Monday, January 27, 2020

Exploring Downtown Bentonville

Downtown Bentonville

Bentonville: A New American Town

From a world-class art museum to a world champion squirrel cook-off, downtown Bentonville has transformed the city into the a New American Town (the city's tagline). The area on and around the square offers something fun for everyone.

Downtown Bentonville is very walkable and pedestrian-friendly. Therefore, like much of beautiful Northwest Arkansas, this area is more fun to explore outside of a vehicle (so park your car). I visit downtown Bentonville often when I am hiking on the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway - which passes by just a few blocks east of the square.  

The beautiful community sits at the foothills of the Ozarks, which create an awesome setting for its many miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. When you visit the downtown area, you can see the city's pride overflowing. In short, Bentonville feels like it has reinvented itself into a New American Town over the past decade.

The Bentonville Square

Bentonville Square

The heart and soul of downtown Bentonville is its beautiful square that feels like a bit of "Mayberry" filled with friendly shop owners, residents, and visitors. In my humble opinion, the crown jewel of the square is the park-like setting in the middle that features benches, nice shade trees, gorgeous flowers (in season), a cool water fountain, and the Bentonville Confederate Soldier Monument. This little park is a fun place to just sit and hangout (and people watch) when you have time to kill at the square.

Benton County Courthouse

The historic Benton County Courthouse (pictured in the background) was built in 1928 using the Classic Revival style by Albert O. Clark. (Clark was an architecture who built many buildings in Arkansas during the early 1900s). 

On most Saturdays when it's warm, there will be musicians performing at the northwest corner of the square (N Main and NW 2nd Street). I actually met a couple who drove all the way down from Kansas City so that they could play on a Saturday morning for the Farmer's Market. Most of the musicians are really good. It's kind of like a mini-free outdoor concert. 

Street Peformer Playing Music

Downtown Bentonville Festivals

Residents and visitors get to enjoy several fun events and festivals throughout the year. Many of them are hosted on or around the square. Here are a few of the more popular ones that I can think of off the top of my head:
  • Bentonville Film Festival
  • Run Bentonville Half-Marathon
  • World Champion Squirrel Cook-Off 
  • The Art Stroll

Bentonville Farmer's Market

Bentonville Farmer's Market

Speaking of events, each Saturday morning from the months of April through October, the square is home to the Bentonville Farmer's Market. The farmer's market features dozens of local vendors who sell fresh, organic foods, tasty treats, plants and flowers, and handmade crafts. This is one of the largest and most popular farmer's markets in the Northwest Arkansas. There are usually a few food trucks that sell grab-and-go breakfast and lunch entrees. 

Downtown Bentonville Eateries

As you can tell by my blog, I do a lot of hiking. One reason that I do so much hiking is to work off all the delicious food that I enjoy eating when I visit the Bentonville square. Here are my favorite restaurants, food trucks, and coffee shops.

The Flying Fish
The Flying Fish on the Bentonville Square
The Flying Fish is my favorite restaurant in downtown Bentonville. The restaurant is large with a lot of seating - which is good because this place is popular and gets very crowded around lunch and dinner. The atmosphere is amazing. They always have cool blues music playing, as well as several TVs tuned into sports games. The walls are lined with with what must be the world record for the largest number of Billy Bass Fish. The staff are amazing! They work so hard and are always very friendly. My usual is either their Fried Catfish Po Boy Sandwich or their Fried Catfish Basket. Another cool thing about the Flying Fish is their customer loyalty cards. Each time you visit, you earn another stamp on your card. Once you reach 8 stamps, you get a free meal (equivalent to $10).

Priato Pizzeria 

Priato Pizzeria Food Truck

Downtown Bentonville is home to some pretty cool food trucks. One of my favorites is Priato Pizzeria just a few blocks north of the square across from Lawrence Plaza. They serve artisan crafted Neapolitan style pizzas. They also have a nice patio with plenty of seating. During warm weather there are umbrellas over the tables to keep you cool while enjoying your pizza.  

Yeyo's Mexican Grill

Yeyo's Mexican Grill

I have a thing for good street tacos. Another favorite food truck of mine is Yeyo's Mexican Grill which located in a back ally off of Central Avenue just west of the square. Words simply cannot describe how good the food is. There is seating available in picnic tables next to the food truck.

