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Best Arkansas State Parks to Visit in the Winter

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Queen Wilhelmina State Park

Aerial view of Queen Wilhelmina State Park - courtesy of Arkansas State Parks

The Top Choices Feature the "Castle in the Clouds," Turtle Rocks, and Golf.

The following information was provided by Joan Ellison, Public Information Officer for Arkansas State Parks:

It's especially enjoyable for me to recommend three Arkansas state parks as winter destinations because this is one of my favorite seasons to visit our parks. In winter, the views are more wide open for sightseers and hikers, the park cabins and lodge rooms seem cozier, and there's a peacefulness about winter in a park that stays in your mind all year. Winter is a time to celebrate the holidays or the return of wintering bald and golden eagles to Arkansas. It's a time for winter workshops, and our park interpreters offer a wide diversity of programs and events throughout the season. And, we offer winter lodging and camping discounts to encourage travelers to warm up to a winter vacation in an Arkansas state park.

On a winter day in Arkansas, the weather might be clear and sunny, or the park could be a snowy, winter wonderland. Winter, regardless of the weather, offers its own rewards to travelers. Here are my three, winter recommendations:

Queen Wilhelmina State Park

(Mena, Arkansas)--I'll start my recommendation with Queen Wilhelmina State Park in western Arkansas near Mena. The most beautiful sight I've ever seen in a state park happened one winter at Queen Wilhelmina State Park in western Arkansas. This park reigns over the Ouachita Mountains from high atop Arkansas's second highest peak. The park's crowning attraction, 38-room Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, is known as Arkansas's Castle in the Clouds.

Just before sunrise one winter morning, I looked out my window at the lodge and was delighted to see it had snowed all night. The park and the surrounding Ouachita National Forest were covered the most beautiful snow I'd ever seen. All the trees as far as you could see were covered with ice. It looked like a snowy, crystal-laden wonderland. The whole scene was touched by pale blue--the soft blue-white of snow in the mountains just before sun rise. It was the most beautiful landscape scene I'd ever viewed. Then slowly, ever so slowly, the sun began to rise. The soft blue-colored ice and snow began taking on the warm colors of sunrise. As the sun rose higher, its rays behind the icy tree branches began turning all the ice into a kaleidoscope of colors. The shimmering ice was reflecting all the colors of the rainbow. It was spellbinding. It was magic. I'm sure I was the only person in the lodge that morning who viewed that sunrise, and it will stay in my mind forever. [NOTE: The park is 13 miles west of Mena on Ark. 88, the Talimena Scenic Drive. For an alternate route from Mena, travel six miles north on U.S. 71, then nine miles west on U.S. 270, then two miles south on Ark. 272 to the park.

Contact information:
3877 Highway 88 West
Mena, AR 71953
(501) 394-2863 - Park information or campsites
(800) 264-2477 - Lodge reservations

Petit Jean State Park

(Morrilton, Arkansas)--The natural beauty of Petit Jean Mountain inspired the creation of Arkansas's first state park in the 1920s. This mountain in the Arkansas River Valley is a place where nature over time formed sheer bluffs, Cedar Creek Canyon and the Seven Hollows...such distinctive features as Bear Cave, the Grotto and Natural Bridge...and whimsical features we call Turtle Rocks and Carpet Rocks. In winter, whether you're hiking a trail or enjoying one of the many overlooks, you can see the rugged, ancient geology of this legendary mountain. The mountain was named for the legend of Petit Jean, the story of a French girl who disguised herself as a boy and secretly accompanied her sweetheart, an early explorer, to the New World and to this mountain.

The legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps endures in the park in the rustic-style lodge and cabins that mirror the mountain's rugged beauty. And winter campers can always be found enjoying the park campsites. Winter at Petit Jean is great camping and hiking, cozy wood-burning fireplaces in the cabins and 24-room Mather Lodge, tours to nearby Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge to view wintering eagle, great programs by park interpreters, and enjoying a delicious meal in the lodge restaurant overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon. [NOTE: Take Exit #108 off I-40 at Morrilton and travel nine miles south on Ark. 9, then go 12 miles west of Ark. 154; or from Dardanelle, travel seven miles south on Ark. 7, then go 16 miles east on Ark. 154 to the park.

Contact information:
1285 Petit Jean Mountain Road
Morrilton, AR 72110
(501) 727-5441 - Park information or campsites
(800) 264-2462 - Lodge reservations

DeGray Lake Resort State Park

(Bismarck, Arkansas)--On the shores of one of Arkansas's most beautiful lakes, DeGray is Arkansas's resort state park with championship golf. The 96-room lodge and convention center offers a spectacular setting--its own island. The modern lodge, with its wonderful lake views, just underwent a multi-million dollar renovation so its a whole new experience for lodge guests. The lodge's Shoreline Restaurant has a new look, too, but the same sweeping view of DeGray Lake. Golfing, fishing and camping are popular outdoor activities here in winter. The park is also known for its Eagles Et Cetera Weekend every January that celebrates the migration of eagles to DeGray Lake. [NOTE: Take Exit #78 off I-30 at Caddo Valley/Arkadelphia and travel seven miles north on Scenic Ark. 7 to the park.

Contact information:
2027 State Park Entrance Road
Bismarck, AR 71929
(501) 865-2801 - Park information or campsites
(800) 737-8355 - Lodge reservations

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