An Arkansas state parks grand adventure, Part 3

Story and photos by Linda Henderson

Arkansas is the home of many outdoor venues. Some of our absolute best are found at our outdoor adventure parks. These parks provide some of the best mountain biking trails, hiking, floating, boating, horse riding, fishing, hunting, golfing, ATV riding, and even high-adventure sports like hang gliding. There is no doubt why we are called “The Natural State.”

This is part three of three in our great Arkansas state parks tour. Outdoor adventure is the theme of this final installment. Here is a recap, from the last two stories. How do you fill the time of a man who must be busy, but still needs time to heal and recover from shoulder surgery? You start the “visit all of the Arkansas state parks while Jim recovers from shoulder surgery tour.” Last month I wrote about the history-focused parks, so this month, let us visit the outdoor adventure parks.

Replicas of Columbus’ ship on Lake Dardenelle.

One of the common elements found in these parks is water. Only one of the 16 parks that we classified as outdoor did not have a lake or river as a part of the park. There is something incredibly special about spending a day on the water or just spending time staring at a scenic body of water. Our state is blessed with some of the best lakes in the United States. The Ouachita Mountains Region has five state parks: Lake Ouachita, Lake Catherine, DeGray Lake, Daisy, and Millwood. 

Lake Ouachita is the largest of these lakes. It covers 40,000 acres and has hundreds of uninhabited islands within its shores. It is known for some of the cleanest water in the U.S. Lake Ouachita was formed by damming of the Ouachita River. The Ouachita is the 25th longest river in the county and feeds the other lakes that are a part of the state park system, including Lake Catherine.

A short drive from Hot Springs is Lake Catherine State Park. Not only are fishing and boating available, but a short hike around the lake will bring you to a beautiful waterfall. Lake Catherine is another one of our parks that was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corp, which built several state parks during the 1930s. The park’s buildings continue to maintain its rustic, historical style.

DeGray State Park is Arkansas’s only resort state park. The park has a 90-room lodge, campsites, 18-hole golf course, swimming, tennis, hiking, horseback, and a marina. The lake is 14,000 acres of water fed by the Caddo River. It has 208 miles of shorelines and averages a depth of 47 feet.

Daisy State Park is a lesser-known state park. It is in the Ouachita Forest area of southwestern Arkansas. The park’s 7,000-acre lake is popular for fishing, boating and kayaking. Millwood State Park is in the most southwestern part of the state. The park’s lake is 29,000 acres and is known for largemouth bass, catfish and crappie fishing.

Two parks in South Arkansas that are on the shores of a lake and a river are White Oak Lake State Park and Moro Bay State Park. White Oak Lake is another lesser-known park. It is situated in the piney forested woods of southern Arkansas. It is popular for fishing and wildlife observation in the marshlands. Moro Bay State Park is on the lower Ouachita River. It is built on a ferryboat launching site and has a retired ferryboat on exhibit.

In north central Arkansas is Lake Dardanelle State Park. It is surrounded by a 34,000-acre lake formed by the Arkansas River. Lake Dardanelle provides some of the best fishing and boating in Arkansas. It is known for its tournament fishing. Other recreational activities at the park include picnicking, swimming and camping. The visitor center has five large aquariums and an impressive interactive to-scale topographic model of the lake. The model illustrates how the Arkansas River, Piney Creek and the Illinois Bayou formed the lake.

One of our favorite outdoor parks was Bull Shoals White River Park. The park lies near the Arkansas-Missouri border. The park’s Visitor Center is very impressive. The 15,744-square-foot center has spectral views of the Bull Shoals Dam and the White River. The park has riverside camping, picnicking spots and swings for sunset gazing. We will return for a long weekend of camping and river activities.

The Upper Delta has five outdoor parks: Lake Charles State Park, Crowley’s Ridge State Park, Lake Frierson State Park, Lake Poinsett State Park and Village Creek State Park. These parks are built for enjoying nature. Fishing, boating, camping and golfing are available.

Northwest Arkansas offers a unique outdoor park, Hobbs State Park. The park is a conservation area and is the largest state park. The park encompasses 12,054 acres of Ozark Forest. It is located on the southern end of Beaver Lake near Rogers. Hobbs is the only park that allows regulated hunting during hunting season. It is also popular for mountain biking and has 40 miles of trails dedicated to the sport.

The Lower Delta has four parks that provide lots of outdoor activities: Mississippi River State Park, Cane Creek State Park, Delta Heritage Trail State Park and Lake Chicot State Park.

Lake Chicot State Park is surrounded by the longest and largest natural oxbow lake in North America. Bird watching is a favored activity for the park, which sits on one of the largest flyways for migratory waterfowl. The park has 30 miles of level driving tours along the Mississippi River Levee. The tour has opportunities for wildlife viewing, Civil War history, and views that were described by John Audubon in his journals from the early 1800s.

Cane Creek State Park is located near Star City. We found the park’s staff to be exceptional. They were friendly and offered tips on enjoying the park and the surrounding area. 

The park that provided us the most wildlife viewing opportunities was the Mississippi River State Park, and yes, Arkansas has a Mississippi River State Park. The day we visited, we saw deer, turkeys, a hawk, ducks, geese, butterflies and a fox. Along with all the wildlife viewing, the park offers history about the surveying of the Louisiana Purchase and boating.

Delta Heritage Trail State Park is another unique park in our park system. It has 21 miles of biking/walking trails built on an old railroad dump. The trail will eventually be 85 miles long and will cross the White and Arkansas Rivers. Currently, the trail runs between Lexa and Elaine. The park’s Visitor Center has extensive railroad history and memorabilia.

It was quite the adventure to visit all 52 Arkansas state parks. I encourage all Arkansas citizens to get out and enjoy them. Whether you choose to take the three-month “speed trip” like we did or take a more leisurely trip that requires a year or more, just get started. Visit the parks around you and then work your way through all 52.

Linda Henderson
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