Mountain Majesty

Mount Magazine State Park in northwest Arkansas is a resort for all seasons, offering exceptional recreation, accommodations and beauty.
By Sally M. Snell

The highest point in Arkansas is at Mount Magazine in the northwest portion of the state. On clear days, the view from the summit offers sweeping vistas across the Petit Jean River Valley. On others, low-hanging clouds envelop the park in thick fog, shrinking sight lines to mere yards. Mount Magazine State Park, south of Paris at the intersection of state Routes 22 and 309, calls to visitors year-round, offering exceptional natural beauty and recreation.

lodge

Above: This winter, read a book, enjoy a meal or curl up in a cozy room for the night at The Lodge at Mount Magazine.

In Title: Cabins overlook the Petit Jean River Valley. Each of the 13 cabins has its own fireplace and outdoor hot tub that can be used year-round. Michael C. Snell photos

Winter wonderland

Ice blossoms encrust the mountain in winter. Mount Magazine’s 2,753-foot elevation brings it significantly more ice and snow than the neighboring valleys, and it stays frozen for longer. A hike along the park’s 14 miles of trails reveals a complex frozen world: ice blankets form on trees in freezing rains; twigs bearing wings of ice form as freezing fog blows through; ice crystals shoulder their way through the frozen ground; sap bursts through the stems of native frostweed, freezing into fantastic shapes.

Curl up with a good book in front of a fire in The Lodge at Mount Magazine’s hearth room, which offers a breathtaking view of the valley below. The soft yellow lighting reflects off exposed beams, bathing the public spaces in warm gold.

The lodge contains 60 guest rooms. Thirteen full-service cabins, designed to emulate the rustic architectural style of the 1930s, line the bluff alongside. Each cabin has a fireplace and outdoor hot tub that can be used year-round. The lodge’s Skycrest Restaurant offers a full-service menu, so there is little reason to leave the park.

Harbingers of Spring

With its cooler temperatures at elevation, “spring comes rather slowly to the mountaintop,” which may be dormant even into March, said Park Interpreter Don Simons. Then the forest erupts into bloom as wildflowers take center stage. More than 375 species of wildflowers have been documented on the mountain. Spring is the time to fully explore the park’s trails.

Look for mayapple and its white blossoms, wild hyacinth lavender, and the blue and pink blossoms of downy phlox.

“Every week I walk a trail, something different is coming up,” said Simons. He and his wife lead a lot of wildflower hikes, especially on the weekends.

Bear Hollow Trail takes approximately three hours to hike and provides some of the best scenery in the park. The trail leads to waterfalls and some of Arkansas’s last remaining virgin hardwood forest.

During the 1800s, Will Apple’s Road Trail, named for a farmer, was used to haul wagonloads of produce to market. Songbirds, wildflowers and escaped domestic flowers abound. Many of the park’s trails link together, providing a longer, more diverse hiking experience.

Mountain bikes are allowed on Will Apple’s Road Trail, as well as the Huckleberry Mountain Trail, a 34-mile trail down the mountain into the neighboring Ozark National Forest. All-terrain vehicles, horses and backpackers also share the multi-use trail, which connects Mount Magazine with Huckleberry Mountain. Portions of this trail are closed in April and May for turkey hunting, so check with the park before planning your visit.

Bikes may be rented at the lodge for riding on designated trails or on several miles of dedicated bike lanes on mountain roads.

Signs of Summer

The lodge bustles with activity in summer as visitors come to experience the view and wildlife. Mount Magazine, a lone sentinel rising out of the Arkansas River Valley, is an island for diverse wildlife and plant species. The western wallflower bursts into orange bloom in June.

Birders are drawn to Mount Magazine by the rufous-crowned sparrows, which are normally found in southwestern states and parts of Mexico. However, they use the mountain’s southern bluffs as their easternmost breeding area.

Butterfly enthusiasts track the Diana Fritillary to this peak. The orange and dark brown male is in contrast to the female’s black and blue coloring.

Approximately 86 of Arkansas’s 134 resident butterflies populate Mount Magazine, drawing visitors from all over the country to view and photograph them. The annual Mount Magazine International Butterfly Festival–set for June 25 and 26 this year–includes a parade, entertainment, quilt show and arts and crafts vendors in the nearby town of Paris, while interpretive activities and children’s arts and crafts take place in the state park.

Hang gliders also take flight from the mountain during the heat of summer.

“Flying at Mount Magazine is always a rush. Real exhilarating,” said Mark Stump, who has clocked thousands of hours of flight time, a lot of it at Mount Magazine.

“The magic is flying into thermals,” said Stump. “You feel the glider start climbing and the vario[meter] starts beeping, and you circle in it just like a bird, up in a 45–60–degree steep bank, sometimes at a 500 foot-per-minute climb rate. On a good day when it gets hot and dry, a 1,000-foot-a-minute climb isn’t unusual.”

The peak flying time for hang gliders is when “most people think it’s too hot to be out,” said Stump. “When it’s 90 degrees or pushing 100 degrees, you can climb out to 8-9,000 feet. Once you’re up, you try to get to the next cloud,” to be carried further up in an updraft.

Due to the highly technical nature of the launch area, Mount Magazine is restricted to highly experienced fliers.

Fall colors

Cameron Bluff Overlook faces toward the Ozark National Forest and Arkansas River beyond. Trees can change colors a month earlier than the valley below. In September, the black gum turns red. Maples, hickories and dogwoods follow.

“The color and variety staggers for a long time,” said Simons.

Sport climbing, traditional climbing and rappelling are allowed in a designated area of the mountain’s south bluff, which shoulders the Petit Jean River Valley. One hundred routes extend up to 80 feet along the sandstone face.

Mount Magazine averages eight or nine days a month of foggy weather, either from low-hanging clouds or from fog generated by the mountain.

“Sometimes you can’t see the mountain from the valley for a day or two at a time,” said Simons, who suggests being flexible in your travel plans to allow staying an extra day or two on the mountain.

Though the mountain is known for its sweeping vistas, fog is also an ideal time to appreciate nature through a different lens.

“Hiking a trail, finding a waterfall and looking at it up close, you can focus on the micro-scenery, rather than the grand view all the time,” said Simons.

Sally Snell is a contributor from Lawrence, Kan.

Jan/Feb 2010 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact Mount Magazine State Park, www.mountmagazinestatepark.com or call (877) 665-6343 for lodge reservations. Call the park office at (479) 963-8502 for camping or general information about Mount Magazine.

Visit www.butterflyfestival.com for more information on the butterfly festival. For area visitor information, contact the Paris Chamber of Commerce at (479) 963-2244 or www.parisaronline.com.

To visit northwest Arkansas, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Arkansas through online Reader Service at http://southern.ai-dsg.com


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