Arkansas: The (Underappreciated) Natural State

No offense, Arkansas, but we weren’t expecting much.

Perhaps that is because we knew very little about the state. Edie’s mom had done her initial nurse training at Arkansas Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock, so we’d at least heard a little about the state’s capital city. And since we’d been teenagers during the Clinton era, we’d heard of Hope and Hot Springs. We’d also heard of the Ozarks and knew at least a portion of those mountains was in Arkansas.

But really, that was it. All we knew about the state. Which is why we had initially only planned to do a quick stop-over in Little Rock, see the Clinton Presidential Library, and move on. Luckily, our plans changed, we had an amazing Couchsurfing host, and we got to spend more time in this incredibly beautiful state that has a wealth of activity for nature lovers!

Rest assured, dear readers, we weren’t the only ones who viewed Arkansas as the red-headed stepchild of the U.S. Our handy little book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler’s Life List, didn’t list a single must-see spot in the whole state! And when we mentioned our current location to a friend, she remarked that another friend was making a big move from D.C. to Washington state and whenever she got bummed about the move, her friends said, “At least it isn’t Arkansas!”

Obviously, we didn’t get to explore the whole state – we were only there for 9 days, mostly in the northern portion of the state. We are sure there is tons more natural beauty to explore there, but we’re hoping our little post at least gets the word out about a few of the hidden gems lurking in this underappreciated state!

William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Our first exposure to a Presidential library was the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum during our visit to Austin, TX. We spent almost 4 hours over 2 days exploring that library, reading all the exhibits and watching the videos to learn a little more about LBJ and the history of the US (and the world) during his lifetime. We had such a good experience that we’re trying to go visit the other Presidential libraries when we hit a city housing one. [If only we’d been clued in to these when we were in Atlanta – we would have visited the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum.]

Little Rock is home to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Admission only set us back $7.00 each, so we spent a few hours watching the introductory video on Clinton’s life & Presidency and walking through the 3 floors of exhibits (not much on Floor 1 except a car, the admission counter and restrooms).

The exhibits run mostly in chronological order, tracing the path of Clinton’s 2 terms in office and the events which occurred during each year. There is information on all of the legislation passed during his tenure, and there are cases & cases of the gifts Clinton was given during his Presidency. A bonus for Edie? Information on the first pets, Buddy and Socks! [Sorry, folks, cigars are not handed out as mementos.]

On the grounds outside the museum are two other nice features – an old railroad bridge (we think…) turned pedestrian bridge crossing over the Arkansas River and the William E. “Bill” Clark Presidential Park Wetlands. The bridge is a nice & easy little walk that provides great views of downtown Little Rock, and the wetlands area has a large wooden walkway curving along a pond that is teeming with turtles. It’s dog friendly, too, so Knox got to take the walk through those features with us.

Paws Park

This epic road trip isn’t just about the humans; we like to make sure Knox has a good time, too! Thus, we make every attempt to visit dog parks when they are open and available to us. When we know we’re traveling to a city that might have one, we consult BringFido.com to check out our options.

Thankfully, Little Rock had Paws Park, an off-leash dog park at Murray Park. Paws Park touts itself as the first fenced, off-leash dog park in Little Rock. It is wonderfully shady, has plenty of poop bags, trash cans, & water on-site, and has separate areas for large & small dogs. A bonus for travelers like us? No membership required – it’s free!

We visited a few times while we were in the Little Rock area, including once on a Saturday. This place is PACKED with frolicking, happy pups on weekends, so Knox got some great time to socialize with other furry friends. Our second trip was during the day in the middle of the week, but there were still 5 or 6 other dogs for Knox to greet and chase.

Petit Jean State Park

On Easter Sunday, Scott & Knox joined our Couchsurfing host and a few of her friends for a hike to Cedar Falls at Petit Jean State Park. [Edie opted for a little extra rest to prepare for an awesome Easter dinner party!] Scott and Knox were so impressed with the beautiful scenery, that we ended up spending almost a week camping at Petit Jean State Park after leaving Little Rock.

Petit Jean has multiple hiking trails, biking trails and overlooks throughout the park. Some trails are easier than others, but they all showcase the natural beauty in the park’s forests. On our first morning at the park, we took the hike to Cedar Falls and the Blue Hole. We saw butterflies, snakes, and wildflowers in addition to the spectacular waterfall.

Pinnacle Mountain State Park

Our Couchsurfing host told us that we had to hike up Pinnacle Mountain before we left Arkansas. She said it was an awesome hike that provided incredible views when you reached the summitt. Bonus? Pinnacle Mountain State Park was dog-friendly, so Knox could join us, albeit on leash.

On our last Friday morning in Arkansas, we ventured over to hike up the mountain. We took the East Summit Trail to the top which ended up being less hiking and more bouldering, but an incredible workout for all three of us! Reaching the top was definitely an achievement and did indeed provide some breathtaking views. Again, as with the hikes through Petit Jean, there were tons of wildflowers and wildlife along the way (yes, even on those boulders!).

Buffalo National River, Jasper & Eureka Springs

Although we didn’t get to really explore the areas, we at least got to drive through the Buffalo National River area and the towns of Jasper & Eureka Springs thanks to a suggestion from our campground neighbors at Petit Jean (thanks, Steve & Sherry!).

Buffalo National River has tons of canoeing, kayaking and hiking options. Had it not been rainy and chilly on our drive through, we would have loved to take a short hike along one of the many trails in the area. Jasper is a small little town in the Buffalo National River area with places to stay, eat or get outfitted for outdoor adventures.

Eureka Springs, on the other hand, is much more touristy. It is a quirky little town with funky little shops, a variety of restaurants and neat places to stay. Parking appears to be a little tough if you’re there on a weekend since this is a place lots of people come to visit. It kind of reminded us of Gatlinburg, TN!

Pictures!

We’d be doing our readers a great disservice if we talked about all the beauty in Arkansas and didn’t share some examples. So Edie took a ton of pictures (as always!) to show you just how amazing Arkansas really is. Enjoy!