They call Arkansas “The Natural State”—and there’s certainly plenty of natural beauty to enjoy in our neighboring state. If you’re searching for an outdoor adventure that’s not too far away, here’s a guide to family-friendly destinations—just a few hours from Dallas-Fort Worth.
Ozark Mountain Region
This getaway will definitely make your children want to put down their devices. The Ozark Mountain Region—in the northwest portion of Arkansas—offers spectacular scenery, from mountains, valleys and forests to limestone caves with lakes and streams, fossils, rock formations and unique creatures.
If your kiddo would enjoy a subterranean outing (and what kid wouldn’t), we recommend Cosmic Cavern in the city of Berryville. A one hour and 15-minute walking tour will take your family through an underground wonderland: stalactites and stalagmites (including a 9-foot formation called a soda straw), so-called cave bacon (a formation developed by water flow), two cave lakes—with blind cave trout and blind cave salamanders—and more. The distance is about a third of a mile, and the temperature in the cave is 64 degrees all year long. Kids can pan for gems before or after the tour.
The Ozark region also is home to Bull Shoals Lake, known as the Caribbean of the Midwest. There’s unbelievable visibility (the clear, blue water is great for scuba diving), and the smooth lake surface is ideal for water sports. You can rent a boat or other equipment at Bull Shoals Lake marinas, then end your day camping along the mountainous shoreline (it’s said to be free of mosquitoes!) or resting at a nearby resort or motel.
Find more to love about the Ozark region at arkansas.com/ozark-mountain-region.
The southwestern section of the state (closest to Texas) offers both activity and relaxation.
You can dig for real diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park—one of the destinations featured in our roundup of nearby state parks—and paddle along the Caddo River. (It’s also great to float; rent a tube, kayak, raft or canoe at Caddo River Camping & Canoe Rental in Glenwood.)
If the combination of a state park and a resort sound good to you, head to DeGray Lake. Enjoy waterfront lodging with topnotch amenities (you can also camp or rent a yurt), a golf course, disc golf, swimming, guided horseback riding, trails, boat and kayak rentals, bike rentals, sunset cruises, eagle watch tours, snorkeling trips—is there anything you can’t do there?
If you’re looking for a different kind of aquatic experience, head to Hot Springs for a spa vacation.
You can relax with a mineral bath, steam cabinet and massage while your spouse takes the kids to some of the city’s family-friendly attractions, such as Magic Springs Theme and Water Park, the Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo and National Park Duck Tours. (Check out seehotsprings.com for discount ticket availability.)
Log on to arkansas.com/regions/southwest-arkansas for more suggested stops in the area.
This is Arkansas’ biggest lake, with pristine water covering 40,000 acres. (In comparison, Grapevine Lake is about 8,000 acres.) And the beauty doesn’t stop at the shoreline: Lake Ouachita is surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest, and there’s a lot to enjoy on and off the water.
Visitors to Lake Ouachita State Park can be found swimming, kayaking, fishing, boating and taking part in water sports (you can rent boats and other equipment nearby), or walking the trails—Caddo Bend Trail offers gorgeous views with wildflowers plus quartz and boulder gardens, but it’s a strenuous trip; Dogwood Trail is easy and draws attention to local wildlife.
Speaking of wildlife, there are eagle cruises on Lake Ouachita to help you spot the majestic creatures.
If you want to stay on park property, you have your pick of anything from rustic campsites to lakeview cabins with kitchens, satellite TV, fireplaces and spa tubs. Get more details on the Arkansas State Parks website.
Image courtesy of iStock.