WORDS Scott Faldon
IMAGES courtesy Arkansas Department of Tourism, Ashley Hout, and Holly Morgan
We’ve made it through the sweltering summer and temperatures are finally dropping. Add in the start of leaves changing across the Ozarks and Ouachitas and that means it’s the perfect time to explore The Natural State.
Devil’s Den State Park, Mount Magazine State Park, White Rock Mountain Recreation Area and Lake Fort Smith State Park are great jumping off points for leaf-peeping hikers. Yellow Rock Trail at Devil’s Den is listed as a moderate 3-mile hike which gains 300 feet in elevation, but the payoff is an unmatched view of the Lee Creek Valley. The 3.5-mile Rim Trail at Mount Nebo State Park provides a view of 100 miles of the Arkansas River Valley along with Lake Dardanelle. Lovers’ Leap Trail at Queen Wilhelmina State Park is just 1.5 miles long, but it leads to a rock bluff that offers a sweeping view of the Ouachitas. And, of course, the Buffalo River Valley and Whittaker’s Point are iconic locations beloved by generations of leaf peepers.
“There are plenty of places, almost too many, to list,” Joe Jacobs, manager of marketing and revenue for Arkansas State Parks, said. “The good thing about it is leaf changing can last for a while. Up north (near the Missouri border) and in higher elevations change first. But you can move around the state to find the colors.”
A major factor in the turning of the leaves is water. If drought conditions persist, Jacobs suggests visiting locations along waterways. Perhaps even from a kayak.
“If we don’t get a lot of rain early, then the colors aren’t as pretty,” Jacobs said. “Places with regular water like lakes or rivers usually have a good leaf turn even when it’s dry. The great thing about paddling around the shore of a lake is the color reflects off the water and really looks good.”
While temperatures average seventy-five degrees for a high and fifty-one for a low in October, hikers need to be prepared. Check the local forecast and plan accordingly. Start with a wicking base layer like from Free Fly Apparel. Layer on hiking pants from Kuhl, The North Face or Outdoor Research. A light fleece from Patagonia or Columbia and a rain shell from Arc’teryx will have you ready for any unforeseen temperature drops or downpours.
Proper hiking shoes are paramount. Rugged lugs on the bottom of a pair of Oboz or Salomon shoes will provide better grip and protect your toes from stray rocks. Top things off with a daypack from Osprey or Mystery Ranch holding your water, first aid kit, snacks, a headlamp from Petzl or BioLite and perhaps that fleece or rain jacket. For more strenuous trails, a pair of trekking poles are a big benefit and will increase stability while minimizing some impact on your knees on downhills.
With the explosion of mountain biking in Arkansas, hundreds of miles of trails crisscross the Ozarks and Ouachitas. The Karst Loop at Hobbs State Park is known for having beautiful fall foliage. The Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (or LOViT) along the lake is renowned for great autumn views as well.
But what if you’d rather stay in the car or cover more miles? Luckily, our region is dotted with scenic drives and overlooks where you can enjoy the fall leaves just off the roadway.
US 71 from Mountainburg to Fayetteville, the Pig Trail Scenic Byway from I-40 to Eureka Springs or the Talimena National Scenic Byway from Mena to Talihina offer views of the changing leaves as well for those who’d rather drive than walk.
On US 71, swing in for lunch at the Neon Moon or Dairy Dream in Mountainburg before heading north to Mount Gaylor. The overlook at Artist Point provides a great view of the Boston Mountains and picnic spot.
Ten miles north of the Turner Bend Store on the Pig Trail is the Ozark Scenic Overlook, which is a must-stop location during leaf season. Not far from the Pig Trail, fall is also prime elk watching season in Boxley Valley. But plan to get there early for the best parking and elk-viewing spots.
While many factors can affect the date of color changes for the foliage, last year the northern half of Arkansas was seeing color changes by Oct. 15. Peak color hit around two weeks after that. Check Arkansas.com for foliage color updates as the fall progresses.
Planning your next outdoor adventure?
Visit The Woodsman Company in Fort Smith, Arkansas for all your adventure needs!
5609 Rogers Avenue, Fort Smith, Arkansas