At almost 7000 acres of breathtaking landscape along Crowley’s Ridge in the heart of Northeast Arkansas, Village Creek State Park is a rural hidden gem that should be on everyone’s radar while planning a trip to the Natural State. While Arkansas may not be the first state you think about exploring, some of the lesser known gems are what makes this state such a worthwhile area to experience.
Located only six miles south of Wynne, Village Creek State Park is located along one of Arkansas’ infamous ridges. For those visiting from out of state, it is approximately 100 miles north of Little Rock and less than one hour from our home town of Jonesboro. To reach the park, take Exit 242 off I-40 just east of Forrest City and travel 12 miles north on Highway 284; or travel six miles south on Highway 284 from the nearby town of Wynne.
Let’s start by adding a disclaimer. I have lived in Arkansas since 2008 and Heather has lived here all her life and neither of us previously visited Village Creek State Park until our recent day trip to this hidden gem. Whether this is because of location or simply a lack of knowledge that this state park exists, we are certainly glad we finally made the effort to head south and experience this gorgeous park.
Why Visit Village Creek State Park?
So, what makes Village Creek State Park so unique and worth heading to such a rural part of Arkansas? Given its location on Crowley’s Ridge, the moment you drive into the area you quickly realize that this park epitomizes all of the natural features of the “ridge” and it’s an awesome experience to see how these have been preserved and enhanced into a state park.
Village Creek State Park is actually named for a stream that flows through the area, and while it is frequently recognized as a “natural” state park, it also preserves much of the rich history in this region.
Dating back to the early 19th century when the Military Road linked Memphis, Tennessee with Little Rock, Arkansas, there is still a part of this road visible today in the heart of Village Creek State Park. More on this later, but this history alone creates a rather unique environment and certainly a lot of memories to be made as you learn all about the historical background of this area.
But perhaps the real reason that visitors are so intrigued by the beauty of Village Creek State Park is the myriad of hiking trails that can be experienced throughout the park, primarily around the perimeters of the two iconic lakes – Lake Dunn and Lake Austell. In conjunction with a 27-hole public golf course that meanders through the rolling hills of the ridge, along with horse stables, picnic tables, gift shop and more, Village Creek State Park has a plethora of attractions to keep all the family occupied on an epic day trip.
The History of Military Road
Let’s start at Lake Austell and perhaps the most intriguing hiking trail here which is the historic Military Road that connected Little Rock to Memphis. Upon completion in 1829, this road became a major route of Indian Choctaw, Chickasaw and Muscogee folks, but today it is one of the iconic hiking trails at Village Creek State Park. At just over 2 miles, this trail meanders through forestry with a myriad of wooden/metal bridges and is part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
Dependent on the time of year that you visit, be sure to be on the lookout for snakes (cottonmouth snakes are frequently seen throughout the wooded area) but aside from that, you can thoroughly enjoy a relaxing, quiet stroll along such a historic trail. There are several placards depicting the history of Military Road and these are well worth reading to learn more about your upcoming adventure.
As you take the initial stroll along the banks of Lake Austell, you cannot help but admire the panoramic vistas across Crowley’s Ridge on one side and the picturesque lake on the other. If you visit later in the day, this is an epic spot to capture breathtaking sunset pictures that truly epitomize the natural beauty in this part of Arkansas.
The trail comprises of two loops – Upper and Lower Loop. Regardless of which route you choose to take, you will end up in the same spot, it’s simply a matter of whether you prefer to learn about the history of the trail before or after the 2 mile trail.
While the Military Road Trail is perhaps the most popular, Village Creek State Park is home to 33 miles of distinctive trails, many of which are infrequently visited, so you can enjoy the relaxing atmosphere without too many folks passing by. The Lake Dunn Trail, also measuring just under 3 miles in length, is equally spectacular and features a popular swinging bridge (although in 2021 this was temporarily inaccessible due to a tree falling and destroying it) along with connecting other multi-use trails that interconnect throughout this state park.
For those looking to enjoy a slightly easier and shorter option, Austell Trail is a little over 1 mile in length and starts at the Visitor Center, ending at Lake Austell picnic area. This particular landscape offers unique hogback ridges and stream valleys, and while there are some moderately steep climbs, this relatively short trail is another great option for those that love the great outdoors. You can also access the Old Military Road Trail from this if you are looking to experience a variety of trails on the same visit.
The shortest and easiest of all the trails at Village Creek State Park is Arboretum Trail. Measuring only a quarter of a mile, this is the perfect spot for all the family to enjoy a true nature walk while also experiencing many of the local area’s common trees and shrubs. It’s definitely a great trail to educate kids while also enjoying some exercise.
Lake Dunn and Lake Austell
The beauty throughout Village Creek State Park is apparent when you stand and admire the panoramic scenes across both Lake Dunn and Lake Austell.
Regardless of whether you choose to explore both and enjoy hiking trails in and around these two bodies of water, a trip to this Arkansas State Park would not be the same without a visit to both lakes. If you have any interest in kayaking or fishing, both lakes are the perfect spot to get out on the water and enjoy the scenery and plethora of fish (you can find crappie, bass, bream among others in both lakes) that can be found here.
Lake Dunn is home to a bait shop and dock where fishing boat, kayaks, and pedal boats can be rented for a small fee. Visitors can head out and enjoy the scenery from on the water but for those that prefer to stay on dry land, the view from the boat dock at Lake Dunn is pretty incredible. We spent some time just peering out across the lake and listening to nothing but wildlife and the sound of water gently running on the nearby rocks.
Lake Austell is equally beautiful, albeit slightly larger at 85 acres than its small counterpart that is only 65 acres in size. The old saying that “good things often come in small packages” is certainly true here and both lakes are frequently renowned as some of the best in the area for bass fishing.
Golf the Ridges at Village Creek
While most visitors to Village Creek will likely want to explore the park itself, for the avid golfers out there, this park is home to one of the finest courses in the Natural State. The Ridges at Village Creek is an Andy Dye-designed 27-hole championship golf course that offer three distinctive nine hole courses that meander through the rolling hills of Crowley’s Ridge.
With water hazards coming into play on twelve holes, accuracy is paramount but you could easily be forgiven for being distracted with the panoramic views that you can enjoy throughout the course. This is definitely not a course for the faint hearted and it is certainly a true workout with the steep terrain a frequent challenge and a flat lie being a rarity. A gorgeous backdrop of hardwood forests is the perfect atmosphere for a true golfing experience that will challenge golfers of all standards.
Arkansas frequently falls under the radar of travelers but after visiting locations such as Mammoth Spring State Park and now Village Creek State Park, it’s fair to say that the Natural State is one that deserves to get more recognition. If you love being outdoors and experiencing easy to moderate hiking trails, Village Creek is a lightly trafficked state park that offers a plethora of awesome adventures and panoramic scenes.
Don’t forget to visit Lake Dunn or Lake Austell around sunset, and simply enjoy the relaxing solitude that is present throughout the near 7000 acres of Village Creek State Park.