Keepin’ It Real in the Natural State
As a student travel planner, you’re working hard to find the best destination for your group. In the midst of your planning, do you ever stop and wonder, “What can I give my kids to do that will get them outside?” We’re with you here.
Although interactive museums are setting the bar high for edutainment, there’s nothing like the real thing. And this is where Arkansas, the Natural State, excels. If you have an active, adventurous group and a few days to fill, Arkansas has a custom-made slice of the great outdoors with your name on it. Activities on the water, mountain and road biking, hiking, caves and caverns, rock climbing, wildlife viewing, camping, geocaching – it’s all available.
What Water Sports Does Arkansas Offer to Student Groups?
Arkansas has over 9,000 miles of streams and rivers, so it’s a great place for canoeing, kayaking and rafting at all skill levels. And we don’t necessarily mean the white-knuckle, white-water variety, either; there are plenty of places where your group can float lazily down a stream, enjoying the scenery.
The flowing waters don’t have Arkansas all to themselves; there are also more than half a million acres of lake in the state. In particular the mountain lakes of the Ozark and Ouachita ranges offer clean waters and great fishing.
If your group is interested in a trip to the beach, you’ll find that in landlocked Arkansas as well. Swimming lakes and sandy beaches are sprinkled throughout the state, including some in tourist-frequented areas like Conway, Hot Springs and Eureka Springs. Or, for a change of pace, visit one of the many lakes in the Ozark National Forest or St. Francis National Forest.
Finally, don’t forget about some of the things that originally put Arkansas on the map as a tourist destination: mineral springs and waterfalls. While some of the state’s waterfalls might require a bit of hiking, Marble Falls and Natural Dam, both in the Ozarks, are easy to find and easy to reach. As for the “healing waters” of the state’s springs, the areas around Eureka Springs, Little Rock and Hot Springs – which has its own national park commemorating the natural phenomenon – are still attracting crowds and spa-goers alike.
Where Can We Hike or Camp in Arkansas?
Altogether, Arkansas has nearly 10,000 camp sites. These can be found in state parks (over 30) national parks, national forests, private and community-owned parks, and national wildlife refuges. But these are far more than just a clear spot to pitch a tent. The National Forest campgrounds offer a more wilderness-centered approach, with plenty of greenery and space to give groups a sense of place. Plan on these sites being a bit more rustic in their amenities; for some, you may even need to provide water for the group.
State parks, on the other hand, can be located a bit more in the heart of tourist activities. Others, such as DeGray Lake Resort Park near Arkadelphia, come packed with enough amenities to keep groups happily onsite. Not only does this resort offer a 96-room lodge, a championship golf course, tennis courts, a swimming beach, and a marina, it also offers a few more unique opportunities in the form of guided horseback trail rides, fishing and birdwatching. For a change of pace, groups can leave the tents and campers at home and rent a yurt.
For true wilderness fans, hiking and camping go hand in hand. It’s no surprise that great hiking can be found in all of this state’s six major regions. Once again, the state’s national parks and forests come to the forefront. Ouachita National Forest has over 70 trails that can be hiked, biked or (in some cases) navigated via horse or ATV/OTV. Ozark-St. Francis National Forest has over 130 miles of multi-use trails and nearly 400 miles of hiking trails.
What Adventure Travel Options Does Arkansas Provide?
In a word, plenty. If your student group gets more of a kick from zipping through the trees or through the rivers rather than sedately hiking and paddling them, Arkansas has your adrenaline rush ready to go. There are over a dozen zipline operators in the state, while canoeing, kayaking, and wakeboarding can be done on selected lakes and rivers. Arkansas also hosts some of the best rock climbing and bouldering in the country. Or take your group to one of the state’s paintball ranges or outdoor laser tag areas.
Are There Any Outdoor Activities Unique to the Natural State?
Yes, there are. The area around Hot Springs in the Ouachita Mountains was considered a sacred and peaceful place, in part because of the abundance of quartz crystal. Today, student groups can dig for their own crystals in Mount Ida, Mena, Jessieville and Story. A small shovel, a screwdriver and some old clothes are all you need to get started in this fascinating (but messy) pastime.
Another type of mine awaits groups in Murfreesboro – Crater of Diamonds State Park, the world’s only public, DIY diamond mine. A 37-acre plowed field is your search zone, and you get to keep whatever you find.
Finally, keep in mind Arkansas’ many caves. All of these caves are living, or still undergoing transformations, and some require special plans or permits to enter. Others – such as Onyx Cave, Blanchard Springs Caverns and Cosmic Caverns – have routes suitable for all.
So, leave the virtual world for when you’re stuck in the classroom. When it’s student group travel time, check out Arkansas’ roster of naturally high-octane activities and get your kids into the great outdoors!
Have you recently took a trip to the Natural State? Planning a group experience? Tell us your story in the comments section below. Thanks!