferns dot the hillsides, brightly colored fungi and slime molds peek out around trees and crevices, deeply blue skies reflect on lakes and streams, and rich earthy-colored lichens line rocky landscapes. Remnants of fall color linger on the forest floor, and marcescent trees such as beeches wave their copper-colored leaves in the breezes. Finally, winter hiking can be incredibly rewarding in Arkansas because rock gardens and sloping landscapes are more noticeable during leaf-off. Hikers and mountain bikers are often treated to beautiful vistas and sweeping scenes of repeating folds and faults in the land that aren’t as evident in summer when understory foliage fills the view.”
Below are a few of the many options available to trek year-round at Arkansas State Parks, including in the winter. As always, be sure to dress for the weather, bring plenty of water, and check the weather and trail conditions before hitting the road.
Mount Magazine State Park
The highest point in Arkansas is an elevation of 2,753 feet and one can get there via the 1.5 mile Signal Hill Trail at Mount Magazine State Park. If there is a want for more mileage after this, there are plenty of other trails to take on at the park too.
Along with hiking, Mount Magazine State Park is an outdoor lure for rock climbing, mountain biking, hang gliding (launching spots can be found here and at nearby Mount Nebo State Park) and wildlife watching. The area is also a haven to rare plants like the Ozark chinquapin. Post hike, one can refuel at the SkyCrest Restaurant, which is located at The Lodge at Mount Magazine, which overlooks the beautiful Petit Jean River Valley.
Mount Nebo State Park
Mount Nebo State Park, the state’s second oldest state park, is located near Dardanelle. It is a prime hiking destination and among the many trails one can find there is the Rim Trail, which has panoramic views of the Arkansas River Valley. This is a good introduction to the area as from here one can access all of the park’s trails. The Rim Trail is also a place to experience the history of the park, in particular the state park’s ties to the Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC, which constructed many of the cabins and trails at the park, including this one. One historic cabin here was even the first cabin rental in state park history: Cabin 1. This state park is also home to Monument Trails to trek on. More details about this system of trails can be found at the end of the article.
Lake Ouachita State Park
For a winter water view, the 4 mile Caddo Bend Trail at Lake Ouachita State Park offers views of Lake Ouachita, the largest lake in the state. The rolling terrain of this trail circles a peninsula at the park and at Point 50 overlook, which is located at around 1.5 miles into the route, one can get a sweeping view of the lake. The trail is a great way to experience this park in the winter and another neat aspect of the season is that the lake is a lure for wintering bald eagles. During this time, the park has guided Eagle Watch Tours one can experience via a barge tour on the lake.
Village Creek State Park
Near Wynne is the second largest state park in Arkansas: Village Creek State Park. This park lies on a geological formation known as Crowley’s Ridge and the terrain there is a reflection of this. The park is home to Military Road Trail, where one can experience a difficult piece of U.S. history. This trail is the most intact segment of the Trail of Tears in the state. Many miles of multi-use trails can also be found at the park along with this route for further trail experiences. You can also learn more about Crowley's Ridge at another state park: Crowley’s Ridge State Park.
Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area
The showcase feature of Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area in Wickes is the Cossatot River. This state park is located along a 12-mile stretch of the river and along with paddling, hiking is another way to experience the beauty of this river and park. Among the four trails at the park is the River Corridor Trail, a linear trail that goes for around 12.5 miles and offers views of the river. This state park is also a natural area and home to many rare plant species.
Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area
Karst Loop at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area is around 8 miles and along with its woody and rocky scenery this route stands out due to the artistically interesting hike-in sites available to camp at from the trail. The campsites can be accessed from a spur at the trail. The camping sites feature metal sculptures that artistically pay homage to the karst topography found at the park. The name of this trail is also a nod to this and sights such as rock formations and views of Beaver Lake make this a memorable trek. The trail is part of the park's system of Monument Trails. More details about Monument Trails can be found at the end of this article. Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area is Arkansas’s largest state park so there is plenty more hiking to be done here too to take in the Ozark landscape.
Petit Jean State Park
Petit Jean State Park is well known to many and for good reason. The beauty found there is what inspired the creation of the state’s entire state park system. As Arkansas’s first state park, there is plenty of history to be found here. The park is home to historic Mather Lodge, a CCC rustic-style mountain lodge that offers views of Cedar Creek Canyon. Hiking options are plentiful and the 4.5 mile Seven Hollows Trail offers scenery that includes natural stone arches and hardwood forest. One can learn more about further trails and overlook options at the park here.
Four state parks in Arkansas ( Devil’s Den State Park, Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, Pinnacle Mountain State Park, and Mount Nebo State Park) also offer Monument Trails terrain to check out. This trail system not only has memorable mountain biking terrain, but also hiking hotspots since most of the trails in this network are multi-use routes. If a Monument Trail is closed to hiking, it should be marked as such on maps and on-trail signage. In general, bike-only Monument Trails are one-way downhill only with the exception of the new Lichen Link .5-mile bike only connector between the new visitor center at Pinnacle Mountain State Park and the West Summit Area.