As the earth greens up and temperatures rise, it’s time for a little R&R.
Springfield is ideal for a staycation and who doesn’t love a vacation? But if you need a change of scenery and don’t have time to travel far, what about taking weekend trip instead?
Lucky for us, Springfield-area Ozarkers live in the perfect location for planning one-gas-tank weekend getaways less than half a day’s drive from home. Where to go? Here’s one to start: Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas.
Explore heavenly views at Devil’s Den State Park
From relaxing on a rustic cabin porch to soaking in a glorious valley vista or exploring caverns and creeks, visitors to Devil’s Den State Park in the Boston Mountains of Arkansas find more than a weekend’s worth of fun. About 2.75 hours from Springfield, the historic park also makes a nice home base for exploring beyond its borders.
What’s so special about this park
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) using native materials in the 1930s, the 2,500-acre park tucked into the Lee Creek Valley is one of the most intact CCC projects still standing in the United States. Devil’s Den is noted for its web of roughly 60 crevices and caverns, along with a picturesque creek and dam waterfall, broad bluff overlooks and unique geologic rock formations, all easily discovered along its many trails. In fact, Devil’s Den is the largest sandstone crevice cave area nationwide and includes Devil’s Den Cave which extends 550 feet into its hills.
Catch a sunrise at the CCC-built shelter overlook, one of two trailheads for the Yellow Rock Trail, whose namesake crag seems reminiscent of Hawksbill near the Buffalo River. Explore the native stone dam and Lee Creek or fish and paddle at the eight-acre Lake Devil (with seasonal watercraft rentals available). The park’s swimming pool, open between Memorial and Labor Day weekends, is a great way to cool off in the summer.
If you or your kids like to climb, clamber and explore, this park is for you. It’s also considered the “home of Arkansas mountain biking” for its multi-use bike trails (most also accessible on foot), including the popular Fossil Flats Trail. The Devil’s Racetrack Trail crosses most of the park and includes geologic formations and a seasonal waterfall.
What to do in the park?
Two of the most popular moderate hikes inside the park follow the Yellow Rock Trail and Devil’s Den Trail. For a 3-mile hike from its trailhead near the creek and campground, the Yellow Rock Trail winds upward on a spur, passing crevices and caves, eventually reaching the upper loop with broad valley overlooks, especially dramatic at its namesake destination, an overhang aptly named Yellow Rock.
From the loop, don’t miss taking another spur out and back to the overlook shelter, the first CCC-built structure in the park. In fact, you can cut a mile off your hike by starting at the shelter. From here, a spur leads to the loop for a 2.2-mile hike.
The park’s 1.6-mile Devil’s Den Trail loops around caves and rock formations, including the Devil’s Ice Box (stand near its opening to feel the reason for its name) and Twin Falls. For another cave experience not far outside the park, try the Moonshiner’s Cave Trail. It’s short (but not well marked) and leads downhill to a cave and wet-weather falls.
Where to stay
In the park, rustic cabins of stone and wood built in the 1930s have been updated with modern amenities including satellite TV, air-conditioning and heat. Ranging from studio to three-bedroom, they have full kitchens and fireplaces. Six camper cabins with heat and air-conditioning (but no plumbing or kitchens) are also available, as are traditional camping sites, some with hookups for campers. (View a park map here.) Make reservations online at the park’s website or contact the park at (479) 761-3325 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If cabins are booked and you’re not a camper, rentals are available nearby through VRBO and Airbnb (search Winslow, Ark., or around Fayetteville, about 30 minutes north). Lake Fort Smith State Park, which also rents cabins, is 30 minutes southeast.
Dining and grocery
Not in the mood to cook? The park’s Ridge Runner Café is open between Memorial and Labor Day weekends. Or pick up a burger, hot dog or chicken sandwich — followed by a sweet shake or ice cream soda — at the uber-casual Sugar Shack in West Fork, about 20 minutes away. If you need food supplies, there’s a Harps Food Store in West Fork or stop in Fayetteville before reaching the park.
Things to do nearby
You could be at Devil’s Den in under three hours, even with rest stops, but why not build in some vaca-worthy stops while going there or back?
The location of this park is perfect for adding a visit to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville along your way, less than an hour north of the park. The 120-acre grounds feature paved and crushed granite trails through native Ozark forest (and includes Crystal Spring), eye-popping outdoor sculptures and special exhibitions. Indoors, galleries feature the museum’s American art collection and visiting exhibitions. If you have an extended weekend, spend the day exploring downtown and The Momentary, an indoor/outdoor visual and performing arts complex, with dining, housed in an old cheese factory.
For an outdoor trail side trip, stop for a couple hours to hike the Tanyard Creek Natural Trail on the outskirts of Bella Vista. The mostly easy trail features a waterfall, views along the creek and interesting geologic formations. History buffs may enjoy a side trip to Pea Ridge National Military Park, another stop not far off your drive if going through Joplin and Bella Vista. An alternative route from Springfield to Devil’s Den goes through Eureka Springs.
For side trips beyond Devil’s Den State Park, a 35-minute drive southwest takes you to the wide, Natural Dam Falls overlooking the Mountain Fork River. Drive roughly the same distance southeast of the park to visit Lake Fort Smith State Park. (Along the way, stop for the view at Artist Point.) Extend your trip with a visit to White Rock Mountain Recreation Area, about 40 miles from Devil’s Den (a 1.25-hour drive), or plan one day around a scenic drive that connects all three and much more. With so much to see and do in this part of Arkansas, you’ll be tempted to make Devil’s Den State Park an annual long weekend trek.
Why is it called Devil’s Den?
According to rumors and park lore, the name Devil’s Den emerged nearly two centuries ago because the Lee Creek Valley, with roughly five dozen caves and crevices, made a perfect hideout for outlaws, whether robbing stagecoaches in the 1800s or making moonshine in the 1920s. Hence it was known as a “devil’s den.”
Devil’s Den State Park was built in the 1930s on ground where 11 archeological sites have revealed evidence of prehistoric Native Americans from as long ago as roughly 8,000 years; and homesteading by European settlers before Arkansas became a state in 1836. The first structure in the park was completed in 1934 and one of its earliest built trails leads to Yellow Rock. The park was designated as a National Historic District and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Getting to Devil’s Den State Park
Location: About 30 minutes south of Fayetteville in the Boston Mountains of Arkansas
Address: 11333 W. Arkansas 74, West Fork, AR, 72774
Contact: (479) 761-3325, email@example.com
Distance: Roughly 140-170 miles depending how you go (through Joplin south toward Bentonville, or through Eureka Springs)
Drive time: Around 2.75 hours
Add to your trip: In Arkansas, these stops along the way, or side trips from Devil’s Den State Park, may enhance your visit: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville; Tanyard Creek Nature Trail in Bella Vista; Pea Ridge National Military Park in Garfield; Eureka Springs, Ark.; Lake Fort Smith State Park in Mountainburg; White Rock Mountain Recreation in the Boston Mountain Ranger District; Natural Dam Falls in Natural Dam, Ark.
For more weekend trip ideas, check out our Picture the Ozarks series for photo-worthy locales not far from Springfield: Greer Spring Trail and Kings River Falls.