A few years ago I helped a friend with a research project about the Champion Trees of Arkansas. Throughout the year we drove all over the state finding and photographing the trees. I love trees, but I think what I loved most about the project was traveling across and exploring all areas of Arkansas.
If you take on a project like that one, it won’t take you long to discover why it is called The Natural State. There is so much to see and do in Arkansas. And probably my what I like best is how diverse the state is. While traveling around searching for trees, I found myself on mountain tops, in swamps, and everywhere in between.
Why I believe Arkansas is one of the best states for hiking
The diversity in Arkansas makes The Natural State truly one of the best states for hiking. There is so much to do and see here. Not many other states, offer so many different hiking opportunities. For a great sampling of the many variations of hiking Arkansas offers, click here for an Arkansas Hiking Checklist. In the list you will find 24 trails (two per month, it makes a great challenge!) that will take you to all four corners of the state and everywhere in between.
Unique Regions of Arkansas
There are six distinct natural regions of Arkansas: the Ozark Plateau, the Arkansas River Valley, the Ouachita Mountains, the Gulf Coastal Plain, the Mississippi Alluvial Plain (aka the Delta), and Crowley’s Ridge.
The making of Arkansas’ variety of regions go back millions of years. And the state has been shaped by several natural forces, including an ocean, rivers, and uplifting earth.
The Ozark Mountains are carved out of the Ozark Plateau, which is an uplift of Paleozoic rocks. Once the plateau was flat on top. However streams have cut through and heavily eroded that plateau, creating deep and narrow cut valleys. The most famous Ozark valley is the Buffalo River Valley.
There you can really see how water is king over the rock in this region.
In contrast to the Ozark Mountains the Ouachita Mountains are characterized by folds in the rock. The mountains also consist of Paleozoic rocks. However instead of being on continuous uplift like the the Ozark Plateau, the Ouachita Mountains were violently forced up.
This process twisted and buckled the rock as it forced it up. Places where construction has cut into the rock or it has been eroded away, you can really see this geological feature in the snaky rock veins that swirl around.
What makes the Ouachita Mountains stand out from other mountain ranges in the United State is that it runs west to east as opposed to north to south.
The Arkansas River Valley
Dividing the two mountain ranges is the Arkansas River Valley. Don’t let this region’s name fool you. It is home to the highest point in Arkansas – Mount Magazine at 2,753 feet.
The geology of the Arkansas River Valley shares characteristics of both the Ozarks and the Ouachitas, but it is most defined by flat-topped, steep-sided mesas that stand alone along the river. Mount Magazine, Petit Jean Mountain and Mount Nebo all stand tall over the Arkansas River.
Gulf Coastal Plain
The Gulf Coastal Plain fills the southern portion of the state and was under water about 50 million years ago. The Gulf of Mexico used to come much further inland until tectonic uplift raised the land and pushed the shoreline south.
Because the land of the Gulf Coastal Plain used to be under an ocean the soil is sandy and gravelly. The terrain is generally flat with rolling hills.
The Mississippi Alluvial Plain
One of the most known areas of the state of Arkansas is the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, or the Delta Region. Shaped by the Mighty Mississippi, the Arkansas River, the White River, and the St. Francis River this area is characterized by fertile farm land and low-lying swamp land.
Encompassing the entire eastern portion of the state (with the exception of Crowley’s Ridge. See below!), it is flatter than any other region in state. Because it is flat and the soil drains poorly, the area is rich with many unique wetlands to explore.
In the middle of the Delta Region is Crowley’s Ridge. This region is the smallest of the six natural areas in Arkansas. The ridge extends from the Missouri border south to Helena-West Helena. It ranges from only one mile to 12 miles across.
It consists of rolling hills that rises out of the middle of the delta. And is thought to have been shape by the Mississippi River and the Ohio River. The narrow hilly ridge formed when the Mississippi River flowed on the west side of the ridge and the Ohio River flowed on the east side, where the Mississippi River flows today. Over time, the rivers changed course but left signs of their life before.
It truly is a unique geological feature as it rise about 250 feet out of the flat Mississippi Alluvial Plain.
One of the best ways to see these six distinct regions is to explore the state. Arkansas State Parks have wonderful parks in each region. The Ozark-St. Francis, and Ouachita National Forests also provide many wonderful area where you can explore.
There are so many great hiking trails in Arkansas! To get you started you can follow the Arkansas Hiking Checklist, but these are just a sampling! So get out there and explore!
Download you FREE Arkansas Hiking Checklist!
Source for article: http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/
- Arkansas State Parks, Ouachita National Forest, Ozark-St. Francis National Forest
- Tim Ernst’s “Arkansas Hiking Trail
- Tim Ernst’s “Arkansas Nature Lover’s Guide Book”