Day One: was spent on the 7+ hour drive up to the lake. We had a 2 bed room cabin/condo/tree house as Libby called it. The buildings themselves and the surrounding area are in the middle of nowhere. I honestly was thinking, "this was a huge mistake", pretty much the whole time driving into "resort". The area has 1 grocery store, 1 or 2 gas stations, and several run down or closed businesses. When we checked in though I was surprised by how many people were also checking in so I thought that maybe they know something I don't and to just stay positive. They gave us a map to our chalet and we were off. The first thing to know about this "resort" is that it is very spread apart. You have to drive quite a ways to get from one part to another and it's sort of split up into little neighborhoods each with it's' own pool. Our was called Hamilton Cove and I loved it. It's actually on the lake and the pool is very nice. Our chalet was a 2 story 2 bedroom 2 bath condo with an upstairs and downstairs porch area where you could sit out on a table and chairs and watch the deer, listen to the crickets, etc. It is very remote so even though there are other people there we felt like we were alone most of the trip. The condo was very nice inside and seems to have been redone recently. I was very very happy with it. We had brought a lot of stuff grocery wise from home but once we got there we knew we needed to make a cold item grocery run and found the grocery store to be very well stocked and found everything we needed. (it is a dry county though so bring your own booze from home).
Day 2: The Marina
We decided to rent a party barge the second day to cruise around the lake and do some water sport stuff. I have never water skied or tubed before or driven a boat for that matter so we decided to get a boat that we could lay out on and swim from and tube from. It was perfect. I'm not sure what the total cost was b/c Michael paid for it but you can rent the boats by the hour and the staff at the marina are adorable. They were super sweet and Michael commented about how easy it was to rent the boat. There was no line, no long wait. The marina is also super nice with a cute little store inside as well as a grill where you can get burgers, etc. We packed lunches and brought an ice chest with us pretty much every day which I highly recommend. Again there are no fast food places around and the restaurants are only open certain days of the week and only until 8pm so just plan on eating in and cooking at your condo. Outside of the marina there are hundreds of carp that you can buy fish food for $0.50 to feed. The kids LOVED that and they are so tame you can even pet them.
This is one of the boats you can rent. As you can see this one has a second level with a slide on it! Ours was not this fancy but having some kind of covering is a MUST. Later on in the week we rented a fishing boat that didn't have any cover to give you a break from the sun and I felt like a fried egg. It was SO hot!
Most of the lake is either edged by boulders like these or small trees at the edges. There are a few places where there are small pebbles or at least smaller rocks where you can anchor and swim or wade to the shore to eat a picnic lunch or explore but those are few and far between. I would say that if you plan to go to the lake though there are 2 "beaches" that have designated swim areas almost everyone just seemed to anchor their boats in the middle of the lake and swam from their boats. We rented a tube for $10 for 4 hours and had a lot of fun doing that. Everyone took turns and I learned the drive the boat which was awesome and very easy. Michael's mom came with us and she tubed as well.
Libby, ever the diva, wanted to sit up front with me and soak up some sun.
After we left the lake we still had daylight left so we decided to go and explore. We opted to head nearby to the Natural Bridge near Clinton, Arkansas. It's basically a rock formation that creates a literal bridge. It is worth the visit just for the drive down to the valley that the bridge is in. It's super lush and very green but also very steep so I wouldn't go after a heavy rain when it may be slippery. The office closes at 6pm and we got there around 5:20 and still had plenty time to see the old historic log cabin there was well as walk the trail and see the bridge. We were the only ones there and it wasn't too hot. I highly recommend going at the end of the day like we did and then you have run of the place.
There are 2 old cabins on site where you can see artifacts from how people lived back then. They were super cute but I can't imagine how a family of 6 would function in one of those. One of the cool things we saw was this old coffin like bath tub.
This is the natural bridge.
There is a trail that goes a little bit further down from the bridge to some overhangs that we explored.
The kids loved going into some of these "caves". Most of them aren't very deep so I felt okay with the kids going into them but I do have to say that there are black bears in this area so always use caution.
Since we were in exploration mode we decided to go back to Fairfield Bay resort b/c right next to the golf course is a trail that leads to the Indian Rock Cave. It is said that Ponce de Leon came here in search of the Fountain of Youth. Inside the cave you can see a crack where there used to be a spring where there is a damed up wall that would create a sort of fountain. It really looks more like an ampitheatre and has some really great acoustics.
There is a trail that goes past the Indian Rock Cave and you see more overhands and rock walls but we didn't travel the entire length since it was getting late and we were all really hungry by that point.
Our third day we decided to drive West to the national forest to see Pedestal Rocks and Falling Waters (2 points of interest that I'd read about on a blog that the author said were close to each other which makes the idea of millions of acres of forest to explore less daunting). There were 3 options that google gave me to get there from the resort and I just picked the one that seemed the most straight forward. When I first thought that the Fairfield Bay was the middle of nowhere I was so wrong. The route that I chose had NOTHING- NOTHING. There were beautiful swathes of hills side and valleys and mountains and a few home sites but mainly there were cemeteries and dinky fire stations which were like overgrown sheds. We drove for about 1.3 hours and finally saw a sign for a gas station. I decided to detour to the gas station because I had no idea where we were as there is no cell service so good luck with GPS and I was starting to freak out a bit and needed to know that there were other people in the world. The gas station proved to be no only a gas station but also a small grocery as well as the local post office. There was a single pump and it was something of an antique. To make matters worse I was dying to pee and the sign on the door of the gas station said, "no restrooms". uuuugggghhhhh. Luckily I had cash on me and once we filled up we were off again hoping to find out way to the Falling Water.