Spark Cafe and Soda Fountain

Spark Cafe and Soda Fountain

I am not really a coffee drinker. However, I love ice cream! The Spark Cafe and Soda Fountain is my favorite ice cream shop in Bentonville. One thing that you will notice (and love) about this place is  the prices. Since this is meant to be a replica of an old fashioned soda fountain, the prices are a lot cheaper. The Spark Cafe and Soda Fountain is actually part of the Walmart Museum on the square. 

Onyx Coffee Lab

Onxy Coffe Lab in Bentonville

Downtown Bentonville definitely has a trendy coffee culture. I mentioned earlier that I am not much of a coffee drinker. However, since it feels like many of the people in my life are, I often find myself at coffee shops lol. The Onyx is usually quite crowded with coffee lovers and craft beer connoisseurs. I love their hot chocolate lol. 


Pressroom in Bentonville

I call the Pressroom 'that fancy brunch place' lol. I really enjoy their crispy chicken sandwich and frites (not a typo). I know that their breakfast entrees are quite popular too.

These are just a few of the restaurants and coffee shops in downtown Bentonville. (Don't be offended if I left your favorite place out lol). You can find something to suit nearly any taste. 

Historic Homes

Bentonville Bed and Breakfast
Historic home turned B&B on North Main
The neighborhoods around Central Avenue and North Main Street are filled with beautiful, historic homes that are worth preserving. These grand homes were built by many of the town's early businessmen, doctors, and lawyers. In his book, Bentonville Before Walmart, Micheal Knott said that West Central Avenue was once referred to as the "silk row of Bentonville" - because the women who lived there were wealthy enough to afford expensive silk. 

Lawrence Plaza

Lawrence Plaza in Bentonville

Lawrence Plaza is a large public space just a couple of blocks north of the square (next to the 21C boutique hotel). When it isn't being used for an event like the Bentonville Film Festival, Lawrence Plaza is either a splash pad during the summer, an ice rink during the winter, or just a fun place for people to hangout at.

In short, if you are looking for an exciting place in Northwest Arkansas that offers lots of dining, coffee shops, unique events, fun  outdoor space, and small business shopping, then check out downtown Bentonville. You can find lots of free parking near the square. However, my favorite mode of travel to downtown is via hiking on the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway. Discover why downtown Bentonville has made the community a New American Town.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Meet The Ozarks

Ozark Mountain Spring

Each year millions of visitors flock to the Ozarks to enjoy miles of scenic hiking trails, floating on crystal-clear streams and rivers, and playing in an outdoor-lovers paradise. Even though the area has been a popular vacation destination for more than a century, many people still hold a lot of misconceptions and misnomers about the region.

Where Are The Ozarks?

Depending on who you ask, the Ozarks can extend from Southern Illinois to the Piney Woods in the South. The terrain in Southern Illinois and the Piney Woods does share some similar characteristics to the Ozarks. However, the Ozarks are mainly contained in parts of the following four states:
  • Missouri
  • Arkansas
  • Kansas
  • Oklahoma
Missouri: The Ozarks make up much of Southern Missouri. If I had to draw a boundary, I would say that the area south of the Missouri and Osage Rivers, and roughly an hour west of the Mississippi River.

Arkansas: The Ozark Mountains cover much of Northern Arkansas - north of the Arkansas River - to about the center of the state. As you get closer to the Mississippi River, the land transitions into the flat Delta.

Kansas: The Ozarks occupy just a few square miles of Southeast Kansas bound by the Spring River. However, much of Southeast Kansas is known as the "Little Ozarks" because the area's terrain has more hills and trees than the rest of the state.

Oklahoma: The Ozarks are generally referred to as "Green Country" in Northeastern Oklahoma.

     History of The Ozark

Ozark Bluffs
The Ozark Mountains were once inhabited by bluff dwellers who lived underneath the cover of bluffs and inside caves. (Bluff Dwellers cave in Noel, Missouri offers visitors a fairly extensive history of the "bluff dwellers" and an awesome cave tour). Later, the Osage arrived in the Ozarks during the 17th Century. 

