Exploring the Arkansas River Trail

The Arkansas River Trail crosses the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. ©Melanie Radzicki McManus

The Arkansas River Trail crosses the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. ©Melanie Radzicki McManus

I tell my friend, Amy, it’s odd that the trail we’re running along has devolved from a neat, blacktopped path to a jumble of golf ball-sized rocks. And that it’s even stranger that we have to carefully pick our way behind a huge, washed out section of trail that appears to have slipped into the Arkansas River. But surely even if we’ve lost the trail, we’ll pick it up again if we stay next to these railroad tracks ― because the tracks run along the river.

But Amy and I are so busy looking for trail markers, we fail to realize the tracks do not run along the river, but instead plunge to the south, away from it. Soon, we’re hopelessly lost.

In Your Bucket Because …

  • You want to experience Arkansas’ best recreational trail.
  • You like bridges and want to cross the Big Dam Bridge.
  • Good for outdoors enthusiasts and bridge fans.

Well, not really. We have our iPhones, and can see from the Google map where we are ― far from the trail ― and how to pick it up again ― zigzag several miles along a complicated series of sleepy neighborhood streets that will initially take us even farther from the trail.

“If only we’d run into some nice Arkansan who’d offer to drive us back to the trail,” I say as we trot up yet another super-steep hill.

Part of the Arkansas River Trail winds across wetlands. ©Melanie Radzicki McManus

The gods must be listening, because a few minutes later a couple enjoying coffee out on their porch calls out a cheery hello as we approach. I blurt out our dilemma, asking for the most expeditious way back to the trail, and the couple insists on driving us there. As we’re pulling away from the curb in their SUV, the man tells us we’re in the historic Hillcrest neighborhood (hence all the hills), and the house they live in was once the home of none other than Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Back on the Trail

The Arkansas River Trail is a 34-mile loop around a section of the Arkansas River. It runs through Little Rock and North Little Rock, connecting 38 parks, six museums and more than 5,000 acres of parkland along the way. Several bridges connect the two sides ― some rather famous ― allowing you to create loops of various lengths.

The Junction Bridge along the trail is America’s only pedestrian and bicycle bridge with a lift span. ©Melanie Radzicki McManus

The most popular section is the trail’s original 15-ish-mile loop that runs from the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge in downtown Little Rock to the Big Dam Bridge, the latter of which, at 4,226 feet, is the longest bridge in America that was built specifically for walkers and cyclists.

Amy and I are doing the original loop, and are deposited back on the trail by the Good Samaritans a mile or so from the Big Dam Bridge. The trail is a smooth, flat, blacktop path, and remains so for much of the route.

We jog past a lush, green golf course, over the impressive Big Dam Bridge and wind along a shady, wooded path. It seems like every mile or so we run through a pretty little park, which was part of the reason for the trail ― to connect the city’s parks.

Crossing the famous Clinton Bridge, which deposits you at the door of the Clinton Presidential Library in downtown Little Rock, our final two miles along the trail offer us innumerable things to see and do — we can detour along a boardwalk through a pocket of wetlands; stop and admire numerous sculptures; read the educational murals lining the “Medical Mile.”

Back at our hotel, we’re tired but triumphant. We’ve had a great run on a very pretty trail that gave us a good look at Little Rock and North Little Rock. And while the trail can definitely use better signage in the downtown, we’re not upset by our mishap. After all, not many other trail users can say they got a lift from the owners of Bill & Hill’s former home.

Practicalities

  • Make sure to grab a map showing the trail’s route in downtown Little Rock. It goes on and off the trail onto city streets for a bit and it isn’t marked well in this spot.
  • Want to bike the trail? You can rent bikes in downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock. There are several bike repair stations along the trail, too.
  • On the weekends, the trail can get quite busy, especially the Clinton Bridge.
  • There are porta-potties near the Big Dam Bridge and in many of the parks you’ll pass through.
  • Water fountains can be found all along the trail, but it’s always wise to carry your own, just in case.

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