Discover Why Arkansas Is Called “the Natural State”

Sunrise at Mount Magazine State Park, Arkansas
© Stephan Hawks/

Written by Mike Edmisten

Published: September 11, 2023

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Arkansas is a state in the south-central United States. The state spans 53,179 square miles (137,732 square kilometers), making it the 29th largest state by total area. It borders six other states: Missouri to the north, Tennessee and Mississippi to the east, Louisiana to the south, and Texas and Oklahoma to the west. Arkansas’ wildlife and its vast expanses of wilderness, lakes, and rivers gave rise to the state’s official nickname: The Natural State.

A State Worthy of Its Nickname

Arkansas’ diversity of wild places ranges from the peaks of the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains to the state’s bayous and wetlands. About 56% of the state is forested and contains an estimated 11.9 billion trees. The forests of Arkansas include three national forests: the Ozark National Forest, the St. Francis National Forest, and the Ouachita National Forest. These three national forests cover over 2.9 million acres in Arkansas. Opportunities for camping, picnicking, fishing, canoeing, hiking, and bicycling abound in these national forests.

Sunset on the White River in the Mountain View, Arkansas Ozark Mountains

The White River in the Ozark Mountains is a perfect example of why Arkansas is “The Natural State.”

©Jennifer White Maxwell/

Arkansas is home to 52 state parks. From the unique rock formations in Devil’s Den State Park to the amazing vistas of Mount Magazine State Park to the varied wildlife of Petit Jean State Park to Arkansas’ largest lake in Lake Ouachita State Park, each of the state parks in Arkansas reveal why the state is known as The Natural State.

Arkansas is also home to Hot Springs National Park. These natural hot springs were famous for their therapeutic properties. The national park contains the beautiful manmade architecture of Bathhouse Row coupled with wonderful opportunities for hiking, mountain views, and, of course, the ancient thermal springs. 

Buffalo National River flows through north-central Arkansas. It was the first waterway to receive protection as a national river. Buffalo River flows for 135 miles and is one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the conterminous United States. Visitors to the river have wonderful opportunities for fishing, paddling, horseback riding, hiking, and backcountry camping.

Buffalo National River

Buffalo River is one of the few free-flowing rivers in the Lower 48 states.


Animals in the Natural State

Arkansas’ fauna is just as diverse as its landscape. Over 1.1 million white-tail deer wander the state, prompting lawmakers to make the white-tail deer Arkansas’ official state mammal in 1993. Other mammals such as red and gray foxes, eastern cottontails, grey squirrels, bobcats, armadillos, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and black bears are common in Arkansas, as well. The state also houses sixteen bat species.

Arkansas is home to around 100,000 wild turkeys (some estimate the wild turkey population to be as high as 140,000). Ducks also number well over 100,000 in the state. Many waterfowl hunters consider Stuttgart, Arkansas, as the “Duck Capital of the World.”

The state is home to 36 snake species, including six venomous species: copperhead, cottonmouth, Texas coral snake, timber rattlesnake, western diamondback rattlesnake, and western pygmy rattlesnake. Southern Arkansas is also home to 2,000-3,000 alligators.

The state’s lakes, rivers, and streams teem with fish, such as largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish, bluegill, crappie, and trout. Arkansas is also the third-largest producer of farm-raised catfish in the nation, behind only Mississippi and Alabama

white-tailed deer buck looking at camera

The white-tailed deer is the state mammal of Arkansas.

© Collins

The History of Arkansas’ Nicknames

Long before Arkansas was dubbed The Natural State, it cycled through several other nicknames. Some of these monikers were official, and others were colloquial or even derogatory. 

The Bear State

The earliest nickname for Arkansas surfaced in the early to mid-1800s. The state came to be known as the Bear State. This unofficial moniker came about because of Arkansas’ large population of American black bears in the nineteenth century. Some estimate the bear population in the state was north of 50,000. However, the influx of settlers in Arkansas decimated the black bear population. Farmers converted thousands of acres into farmland, eliminating bear habitat. People hunted bears for their meat, fat, and hides. By the 1930s, the bear population in Arkansas had nearly disappeared, dropping to about 50— a 99.9% decrease from historic peak numbers.

black bear

Arkansas’ historic black bear population topped 50,000.

