Jun 2, 2024 - Guides

How to have fun outside in Northwest Arkansas this summer

Illustration of an Arkansas-shaped marshmallow on a stick.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Great hikes are a few miles away from just about anywhere in Northwest Arkansas. It's one of the reasons the area is consistently rated highly on various lists naming it a great place to live.

The big picture: There's no need to wait for the weekend to unplug and explore. With a little planning, you can leave the office, go any direction, hit a trail and make it home soon after sundown.

North Bella Vista is home to several low-impact trails, notably Tanyard Creek Nature Trail, which offers waterfalls and creeks.

  • Rated as easy, the nature trail loops 2.2 miles with about 200 feet of elevation gain.

South — Just 24 miles from Fayetteville, Devil's Den State Park has several routes to explore, but the Yellow Rock Trail may have the best payoff for views.

  • The 3-ish mile loop is rated as moderately difficult with nearly 500 feet of elevation gain.

East — Another collection of footpaths and mountain bike trails can be found at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, where activities range from an overnight trip to a quick walk on the Shaddox Hollow Nature Trail. The park is about 25 miles from Springdale.

  • The 1.5-mile loop is rated as easy to moderate with about 240 feet of total elevation gain.

West — A bit of a hidden gem, the Lincoln Lake Loop can be a workout in places but offers plenty of spots to rest and check out the scenery. Crossing the creek at the halfway point can be tricky in high water; be prepared to wade.

  • The loop is about 4.5 miles and is rated as intermediate with nearly 400 feet of elevation gain.

The bottom line: Trails noted here allow dogs, but they must be leashed.

  • Always let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back.
  • And please leave the area better than you found it.

Places to paddle

A photo of the front of a blue kayak on water reflecting the clouds in the sky, framed with greenery
The Cricket Creek area of Table Rock Lake. Photo: Worth Sparkman

One cool way to check out the Natural State is from the water. The open skies provide views of bluffs and bald eagles you don't normally see from land.

  • Plus it's fun.

State of play: Boaters can access 24 lakes and 18 rivers at Arkansas state parks. Both options surround NWA along with private and municipal spots, and most offer vessel rentals so the entry point is relatively simple. A few worth noting:

Swift water

Siloam Springs Kayak Park — Two Class I to II human-engineered rapids along the Illinois River are the centerpiece, but it also includes a family swimming area, a climbing boulder and picnic area.

  • The park is free, however, it charges $10 per car to park during the summer on the weekends and holidays.

WOKA Whitewater Park — Located just across the Oklahoma state line, the Waters of Oklahoma and Arkansas also taps the Illinois River. With eight low-hazard whitewater features, the park offers a full line of raft, tube and kayak rentals starting at $25.

Still water

Lake Fayetteville — A no-wake lake in the middle of town with nearly 200 acres of water, Lake Fayetteville makes first-time aqua outings a breeze.

Lake Fort Smith State Park — Just 35 miles south of Fayetteville, it offers nearly 1,500 surface acres to explore.

  • Solo kayaks rent from $10 per hour to $30 for the day and canoes start at $12.50 per hour.

What to know: Arkansas river conditions are available from the U.S. Geological Survey.

  • Like hiking, you should always let someone know where you are and wear appropriate safety gear.
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