By Jill Rohrbach
Outdoor enthusiasts will find hundreds of miles of amazing trails in Arkansas designed for easy strolls, long hikes and mountain bikes. While most people think of trails as being on solid ground, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in 2009 created trails on water to highlight the diversity of paddling terrain that also can be found in the state. With all the outstanding options, it can be hard to decide which path to take. Here’s insight on four trails offering great family fun.
Lorance Creek Natural Area
A paved foot-trail and boardwalk lead the way to a diverse environment spread out along the banks of Lorance Creek, located just a few miles outside of Little Rock. The short hike is only about half of a mile roundtrip and is ADA accessible. Interpretive panels explain the two different ecosystems found here—the Coastal Plain and the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. Here, you find a mix of both upland pine hardwood forest and a bald cypress/tupelo swamp. Open water contains both beaver ponds and sandy washes overlain with black gum. Small streams and seeps intertwine the features.
Expect the trail to drop as it heads into the bottomland. Look for plant and animal life of these forested wetlands. Bring your insect repellent, particularly in the muggy months. This one’s definitely easy for smaller kids and strollers.
Little Maumelle Water Trail
The Little Maumelle is easily accessed from downtown Little Rock, making it a quick escape for those in central Arkansas. This waterway can be paddled year-round. It’s great for watching wildlife, immersing yourself in the slow pace of nature or enjoying the fun of fishing.
Canoes and solo kayaks are available for rent at Pinnacle Mountain State Park Visitor Center. Put in at the park boat launch, then paddle down the river trail for as far as you like before turning around and paddling back. There are a few riffles and wade areas in the upper portion, but it’s mostly calm paddling. Check with the park staff, though, if there’s been heavy rain and the water flow is fast because that can make it difficult to paddle back upstream to your put-in.
Don’t forget your sunscreen. Look for ospreys, red-shouldered hawks, barred owls, all kinds of waterfowl, beavers, deer, raccoons, possums and water snakes. As you paddle back to the launch point, look for views of Pinnacle Mountain. You can always combine your water excursion with a hike on one of the many other park trails through the woods or even to the point of the Pinnacle.
Mount Kessler in Fayetteville is an iconic experience for anyone who wants to travel to Northwest Arkansas. While plenty of people hike and run the trails on Mount Kessler, mountain bikers in particular love this singletrack. The stacked loops provide anything from a 3- to 12-mile ride for intermediate to advance riders. It’s mapped, signed and family friendly. Riders earn their climb to the amazing ridgeline trails but enjoy a rewarding downhill ride back to the car. Park at the Mount Kessler Trailhead at 2600 W. Judge Cummings Road, where you’ll also find a regional park. A 1.3-mile connector trail winds from the trailhead to the singletrack on the mountain.
Bring plenty of water and a snack. Take the Spellbound trail for beautiful overlooks and a ride through large boulders. Crazy Mary offers rewarding views on the other side of the mountain.
The Summit Trail
Sugarloaf Mountain in Heber Springs is home to several hiking trails, including the popular Summit Trail. This well-maintained trail is a moderate incline leading to rocky formations that can be climbed to reach the plateau of this 690-foot erosional remnant near the Little Red River. It’s worth the effort for a view that extends for miles in every direction.
However, it’s definitely a trail for older kids and adults who are able to climb rock and be mindful of the mountain edge. The mountain got its name from early white settlers to the area. They called it Sugarloaf because it looked like the shape of the loaves of unrefined sugar in use at the time. The Osage Tribe who used to live there called it Tonawanda. Other trails on the mountain include the Tonawanda Base Trail, accessible Hidden Pond Trail and the Wildlife Trail.
Bring your phone or camera for the fabulous photo op from the top. Binoculars are great, too.