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.

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