You know Little Rock’s the capital of Arkansas, but you might not realize it’s also a great weekend getaway. Just a few hours west of Memphis, this bustling city is surprisingly clean, health-conscious, and very family-friendly.
Climb a mountain
Pinnacle Mountain sits more than 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River Valley in Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Park facilities include playgrounds, a boat launch, canoe and kayak rentals, mountain bike trails, and 13 hiking trails. The major attraction, however, is climbing Pinnacle Mountain.
There are two trails up the mountain: the family-friendly West Summit Trail and the more challenging East Summit Trail. But don’t let “family-friendly” fool you. Neither trail is stroller or handicap accessible and even the West Summit requires hiking on uneven terrain.
For the more adventurous, take the East Summit Trail to the top. At first the East Summit seems like a normal hiking trail with a few downed trees as obstacles. However, once you reach the halfway point, you are faced with a wall of boulders you must scramble to reach the top. My older kids took turns helping their younger sibs over the boulders. Whichever trail you take, the view from the top is amazing and well worth the effort.
Before hiking, we used one of the many very clean picnic areas for lunch along the Arkansas Trail, part of the 71-acre Arkansas Arboretum. The arboretum showcases plant species found across the state.
Cost: Free • arkansasstateparks.com/pinnaclemountain/
Saddle up at Chief Whitehorse Trail Rides for a one-hour guided horseback ride through Pinnacle Mountain State Park. The staff is super friendly and the horses are very well-trained. Our guide even gave my kids bananas to feed to their horses at the end of the ride.
No riding experience is required, although younger children are encouraged to wear helmets. Bring your own bike helmet or use one of the stable’s. Children under 6 can also double-up with an adult. Reservations are recommended but not required.
Cost: $25/one hour ride • horserentals.com/chiefwhitehorse.html
Blinded by Science
If you are a fan of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, you’ve seen science expert Kevin Delaney. Delaney is the director of visitor experience at Museum of Discovery. The museum, located at River Market in downtown Little Rock, is also a Smithsonian Affiliate. Here you’ll find 90 interactive science and technology exhibits with rotating featured exhibits. Each of my children (ages 9 to 18) found something to enjoy. Preschoolers can explore Room To Grow, with hands-on displays designed especially for little learners.
Are you a teacher? Discounts are offered on admission to all teachers with a current school ID.
Cost: $10/adult. $8/ages 12 and under. • museumofdiscovery.org
Not Your Mama’s Chicken
I know, you’ve eaten way too many chicken fingers already in your travels. But trust me on this one. We were getting hungry and cranky when we stumbled upon Stickyz Rock ‘N Roll Chicken Shack. Located across from the Museum of Discovery, Stickyz is a funky little restaurant bathed in neon colors and decorated with oddly shaped tables and chairs. The menu offers more than just chicken fingers, but you’ll want to order them anyway, with tempting flavors like hard garlic, jalapeno/ginger, voodoo, and lemon pepper. Don’t forget the homemade dipping sauces.
Live music is featured nights and weekends (age restrictions apply), but for lunch, it’s very family friendly.
Take a Dive
After lunch, take the bridge across the Arkansas River to the North Shore Rivewalk Park, where you’ll find the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum. Here, you can climb aboard the USS Razorback, the Navy’s longest serving U.S. submarine; its crew was responsible for rescuing American pilots shot down during World War II. I enjoyed the river views while my boys took the guided submarine tour. They had fun climbing up and down the sub’s narrow stairways and listening to war stories shared by the World War II veteran volunteers.
Since this is a real submarine, there are many steps and tight spaces you have to navigate. It is not stroller accessible and not recommended for children under 5. If you skip the submarine tour, you can purchase tickets for the museum only.
Cost: $7.50/adults. $5/ages 6-12. $2/museum only. • aimmuseum.org
Take a stroll through River Market. This shopping mecca features antique stores, souvenir shops, restaurants, candy stores, and the Ottenheimer Market Hall for even more specialty goods and food. The day we visited, First Security Amphitheater hosted a free BMX bike demonstration that held my older boys in rapt attention.
• Parent Hack •
I’ve taught my younger kids to place each day’s outfit in a separate, recycled plastic grocery bag when packing before a trip. This makes mornings in a hotel room much easier, as the kids can just reach in their suitcase and grab a bag complete with clothes and undergarments for the day. It not only cuts down on arguments over what to wear, but also eliminates lost socks or shoes. An added benefit, the plastic bags are a handy way to store wet or dirty clothes while on the road. — Jennifer Williams-Field