Roaring into Arkansas

When I told my bestie I was going to write about Arkansas next, her response was “Arkansas? Lame.” Proof that this southern state needs more attention as there is plenty to love!

Just over two years ago we decided to road trip from Ohio to Oklahoma for my cousin’s wedding. We weren’t sure if we’d have a new puppy in tow yet or not (we didn’t, thankfully), and we also were aiming to keep the budget low so we could expand our trip into more of a vacation. My first step was to scope out the variety of routes to and from. When I saw a drive through Arkansas was a very real possibility, I knew we had to make that happen so I could add it to my 50 States tally.

After that decision was made, I then had to figure out where we were going to go within Arkansas and admittedly thought finding something interesting was going to be difficult. As usual, the problem rapidly turned into finding too many great things to do and not enough time for all of them. Focus turned to what is in my opinion, the most unique of the National Parks, Hot Springs. We could have easily stayed in Hot Springs and had an enjoyable time, but instead, we opted to stay in Lake Ouachita State Park within the Ouachita National Forest.

I don’t believe we could’ve made a better decision! I highly, highly recommend a visit to this beautiful place. In fact, our plans were shaping up to be appealing enough that my parents decided to join us.

The day we arrived, I was closely following the storm clouds on the radar as they followed us into the park. As we drew even closer I started losing my cell signal and by the time we pulled up to the four-way stop into the park, a ranger was flying up in his truck yelling for us to seek shelter in the nearby bathhouse. A local sheriff reported a funnel cloud nearby! The meteorologist in me was completely geeking out and bummed that I didn’t see the cloud myself. From a safety perspective, I’m glad we didn’t. Instead, we were treated to a quality thunderstorm as we waited for the all clear to make our way to our cabin for the night.

We spent one of our three days down at Crater of Diamonds. While we didn’t find anything other than some nifty looking rocks, a young boy sifting across from us found a small canary diamond. It was still an oddly entertaining day with us roaming the fields for the perfect pile of dirt and digging around like kids.

Day two finally saw us in Hot Springs National Park. Hot Springs is a fascinating place. I’ll save the history of the bathhouses for another time, or for your Googling pleasure. A quaint city street lined with historical buildings, unique shops, and cute restaurants. If your version of “hiking” is going store to store carrying shopping bags, you’ll feel right at home. One of the coolest features, if you’re into libations, is the first ever microbrewery to open in a National Park. Superior Bathhouse Brewery beers also happen to be made with the local hot springs water! Of course, we had to quench our thirst with a pint. 😊

Not to worry for those of us who prefer to escape city life, there are several nature trails for a nice walk and a little exploration. To build our thirst, we went up to the Hot Springs Mountain Trail, cut down the Gulpha Gorge Trail, and back to our car via the Dead Chief Trail. Absolutely beautiful! Not too easy, not too strenuous. The route blended overlook views of Hot Springs and the surrounding areas, and moments of feeling like you are lost on another planet. A few times we crossed over trickling streams and wannabe waterfalls. I only wish we had time to explore the remaining trails, but what else is new?

Our final day was dedicated to Lake Ouachita. There are only two trails within the State Park itself. When you branch out into the National Forest, you’ll find more options including a 40-mile vista trail loop, for the more adventurous. We opted to only do the short half mile Dogwood Trail within the State Park. It was super simple, a great walk for those who can’t go far but still want to enjoy the woods. What I would call a starter trail where I picture young families introducing their children to the joys of nature for the first time.

We were saving the majority of our day for the lake itself. Kayaks rented, we headed out on a beautiful sunny day. Only a few puffy clouds in the sky. We explored along part of the shoreline, into and out of a few coves, and beached on a cute little island to explore on foot for a while. Back in our kayaks, we wanted to go farther before heading back. Mother Nature had other plans for us. The rest of my group was probably a good 50 yards ahead of me as I was snapping a picture of the growing doom, and crossing my fingers the radar would load. I called to them to start hauling back to the marina. The storm was closing in incredibly fast. We never would have made it if it weren’t for a sweet couple in their fishing boat with enough rope to raft our kayaks together and drag us back to the marina with them. Whoever they were, I can never thank them enough!

The Zesty Traveler
About The Zesty Traveler

Danielle Fenstermacher is on a mission to visit all 50 US States by the time she is 50 years old. Along the way, she visits as many of the 417 National Park Services sites as she can. To calm the wanderlust between trips, she explores her home State of Ohio with her photographer boyfriend and their energetic golden retriever in search of lesser known gems and new experiences. You can follow along on her blog or find her chatting on Twitter as @1zestytraveler and posting her travels on Facebook/Instagram @thezestytraveler.

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