20 Spring Break Ideas in the Natural State
By Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
No plans for Spring Break yet? No sweat. Many Natural State
destinations offer entertainment especially for children and
teenagers in addition to tempting diversions for grown-ups. Listed
below are a few ideas to help you plan a perfect Spring Break
1. Buffalo National River -- Spring and early summer
are the prime times to float the Buffalo National River, although
the lower section can be floated year-round. The first stream
to receive the designation (1972), the Buffalo flows roughly
150 miles and includes nearly 95,000 acres of public land along
its corridor. The river descends nearly 2,000 feet through layers
of sandstone, limestone and chert. One immediately obvious result
is bluffs and more bluffs -- the highest in all the Ozark Mountains.
Hidden away, ready for discovery, are other geologic marvels
-- springs, caves, waterfalls, natural bridges and box-like canyons,
where trails are abundant. Numerous outfitters (for canoeing,
rafting, horseback riding and fishing) service the river, and
there are several campgrounds, cabins, motels and other lodging
options nearby. (870) 741-5443; www.arkansas.com/outdoors_sports/float/.
2. Hot Springs -- Fishing, skiing, pleasure boating,
sailing, houseboating, parasailing and scuba diving are popular
lake activities, while attractions such as Hot Springs National
Park, the Mid-America Science Museum, a 210-acre botanical garden,
live music and magic shows, and a host of other family-oriented
activities have made the Hot Springs area one of Arkansas's top
tourist destinations. Hot Springs is also a nationally renowned
arts community and the boyhood home of former U.S. President
Bill Clinton. Three area lakes -- Hamilton, Catherine and Ouachita
-- accommodate water-based recreation and are home to private
resorts and two state parks. The town and Hot Springs National
Park owe their existence to a remarkable array of springs, which
still supply naturally heated water for thermal bathers. The
Fordyce Bathhouse, located on famous Bathhouse Row, serves as
the park's visitors center. Garvan Woodland Gardens, located
on the shores of Lake Hamilton, is one of the state's newest
major attractions. Hot Springs National Park: (501) 624-3383;
Garvan Woodland Gardens: 1-800-366-4664; www.garvangardens.org.
The Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau (provides information
on other attractions and area lakes): 1-800-SPA-CITY; www.hotsprings.org.
3. Devil's Den State Park is nestled deep in a picturesque
Ozark valley where you can explore caves, crevices and bluff
overlooks. Selected as a park site in the 1930s, Lee Creek Valley
provided materials for the Civilian Conservation Corps to build
the park's rustic-style wood and stone cabins and other structures
(which today offer modern conveniences). The mountain stream
forms a peaceful eight-acre lake before cascading over a native
stone dam. Hiking and backpacking trails access backcountry areas
of the park and the surrounding Ozark National Forest. Other
park amenities include campsites, a café, picnic areas,
pavilions, a swimming pool (open seasonally), tennis courts,
a playground and mountain bike trails. The park is located in
West Fork. (479) 761-3325; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
4. Arkansas North by Northwest -- A glittering gem of
Northwest Arkansas, Beaver Lake's 28,000 acres of clear water
attract thousands of water sport lovers, fishermen, hikers and
birdwatchers. The lake is surrounded by forests, tall bluffs
and meadows crisscrossed by hiking trails. Campgrounds, resorts,
marinas, outfitters, restaurants and shops serve the lake area,
which is located in the Ozark Highlands near Rogers, Eureka Springs,
Springdale and Fayetteville. Trout fishing on the White River
is popular below Beaver Dam. Rogers has a variety of retail stores
in its historic downtown district that covers eight square blocks.
Brick-paved streets lead to old-fashioned storefronts filled
with unique furniture, antiques and gifts, to cafes, and to the
Daisy International Air Museum and the Rogers Historical Museum.
Springdale is an ideal place to comb antique stores or catch
a ride on the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad in a beautifully
restored turn-of-the-century passenger car. Its downtown is also
home to the Shiloh Museum, which offers Ozark history and buildings
dating back to the 1850s. The Fayetteville square is known for
its colorful gardens and Farmer's Market that runs three days
a week beginning in spring. Just blocks away, Dickson Street
is the hip place for unique shops, dining locales and tons of
live music venues. Completing the scene are symphony concerts
and dance and theatrical performances at the Walton Arts Center.
Rogers: (479) 636-1240; www.rogerslowell.com/visitorsguide/.
Springdale: 1-800-972-7261; www.springdale.com/visit/.
Fayetteville: (479) 521-1710; www.fayettevillear.com/visitor.htm.
