Few places in America offer outdoors lovers more to do and more places to do it than Northwest Arkansas.
From tiny creeks to mammoth reservoirs, cozy parks to sprawling woods, paved paths to mountain-scaling trails, there is something or someplace to appeal to just about anyone.
Outfitters, too, are plentiful for those who need direction or gear to get started, along with a number of clubs that bring together like-minded folks of every skill level.
The following is just a sampling of what’s out there to enjoy.
Other than its towering Boston and Ozark Mountain ranges, Northwest Arkansas is perhaps best known for the dozens of rivers and streams that crisscross the area.
The Buffalo National River is recognized nationwide for its scenic beauty, which depending on water levels and flows can be enjoyed for a length of 135 miles. It begins just east of Huntsville in Madison County and flows east, eventually dumping into the White River south of Mountain Home. Along the way, floaters are treated to a breathtaking gallery of towering bluffs, crystal-clear waters and practically every species of animal and plant life to be found in the region. There is also some notably good fishing, especially for smallmouth bass.
Closer to the population hub of the region are the Kings River in Madison County, the Elk River in far southwest Missouri, the Mulberry River near Cass and the Illinois River near Siloam Springs. All offer year-round floating — the Kings and Mulberry can require a lot of dragging in drought conditions — and outfitters are available along the rivers to provide rental canoes, shuttles and other necessities.
Boating, skiing and swimming are within easy reach at Beaver Lake, which features more than a dozen public-use areas with varying levels of facilities. Eleven have swimming beaches and seven offer full-service marinas.
Other area lakes include Lake Fort Smith just off Interstate 49 near Mountainburg, Table Rock Lake along the Arkansas-Missouri state line, Bull Shoals Lake just east of Table Rock and Grand Lake of the Cherokees near Grove, Okla.
Residents across Northwest Arkansas can now enjoy the new Razorback Greenway trail system that runs for 36 miles from Fayetteville north to Bella Vista. The Greenway has been open for over a year now and is available for anyone who wants to explore the beauty of the area on foot or via bicycle.
Other shared-use trails are plentiful throughout area cities. Bentonville boasts the 14-mile Slaughter Pen Mountain Bike Trail, along with a popular “bark park” for dogs on North Walton Boulevard. The Heritage Trail System in Rogers covers nearly 60 miles, and Springdale offers six city parks and 12 miles of trails with more in the works. Fayetteville has 21 different trails totaling about 18 miles, some of which are part of Razorback Greenway.
Runners can also enjoy the trails or take to area roads for a scenic run, although hills are likely to be part of the experience. Competitive runners have lots of events from which to choose, including the Hogeye Marathon and Relays each spring, the Chile Pepper cross-country festival each fall and many others.
Those who enjoy sleeping under the stars — or inside a remote cabin — can find plenty of opportunities to do so across Northwest Arkansas.
The region is rich in state parks, along with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds and others that are privately owned and operated, all of which offer varying levels of accommodations.
Camping is also available on river bars for overnight float trips, and many hiking routes such as the 218-mile Ozark Highlands Trail offer generous rules for camping.
Cabins are available at state parks across the region, including Devil’s Den, Lake Fort Smith, Mount Magazine, Mount Nebo, and Ozark Folk Center. Area lakes and streams also are dotted with commercially owned cabins that are available for rent.
Day hikes also are popular in the area, in part because places to enjoy a walk in nature are practically endless.
Beyond a simple stroll in the woods, area hiking groups such as The Ozark Society and Ozark Highlands Trail Association sponsor group outings. Distances and degrees of difficulty vary and are announced in advance.
Guided hikes also are available at area state parks. Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area near Rogers is Arkansas’ largest state park and offers six trails totaling 35 miles. Devil’s Den State Park near Winslow and Withrow Springs State Park in Huntsville also are popular hiking spots.
Those interested in observing and learning more about wildlife and related topics can take a day trip to the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center near Fort Smith.
The center is operated by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and occupies 170 acres of land that includes Wells Lake and a variety of trails for viewing birds and other wildlife, plants and more.
A wide variety of organized activities for children and adults is offered by the center, and a complete calendar is available online at rivervalleynaturecenter.com.
Northwest Arkansas is not at all lacking for places to play golf. From public links to posh country club layouts, more than 30 courses meander across the area.
Bella Vista property owners and guests enjoy six 18-hole championship courses and two nine-hole layouts. There are also two driving ranges — the Tanyard Creek Golf Practice Center just off Lancashire Boulevard and the Highlands Golf Course, both of which include short-game areas.
Top public courses include Prairie Creek Country Club and Lost Springs Golf and Athletic Club in Rogers, Stonebridge Meadows in south Fayetteville and the Golf Club at Valley View in Farmington.
Public golf is also available at several Lindsey Management Co. apartment communities across the area. Such courses are located in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Lowell, Rogers and Springdale.
The area is also home to several top-shelf private courses, including Pinnacle Country Club, which plays host to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, an annual stop for the LPGA Tour.