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Kayaking the Big River
Kayaking the Big River

Experience the great outdoors when visiting Helena-West Helena and surrounding Phillips County! Kayak and canoe around secluded lakes. Hike, bike and camp within a national forest and two state parks. Reel in a trophy catfish on a mighty river. All you need to decide is your favorite way to explore.

SETTLING INTO THE ST. FRANCIS NATIONAL FOREST

Just 10 minutes from Historic Helena exists the St. Francis National Forest and Mississippi River State Park. Lush woods, dramatic ridges, rolling hills and secluded lakes make up this diverse landscape teeming with local wildlife. Spot whitetail deer, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, wild turkey and a wide variety of birds. While driving or biking through the park, it’s very common to see deer grazing along the ridgeline or even bound across the road multiple times.

While you’re here, escape to 30 miles of shoreline with three separate campground areas, two picnic areas, a nature trail, swimming beach and fishing pier at Bear Creek Lake Recreation Area. Take a trip to the Mississippi River State Park visitor center. Gaze out across the Delta from Look Out Point. Paddle into solitude at Horner’s Neck Lake or drive five minutes up the road to Storm Creek Lake for exciting, new camping options.

RETREAT TO STORM CREEK

Storm Creek Lake has been one of the best locations in the Delta to experience secluded camping, fishing and outdoor adventures since its construction in 1938. The only sounds you’re likely to hear while hiking along the lake are those of birds flying between trees, fish popping out of the water and crickets chirping in the horsetail reeds. It’s so calm here that even the trees stay perfectly reflected across the water like mirrored glass as turtles perch on fallen logs. You can enjoy solitude on the large fishing dock or from a boat while fishing for largemouth and hybrid striped bass, bluegill, red-ear sunfish, black crappie and channel catfish within the dozens of coves and inlets.

Stay in one of the brand-new camper cabins at the newly renovated Storm Creek Lake Campground. These five camper cabins are the best way to experience the quiet serenity of St. Francis National Forest. Each cabin is equipped with air conditioning and heat, a queen bed and bunk bed, dining table and a large screened-in porch to enjoy the forest and local wildlife. You can also choose from 11 RV hookup sites or three electric tent sites that come with a grill, fire ring, picnic table and views of the lake.

New camper cabins at Storm Creek Lake are the perfect base for your Helena adventure.
New camper cabins at Storm Creek Lake are the perfect base for your Helena adventure.

ON THE MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI RIVER

Helena is the only downtown on the Mississippi River for 300 miles between Memphis and Vicksburg. At the Helena River Park, you can experience the river and all its grandeur from either the boardwalk, along the shore or on the water in a kayak or canoe.

Sit on one of the boardwalk benches and relax as the sun reflects off the water, casting flickering light across the pier with the occasional heron swooping by. Listen to the soothing sound of water brushing against the shore, birds chirping in the trees and the gentle humming of barges slowly chugging down the river. It is the perfect destination to take a stroll or spend the afternoon fishing. If you didn’t know, the Mississippi River has produced some of the biggest blue catfish ever caught in North America. There have been many instances where anglers have caught catfish exceeding 100 pounds! Go for the big catch yourself at one of the many fishing tournaments that happen annually like the Mississippi River Monsters Mega Bucs, Catmasters and more. Famed angler, Bill Dance, has even said “the stretch of the Mississippi upriver and downriver from the Helena port makes for the best freshwater fishery in the country for big fish.”

You can also kayak and canoe on the Mississippi River from the Helena River Park boat ramp. Paddle one mile north to Buck Island on your own or with a local guide and explore 1,500 acres of sand, forest, inlets and shallow back channels. Once on the island you can camp, hike five miles of trails, fish and view numerous wildlife species.

Back on the mainland is also the Levee Walk that provide panoramic views of downtown Helena and the Mississippi River. While on the Levee Walk you can continue the trail north or south along the Helena Ridge Ride. This biking trail totals 37 miles and connects the Mississippi River State Park to the Delta Heritage Trail State Park, making it another great way to experience the Mississippi River and surrounding Delta.

Hook a monster at a fishing tourney on the Big River.
Hook a monster at a fishing tourney on the Big River.

DELTA HERITAGE TRAIL AND STATE PARK

No biking trail better encapsulates the splendor of Helena and Phillips County than the famous Delta Heritage Trail. Eventually, this trail will stretch 84 miles across the state! For now, you can pedal the 28-mile south or 21-mile north end section.

Conveniently, the north end section begins just 15 minutes from Helena’s downtown shopping district at the Delta Heritage Trail State Park. Rent a bike from the visitor center, tour the gift shop or stay at one of the five primitive campgrounds with tent pads, picnic tables, standing grills and a community water spigot. It’s the perfect starting or stopping destination while on the trail.

As gravel crunches beneath your bicycle wheels, peddle down the 21-mile stretch to Elaine, the end of the north section trail. On the way you will pass Old Town Lake in the town of Lake View. Stop at this oxbow lake for a stroll on the boardwalk and enjoy the beauty of cypress trees rising from the water.

See what's buzzing in downtown Helena on historic Cherry St.
See what's buzzing in downtown Helena on historic Cherry St.

UNWINDING IN HISTORIC HELENA

Adventures don’t stop at outdoor activities. Unwind at one of the many local restaurants for mouthwatering catfish, award-winning BBQ and diverse southern cooking. Kick back at Delta Dirt Distillery while sipping on locally inspired vodka and gin. Go shopping at an antique store or boutique, tour Victorian homes and one-of-a-kind churches or check out Helena’s lively music scene.

If you plan your trip at the right time, you can catch the Delta Roots Music Festival in April or the largest blues festival in the south at the King Biscuit Blues Festival held annually each October. It’s always a good time to visit Delta Cultural Center; the museum and educational complex captures what makes the Arkansas Delta region unique. It’s also the home of the legendary King Biscuit Time radio show.

One trip doesn’t scratch the surface of everything to see and do in this historic city. Visit Helena-West Helena and Phillips County to see for yourself why the area is a true gem that provides something special for everyone. Happy exploring!