Little Rock, Arkansas, a river city? You bet your Big Dam Bridge on it, which happens to be the longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in the world built specifically for that purpose, located here.
Part of the Louisiana Purchase from France, what is now known as Little Rock is located near the geographical center of what is now known as Arkansas. The city derives its name from a small rock formation on the south bank of the Arkansas River called La Petite Roche (the “little rock”), a landmark used by early travellers to identify a well-known river crossing.
The Arkansas River is noted to be the third longest in the U.S., stretching 1,459 miles from its headwaters near Leadville, Colo., which also makes it the longest river flowing into the Mississippi-Missouri system.
Today in downtown Little Rock, the old and new mix together side-by-side. Stately antebellum structures and ornate Victorian buildings are neighbors to gleaming, glass-façade skyscrapers, with natural surroundings providing the backdrop. Time and again, it always comes back to the scenic river.
What to Do
Riverfront Park runs 11 blocks on the south bank of the Arkansas River downtown, arguably one of the best public parks in the country. Stroll through the grounds and let your mind and soul be enriched by the many works of art placed along the path to the Clinton Presidential Center.
The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum on Riverfront Drive is home to the USS Razorback, the longest-serving submarine in the world. Not only a military museum, it also offers a research library and viewing theatre.
The Arkansas River Trail allows the sister cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock to connect people, enabling them to walk or cycle while taking in some of the most spectacular views in Central Arkansas. Seventeen miles long and crossing the river a couple of times, the trail attaches 38 parks and six museums on both sides of the river.
As mentioned earlier, Little Rock is home to the longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in the world. Named for its massive, 4,226-foot span built atop Murray Lock & Dam, it hosts the Big Dam Bridge 100 bicycle ride each September.
Junction Bridge is an integral part of the Six Bridge skyline and riverfront development in both Little Rock and North Little Rock. Pedestrian and bicycle use links both sides of the Arkansas River, and it is one of three bridges illuminated every evening with thousands of LEDs, forming the Arkansas River Lights.
The Little Rock Marathon is well known to those in the running scene, placing high on the list of must-do events thanks to its medals, which are the size of a dinner plate and weigh in at 2.5 pounds.
Riverfest, Little Rock’s largest festival, occurs each Memorial Day weekend. The three-day visual and performing arts event draws more than 250,000 visitors annually and offers four stages of live entertainment options.
The Six Bridges Regatta over Labor Day features clubs from seven states that compete in 5K races in four categories — youth, collegiate, open and masters — providing six hours of thrilling river racing, a tradition dating back some 80 years.
Where to Eat
There are in excess of 300 restaurants, eateries and grills in the Little Rock area, ranging from riverfront landmarks and award-winning establishments to family-fun fare and dessert-only cafes. Here’s a sample rundown of how one day could go:
Breakfast at The 65th Street Diner is classic blue-collar, blue plate.
Lunch is served at Big Whiskey’s, a modern “grill pub” in the River Market area. Or, you could stop at Jay’s Pizza for a slice in the RM Hall, knowing you’re being served by the former chef of the Governor’s Mansion. Since barbecue can be lunch or dinner, Corkey’s Rib & Barbeque serves up both, while The Cross-Eyed Pig contends with falling-off-the-bone meat.
Dinner offers a choice of a landmark restaurant on the banks of the Arkansas River in Cajun’s Wharf, or dining at the award-winning Loca Luna Restaurant, called “one of America’s best neighborhood restaurants” by Bon Appetite magazine.
If you’d prefer to treat the kids, don’t miss All Aboard Restaurant & Grill, which will enchant the young and young at heart with its complex rail food delivery system.
Got room for dessert? Damgoode Pies has a selection of homemade sweetie pies that change daily. Ask you server what’s cooking.
Where to Dock
Rockwater Marina, only minutes from downtown Little Rock, offers 64 slips, 32 of which are for transient boaters. The full-service marina has a fueling station, store and large patio area, and offers waterfront access to food, fun and shopping.
River Valley Marina is a family-owned business since 1973, with slip rental, repairs and a full-service marina. It’s located in West Little Rock on the Little Maumelle River, which provides access to the Arkansas River.
The Little Rock Yacht Club is nestled beneath Pinnacle Mountain at River Mile 130, with more than 200 covered and 30 uncovered slips available, along with a fuel dock and marina store.
Author: John Kovach is a contributor to HeartLand Boating
If You Go
Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau
(501) 376-4781, www.littlerock.com