5. Eureka Springs -- Haunted hotels, great food, shops
full of toys and funky clothing, natural springs and homes built
on the sides of rock cliffs make up this interesting town, nicknamed
"America's Victorian Village." Nestled in the Ozark
Mountains, Eureka Springs' entire downtown area is on the National
Register of Historic Places. It's packed with attractions such
as gardens, caves, an exotic wildlife ranch, a doll museum, live
music and magic shows, and train excursion rides. Unique boutiques
offer everything under the sun -- antiques, fine art, contemporary
and vintage clothing, bells, handmade crafts and more. One store
dedicates itself to everything frogs. A portion of history is
uniquely preserved through ghost tours at the Crescent Hotel,
one of several historic hotels. Eureka Springs was named one
of America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust
for Historic Preservation. Kids can also enjoy nearby Dinosaur
World that has more than 90 life-sized dinosaur and prehistoric
animal replicas spread across the 65-acre park. 1-800-6EUREKA;
6. Mt. Magazine State Park -- Near Paris, the highest
point in Arkansas rises from the Arkansas River Valley to an
elevation of 2,753 feet. It offers hang gliding, rappelling,
rock climbing, horseback riding, camping and hiking. The mountain's
main road has bicycle lanes, and from its eight scenic overlooks
visitors can see hundreds of miles of beautiful forested lands
and mountains. It is also known for its outstanding butterfly
population, boasting 94 of the 126 species found in Arkansas.
A new, large visitor center has an exhibit gallery and gift shop.
Nearby, the Blue Mountain Lake offers more camping and outdoor
recreation. Mount Magazine Scenic Byway leads travelers across
the top of Mount Magazine and past the Cove Lake Recreation Area
and the Cove Lake Trail. (479) 963-8502; www.ArkansasStateParks.com.
7. Blanchard Springs Caverns -- Ranked among the most
beautiful underground discoveries of the 20th Century, Blanchard
Springs Caverns is located deep in the Ozark National Forest,
15 miles north of Mountain View. It is the only developed cave
system operated by the U.S. Forest Service and is open throughout
the year. Lighted walkways lead to stunning limestone formations
and massive rooms, one as long as six football fields. For the
more adventurous, Blanchard Springs also offers guided hikes
into undeveloped reaches of the federally protected underground
system. Helmets, lights, gloves and kneepads are provided for
the four-hour tour, which is limited to eight persons. The Wild
Cave Adventure is open every day and reservations are required.
(Reservations are recommended, but not required, for normal cave
tours.) For more information or to make reservations, phone 1-888-757-2246.
Blanchard Springs Recreational Use Area provides scenic campgrounds,
picnic areas, hiking trails, a massive natural spring and a trout-stocked
lake. Off Ark. 14 near the town of Fifty-Six. 1-888-757-2246;
8. Lake Chicot -- A former main channel of the Mississippi
River, Lake Chicot is the largest oxbow lake in North America.
The lake and its environs are one of the state's top-rated birding
areas. Lake Chicot State Park, located on the northeastern shore
of the 20-mile-long lake, offers cabins, campsites, boat rentals,
levee tours and barge tours of the lake for sunset and wildlife
viewing. The visitor center interprets the area's history and
natural resources through exhibits and programs. Bicycles are
available for rent. On Ark. 144, eight miles northeast of Lake
Village. (870) 265-5480; www.ArkansasStateParks.com.
9. Mt. Nebo State Park -- This mountaintop park in Dardanelle
is the epitome of a family vacation spot with a little romance
thrown in for mom and dad at Sunrise and Sunset points. The Civilian
Conservation Corps-built park contains cabins, tennis courts,
a swimming pool (open seasonally), campsites, a playground, a
hang gliding area and group pavilions. It has 14 miles of trails.
Bikes can be rented at the visitor center. (479) 229-3655; www.ArkansasStateParks.com.
10. Little Rock -- The bright lights and big city of
Little Rock host numerous attractions, including the Historic
Arkansas Museum, the Arkansas Arts Center, the Old State House
Museum, the Aerospace Education Center and IMAX Theater, and
the Museum of Discovery. The downtown riverfront area offers
fine accommodations, dining and shopping. More than 600 mammals,
birds, reptiles and amphibians are on display at the Little Rock
Zoo. Across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, the ALLTEL
Arena is home to major sporting events, headliner concerts and
other happenings. Little Rock: 1-800-844-4781; www.littlerock.com.
Little Rock Zoo: (501) 666-2406; www.littlerockzoo.com.
11. DeGray Lake -- The 13,800-acre lake, about eight
miles north of Arkadelphia, is home to the only resort state
park in Arkansas. The 96-room lodge at DeGray Lake Resort State
Park is on an island accessible via a causeway and features a
large hot tub, a heated swimming pool, a well-equipped exercise
room and a full-service restaurant. Other park facilities include
a challenging 7,200-yard golf course with pro shop, a riding
stable, campgrounds and hiking trails. Visitors can avail themselves
of rental watercraft at the park marina to take advantage of
the lake's fishing or can launch for free their own craft. Sailing,
jet-skiing and pleasure boating are other popular DeGray activities.
