DeGray Lake Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

If you can’t believe that we’ve already moved on from celebrating the new year and don’t have the energy or wherewithal or flexibility to plan an elaborate spring break vacation, we’ve got you covered. If you’re a parent or caregiver who isn’t able to take off more than a day or two from work, or who simply wants to let the kids sleep in, play with friends and decompress from the daily grind of the school year — this guide is for you. For us staycationers, spring break is about slowing down when we can, trying something new with our kids and enjoying the warming temperatures and lush beauty of our favorite season in Arkansas.

Note that, at our January deadline, many go-to Little Rock day camps were fine-tuning their programs. Be sure to check their websites weekly for registration details and schedules. In the meantime, we’ve pitched a few ideas for things to do around town, as well as day trips and overnight stays.

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Day camps:

Ferncliff

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Ferncliff’s spring camp is like getting to go to summer camp early. It’s a beautiful, natural setting for kids to play endlessly outdoors, doing their favorite camp activities, including hiking, games and sports. But they’ll also get the chance to try and learn new things, such as archery, bouldering and improving their problem-solving skills on a team building challenge course. It runs from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. March 20-24 and accommodates grades 1-8. Price varies; see ferncliff.org for more information.

Junior Naturalist Camp at Wildwood Park for the Arts

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The Central Arkansas Master Naturalists who lead this day camp will teach kids through fun-filled outdoor activities about the natural wonders of this 105-acre park in West Little Rock’s Chenal Valley. Check wildwoodpark.org for a schedule and details about registration.

Little Rock Athletic Club Camp

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The Athletic Club’s spring break camp is always popular with families, but the club hadn’t released details at press time. Check lrac.com or call 501-225-3600 for details.  

Things to do around town:

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Reserve a family field trip at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, and enroll the family in an hour-long class, such as high-tech 3D and vector design, watercolor science, tie-dye or printmaking. The Hub asks for a five-person minimum (bring the grandparents or a couple of friends) and that you make your reservation two to three weeks in advance. Expect music, arts, movies, gardening and beekeeping demos at various library branches of the Central Arkansas Library System; check cals.org for details. The Little Rock Zoo and Museum of Discovery aren’t offering camps, but they’re of course two of the most reliably fun places for family outings. 

DELTA HERITAGE TRAIL : A great family destination. Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism
SUNSET CRUISE: On DeGray Lake.

Day trips and overnight stays:

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DeGray Lake Resort State Park

If you can get away for an overnight stay, DeGray Lake Resort State Park is our top pick for Central Arkansans. Located just 75 miles southwest of Little Rock, it’s close but still makes us feel like we’ve escaped to someplace new.

An especially creative team of state park interpreters have planned a full week of activities, which are focused on quality time on the water and forests of the park, rather than over-crowded, touristy gatherings. Among our favorites: guided one-hour horseback rides along the lakeshore and soft, pine-needle trails of the surrounding loblolly forests (shorts and tennis shoes are park-approved attire!). There’s also the “Geocaching Island Hopper,” in which you embark by boat in a high-tech hide-and-seek adventure of island treasure-finding. Come sundown, you’ll experience the island’s nightlife by taking a flashlight-guided “owl prowl” boat excursion to remote coves. If you’re lucky, your interpreter will teach you how to call them and take part in this nighttime sonata. Back on land, an evening golf cart safari will cruise you along the park’s greens in search of nocturnal critters.

If guided tours aren’t your thing, rent a boat at the park’s marina and explore Iron Mountain. Hike and paddle the 3-mile “Islets Cove Paddle Trail,” or just spend the day on land mining for crystals and fishing on the lakeshores.

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Note to day trippers: You don’t have to stay overnight to enjoy the resort’s amenities, like the Shoreline Restaurant and gift shop, as well as a playground, sand volleyball court, disc golf course and bicycle and boat rentals.

If you can stay overnight, there are many options. Campers can rough it on any one of 113 campgrounds available (water and electric hookups provided); glampers will love the yurt rentals equipped with cozy cots, lanterns and wood floors. Or, go all the way and book a room at the resort and lodge, which comes with all the amenities of a nice hotel with the exception of a few pet-friendly rooms. Note that many of the lodge’s amenities, such as the restaurant, are also available to campers.

Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism
DELTA HERITAGE TRAIL: A great family destination.

Bike the Delta Heritage Trail day trip with overnight option

We recommend this trip for a single parent and teenage kids. The bike trail is easy enough for beginners, but everyone needs to be game for a day-long adventure that is half car trip and half bike ride.

The Arkansas Delta Heritage Trail is a work-in-progress, but some 44 miles of this rails-to-trails system through Southeast Arkansas are open to the public. Our favorite section to do in a day is Barton to Lick Creek.

