Without a doubt, our river valley is sandwiched within some of the best places to hike in Arkansas. And the State Parks of Arkansas are one of our most cherished resources.
Unlike many other state park systems, day access to these unique places is 100% free. Because of their accessibility to all walks of life, I think we often take their presence for granted. Out of the 52 state parks, four are within less than an hour’s drive from the center of Russellville. Each one is unique and worth visiting, but three, in particular, boast what I would consider some of the best day hiking.
Let’s be honest for a moment: the criteria for a “best” of anything is fast and loose and 100% subjective. However, “best” in my book is an outdoor experience with a fine balance of unique aesthetics, scenic moments of pause, and interesting flora along the route.
5. Signal Hill Trail, Mount Magazine State Park, Paris: This is a rite of passage for every outdoors-loving Arkansan; its endpoint is the highest point in Arkansas at an elevation of 2,753 feet above sea level. Along this fairly chill 1.5-mile forest walk, you’ll enjoy a full helping of native flora, especially in late March/early April. This is an excellent hike for those just getting comfortable with hiking, and the reward at the end is a fairly impressive 400 square foot stone map of Arkansas.
4. Rim Trail, Mount Nebo State Park, Dardanelle: If aerial vistas are on your list of must-haves for a solid day hike, this 3.5 mile, moderate-difficulty hike should be on your list. The trail circles the mountaintop of Mount Nebo and allows access to all original hiking trails created by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Along the length of the path, the tread features CCC hand-built rock step work and retaining walls. The overall reward: a 360’ view of the River Valley.
3. Ox Pull, Mount Nebo State Park, Dardanelle: Ox Pull is one of nine Monument Trails constructed on Mount Nebo. This series of trails were built 100% with sustainability in mind and feature trail corridors that allow for multiple users to recreate comfortably at once. Ox Pull, in particular, is a bike up only and hike up and down. This trail makes my list of top 5 because of its significant positive impact on our area: it’s answering a need that walkers/hikers have had for many years. Runners and walkers have only had foot access to the top of Nebo exclusively via Highway 155 until this trail was built. This 1.7-mile trail is considered strenuous solely for its elevation change of 650 feet to 1450 feet. Still, the accomplished feeling at the top and safety from traffic is worth it.
2. Summit Park Trail, Mount Nebo State Park, Dardanelle: I love hiking trails that tie in historical significance to the walk itself. Summit Park Trail, a National Recreation Trail, is 1.6 miles and ranked moderate-strenuous. Hikers will take the same path that the famous Summit Park Hotel visitors took to enjoy Fern Lake in the mid-summer months. Along the way, there are educational moments to give hikers a glimpse into the past – grab a self-guided trail brochure at the Visitor’s Center if this interests you. Like much of the Rim Trail, the experience of hiking Summit Park is improved with the nearly 100-year-old rock stair work completed by the CCC.
1. Seven Hollows Trail, Petit Jean Mountain State Park, Morrilton: It’s really tough to pick just one favorite Petit Jean Mountain State Park hiking trail. Cedar Falls is a favorite to many in the area. Still, some consider it inaccessible to all because of the strenuous nature of the hike out. The Winthrop P. Rockefeller Trail is probably my new favorite hiking experience, but its 12-mile length scares off most casual day hikers. Seven Hollows Trail, a 4.5-mile moderate difficulty trail, is a loop that passes through a series of small canyons, features a natural stone bridge/arch, and markings of prehistoric Native Americans. Though it’s the longest hike on this list, and the length may seem daunting to some, the variety of caves, natural stone stairways, native flora, and slight elevation dips and rises make this hike enjoyable each and every time.