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Trail Highlight: Lake Fayetteville

Indian Blanket: Gaillardia pulchella

I love a trail that lets you get away from it all without requiring you to leave town. Don't get me wrong, I will drive a ridiculous distance to experience the joy of true solitude, and not think much of it, but I don't always want to drive a ridiculous distance. And sometimes enjoying the outdoors as part of community can feel just right. I tend to forget how much there is to see on this trail simply because it's so close. Nearly every species of flower you'd expect to find in NWA makes an appearance: magnolia buds and violets in the spring; vetch, daisies, and butterfly weed as things warm up; trumpet vines and passion flowers as summer gets into full swing; then glorious fall foliage; even frost flowers in the winter. From mid-May on, all the classic butterfly and bee favorites are represented, so this is a wonderful spot for fans of pollinators.

Eastern Swallowtail enjoying some Boneset

In fact, this is a great spot for seeing not only flowers and butterflies, but other insects, birds, a wide variety of mushrooms, and the occasional critter like deer, skinks, and frogs. Doc and I don't spend a lot of time in the bird blind, but it's a cool, quiet place to see different waterfowl, and usually a good number of turtles.

View from the bird blind

Lake Fayetteville checks some practical boxes as well. First, and most important on busy days, it's close. Moreover, it's close from all over! There are quite a few access points for the Lake Fayetteville trail, and the paved portion of the trail is part of the Razorback Greenway which reaches from South Fayetteville all the way up to Bella Vista. Second, it's a long trail, but it's doesn't have to be. We generally opt to stick as much as we can to the dirt trails. Traveling this way, it's a 7-mile hike, but it's possible to cut that down to 5 miles with a shortcut on the Nature Center trails, provided they aren't hosting a school program. Because the trail is absolutely flat, we can knock out those 7 miles in just 2 hours if I'm disciplined about how many pictures I take. Hopping from the paved trail to the dirt trail could shorten or lengthen the hike, depending, but both Doc and I are happiest when we've got dirt under our paws.

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt." - John Muir

Not everyone is here to "go hard or go home" (nor should everyone be), so Lake Fayetteville's other features can be pretty attractive: There are bathrooms in three locations, along with drinking fountains, and at least one playground, as well as picnic areas. The area is well-maintained and well-traveled. This means insect issues are minimal, and that there are always other people within shouting distance. There are bikes, kayaks, and canoes available for rent. The trail goes past The Botanic Garden of the Ozarks, and the "Yacht Club" - a collection of food trucks. There's even a "waterfall!" The bridge over the spillway is a great spot to listen to the water rushing over the dam, and it's a pretty impressive sight during high water.

Spillway in winter

The City of Fayetteville's website has a very minimal description of the trail, but it does include a handy PDF map showing the trail and various parking areas.

Opportunities to satisfy a craving for nature without committing to a long drive can be rare, depending on where you live. NWA residents are truly spoiled with all the opportunities to make a quick escape, and the area continues to make access to the "natural" part of The Natural State a priority. For Doc and I, Lake Fayetteville is not only a practical choice because of it's proximity and trail quality, it's the highlight of many weekends.