The French were the first Europeans to reach the area in the early 18th Century. Many French fur trappers crossed the Mississippi River from the Illinois Country. The French also started mining the area after learning about the rich lead deposits in the St. Francois Mountains of present-day Southeastern Missouri. However, most of the Ozarks remained very sparsely populated until after the Civil War. For one thing, the steep hills and valleys, and thick forests made traveling in this region difficult. Therefore, many American settlers opted to use keel boats to travel up the Arkansas River to the White River in Northern Arkansas. Some would then travel up the White to the James River near Springfield, Missouri. Eventually, after the construction of roads and railroads, the Ozarks started attracting more settlers because it became much easier to travel in the region.

In the late 19th Century and Early 20th Century, many people believed that certain spring water found in the Ozarks had medicinal benefits. Several towns like Eureka Springs, Siloam Springs, and Sulphur Springs, Arkansas attracted thousands to the Ozark Mountains seeking the benefits of "healing" spring water. Unfortunately, the water has no medicinal value. However, this left behind a cool heritage for the region.

Ozark Mountain Farm

The Ozark Mountains have never been as big of a farming region as the nearby Great Plains and Mississippi Delta. Many farmers only farm part-time so they have additional sources of income. (The land is just too rocky). In the early 1900s, there was a large strawberry growing industry in Southwest Missouri. Today, poultry production is a huge industry in Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas. In addition to poultry, many farmers raise livestock like cattle, horses, sheep, and hogs. There is some dairy farming as well. Soybeans and corn are (probably) the most common crops grown.

Tourism has been a major industry in the Ozarks for the past 100 years. However, the tourism industry really took off in the second half of the 20th Century after the construction of several lakes along the Osage and White River Valleys. The most popular vacation spots are around Branson and the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, and around Eureka Springs and the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. In recent years there has been tremendous population growth in Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri.

Are the Ozark Mountains Really Mountains?

Shoal Creek

The Ozarks are actually one of the oldest geological formations in North America - much older than the Appalachians and Rocky Mountains. According to geologists, at one time the Ozark Mountains were as tall as the Himalayas. However, today they are more like tall hills rather than actual mountains due to years of water and wind exposure that has eroded them. Basically, the Ozarks are a large plateau with steep valleys cut out by rivers and streams.  There are a few mountains in Missouri, and Arkansas has more mountains that are higher in elevation. Most of the hills are still very steep with deep valleys between them. The land is extremely rocky. Many areas contain limestone bluffs above rivers and streams.

What the Ozarks lack in elevation they more than make up for in lush trees (during the spring and summer), beautiful fall foliage, towering bluffs, clear-flowing streams, scenic beauty, and abundant wildlife. All of this make the region a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.   

Hiking in The Ozarks

Ozark Hiking Trails

Many cities and towns throughout the Ozarks have built miles of paved greenways that are awesome for hiking and biking. In addition to paved trails, there are thousands of miles of marked (and unmarked) dirt and rock trails that take hikers through a scenic wonderland. Here are a few of the more popular hiking trails:
  • Frisco Greenway Trail
  • Frisco Highline Trail
  • Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway
  • Ozark Greenways
  • Ozark Highline Trail
  • Ozark Trail 
My favorite hiking trails are the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway and the Ozark Greenways around Springfield. You will want to bring along some insect repellent and watch out for snakes during the warm weather months.

Ozark Springs and Rivers

Wishing Springs in Northwest Arkansas

The Ozarks are home to thousands of springs that bubble up out of the ground from deep aquifers. In fact, the region is home to 20 of the largest springs in the world. I have been to Big Spring in Van Buren, Missouri. It looks like a giant river that gushes out from underneath a bluff and then flows down a hill a short distance to the Current River. However, not all of these large springs flow out of the ground like raging rapids. Some springs seep out of the ground and form deep pools of blue water. I haven't had a chance to visit any "blue" springs yet. Many of these springs are located in or near the Ozark Scenic Riverways National Park which is located east of Springfield in Southern Missouri.