A quick pitstop note: On the way to the Delta Heritage Trail, take a quick restroom break at Louisiana Purchase State Park off of Highway 49, about 25 miles from your final destination. It’s one of the last remnants of the many headwater swamps that used to dot the Mississippi River Valley, and its old-growth beauty will take your breath away. An elevated boardwalk stretches over three-eighths of a mile of this swamp, past majestic bald cypress groves. Interpretive panels point to rare species of reptiles and birds that live in this special habitat.

Back to the Delta Heritage Trail: When you arrive at the Barton trailhead, park at the Visitors Center, which offers restrooms, bike rentals, a gift shop and friendly staff. The Barton to Lick Creek trail is packed gravel but a fairly smooth and flat ride that is at first canopied by trees and then opens up to spacious wide-open farmland and creeks.

To extend your trip overnight, try the Pedal & Paddle Tour, a 12-mile bike ride from Barton to Lake View followed by kayaking on Old Town Lake, with a bike ride back to Barton. Campgrounds are available at the Barton trailhead, where the Visitors Center is located. Or, bike a full day and stay overnight in nearby Helena-West Helena, 30 miles away. Spend the next day taking in the sites of this Delta city known for its blues music heritage. Try to catch a live broadcasting of the famous King Biscuit Radio Show at the Delta Cultural Center; call to confirm but broadcasts usually happen from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. daily.

Weekend trip to Mountain View

The natural beauty of the Arkansas Ozarks is always lure enough. But when we’re adventuring in Mountain View, we also soak in the folk music and art heritage that sets this region apart from the rest of the Ozarks. Because it’s a winding 107-mile trip from Little Rock, we recommend you make this a weekend/overnight stay. Here are some must-dos that’ll stock the family with adrenaline-pumping adventures and culture that’ll do everyone’s soul good.

Stretch your legs and picnic at the Blanchard Springs Recreational Area, located in the Sylamore Ranger District of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. Nearby are paved trails to Blanchard Springs waterfall, and the clear waters of Sylamore Creek, which will numb everyone’s toes in seconds. Reserve a tour of Blanchard Springs Caverns, an absolute must-see even if you’re not into caving. If it’s been years since you last visited, take notice of the transformation of this “living cave,” which changes constantly due to the continuous drip of water on limestone. A quick ear-popping elevator descent transports you to a 200-foot magical underworld of stalactites, stalagmites and other limestone formations, beautifully illuminated. U.S. Forest Service interpreters will help you choose which of the three trails is right for you, which range from leisurely and wheelchair and stroller accessible, to strenuous expeditions through water-carved passages and underground streams. Dress warmly, as the cave keeps a steady 58-degree temperature year-round. Visit recreation.gov for tour times and to make your reservation.

See Mountain View from high: Zip lines, swinging bridges, Tarzan swings, rope bridges and swinging logs make Loco Ropes Treetops Adventure Park at the Ozark Folk Center State Park an adrenaline-pumping adventure. A variety of courses range from an hour-long course for the most cautious in your bunch, to the 3-hour End of the Line course that’ll keep you swinging in the treetops for 3 hours. Check the park’s web site for weight, height and age requirements.

Folk music and craft lovers: Hang out on the lawn of Mountain View’s courthouse square, where most any evening you’re sure to find locals jamming on mandolin, guitar and other traditional mountain folk instruments. At Mountain View Music, also on the square, browse state-of-the art banjos, mandolins, fiddles and many more folk instruments for sale; they’ll also give your child a private music lesson. Just a few minutes from downtown Mountain View is the Dulcimer Shoppe, known nationally for its specialty in hand-crafted mountain dulcimers since 1962. For ticketed live shows, check online for updated event information at the Ozark Folk Center. In the car, tune into the Ozark Highlands Radio program, which broadcasts live music weekly.

Craft and arts lovers: Immerse yourself in the folk craft heritage of this area by visiting and shopping at the Ozark Folk Center, which showcases area artisans like potters, coppersmiths and blacksmiths at work in its craft village. To learn a folk craft yourself, enroll in a class offered at the Ozark Craft Center.

 Where to stay: A host of lodging options are available in Mountain View and the surrounding area, from bed and breakfasts in town to cabin rentals, campgrounds and R.V. parks on the Sylamore Creek and White River. Lodging is also available at the Ozark Folk Center, Jack’s Fishing Resort and Anglers White River Resort.

Where to eat: Tommy’s Famous A Pizzeria, Jo Jo’s Catfish Wharf and PJ’s Rainbow Café.

Mountain View is dry. If parents are looking to kick it back with a beverage, we recommend Gravity Brew Works, a few miles down the road from Mountain View in Big Flat. Locals tell us that Gravity welcomes you to bring one of Tommy’s pizzas as long as you share with the bartender.