Also located on the lake are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreational
areas, most of which have campsites. Iron Mountain Lodge and
Marina has the only fully-equipped lakeside cottages and its
own full-service marina featuring ski boats, party barges, small
fishing boats and houseboats. In Arkadelphia, visitors will find
a variety of restaurants and, between the town's two universities,
a planetarium, galleries and available theatrical and musical
performances. Also in Arkadelphia, a driving tour highlights
several homes listed on the National Register, some of which
date to the 1840s. State park: (501) 865-2801; www.degray.com.
Corps of Engineers sites: (501) 246-5501. Arkadelphia Chamber
of Commerce: (870) 246-5542. Henderson State University Planetarium:
(870) 230-5006; www.hsu.edu/dept/phy/planetarium.html.
12. Petit Jean State Park -- In Morrilton, this flagship
of the state parks system encompasses 2,658 acres of rare natural
beauty -- an abundance of unmarred woods, ravines, streams, springs,
spectacular views and interesting ecological formations preserved
almost as French explorers found them 300 years ago. In addition
to its cabins and Mather Lodge, it has a restaurant, two swimming
pools (open seasonally), campsites, boating, fishing, hiking
trails and the spectacular Cedar Falls. Also on Petit Jean Mountain
is a collection of 50 regularly rotated vintage vehicles dating
from 1904 to 1967 on display at the Museum of Automobiles. Petit
Jean: 1-800-264-2462; www.ArkansasStateParks.com.
Museum: (501) 727-5427; www.museumofautos.com.
13. Crater of Diamonds State Park -- North America's
largest diamond (40.23 carats) and more than 70,000 others have
been found in a field south of Murfreesboro since farmer John
Huddleston discovered the first such gems there in 1906. Now
the eroding surface of a volcanic pipe, located about three miles
south of Murfreesboro, is preserved as Crater of Diamonds State
Park. It is the world's only site where, for a small fee, individuals
can dig for diamonds and keep what they find. The park's visitors
center offers an audio-visual presentation giving tips on diamond
hunting, a display of diamonds in the rough and exhibits detailing
the site's history and geology. The park also has a campground,
a hiking trail, a picnic and play area, and, new in 2003, a water
play area. A rainbow-trout fishery is located on the Little Missouri
River below the Narrows Dam some nine miles north of the park.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks trout there from
late fall through April. (870) 285-3113; www.ArkansasStateParks.com
14. Lake Ouachita -- Arkansas's largest reservoir at
40,000 acres, Lake Ouachita offers fishing for striped and largemouth
bass and other sport fish in the midst of outstanding scenery.
It is also a popular destination for scuba diving, pleasure boating,
sailing and water skiing. A number of private resorts with marinas
and other recreational amenities are located on its shores. And
some of the marinas offer houseboat rentals. Lake Ouachita State
Park has a marina, rental cabins, campsites and hiking trails.
Numerous U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreation areas are also
located on the lake, which was formed by the completion of Blakely
Mountain Dam in the early 1950s. Resorts: (870) 867-2723, www.mtidachamber.com/motels-resorts.
Lake Ouachita State Park: (501) 767-9366; www.ArkansasStateParks.com.
Corps of Engineers: (501) 767-2101.
15. Greers Ferry Lake/Little Red River -- Commercial
and public use campgrounds, first-class lodging, resorts and
championship golf courses are trademarks of the Greers Ferry
Lake and Little Red River area. Nestled in the hardwood forests
and foothills between Clinton and Heber Springs, Greers Ferry
is the third largest lake in Arkansas's Ozark Mountains (31,500
surface acres). The Little Red River emerges icy-cold from Greers
Ferry Dam and provides excellent trout fishing waters for miles
downstream. The current world-record brown trout (40 pounds,
four ounces) was landed on the Little Red in 1992. Resorts and
outfitters are available. Ark. 25 passes the lake and river visitor
center at the dam on the western end of the reservoir. (501)
16. Queen Wilhelmina State Park -- Spectacular vistas,
a miniature golf course, miniature train rides and hiking trails
-- lined with colorful wildflowers in the spring -- provide family
activities at Queen Wilhelmina State Park. Its lodge accommodates
travelers with 38 rooms, a restaurant and a gift shop. Guests
using the park's campground often include hikers on the 223-mile
Ouachita National Recreation Trail, which runs through the park.
(479) 394-2863; www.ArkansasStateParks.com.