The Ozark Scenic Riverways National Park was created to protect the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers from being turned into lakes like so many other rivers in the Ozarks. The Ozarks have several rivers that offer excellent canoe trips. A few of the more popular "floating" rivers are the Buffalo National River, Current River, Elk River, Jacks Fork, and Meramec River. (Don't be offended if I left out your favorite river).

Ozark Scenic Riverways

Ozark Caves

Lastly, the Ozark Mountains are home to thousands of caves. In fact, one of Missouri's nicknames is the Cave State. If you have ever driven on I-44, you have likely seen the billboards for Meramec Caverns. Many of these caves offer commercial tours - which is a safe way to explore them. My favorites are Fantastic Caverns in Springfield and Marvel Cave in Silver Dollar City. However, if you are an adventurous soul who enjoys spelunking on your own, then you should check out Devil's Den State Park in Northwest Arkansas. Just be careful when exploring any caves on your own. Make sure to bring the proper gear and plenty of light.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Bella Vista Lake Trail

Bella Vista Lake

The Bella Vista Lake Trail is a popular 1.8-mile loop that connects directly into the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway which offers hikers miles of additional hiking. Bella Vista Lake is located next to HWY 71 just a few miles north of Bentonville. The trail is paved and very easy to hike or bike. Most of the people you meet are friendly and practice good trail manners. I usually see a lot of families using the park.

Bella Vista Lake Park

Bella Vista Lake Park

Bella Vista Lake was created over 100 years ago by impounding Little Sugar Creek. The lake was built as part of the original Bella Vista summer resort in the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas. During the 1920s and 30s, bands would play for dances on a pavilion near the northeast shore. The lake is now part of a 132 acre park owned and managed by the City of Bentonville. In addition to hiking, Bella Vista Lake Park offers visitors a picnic shelter, war memorial, ducks (lots of ducks), and a dog-friendly destination. Sometimes I will see people kayaking on the lake. Although, I never see anyone swimming in the lake so I don't recommend it either. However, there is an excellent swimming spot above the lake that I will tell you about in a bit.

I have been hiking the Bella Vista Lake Trail for almost 15 years. In fact, this trail is what got me started hiking in the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas. I always come across something new that I had never noticed before on each trek. Unfortunately, flooding in December 2015 caused catastrophic damage to part of the dam. Therefore, the lake is only partially full. I will admit that it was disappointing when the dam got damaged. I missed seeing the lake full. However, hiking or biking the Bella Vista Lake Trail is still a lot of fun. Since the lake level has dropped, I have enjoyed more off-trail hiking along Little Sugar Creek to explore interesting features that were once under water. For example, there are a series of giant rocks that form several little islands. You might also come across a "treasure" that was once hidden under water.

Little Sugar Creek

Little Sugar Creek Above Bella Vista Lake

Remember that excellent swimming spot I mentioned earlier? On summer hikes I enjoy playing in the cool waters of Little Sugar Creek just above Bella Vista Lake. There is a large gravel bar that offers really easy access to the creek. Most of Little Sugar Creek is shallow above the lake. However, there are some deep spots that make excellent swimming holes. On warm/hot days, that gravel bar is full of people playing in the creek. Little Sugar Creek is formed by several springs, which make its water cool. However, that cool water can feel so refreshing after hiking on a hot day.

The headwaters of Little Sugar Creek are just above the gravel bar. These large springs are also a lot of fun to play in. Depending on the water level, there are usually some small rapids. Just watch out for snakes!


 Wishing Springs Trail

Wishing Springs Trail

I don't consider 1.8 miles much of a hike lol. Therefore, I always hike the Wishing Springs Trail (Razorback Greenway) a few miles south for a longer hiking trek. (Sometimes I hike all the way to the Bentonville Square which is about 5 miles away). You will meet lots of bikers and joggers on this section. However, it never feels very crowded like the sections of the Razorback Greenway closer to Bentonville.

The Wishing Springs Trail - as you might have already guessed - follows alongside s spring. Wishing Springs is actually a series of small springs that flow together and form Little Sugar Creek. The trail offers users a nice glimpse of the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas. There are lots of trees which offer some nice shade. I enjoy hearing the sound of the spring rushing by me as I hike. When hiking on hot days, I will often get off the trail and "hike" in the springs to cool off. I have seen a Great Blue Heron along this trail many times.

