Arkansas is well known for its outdoors adventures, from pristine rivers to top-notch state parks, which is why it’s nicknamed the Natural State. But many people don’t realize that a visit to the bustling capital city of Little Rock offers many ways to enjoy these natural attractions, all just a short drive out of town.
Little Rock’s a cycling town, with designated trails throughout the city and environs. Tourists wanting to view the town may prefer the comfortable Arkansas River Trail, while mountain bikers may choose the new River Mountain Park trails, Little Rock’s only city park dedicated to mountain biking. To reach the park adjacent to the Little Maumelle River, bikers can travel up the Arkansas River Trail from downtown to enjoy various levels of shared use and mountain bike trails. A pedestrian bridge connects the River Mountain Park trails to Two Rivers Park by Murray Lake, where children and inexperienced adult riders can try out the sport.
For a great trail map of the city and region, visit littlerock.com/experience-little-rock/cycling.
Pinnacle Mountain State Park lies just west of Little Rock, rising above its surrounding region like a monument, the centerpiece of a geographically diverse region. The day-use park sports fossils, quartz veins, sandstone and igneous rocks along the 15 miles of hiking trails, according to Kellie Nichols, park interpreter. Our 2-mile trail took us from deep woods to along ridges where we viewed the Big and Little Maumelle rivers.
In addition, the park includes seven miles of rigorous mountain bike trails and fun exhibits in the visitor’s center. Pinnacle is also a Trail of Tears National Historic Site.
Another site popular with hikers — or those searching for rare plants and animals — is the newly established Rattlesnake Ridge National Area, located between the Big Maumelle and Little Maumelle rivers. The park offers miles of daylight hiking with Instagramable views of both rivers and Pinnacle Mountain.
Samuel Ellis loves taking visitors on the Little Maumelle River, paddling between Two Rivers Park and River Mountain Park toward Pinnacle Mountain. He rents a variety of kayaks and paddleboards through his Rocktown River Outfitters, and if you’re lucky, he’ll bring along his Grizzly Bear. He’s a dog, not a bear, but Grizzly Bear will happily jump in the water to fetch a kayak paddle and ride along on Ellis’ kayak, sometime moving from one passenger to another.
Ellis offers two-hour kayak tours, showcasing the river’s wildlife, colorful birds and an abandoned train car that had derailed years ago. Visitors can also rent kayaks without a guide, and bikes for the neighboring trails. Visit rocktownriveroutfitters.com for more information.
All that exercise builds up an appetite. Flyway Brewing in North Little Rock serves up pub fare — don’t miss the “Free Range Pretzel” that was highlighted on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” — in addition to a variety of cool brews, all giving homage to the birds that travel the Mississippi Flyway through Arkansas. Visitors may want to label the menu items at Heights Taco & Tamale Co. “Ark-Mex” cuisine for its innovative dishes and craft cocktails. Cool, refreshing house-made ice cream at Loblolly Creamery is a must, with flavors reflecting its community, such as the Rock Town Distillery Bourbon Pecan created with spirits from Arkansas’s first legal distillery since Prohibition. Loblolly is also a vegan lover’s dream, serving up gluten-free cones and dairy-free scoops.
For more information on Little Rock and its outdoors adventures, visit littlerock.com.