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Ponca is one of Arkansas’ unexpected pearls of outdoor recreation. The options for adventure undoubtedly revolve around the Buffalo National River, which juts straight through the town. Here you’ll find everything from ambitious hiking trails, waterfalls, and caves, to relaxing cabin retreats well-established education centers. Here is your go-to guide for Ponca Arkansas’ best outdoor activities.
Buffalo National River Park
Established back in 1972, the Buffalo National River Park was the country’s first nationally protected river. It stretches for 135 miles throughout Arkansas, and it’s one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states. As it passes straight through Ponca, this ecological zone provides much of the outdoor recreation activities for those in the neighborhood. Consider floating the river, hiking alongside it, and camping at one of the many campsites. Come nightfall, the Buffalo National River Park is one of the best places for stargazing.
Buffalo Outdoor Center
Located at 1 Main Street, it’s no surprise that Ponca’s outdoor recreation revolves around the Buffalo Outdoor Center. It’s equal parts a visitor center, and a place of refuge with a few cabin options. For all outdoor enthusiasts, you owe it to yourself to swing by to get up to speed on all the options at your disposal. Here they offer romantic retreats for couples, family vacation adventures, corporate retreats, and a restaurant serving up delicious sandwiches. Also if you’re in the market for a location for an outdoor wedding, they offer wedding services as well.
Buffalo River Canopy Tour
Zip lining started in Costa Rica as a way for adventurers to experience ecosystems from above. Today, one of the best places to zip line is right here in the American South. Hop on a guided zip line canopy tour to get a feel for the leafy rainforest in one of the more thrilling activities around the Ponca area.
Ponca Elk Education Center
Today, a herd of about 600 elk call the riverbanks of Ponca home. To learn more about these stunning mammals, make your way over to the Ponca Elk Education Center. Popular among students and adults alike, the center offers informative seminars, exhibits, and walking trails with signposts of little tidbits of information. Once your all full on information, relax in one of the huge log rocker chairs and look out over the valley.
Lost Valley Canoe Rental
See what the country’s first national river is really like by hopping on a canoe. The Lost Valley Canoe and Lodging company is a family-owned business that has been in operation for over 30 years. They know more about the river than anyone in the area. Located right in the heart of Ponca, they provide more than just canoe tours. Hop on a kayak, a raft, or stay in their treehouse yurt, their bunkhouse, or their unique cabins fully equipped with hot tubs. Their Historic General Store also has great little trinkets, organic and local foods, and all kinds of gear and accessories. Our Top Kayaking Destinations in the US may provide some other useful information if you’re looking to brave some white water rapids.
Mountain Springs Cabins
For those more interested in the “outdoor” than the “recreation” side of things, consider just booking a stay at one of the two amazingly secluded Mountain Springs Cabins. Located just a couple miles north of town, they’re located on 56 acres, a good chunk of which you can see from the porch of the patio. Make no mistake — these are fully-stocked luxury cabins located in the heart of the forests of Arkansas. On a similar note, check out these 9 Romantic Cabins in Texas for another nearby option.
There are enough hiking trails in and around Ponca that they deserve their own category. Here are the best places in the area to work up a sweat and get back to nature.
Lost Valley Hiking Trail
The 2.2-mile (round trip) Lost Valley Trail is the most popular in the area for good reason. It’s a trail that boasts unique idiosyncrasies depending on which season you catch. After a rain you’ll come upon large waterfalls, in the spring you’ll find colorful wildflowers, and in the winter you’ll find the crisp air perfect for hiking. Along the Lost Valley Hiking trail, you’ll also find Cobb Cave, which stretches about 150 feet under the bluff and serves as a great intro for those who have not yet experienced a cave. Be sure to bring flashlights!
The Hawksbill Crag hike is a bit longer (5 miles round trip), but it’s still fairly suitable for those who aren’t avid hikers. The hike’s culmination is a large rock that lurches out over the canyon. Wander out over the rock for some excellent views and an ideal setting for some reflection. The hike can get pretty crowded so consider heading here in the morning or during the week if possible.
Hideout Hollow Trail
In and around Ponca, we recommend that you should, in fact, go chasing waterfalls. The Hideout Hollow Trails offers a 50-foot waterfall and lots of other mini falls where you can view from a distance or hop in and play. It’s only a two-mile hike, so it can be done in about an hour if you’re pressed for time. Head north to Numa Falls Canada: The Gateway to Canadian National Parks if you’re looking for more waterfall action.
The Goat Trail
Ponca’s Big Bluff is a standout among the country’s geological features as it’s the tallest exposed bluff (550 feet) anywhere in between the Rocky and the Appalachian Mountain Ranges. The Goat Trail specifically is the stretch of trail that is etched into the bluff offering amazing views. With the towering heights, significant elevation gain, and six-mile length, this one isn’t for the faint of heart.