The Wishing Springs Trail takes hikers and bikers underneath U.S. 71 and I-49 in two long tunnels. The tunnels have good lighting. I've never found anything creepy about them lol. However, they are often went inside after it rains. In fact, the tunnels are close to a spring that floods after heavy rains. Therefore, the trail does get closed on occasion. I enjoy the underground tunnels because they offer a little geothermal heating and cooling in the winter and summer respectively. (On a hot day the cool air coming out of the tunnels feels like an AC blowing in your face).

The Wishing Springs Trail ends just north of the Bentonville Bark Park (on North Walton Blvd). From there you can either continue on the Razorback Greenway toward Crystal Bridges and the Bentonville square - or you can take the (newly opened) North Walton Trail that follows Walton Blvd.

A Short - But Fun Hiking Trek

The Bella Vista Lake and Wishing Springs Trails offer hikers a cool trek into the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas. The lake and streams make a really beautiful setting. For a longer hike, you can take the Razorback Greenway to Bentonville (or as far as Fayetteville if you want lol). There are plans to extend the Razorback Greenway north (possibly into Southwest Missouri someday). If you like biking, these trails are very fun to bike as well.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Elk River (Cowskin) Float Trip

Elk River Noel, Missouri

Elk River is an extremely popular river for float trips in the Ozarks between Pineville and Noel, Missouri. I have floated "the Elk" many times (and it never gets old). The water is always just perfect on a hot summer day. You can bring your own canoe or kayak and put in at one of the public access points. You can also rent a canoe/kayak/raft from one of the many canoe outfitters and campgrounds along the river. (I borrowed my cousin's kayak). Elk River is what most would call a "floating" river. There really aren't any rapids or places where you have to paddle for dear life. Instead, you can just casually float down the river and enjoy a leisure time on the water. 

Unfortunately, the upper section of Elk River can get quite crowded in the summer, especially on weekends. I am not really a big fan of crowds when I am trying to enjoy nature. Luckily, I have discovered a quiet stretch of river with very few floaters. You might see an occasional canoe or fisherman, but not much else. You definitely see more wildlife than people! Plus, the water quality is excellent with fewer places that you have to drag your canoe or kayak. I will share this secret with you if you promise not to tell anyone else lol.  

Elk River

Before I get to my secret, I'd like to share a bit more about Elk River. Shortly after the opening of the Kansas City Southern, Noel, Missouri became a popular vacation spot. The beauty of the river and bluffs drew tens of thousands of vacationers to the small Ozarks community each summer. Sometime around 1920, the Empire Electric Company constructed a small dam on Elk River which forms Lake St. Clair. The lake is still a popular camping spot in Noel. Back when U.S. HYW 71 went through Noel, it was referred to as the "Prize Drive of the Ozarks" - because it offered motorists stunning views of towering bluffs on one side and the river on the other. In addition to the river, you can tour Bluff Dwellers Cave just south of Noel on HWY 59.


Lower Elk River Cowskin

The lower stretch of Elk River between the Noel dam and the Oklahoma state line is commonly referred to as Cowskin by locals. Cowskin is my favorite stretch of Elk River to float because it's like a secret that fewer floaters know about

I like to put in just below the dam at Noel. If you don't use a public access point, you must get permission from a property owner before crossing their land. The river banks are considered public access. However, you must respect the property along the river. Don't trespass on someone's land. Don't leave your trash behind. Just use good manners and be respectful to nature, and you will be rewarded with an awesome float trip. I love that this section of the Elk is less crowded.

The Lower Elk River flows out of the Ozark foothills into the Cowskin Prairie. You will see a lot more pasture land than the section between Pineville and Noel. Sometimes you will come across a herd of cows bathing in the water. Don't worry, cows will leave you alone as long as you don't bother them. No cow tipping! The Lower Elk River is deeper than the upper section. That means you will spend less time getting out of your canoe and dragging it over shallow water. There are also lots of really nice swimming holes along this float. 

