With the arrival of winter, it can be tempting to hunker down inside until the daffodils begin to bloom. But, if you do, you’ll be missing out on one of the best things about living in Arkansas — the outdoors.
While there are certainly days in January and February when staying inside with a cup of hot chocolate, a fire and the TV remote is the most inviting choice, there are often milder days that are perfect for taking a hike along one of the state’s trails. Arkansas is well-known as a spring and fall hiking destination, but Tim Ernst, wilderness photographer and author of several Arkansas outdoor guides, says winter is a great hiking season in The Natural State.
“Some years we have long stretches of 60- to 70-degree days, with brilliant sunshine,” Ernst writes in his “Buffalo River Hiking Trails” guidebook. “Many of the trails that run through endless tunnels of heavy forest the rest of the year are now open to the world — with no leaves on the trees, you can see deep into the hills and hollows and out across the countryside.”
Unlike in summer, which is usually too hot and humid for a comfortable hike, there’s no need to worry about snakes, mosquitoes or other bugs in winter. You still want to carry water to stay hydrated and wear sturdy, comfortable shoes/boots. Hiking poles/sticks are helpful on the more rugged trails, especially after a rain, when rocks can be slippery or even icy on a frosty morning. For day hikes, pack a lunch or some snacks to keep your energy level up. Especially important in the winter is to wear layers and avoid working up a sweat on colder days.
“When it is cold out, you tend to start hiking with too many clothes on, and soon break out in a sweat,” Ernst writes. Sweating while out in cold temperatures can lead to potentially deadly hypothermia, he warns. He suggests the layering method, where you simply remove clothing as you get warm to make regulating body temperature easier. Once you start walking, especially on the more demanding trails, it usually doesn’t take long to warm up.
Arkansas has about 1,800 miles of trails located throughout state, including all six geographic regions. The trails range in length from less than 1 mile to more than 200 miles. Some are accessible while others are extremely difficult. About 300 miles of trails are located within Arkansas’ state parks, and the longest trails, including the Ozark Highlands Trail (165 miles) and the Ouachita National Recreation Trail (223 miles), are located within the state’s two national forests.
Some of the state’s most popular hiking trails are located at Petit Jean State Park in the Arkansas River Valley, Devil’s Den State Park near Fayetteville and Pinnacle Mountain State Park near Little Rock. These trails feature numerous rock outcroppings and vistas, and Petit Jean even has a 95-foot waterfall.
First Day Hikes
A great way to kick off the new year and to discover the hiking opportunities at Arkansas’ state parks is by participating in the First Day Hikes interpretive programs offered at several state parks.
The hikes, which take place on Jan. 1, are part of a nationwide initiative led by the American Hiking Society. State park interpreters lead the hikes, and those who complete them receive a sticker commemorating the event. Visit: arkansasstateparks.com/first-day-hikes.
For more details on Arkansas’ state park hiking trails, visit the trail finder at: arkansasstateparks.com/trails.
For more tips on cold-weather hiking, visit: americanhiking.org/resources/cold-weather-hiking/.
PHOTOS Courtesy of Arkansas Department of PARKS, HERITAGE AND TOURISM