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Exploring the St. Francis National Forest

By Kim Williams

At this National Forest Service site in the Arkansas Delta, you'll find great views, outstanding recreation and easy access to the Mississippi River.

St. Francis National Forest
Credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

Arkansas’ Lower Delta is home to one of the smallest national forests in the nation, the St. Francis National Forest. Located between Marianna and Helena-West Helena, the St. Francis National Forest runs through two counties. The forest derives its name from the St. Francis River, which joins the Mississippi River within the boundaries of the forest in Lee County.  Most of the forest is situated on Crowley’s Ridge, but some is in the low, flat lands along the Mississippi and St. Francis rivers. The St. Francis National Forest is the only place in the National Forest System where the public can experience the awesome grandeur of the mighty Mississippi River from the shoreline. The forest covers over 22,000 acres (8,900 acres) and has a variety of the finest bottomland hardwoods in the country.

Located within the St. Francis National Forest is Mississippi River State Park, a relatively new addition to Arkansas’ state park system. The park features campgrounds, day-use areas, swim beaches, group use areas, boat ramps, hiking trails, and scenic views of Crowley’s Ridge and the Mississippi River. Adventure and nature come together at Mississippi River State Park to create a unique family-friendly experience. Seven bodies of water give visitors ample opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and boating. Hikers can explore the many trails and watch for wildlife in the forest.

The St. Francis provides ideal habitat for a large variety of wildlife including whitetail deer, wild turkey, squirrel, raccoon, rabbit and waterfowl. Two of Arkansas’s National Scenic Byways (the Great River Road and Crowley’s Ridge Parkway) run through the forest, providing a great opportunity for those searching for fall color.

Learn more about the St. Francis National Forest here. Find more information about Mississippi River State Park here.