I mentioned that the Lower Elk flows through the Cowskin Prairie. However, you will still see some very high bluffs just before you get to the HWY 43 bridge. These steep bluffs rival the ones on the way into Noel. The river gets very deep in this area. There is a public access area on the other side of the HWY 43 bridge that is about 3 miles east of the Oklahoma state line. Canoeing/kayaking from the Noel dam to the bridge makes a good float trip. 

You can continue floating past the HWY 43 bridge, but Elk River starts getting a lot deeper once you hit the state line where it flows into Grand Lake. Paddling becomes really tough once you get to the lake lol.

Kayak: My Preferred Mode of Travel on Elk River

Kayaking Elk River

When it comes to my Elk River float trips, I prefer a kayak over a canoe. I find kayaks much easier to handle on the river, and they travel faster. Also, they weigh a lot less than a canoe, so you (typically) don't have to drag it in shallow water. They are easier to haul up on the bank when you take a break or finish your float trip. I have also never tipped over in a kayak.

Elk River Fishing

Small mouth bass is the most common fish in Elk River. However, I have heard of fishermen catching catfish. The Noel dam has restricted the amount of fish on the upper Elk. Therefore, the lower Elk (Cowskin) offers better fishing. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Table Rock Lakeshore Trail

Table Rock Lake Dam

The Table Rock Lakeshore Trail is my favorite hiking trek in the Ozarks near Branson, Missouri. The 2.2-mile paved Lakeshore Trail connects the Dewey Short Visitors Center to Table Rock Lake State Park Marina - which makes this a very beautiful (and easy) hiking trek along the shoreline.

Dewey Short Visitors Center

Congressman Dewey Short was responsible for the construction of Table Rock Lake in the 1950s. The Army Corps of Engineers built a series of dams built along the White River Valley in the Ozarks to protect towns like Branson from flooding. In addition to flood control, Table Rock Lake generates electricity, as well as lots of outdoor recreational opportunities for visitors. 

The Dewey Short Visitors Center tells the history of Branson and Table Rock Lake. You can even watch a video about the construction of the dam. The Army Corp of Engineers thought that it would take several years for the lake to fill with water. However, a large flood in 1957 filled most of the lake before the dam was even finished. There are a lot of fun exhibits too. For example, one exhibit puts you in charge of controlling the dam's spill gates. You are given different scenarios about lake levels and expected rainfall. Then, you must decide how much water to release without flooding other areas downstream. Another fun exhibit lets you generate electricity using a hand crank. The object is to spin the crank fast enough to generate power for different devices: light bulb, mixer, and hair dryer. (The hair dryer was impossible to power with a hand crank). 

The Dewey Short Visitors Center has a nice balcony with awesome views of the lake and dam. I consider this place the best free attraction in Branson. Speaking of Branson, the visitors center staff are very friendly and more than happy to answer any of your questions about the area. You can also find local maps, as well as brochures and coupon books for music shows and attractions.

Hiking The Lakeshore Trail

The Lakeshore Trail is a 4.4-mile round trip hike. You can find the trailhead next to the Army Corps of Engineers building which is on the other side of the parking lot from the visitors center. The area next to the trailhead has several picnic tables right next to the lake. I have enjoyed many picnics by the lake. Many visitors swim along the shoreline. However, you must swim at your own risk  - because there are no lifeguards on duty. Also, the water can get choppy from the wind.

When there are leaves on the trees, much of the trek is shaded. While you are hiking, you will definitely be able to tell why the lake was named "Table Rock" from all the large rocks along the shoreline. Most people that you meet practice good trail manners. You will often see fishermen standing on rocks as they cast their line into the water. The lake level often changes, but most of the shore is a few steps from the trail. This makes it nice when hiking on a hot day you can dip your feet in the water to cool off. The Lakeshore Trail is one of the few hikes where I will take my time to enjoy the scenery. I love the beautiful lake views with the Ozark Mountains in the background. I will often just sit for a while at different spots along the trek.

White River Landing

Showboat Branson Belle on Table Rock Lake 
This hazy photo was taken on a hot, humid Ozarks summer day.

The Lakeshore Trail passes by the White River Landing: Home of the Showboat Branson Belle. (This is where you go to board the Showboat Branson Belle). 

The White River Landing was also where the Duck boats (Ride the Ducks) would enter Table Rock Lake. I used to enjoy watching the Ducks splash down into the water. I also rode them many times. 