© Crossman

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission intervened with a strong Initiative to conserve the black bear in the state. Authorities banned bear hunting in 1927 and did not lift the ban until 1980. During the 1950s and 1960s, conservationists introduced 250 black bears into the Arkansas wilderness to repopulate the state. Today, there are an estimated 4,000-5,000 black bears in Arkansas, marking one of the state’s greatest conservation achievements. It is only fitting that black bears continue to roam the land that was once known as the Bear State.

The Toothpick State

This unofficial cognomen also originated in the nineteenth century. It had nothing to do with the manufacture of actual toothpicks, though. If that were the case, then Maine would win out over any other state. Maine produces around 90% of U.S. wooden toothpicks, so you could make a case that it is the real Toothpick State!

Arkansas’ nickname had a much darker meaning. The “toothpick,” in this case, referred to the knives or daggers often carried by Arkansans. These blades are made for cheap and effective sidearms. Arkansas developed a violent and lawless reputation in the nineteenth century. The stabbing death of a state representative perpetrated by another lawmaker in 1837 certainly didn’t help the state emerge from this stereotype. It just further solidified the Toothpick State’s violent reputation in the minds of many Americans.


This disparaging nickname emerged in the 1840s. No one is quite sure who coined the term or exactly what it meant. Some suggested that it was actually a purposeful mispronunciation of the state’s name, poking fun at the perceived backwardness of its populace. The Arkansas State Archives suggest the word describes “a hardscrabble, backwoods wilderness…[a] seemingly worthless landscape not fit for civilization.” Whatever the exact meaning, this word was not at all complimentary to Arkansas.

The word has since been redeemed by the creation of the Rackensack Folklore Society and others. They took this word that was intended to be an insult and flipped it into a proud cultural identity.

The Wonder State

The first official nickname for Arkansas was adopted in 1923. To bolster the state’s image and to spur economic investment, former governor Charles H. Brough dubbed Arkansas the “Wonder State.” In 1923, the Arkansas General Assembly made it the state’s official nickname.

Charles H. Brough, Arkansas governor from 1917 to 1921

Former governor Charles H. Brough championed Arkansas as the “Wonder State.”

©Bain News Service, publisher / Public domain – Original / License

Land of Opportunity

In the 1940s, in another attempt to emerge from the stubbornly held negative stereotypes of the state, a group of businessmen known as the Committee of 100 launched a campaign to portray Arkansas as a great place to work and to do business. It is, as these businessmen lauded, a “Land of Opportunity.” Arkansans embraced the label. It appeared on license plates in 1941 and replaced “Wonder State” as the new official Arkansas state nickname in 1953.

The Natural State

Arkansas’ current official nickname came into being in the 1980s. Officials in the state’s parks system chose the phrase “The Natural State” to tout Arkansas’s wild beauty and boost tourism. This moniker became more popular than “Land of Opportunity” among the state’s citizens, so much so that State Representative Dennis Young proposed that it become the new official cognomen of the state. His proposal was approved, and “The Natural State” was designated as the official Arkansas state nickname on April 19, 1995. 

The bill that made the moniker official states, “Because of our unsurpassed scenery, clear lakes, free-flowing streams, magnificent rivers, meandering bayous, delta bottomlands, forested mountains, and abundant fish and wildlife, the official nickname for the State of Arkansas is proclaimed to be, “The Natural State.”

There is no doubt that Arkansas lives up to its nickname in every way!

Arkansas - The Natural State

Arkansas’s nickname was made official in 1995.

©RBraley / CC BY-SA 4.0 – Original / License

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About the Author

Mike is a writer at A-Z Animals where his primary focus is on geography, agriculture, and marine life. A graduate of Cincinnati Christian University and a resident of Cincinnati, OH, Mike is deeply passionate about the natural world. In his free time, he, his wife, and their two sons love the outdoors, especially camping and exploring US National Parks.

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