A Surfer and His Dog Explore Arkansas

05/08/2017 03:34 pm ET Updated Jul 18, 2017
Hawksbill Crag, the most photogenic and iconic geological feature of Arkansas nestled in the Ozark Mountains.
Cyrus Saatsaz
Hawksbill Crag, the most photogenic and iconic geological feature of Arkansas nestled in the Ozark Mountains.

The spirit of the surfing lifestyle isn’t limited to the pursuit of great waves. It’s the seeking of adventure and new experiences, even when it involves traveling to landlocked destinations of incredible natural beauty.

Arkansas ranks among the most underrated of places in the U.S. in terms of natural beauty, hiking trails, and friendliness towards dogs.

The people in Arkansas are extraordinarily friendly, there’s plenty of southern cooking to enjoy, campgrounds are aplenty, and the state is an outdoor haven if you’re interested in a wide range of picturesque hiking trails that are friendly to you and your canine companion.

THINGS TO DO

Hawksbill Crag

The Ozarks.

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This is the outdoor gem of Arkansas, a hiking trail close to 3.5 miles roundtrip that rewards you with a stellar view of The Ozarks. It’s perhaps the most photogenic and iconic geological feature of the state.

Hawksbill Crag is a rock formation that protrudes from a cliffside in Ozark National Forest that resembles the beak of a hawk. Hence “Hawksbill.”

Whitaker Point Trail leads you to Hawksbill Crag. It’s a moderate hike that, if you decide to become adventurous and explore other facets of Buffalo National River Wilderness beyond the crag, features a waterfall.

Indy isn’t exactly the most athletic of dogs but he made the hike just fine, and while leashes are required on the trail, crowds are usually sparse and you should be OK with letting your dog off leash. Just be attentive to other people and their dogs.

To get to the head of Whitaker Point Trail, it’s approximately a 60 mile drive from Fayetteville through Ozark National Forest. The last five miles are the tricky part, as it’s entirely a country dirt road and if weather conditions are sketchy you may need a 4WD vehicle. If the weather is nice, you should be OK with a standard vehicle.

Driving on Country Road 5 to get to Whitaker Point Trail.

It's important to make sure to map your route prior to getting there, as cell reception is virtually nonexistent through most of Buffalo National River Wilderness and Ozark National Forest. Finding Whitaker Point Trail is part of the adventure.

Eureka Springs

Eureka Springs
Cyrus Saatsaz
Eureka Springs

The last place in the U.S. I expected to encounter a small mountain city reminiscent of a quaint European town was in Arkansas. Yet Eureka Springs gave me the nostalgia and sentimental memories of backpacking through Europe again.

The entire town is burrowed within the heart of the Ozark Mountains and features cabin style settings, nice restaurants, art galleries, coffee shops, bars, and hiking trails that weave through the town so you and your pup could explore the city in a beautiful natural setting. Locals told me this is one of the primary destinations for Arkansas wedding nuptials. If you’re traveling with your canine companion and a significant other, this is a primo destination.

Eureka Springs is great for either a day trip from Fayetteville, or given nearly every form of lodging is reminiscent of a mountain villa with Jacuzzis and beautiful views of the Ozarks, a romantic getaway.

Hot Springs National Park

The view from the peak of Hot Springs Mountain
Cyrus Saatsaz
The view from the peak of Hot Springs Mountain

Hot Springs National Park is the oldest and smallest national park in the U.S. Located approximately 45 minutes outside of the state capital of Little Rock, Hot Springs National Park is actually embedded within the city of Hot Springs. It’s comprised mostly of various geothermal hot springs and two mountain peaks lush with trees and hiking trails. It's truly underrated and is rarely mentioned among the great national parks in the U.S.

What makes Hot Springs National Park particularly unique, besides its geographical setting, are the ubiquitous geothermal hot springs found throughout the national park and town. In Hot Springs’ early days, its main street was lined with masonry bathhouses that people believed had magical healing powers. As science evolved, and people gradually realized they were nothing more than pools of hot spring water, the majority of the bath houses shut down save for a select few that remain open today.

Geothermal hot springs
Cyrus Saatsaz
Geothermal hot springs

The geothermal hot springs reach a temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit and you’re allowed to touch the water. The Quapaw Baths and Spa remains open for visitors to relax in the soothing hot spring water.

Hot Springs Mountain, located just minutes from the downtown area, is a great place to go hiking with your dog and take in the amazing views of the surrounding national park. The peak of the mountain has a tower that’s mostly touristy and doesn’t allow dogs, though the surrounding trails are more than enough to provide a fun filled day.

With the exception of perhaps the New England region, you won’t find a more beautiful place to absorb fall foliage. The shade of the leaves on the Arkansas trees emerge in a vibrant diversity of color during this season.

Hot Springs has a vibrant and historical downtown area that, in addition to the hot springs, has plenty of great restaurants and bars as you wind down from adventuring in the national park.

WHERE TO STAY

In Fayetteville, stay at the Staybridge Suites which is located downtown near the University of Arkansas campus. It’s very clean with spacious suite rooms, the free breakfast is actually good, and the rates are very reasonable too. Staying here gives you the opportunity to explore this fun college town without having to drive long distances to experience the many dining and drinking options available just minutes away. A great atmosphere for a stroll with your dog.

In Eureka Springs, stay at the Best Western Eureka Inn, where the rates are cheap, it’s right in the middle of town, and they’re very dog friendly. There are countless lodges in the area if you’re looking for a more intimate and romantic affair with a Jacuzzi and views of the Ozark Mountains.

While Hot Springs has a ton of hotel options in the downtown area, I recommend staying at the La Quinta Inn & Suites Hot Springs. I’m usually fond of La Quinta properties because nearly every location is dog friendly and they don’t charge you an additional pet fee, and this setting is no exception. Friendly service, very clean rooms, and they offer a great free breakfast.

If camping is your thing, there are countless campgrounds throughout the state if you want the ultimate outdoor experience including Arkansas’ two mountain ranges and three national forests.

WHERE TO EAT

Arkansas is probably the last place you’d think of for amazing tacos, yet Tacos 4 Life in Fayetteville has some of the most delicious and eclectic tacos you may ever have the opportunity to devour after a long day of hiking and adventuring. And they donate a meal to Feed My Starving Children for every order placed at the restaurant. The downtown area of Fayetteville has a considerable amount of excellent restaurants and bars to choose from too.

If you’re driving through Arkansas on the Interstate 40 stop at Advada’s Diner for some great small town southern cooking or a delicious burger.

Nearly every restaurant in Eureka Springs is fantastic. For breakfast, go with Oscar’s Café, which is situated high on a hill and serves amazing Norwegian waffles. Rockin’ Pig Saloon is where the scene is at for dinner, the pulled pork nachos are a must there.

Kollective Coffee + Tea is situated in downtown Hot Springs and has some truly amazing coffee and great breakfast items to start your day.

The absolute go to place in Hot Springs for food and drinks is the Ohio Club, a restaurant and bar with over 100 years of fascinating history. Al Capone, Bugsy Segel, Sammy Davis Jr., Teddy Roosevelt, Tony Bennett, Babe Ruth, Mae West, and Bill Clinton are among the gangsters, politicians, athletes, and celebrities who have frequented the establishment. With great libations, delicious dinner options and live music, Arkansas’ oldest bar is the place to go when you’re not exploring the outdoors. And make sure to ask the charming bartenders about the captivating history of their enormous wooden 1880’s backbar which features statues of horses and naked ladies.

The legendary backbar of the Ohio Club
Cyrus Saatsaz
The legendary backbar of the Ohio Club
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