Table Rock Lake State Park

Many of my favorite childhood memories are of family vacations to Branson. We would often say near Table Rock Lake State Park. I can remember having many picnics by the water. I guess this portion of the hiking trail makes me feel a bit nostalgic. I still bring along a picnic lunch for this hiking trip. In addition to lots of picnic tables, the state park has public restrooms which are always nice when nature calls. The state park is another popular place for swimming. Just be careful as there are no lifeguards around.

If you are interested in more hiking, you can easily access the White River Valley Trail system in the state park. These trails aren't paved and some of the are quite challenging. Just look for the crossing on HWY 165. Be sure to carefully study the map at the trailhead, so you don't get lost!

State Park Marina

The Lakeshore Trail ends at the State Park Marina. The State Park Marina is the largest marina on Table Rock Lake with something like 650 boat slips. If you don't have your own boat, you can rent one. You can also rent kayaks and paddle boards. I would like to see the Lakeshore Trail extended past the marina to make this a longer hike because I can't get enough of Table Rock Lake!

Table Rock Lake

The next time you are in Branson and are looking for a fun, FREE activity, check out the Dewey Short Visitors Center and then take a hike on the Table Rock Lakeshore Trail.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Compton Gardens in Bentonville

compton gardens bentonville

Compton Gardens is a beautiful park and conference center located in the heart of Bentonville, Arkansas just a few blocks north of the square. Compton Gardens features some nice walking paths that take visitors by beautiful gardens and lush scenery. However, if you are interested in hiking or biking on your visit, the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway runs along the eastern edge of the park, conveniently connecting it to the Bentonville square and the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art.


Dr. Neil Compton

I begin most of my hiking posts with a bit of history, so you should know the drill. Compton Gardens Park and Conference center was the home of Dr. Neil Compton who practiced family medicine for many years in Bentonville. In addition to medicine, Dr. Compton was very passionate about preserving nature. During his life, he planted acres of trees, plants, and flowers, many of which were not native to the Ozarks.

During the 1960s the Army Corp of Engineers was planning to impound the Buffalo River to create lakes similar to the White River Valley in around Branson, Missouri. Dr. Neil Compton fought hard to stop the construction of dams, so the river could continue to flow freely. Many credit Dr. Compton with saving the Buffalo River - which is now a federally protected national scenic waterway. Many visitors to the Buffalo National River might not realize that it was almost turned into a lake and another tourist trap in the Ozarks. 

Dr. Compton's family donated his former home and property for the creation of a park in his memory. Today, Compton Gardens serve as a testament to his commitment to preserve nature for future generations to enjoy. In fact, his old canoe sits on top of the house (which is now used as a conference center). The park is owned and managed along with the historic Peel Mansion - which is a civil war era mansion in Bentonville. (If you are a history buff, I recommend that you tour the Peel Mansion the next time you are in Bentonville).

Compton Gardens Park

compton gardens park

During the spring and summer, the park is covered by a thick canopy of trees and lush plants. Crystal Springs Garden is full of beautiful flowers. I have seen a lot of people take their graduation and spring formal photos in the park. In the fall the trees change colors offering visitors a nice view of beautiful fall foliage in the Ozarks. A small (unnamed) spring flows through the valley along the eastern edge of the park.

Compton Gardens hosts several cool events throughout the year. For example, each spring they have a beer garden that features local craft brewers. Many of the vendors who attend the Bentonville Film Festival use the park. I see a lot of school groups use the park for fundraisers on Saturdays. I know that the conference center is rented for private events too.

Compton Gardens Walking Trails

The Northwest Arkansas Razorback Greenway often gets very crowded with bikers, joggers, and walkers between Crystal Bridges and the Bentonville square. Therefore, I enjoy taking a little detour through the park to enjoy the peaceful serenity of its less-crowded walking trails. This also gives me a chance to stop and take in the scenery from one of the park's rock benches. 

compton gardens walking trail
The park also features some cool mountain biking trails for more experienced riders who enjoy challenging terrain. Those bike trails definitely aren't for the faint of heart, nor the inexperienced rider.

