Daytrippin': The waterways of Mammoth Springs, Arkansas

Vicki Wood
Special to the Lake Sun, USA TODAY NETWORK
Mammoth Spring State Park is about a three hour drive from the Lake.

Mammoth Spring is Arkansas's largest spring and the second largest spring in the Ozark Mountains. It forms a 10-acre lake thanks to the dam in the middle of the park that once powered a grist mill. Hydroelectrics continue to take advantage of the waterflow at a rate of 9 million gallons of 58 degree water per hour.

Native Americans inhabited the area and had a connection to the site long before European settlers arrived. Local legend says the spring emerged when a Native American chief was digging a grave for his son, who had died searching for water during a drought. According to folklore, the spring will gush forever in honor of the young man (Arkansaslivingmagazine.com).

The spring cannot be viewed as it sits 80 feet below the ground, but there is plenty to view above ground at Mammoth Spring State Park, with a walking trail traversing the entire lake. Beavers, otters, ducks, and unusual birds abound in and around the waterways. Cool off in the air conditioned visitors center, where helpful staff can explain the park system, and direct guests to the town’s most popular shopping and restaurant locations. The Fish Hatchery at Mammoth Spring State Park is currently closed to visitors due to COVID.

Wood’s River Bend Restaurant, which sits directly across Highway 63 from Mammoth Spring State Park, and Fred’s Fish House are two eating establishments that have quite a following in Mammoth Spring. Fred’s Fish House has been featured on the Food Network. Located at 215 Main Street in the historic downtown district, the affordable menu has a daily special, with crab legs on the weekends. Catfish and trout are also on the menu, but Fred’s is most well known for the peanut butter pie. Wood’s River Bend Restaurant is perched on the Spring River in a log cabin building with incredible views from the back deck, and its menu features barbecue, catfish, burgers and breakfast.

Incorporated in 1889, Mammoth Spring became an important rail road stop.

1886 Frisco Train Depot

Incorporated in 1889, Mammoth Spring became an important rail road stop. Stroll through the oldest railroad station in Arkansas, the 1886 Frisco Depot at Mammoth Spring State Park. The Victorian depot displays sculpted life-like figures that portray the train and depot crew, and passengers in the 1900s era. Video displays share the history of Mammoth Spring. Exhibits of railroad artifacts are on display in the baggage room. The Frisco caboose outside is open to exploration, perfect for the little ones. Trains continue to zoom past the old depot, adding to the authenticity of the experience.

Historic Downtown

Venture a few blocks east from the state park to the historic downtown district of Mammoth Spring. Check out the Main Street Boutique for the latest fashions, and St. Andrews Episcopal Church, a wooden building from 1888. Palace Drug is known to locals and visitors. It’s an old time drug store with a small sandwich counter eating area for fountain sodas and ice cream.

Trout Fishing the Spring River

In the Mammoth Spring State Park trout fishing is allowed, but one must purchase a daily trout tag and the use of only one pole is permitted. Out on the Spring River, the water is crystal clear and cool, and brown trout abound. There are areas to the river with gravel bars and streams perfect for floating or canoeing. Endless cabin rentals sit along the Spring River, as well as canoe and kayak rentals.

The headwater of the Spring River provides power for the city of Mammoth Spring. More than 9.7 million gallons of water flows over the dam every hour.

Grand Gulf State Park

Formed from a collapsed karst system, Grand Gulf State Park is located 10 minutes from downtown Mammoth Spring back over the Missouri State line near Thayer. It’s worth the detour from your day trip to Mammoth Spring. Breathtaking vista views above the “gulf” make for some fantastic photo opportunities.

Sometimes referred to as “the little Grand Canyon,” Grand Gulf was formed in a similar nature to Ha Ha Tonka State Park from a collapsed karst system. The "Grand Gulf" stretches for about three-quarters of a mile between 130 foot high walls. Visitors can view the gulf from trails on top or from the floor where they can walk under the natural bridge, which spans 250 feet with a 75-foot-high opening (mostateparks.com).

Gateway Gap Rock N Roll Highway

The sign says “Where Abbey Road Meets the Rock N Roll Highway.” US 67 earned its nickname as the Rock ’N’ Roll Highway in recognition of the numerous entertainers of eventual fame who came to the area. Musicians like Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Bill Rice, Booker T and various big bands and others played at the venues up and down this section of the highway. US 63 running from Mammoth Spring south through Hardy and 412 to Ravenden is a gradual, very scenic descent from the Ozarks to the Delta area west of Crowley’s Ridge. Notably, it goes through Evening Shade, namesake of the ’90s Burt Reynolds TV sitcom “Evening Shade.”

Mammoth Spring.