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ARKANSAS SIGHTSEEING: Take a hike — First Day program steps in to 2023

by Jack Schnedler | December 27, 2022 at 2:11 a.m.
A Pinnacle Mountain State Park interpreter will lead hikers on Sunday up the West Summit Trail. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Marcia Schnedler)

New Year's resolutions are made to be broken. But here's one that can be fulfilled on the first day of the year, before any impulse to improve starts fading away.

This done-in-a-day resolution — to take at least one invigorating hike in 2023 — comes courtesy of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

The agency is gearing up for its First Day Hikes program on Sunday at two-thirds of Arkansas' 52 state parks. At many locations, the annual event features themed walks guided by park interpreters, generally at no charge. Hikers can break away from an escorted walk at any time. They are also free to set their own route and pace, using trail maps available at visitor centers.

The Jan. 1 Arkansas hikes are part of a national program sponsored by the nonprofit America's State Parks organization. The aim is to "provide a means for individuals and families to welcome the coming year in the outdoors, exercising and connecting with nature."

With the events, America's State Parks intends to promote "outdoor recreation in hopes of helping address obesity, especially in children. Furthermore, exercise and outdoor activities rejuvenate the mind and body, promoting overall mental and physical health and wellness. Many believe that time spent in nature enhances creativity and lifts our moods."

Those may sound like tall orders for a single hike on New Year's Day, even a strenuous one. But park officials report a year-to-year increase in participation. Hikers should dress warmly and wear good walking shoes. Information about the trails being hiked on Jan. 1 and the starting times of the escorted ventures are posted at

At Pinnacle Mountain, just northwest of Little Rock off Arkansas 300, the day's escorted choices include one of the most strenuous trails along with one of the easiest.

Hikers aiming to start their 2023 fitness resolution at full throttle can tackle Pinnacle's peak, 760 feet higher than the West Summit Trail's starting point at the picnic grounds. The visual reward for climbing the rocky terrain is sweeping views of Lake Maumelle, the Arkansas River Valley, the Ouachita Mountains and west Little Rock. Plan on as much as two hours for the round trip, depending partly on how much time is spent at the top.

Pinnacle Mountain's easy guided hike on Jan. 1 strolls the Arkansas Arboretum Trail. The loop path, just seven-tenths of a mile, is popular for birding. Its main purpose is to help visitors understand the variety and values of trees and forests in the state's six main natural divisions. Most wheelchairs and strollers can navigate the route.

At recently renamed Plum Bayou Mounds Archeological State Park, 20 miles southeast of Little Rock off U.S. 165, the First Day Hikes program walks the flat three-quarter-mile paved Knapp Trail. It circles the remaining American Indian mounds of what was formerly called Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, then continues on the lakeside boardwalk.

In Woolly Hollow State Park, 50 miles north of Little Rock, the Jan. 1 route circles Lake Bennett. The mostly level 2.5-mile hike follows the track laid out in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration, offering views of the lake as well as creeks running through oak and hickory woods.

Participating parks can be found in all corners of the state — from Hobbs in the Northwest and Crowley's Ridge in the northeast to Lake Chicot in the southeast and Millwood in the southwest. If the weather is friendly on New Year's Day, any of them can be the place to give your fitness resolution a bracing kickoff.

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