The return of nice weather and the final weeks of spring classes can mean only one thing at the University of Arkansas: It’s time to get off campus and explore.

One of the biggest mistakes I made as an undergrad at the UA was letting social inertia keep me relatively close to campus my first four years in Fayetteville. But with spring arriving and warm sunny days dominating the weather forecast, there is no better time than the present to explore Fayetteville and northwest Arkansas.

The rapid growth and fantastic geographical setting of our university makes it a prime location for any kind of adventure. I wanted to use this column to tell you some of my favorite spots around northwest Arkansas and encourage you to step outside your comfort zone on campus and go find your own kind of fun, no matter what you’re into.

Springtime means weekend baseball games at Baum Stadium, but just up the road in Springdale, there’s a great attraction for sports fans. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A affiliate for the Kansas City Royals, and Arvest Ballpark is one of only two places in Arkansas to watch minor league baseball. A trip up to the park is a cheap fun way to spend an afternoon, and for those of us over 21, there are great specials on those particularly thirsty Thursdays. Tickets start at only $7 and are a great way to see future Major Leaguers in action.

Farther up I-540, most of us know the Walton family built one of the finest art museums in the world, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. If you haven’t been up there yet, spring is the perfect time to go check out the trails and take in some of the most famous American artworks ever created. As a history nerd, I particularly like the portrait gallery featuring original paintings of George Washington and other scenes from colonial America. Bentonville also offers some great restaurants on their historic square, where the original Walton 5 & 10 store is located.

For the sportsmen and sportswomen among us, some of my favorite spots to hit in the spring are in Madison County, just east of Fayetteville. There is great bass and fly-fishing to be found on the Kings and White Rivers and numerous city and state lakes around to try your luck, some just a short trip away from campus, including Lake Wedington and Lake Wilson.

For other adventures on water, there is nothing better than a weekend trip to the Buffalo National River. With some parts of the river as close as 90 minutes away from campus, you should not miss out on the hiking, camping, floating and fishing opportunities at one of America’s greatest national sites. I won’t tell you my favorite places to camp there — so you can’t go take the last site – but I will tell you that nps.go/buff and have great resources to offer you in planning a trip to the river. Ok, fine, my favorite place to camp on the Buffalo is Kyle’s Landing.

Another hidden gem for the warmer months closer to summer is Riverside Park in West Fork. Less than 20 minutes south of campus, one of the nicest parks in Northwest Arkansas-- or all of the state for that matter-- offers access to the flowing branch of the White River. During the hotter months, you can find people jumping off the rocks into the deeper parts of the river, playing Frisbee and holding picnics by the riverside. It’s a great place to take off after work or class on Friday or spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

These are just a few of the dozens of great experiences I’ve had in Northwest Arkansas since moving here. Use this spring semester, whether it’s your first or last one on campus, to get out and discover something new about this area. I promise your experience at the UA will be enriched as much by what you experience off this campus as much as what you learn while you’re on it.

Will Watson is a graduate student in the public administration program and is a staff columnist for the Arkansas Traveler.

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