17. White River and Bull Shoals Lake -- Another favorite
family destination, Bull Shoals has almost 1,000 miles of rugged
shoreline. People come to fish, scuba dive, houseboat, water
ski, camp, hike and relax. Nineteen parks, including Bull Shoals-White
River State Park, with camping and picnic facilities can be found
around the lake. Fishing on Bull Shoals is excellent all year
with peak action in March, April and May. Internationally famous
for its beauty and great fishing, the White River flows through
the Ozark Mountains and across the Delta (over 700 miles) before
joining the Mississippi River. Trout fishing below the dam, which
is the fifth largest concrete dam in the U.S., is a major draw.
Resorts and full-service marinas are available as are many accommodations
and guide services. Corps of Engineers: (870) 425-2700. State
Park: (870) 431-5521; www.ArkansasStateParks.com.
18. Crowley's Ridge National Scenic Parkway -- Created
by water, wind and glacier action over the past 50 million years,
the ridge is a series of tree-covered rolling hills stretching
200 miles, north to south, in the midst of the great east-Arkansas
delta. Geologists proclaim it one of the great natural oddities
of the world. Since the arrival of settlers in the early 19th
Century the ridge has served as a recreational retreat. The parkway
is one of only 53 Federal Highway Administration Scenic Byways
in 27 states. From St. Francis to Helena, the route passes by
or near the home where Ernest Hemingway wrote portions of "A
Farewell to Arms," five state parks, a national forest,
Civil War sites, historic homes, museums, rich agricultural areas,
and the Delta Cultural Center. Activities along the route include
lake fishing, picnicking, hiking, and boating. Cabins, campgrounds,
bathhouses, playgrounds, and visitor centers can be found at
the state parks. Jonesboro, the largest city on the parkway,
has shopping districts, a historic downtown, a civic center,
plus Arkansas State University with its public museum, art gallery
and convocation center. The parkway and Crowley's Ridge end at
Helena at the Mississippi River. Handsome antebellum and Victorian
homes stand on the gentle slopes just before the ridge disappears
into the delta. Lodging at hotels and bed and breakfast inns
is also available. For information about the parkway, call (870)
910-8080 or visit www.deltabyways.com.
19. Ouachita National Forest -- Within the 1.7 million-acre
Ouachita National Forest (est. 1907) are back roads and hiking
trails that provide visitors with an up-close experience of the
aged mountains. Among the forest's most popular campgrounds are
the Albert Pike Recreation Area on the Little Missouri River
and the Shady Lake Recreation Area, located on a scenic 25-acre
lake formed by a Civilian Conservation Corps dam constructed
in the 1930s. The forest also provides several float camps for
canoeists on the upper Ouachita River. The nearby Crystal Mountains
range of the Ouachitas contains some of the world's finest deposits
of quartz crystals. Several area mines allow patrons, for a fee,
to dig and keep their finds. Quartz specimens and a variety of
other rocks and minerals are available in area rock shops. Also
in the Ouachitas, the Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area
extends for 11 miles along the Cossatot River. The wild and scenic
river forms Cossatot Falls, a rugged and rocky canyon that challenges
the most experienced canoeist and kayakers and attracts those
who like to watch the sport. With rapids rated up to Class V
in difficulty, the Cossatot is only for very experienced floaters.
Though renowned for its whitewater, the Cossatot is not consistently
at floatable levels. It is generally floatable for at most a
few days after significant rainfall. The U.S. Forest Service
provides numerous recreational amenities within the national
forest, including campgrounds, day-use and scenic areas, hiking
and backpacking trails, and many miles of backcountry roads for
touring. National Forest: (501) 321-5202; www.fs.fed.us/oonf/ouachita.htm.
Crystal Mining: (870) 867-2723; www.mtidachamber.com/quartz-crystal.htm.
Cossatot: (870) 385-2201; www.ArkansasStateParks.com.
20. Calendar of Events -- Other vacation ideas can be
gleaned from the state's Calendar of Events. Spring events include
children's theater productions, a home and garden show, a family-oriented
Mardi Gras parade and festival, interpretive river cruises, barrel
racing, a daffodil festival, lake kayak tours, a backpacking
basics workshop, a bluegrass festival, Arkansas Riverblades ice
hockey, a Navajo sandpainting workshop, outdoor walking tours,
a kite festival, a pioneer craft festival, an alligator river
cruise, an outdoor living series, and much more. Some events
are free or have a small admission charge. The calendar can be
perused online at www.arkansas.com/calendar/.
To find all the entertainment and vacation options available
in these locations and other parts of the state, call (501) 682-7777
for a free vacation kit or pick one up at a tourist information
center. Thirteen centers are operated at points of entry into
the state. Trained travel consultants from the state tourism
division provide suggested tour routes, an Arkansas Tour guide,
and other literature on places of interest.