Arkansas’ capital city must have been easy to survey when it was being platted in the 1820s. Back then, all there was of Little Rock remained on the Delta’s western flank, making for nice easy grids laid out with straight lines on flat ground.

 

The city’s future lay west, however, and as any visitor could attest on first visit, the Ouachita foothills that stretch into town provide a quick lesson on local relief. Even a cursory glance at a satellite map of Little Rock is all it takes to appreciate the challenge of platting the city west of midtown.

 

Driving “out west” indeed can be a frustrating — if scenic — exercise in moving about, depending on destination and time of day. Still, even as the city has grown it only takes about 15 to 20 minutes to get anywhere from anywhere in the city.

 

For those looking to get lost, though, the city’s dramatic local relief and thick green canopy help provide some great nooks and crannies hiding unique outdoor spots, all within the city limits and located close to highly populated areas, making them accessible but mostly unnoticed by the masses.

 

Hidden gems, it could be argued, lay behind almost every corner in Little Rock, and we bring you three of them in this focus section. Two of the spots are unique hideaways that offer some of the city’s best views, and the other, located in a less-trodden corner of downtown, houses some of the state’s most important educational history.

 

Hidden Gems

Downtown: Arkansas Baptist College

 

Though its profile has been raised in recent decades, Little Rock’s Arkansas Baptist College remains somewhat hidden right out in the open. It is among the oldest private HBCUs west of the Mississippi River, the only one affiliated with the Baptist church and one of two HBCUs in the state.

 

The small college was founded in 1884, and its Old Main building, constructed in 1893 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the oldest surviving academic buildings in the state.

 

The college embarked on a decade of revitalization in the early 2000s during which it transitioned to four-year status, launched a football program and breathed life back into an area of town long neglected.

 

What: Arkansas Baptist College

Founded: 1884

Enrollment: Roughly 450 (2023)

Location: 1600 Martin Luther King Drive, Little Rock

Directions: Traveling east on Interstate 630, take the Marshall Street/MLK exit. Take a right on MLK, and proceed eight blocks. The campus is centered around the corner of MLK Drive and 16th Street.

 

Midtown: Knoop Park

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that Little Rock’s Knoop Park is anything more than a beautiful greenspace wrapped around the eastern flank of the 140-year-old Ozark Point Water Treatment Plant, that steampunk masterpiece of art deco in midtown.

 

Any father who has taken his young children to Knoop, however, might testify to the park’s status as a portal to adventure.

 

Geologically, Ozark Point sits on the easternmost point of the Ouachita range, technically marking the spot where the Delta begins its climb into the U.S. Interior Highlands. The park itself offers a paved walking trail and an unobstructed overlook that delivers what could be considered the best look at downtown Little Rock available anywhere. Think Hawksbill Crag, city edition.

What: Knoop Park, Ozark Point Water Treatment Plant

Owner/managing agency: City of Little Rock, Central Arkansas Water

Open: Dusk to dawn

Where: 20 Ozark Point, Little Rock

 

Directions: Knoop can be accessed two ways — from its official entrance at the end of Ozark Point, the street, and from the entrance to Ozark Point, the complex. For the former, travel east on Kavanaugh Boulevard and take a left on Fairfax Terrace. Keep to the left, and at the top of the hill, take a right on Ozark Street. After a couple of blocks, Ozark Street becomes Ozark Point at a cul-de-sac. The park entrance is at the top of the cul-de-sac. For the former, drive east on Kavanaugh and take a left on North Martin Street. Drive up the hill, and the entrance to the Ozark Point plant is on the right. From there, the park entrance is to the left.   

 

Chenal: William Kirsch Preserve

The best places are almost always hard to find, and like Knoop Park in midtown, the Nature Conservancy’s William Kirsch Preserve exists virtually untouched or even thought about by almost all the thousands of drivers who pass to its south each day on Cantrell Road.

chenal William Kirsch Preserve

Located at the very back of the Ranch residential development and along 1.7 miles of the Little Maumelle River, the Kirsch Preserve offers a beautiful open meadow environment with 3.5 miles of hard-packed dirt and gravel trails through field and forest. There are fishing piers, picnic areas, canoe and kayak put-ins, and even two canoes available to borrow.

 

Plus, the 234 acres of mostly open, golden meadow afford one of the best views of Pinnacle Mountain.

 

What: William Kirsch Preserve in Ranch North Woods

Owner/managing agency: The Nature Conservancy

Open: Dusk to dawn

Where: 8803 Ranch Blvd., Little Rock

Directions: Headed west on Cantrell Road/Arkansas 10, take a right on Ranch Boulevard and keep going until the street empties into a gravel parking lot. The preserve entrance is on the left.

 

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