A positive thought that is often followed by grumbling from Arkansas cyclists, especially when the weather forecast looks something like this:
Many folks find satisfactory respite by droning away on their trainer or by joining a popular local spin class, where they can at least enjoy some company. That just doesn't do it for me. While I value the fitness that comes from hours on the bike, the real draw for me is being outside and the satisfaction of self-propelled motion.
Alternative Plans- Take A Hike, Climb a Mountain, Play In A Boat.
The good news for those of us here in central Arkansas is that there are many things to do that don't require anything more than a pair of hiking shoes or boots, some decent outdoor clothing, and some direction. Most riders have a good collection of synthetic base layers, which is a good start.
Last summer, I was looking for ways to meet some new people and get out of that old rut in which that many of us find comfort. I had enjoyed a lot of walking the trails at Camp Robinson while rehabbing from shoulder surgery and Cassie Wells of the Little Hikers Meetup group did a little presentation at a CATA meeting. I joined them for a couple of hikes up around the Buffalo River and I was reminded of the many wonders found just off the road. There is a reason that Arkansas was known as the Wonder State from 1923-1953.
Winter is the best time to hike in Arkansas for the same reasons many of us consider it the best time to mountain bike; the snakes, chiggers and ticks are gone, terrain is more visible with the leaves off the trees, and creeks and waterfalls flow.
Some places are surprisingly easy to get to. Petit Jean State Park is an hour away and offers a range of easy to medium difficulty hikes. The Heber Springs area offers several quality, easy-to-get-to destinations. Both are about an hour of easy driving from Little Rock and the Heber Springs sites are only ten minutes from my home on the Little Red.
Cedar Falls at Petit Jean. The hike is about 2 miles round trip.
Bridal Veil Falls at Heber Springs is about 1/2 mile off of Highway 5. The viewing platform is just about 50 yards from parking, but there are trails and another waterfall in the small canyon area.
Sugarloaf Mountain at Heber Springs is a short, fairly steep hike followed by a little chimney climb to reach the top, and the views are outstanding.
The Buffalo National River features many popular trails. While often crowded in the spring and fall, winter allows you to enjoy the beauty without feeling like you're on a bus tour. You can be at Ponca in about 2-1/2 hours from Little Rock.
Some Buffalo River trails are overwhelmed during the peak seasons. Winter is a great time to enjoy them.
My New Year's Holiday Weekend-No Ride But Plenty Of Outdoors At Richland
Many Central Arkansas cyclists have become familiar with Witts Springs and the Richland Creek Wilderness through their participation in the Pinnacle Rocks 40 and Lick Fork Gravel Grind. Two hours away from Little Rock, the area is rich in natural beauty, and it is where I spent most of the New Year holiday boating and hiking. As a wilderness area, there are no developed marked trails, but the most popular of many horse trails are easy to follow. If you are not following a creek or a clear trail, a GPS is a good idea. Cell service is scant. Camping is primitive but pleasant, though I took advantage of the offer of a friend's remote cabin. The outhouse was chilly, but the wood stove and satellite dish provided warmth and Netflix.
OK, winter whitewater boating isn't accessible for everyone, given the required skill level and specialized gear, but it is part of my lifestyle. Rain, especially in winter, means the creeks are up. Friday was cold and sunny. New Year's Day was just cold, but Richland has magic in the foggy drizzle of these days. When I envision the river it is always a scene of mist and waterfalls.
Low winter sun is still better than no sun at all.
The high falls above Richland Falls are in the background. I'm guessing it drops over 100' before cascading into the creek. It's just one of many waterfalls in the area.
Steep creeks drop fast but more rain over the weekend meant a return to Richland on New Year's Day. 34 degrees, foggy, and a great day on the river.
In between boating days, I struck out with adventure dogs Willie and Ivy to find some waterfalls. Tim Ernst has helped make this a popular activity among hikers with his Arkansas Waterfalls Guidebook. I had these on my list before I recently bought Tim's book. Now I have about 200 more falls to seek out.
Lower Horsetail Falls requires about a 2-mile RT hike and some medium bushwhacking. Well worth it.
Upper Horsetail Falls and my trail team.
In winter, I always carry a headlamp, an extra layer of clothing, and a way to make a fire. Clothes go on and off with stops and climbs and the rest is insurance against the unforeseen.
Falling Water Falls is a roadside attraction.
All of the places mentioned here can be done in day trips from Little Rock, and they are just a handful of the hundreds of similar possible destinations available to us. There are several Meetup Groups in the area if you are interested in trying something new and enjoy starting out with some more experienced folks. Download the app and search by area and interest.
Another very good hiking site/ app is Alltrails. It is also free in its basic form and you can find hikes for every area. It provides detailed directions, along with reviews, photos, and insight from folks who have hiked the trails.
Don't let the crappy riding weather lock you in the house. Relief can be as simple as lacing up your boots and heading out the door.