I live in central Arkansas, so I know firsthand how brutal summer can be. This past week we had temperatures in the high 90’s with near-100% humidity. In that kind of weather, there’s not a lot you can do outdoors. Luckily, I have a remedy– Blanchard Springs. I can’t think of any other nearby destination that has so much to offer in the hottest months.
Blanchard Springs Caverns
The main attraction of Blanchard Springs are the caverns… and they are spectacular. It is a giant underground limestone “show cave” run by the U.S. Forest Service– read more about it here. There are three tours available: the Dripstone Trail, Discovery Trail, and Wild Cave Tour. Dripstone is wheelchair accessible and only about half a mile long, but walks you through the Cathedral Room, a huge chamber with tons of different formations. I recently finally took the Discovery Tour, which is 1.2 miles long, but traverses almost 700 stairs. I didn’t mind– the scenes we passed were absolutely mind-blowing.
Some of my favorite points: the limestone-rimmed “tide pool” formations filled with mirror-like still pools; the “Ghost Room” filled with glittering calcite mounds and towers; the underground stream, blue-green and icy cold; and a colossal flowstone, resembling a frozen waterfall, hanging over a 20-foot deep emerald pool. I kept saying “wow” audibly throughout the tour! And what makes it really great for summer? The cave’s year-round ambient temperature is a balmy 58 degrees Fahrenheit. Nice and refreshing.
When you’re done with your cave tour, go find a swimming hole! There are several great spots on Sylamore Creek, the nearby stream known for its cold, clear waters. Blanchard Springs has its own Rec Area and campground, and upstream is Gunner Pool Rec Area and Barkshed Rec Area. My recommendation– if you’re seeing the caves and only there for the day, take a dip at the Blanchard Rec Area so you’re not in the car too much. If you can stay for a weekend or longer– go camp out at Barkshed and experience the same clear waters with 90% fewer people.
As if it couldn’t get any better, there are two waterfalls RIGHT HERE that are always flowing! That is rare in Arkansas, as most of our falls dry up in the summer. The reason Blanchard Springs has eternal waterfalls is in the name: they are spring-fed, and originate in the caverns themselves. (You’ll see the underground stream on the Discovery Tour I mentioned above!) The first waterfall is the Mirror Lake spillway, and the other is Blanchard Spring itself, or the waterfall formed by the spring exiting the cave.
Mirror Lake is spring-fed, and is a popular fishing spot. At one end is a man-made dam, which forms a lovely waterfall that flows year round into the streambed below. There are also some ruins of an old mill down there, which are very neat to look around in. Splash around in the falls and enjoy the shade of the bluff overhang.
Just upstream, Blanchard Spring is a beautiful little waterfall that’s tucked away down a short, paved path. If you can manage to get there first thing in the morning, you’ll probably have it to yourself a while. Enjoy the dappled morning sunshine and rush of the cold spring water over mossy rocks.
If you’re not into camping (and in the summer, I don’t blame you), there are a few different motel options in the nearby towns of Mountain View or Allison. I recently stayed at the Dogwood Motel in Mountain View, and while it was dated, it was clean, cheap and met my needs. I also enjoyed some fabulous beers at Gravity Brew Works in Big Flat, AR– not far from Blanchard Rec Area. Don’t sweat out the entire summer in misery– consider Blanchard Springs for your next summertime weekend getaway.