It wasn’t very long ago that Arkansas was the last stop on the way to the great, wild, and unknown American West. Weigh stations like Fort Smith were havens for settlers fearing unrest and trading posts for adventurers and pioneers preparing for their treks on the frontier.
In many ways, this state located in the South-Central region of the U.S. still embodies many of the qualities of those long ago days. A wild, untamed quality still exists in Arkansas, from the banks of the Mississippi in the east to the high-reaching Ozarks in the north.
Originally a part of the famed Louisiana Purchase, the Arkansas territory was first admitted to the Union in 1836 and later seceded with the rest of the Southern states at the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861. Its rich delta farmland was and remains fertile ground for cotton farming, and its proximity to the mighty Mississippi River made it a trading outpost for decades.
Arkansas was even the site of landmark civil rights events like “The Little Rock Nine” that helped to fully integrate the school systems in the American South in the 1960s.
Indeed, Arkansas has a story to tell and one that stretches back centuries while also looking to the future. Luckily, its state park system preserves much of this story for coming generations.
Below are some must see sites when visiting the Natural State:
Lake Ouachita State Park: Visitors will find one of Arkansas’ most popular attractions at this site near Mountain Pine, AR. Lake Ouachita, the largest lake in the state, boasts more than 40,000 acres of pristine water surrounded by the lush Ouachita National Forest. There are countless things to do in this nature lover’s dream. Swimming, boating, fishing, kayaking, and even scuba diving can all be done right here. In addition, the park offers campsites and hiking trails for the nomadic visitor and is dog-friendly so that the whole family can enjoy this outdoor playground.
Mammoth Spring State Park: This spot at the very northern tip of Arkansas also contains a National Monument. Mammoth Spring is one of the world’s largest natural springs, with 9 million gallons flowing through it every hour. This spring also forms a 10-acre lake that feeds south into the Spring River, which is a favorite destination for trout fishermen or simply those looking to “float” the river in an innertube. The remnants of an old mill and hydroelectric plant still stand there today, so visitors can learn a little bit about what life was like at Mammoth Springs centuries ago.
Mount Magazine State Park: The highest point in the state can be found at this mountain, and while the views are simply stunning, there is so much more to experience. The scenic overlooks are unmatched at a summit of 2,713 feet, but the hiking trails to get to the top are worth the climb. One of the most popular destination spots in the Natural State, visitors flock here to hike, climb, camp, and relax. Additionally, extreme sports lovers come from miles around for mountain biking and ATV-riding. Some visitors prefer to take the trails in the saddle and mosey along under a lush canopy of Arkansas forest on one of the many horseback trails. Visitors can even hang glide here! There is truly something for every stripe of the wild at heart at Mount Magazine State Park.