I know that the park is more beautiful during the warmer months when the trees have leaves and the flowers are blooming. However, last winter I visited Bentonville after a light snowstorm. Compton Gardens was transformed into a winter wonderland! The city had the trails cleared, so I was able to safely walk through the park covered in light snow. Shout out to the city of Bentonville's Parks and Recreation Department!

compton gardens snow
The next time you find yourself in Bentonville, you need to visit Compton Gardens Park. No matter what time of the year you visit, you are sure to experience the beauty of Dr. Compton's deep love of nature. The park has a decent parking lot, or you can easily walk from the square, which is just a couple blocks south.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Tanyard Creek Waterfall Trail

tanyard creek waterfall bella vista

The Tanyard Creek Waterfall is a hidden gem in the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas located in the resort town of Bella Vista. The waterfall is just below Lake Windsor about a couple miles west of the Bella Vista town-center on HWY 340 (Lancashire Blvd). The Tanyard Creek Nature Trail is only a 2.2 mile hiking trek, but it offers everything that outdoor enthusiasts love:
  • Hiking 
  • Nature
  • Beautiful Waterfall and Creek
  • Caves
  • Swinging Bridge
  • Lake Views 
 You will want to bring water shoes on warm days to really enjoy the hiking trail and waterfall. However, this is still a fun hike anytime during the year.


Tanyard Creek Nature Trail

The Tanyard Creek Nature Trail is a 2.2 mile loop trek that takes hikers through the scenic wonderland that is the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas. The well-marked trail begins at the parking lot. Figuring out where you are supposed to go at the beginning is a bit confusing. However, just study the large map at the trail head and you won't get lost.

The dirt/rock path is narrow, but the hike is fairly easy with a few occasional modest inclines. The area near the waterfall is very popular, especially during the summer. Therefore, that section of the trail can get crowded near the observation deck.

In addition to the waterfall, my favorite thing about the Tanyard Creek Nature Trail is the fact that volunteers have taken the time to identify species of trees and plants (that are unique to the Ozarks) with nice signs along the way. Therefore, you can learn a lot about nature on this hike.

swinging bridge tanyard creek trail

The most unexpected thing that I came across hiking the Tanyard Creek Nature Trail was this swinging bridge. Heads up: The swinging bridge is much steeper than it looks in this picture! I once tried to walk across the bridge in the morning after a heavy frost. The frost made it as slick as ice lol. I would imagine that it's slick when wet too. Just be safe. 

Anyway, once you cross the suspension bridge, the trail takes you alongside several large bluffs. I imagine that Native Americans would have camped under these bluffs because they would have provided good shelter and easy access to water below. You can still see smoke soot on the rock overhangs above the trail. 

This section of the trail continues to follow Tanyard Creek and takes you by the foundation of an old school house. 

Tanyard Creek Waterfall

tanyard creek waterfall observation deck

Tanyard Creek Waterfall is the main attraction on this hiking trek. I would say that it's about a mile hike from the parking lot. There is a small observation deck just below and to the side of the waterfall. The observation deck offers you some great views and photo opportunities. However, if you want to get a closer look (and play in the water), you can easily climb around the rocks by the observation deck. Just be careful climbing on the wet rocks because they are slick.

Tanyard Creek Waterfall is really a huge drop followed by a series of smaller drops and cascades. The creek pools in the deep rocks, which makes wading in the water fun. Just below the waterfall is a really nice swimming hole.

tanyard creek

In addition to the waterfall, Tanyard Creek features lots of cool (literal and figurative) places to play in the water. You will notice lots of little walking paths that lead off the main hiking trail. Those are fun areas to explore. There are also some benches that make nice places to rest your feet from hiking. 

Lake Windsor

Tanyard Creek is impounded just above the waterfall to form Lake Windsor. Lake Windsor is one of several man-made recreational lakes in Bella Vista. It is especially popular for boating. If you are interested in checking out some lake views, as well as doing some more hiking, you can take one of the walking paths up the steep hill that forms the dam. Technically, you must be a Bella Vista POA member to "enjoy" the lake. However, as long as you stay on the bank above the lake, you are allowed to look and take all the pictures you want. (At least I have never gotten in trouble for looking before). 

lake windsor bella vista