Arkansas is one of the wildest corners of the USA.
Within the Natural State’s comparatively compact dimensions, you can find the 1.4 billion-year-old granite foundations of the Ozark Mountains, river valleys, wooded canyons and the alluvial delta of the Mississippi, the largest river in North America.
While many of the most fabulous wild areas are preserved within the boundaries of Arkansas state parks rather than national parks, visitors can explore an intriguing cross-section of natural attractions and historical sites that are looked after by the US federal government.
Here are the four best national parks and sites in Arkansas.
1. Paddle along the Buffalo National River
The 153-mile long Buffalo River runs west to east through the heart of northern Arkansas, carving out gorges and canyons through the forested uplands on its snaking route. In 1972, this waterway was named the country’s first national river, a distinction that makes it a draw for outdoors enthusiasts from around the country.
The best way to explore the Buffalo is – naturally – to get on it. There is a well-established infrastructure for those looking to paddle on the river; the park website has information on both NPS rentals and authorized private concessions operating along the river. With put-ins at Ponca or Steel Creek, the Upper Buffalo is the most popular area with paddlers thanks to the sheer majesty of the scenery – think a more verdant (if less monumental) Grand Canyon.
One hundred miles of hiking trails wind around the Buffalo River watershed, including an actual river trail that criss-crosses the flow and runs 35 miles from Ponca to Pruitt. Other looping trails through the deep woods and upcountry can be accessed from towns like Jasper.
Planning tip: There are plenty of spots for backcountry camping along the river during a paddle trip, yet you don’t have to be on a boat to enjoy the best of sleeping outdoors in this area. There are some excellent drive-in campgrounds managed by the NPS along the river, including the Ozark campground near Jasper, which boasts a fantastic swimming hole.
2. Head to Hot Springs National Park for history and hiking
The one National Park Service-administered site in Arkansas, Hot Springs, can legitimately call itself the oldest…