I had printed directions from 3 different sources and they all seemed to have different directions to get to the waterfall and none of them were great. It's basically down a winding gravel road that branches from another gravel road that branches from the main highway. (Mad props to Arkansas roads though. ) The roads that are paved are super smooth and well maintained. I told Michael I think that they are so good b/c no one drives on them. We were the only car that we saw the entire 2 hour drive! When we finally reached what we though was the "Falling Waters" I was super duper disappointed. I was expecting a water fall with a large pool to swim in and instead we found a little shelf of rock with a ditch basically. The kids still wanted to swim and it was very shallow and there were some small fish in the "pond" so Ezra had a blast looking at them through his goggles.
After we decided to leave to head to the next location Michael urged me to keep looking for the real Falling Waters and luckily we just had to drive about a mile down the road and we found it.
There were several cars parked off the side of the road so we knew we were in the right spot. Here there is a large drop off that creates a water fall after a large rain. In our case it was been dry for a while so it was more of a light pouring but the water was super cold and refreshing.
The water in the pool was deep enough that you could climb up the boards on the tree in the corner of this photo and jump into the water below. They even have a rope swing. Shortly after this photo was taken a whole mess of people showed up and were getting rowdy so we opted to eat our lunch and move on.
Next we drove on to an area that actually had a marked trail with a map and a sign indicating where to go so that made life much easier. We went to Pedestal Rock Trail which is 2.2 miles long and takes you out to see these amazing bluffs and overhangs, and is also the starting point of some King something or other Trail which is 1.7 miles and takes you to a waterfall. We decided to go to Pedestal Rocks since we had just left a "waterfall" and it really was more of a trickle so I didn't want to hike that far and see nothing. Libby got about 12 steps into the hike and said her "bones hurt" and that she couldn't walk anymore. Ezra's backpack held all of the water and it was too heavy for Ezra to carry. My back and neck were KILLING me from riding the tube the day before so I was pretty much worthless so Michael became the pack mule carrying both backpacks and Libby Rose.
I have to say that the trail is often only about 6 inches wide and has a lot of vegetation. There were time when I honestly didn't know if we were on the actual trail, a game trail, or just a water run off area. We were the only people around for miles and the area is known for bears so if you do plan to go don't go alone and bring a bear whistle or some protection. I also forgot the dang bug spray at the condo and we got destroyed by mosquitos and Michael got a tick. We also found ticks back at the condo the following days. I'm not sure if we brought them or if they were already there but be aware and soak in bug spray before venturing out into the woods. The hike is relatively easy going down to the rocks but coming back up had me sweating like crazy. This is one of the "pedestal rocks". The view is amazing and you can see for miles and miles.
There are trails that go down under some of the outcroppings where there are small caves. Ezra really wanted to explore so I went with him a few times but the climbs back up can be strenuous and I didn't want to surprise any napping bears either.
There are several areas where the trail is only about 12 inches wide and you are literally walking on the edge of the cliff. Wooden fences like the one pictured below appear randomly on the trail and oddly enough aren't even in the areas where they are really needed.
Ezra spotted this large doe laying down in one of the rock caves. If you look closely at the photos below you can see the whites inside of her ears.
Day Four: Caverns
We love to explore caves and have gone to several here in Texas but this was by far my favorite cave system we have seen. We headed up North to Blanchard Springs and it is beautiful there. There were several places where you could stay in a cabin right on the river and I would highly recommend that. We had to drive through Mountain View in order to get there from Fairfield Bay and we saw this adorable little country store. Sadly it is closed on Wednesdays :( but I would definitely plan ahead next stop to actually be able to go inside. Also they have a room for rent in the upstairs portion that I'd sure is completely adorable.
The Blanchard Springs caverns are within a section of the Ozark National Forests so it is very nice with lots of parking and it is very well maintained. There is a little film that explains how the caverns were formed that is super interesting and I highly recommend watching it before going down into the caves.
I can't even explain how HUGE the main "room" or cathedral is. It has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated for sure.
This is the Blanchard spring where water is still coursing from and it is ice cold!
There is a trout pond just down from that creek that is stocked and maintained for fishing.
Day Five: Fishing
The last day we decided to rent a fishing boat ($65 for 4 hours) and tried to see what we could catch. I got this photo at the beginning of our trip and after that with no covering to block out the sun it was all I could do to not pass out. I didn't take any more photos, not even of the fish we caught because I left my phone on the boat like a dummy and I was too tired to hike back to the dock to get it.
Overall it was a very nice vacation full of fun outdoor adventures which is what we are all about. Hope to go back again soon.