Natural Bounty

Discover great places to camp, hike, swim and float at these three scenic spots in the northern Ozarks of Arkansas, the Natural State.
By Jinny Ravenscroft Danzer

Camping in the Arkansas Ozarks is a treat. Sites often border crystalline streams and lakes, limestone bluffs loom above the water and hardwoods and cedars provide shade. Campsites are often close to spectacular Arkansas mountain scenery and a variety of activities. Three campgrounds in the north central section of the state are outstanding in their natural settings and opportunities for hiking, floating and swimming.

river

Above: The Buffalo National River, America’s first National River, offers plenty of floating possibilities.

Below: The Corps of Engineers operates a number of campgrounds around the 22,000-acre Lake Norfork.

lake

Camping along the Buffalo

Buffalo Point is a pleasant campground along the Buffalo National River near Yellville. This 103-site campground, which lies above and along the river, offers restrooms, showers, a trailer dump station and electrical hook-ups. Sites fill up quickly in summer, so arrive early or reserve a place.

A small camping loop on a bluff gives access to striking views of the Buffalo’s beautiful streaked, multicolored cliffs and its turquoise waters. A larger section of the campground follows the riverbank downstream. Campers can climb onto inflatable rafts at the main swimming area and float downstream to their campsites. The river is warm for an Ozark stream, so swimming is quite pleasant.

Buffalo Point, a former state park, also has cabins, a dining lodge and trails. The 3.5-mile Indian Rockhouse loop leads past a wet-weather waterfall to a rippling creek and a large shelter cave. Park naturalists give programs on topics like snakes and other wildlife, floating the river, Ozark crafts, and folk music. They also guide hikes and float trips.

Buffalo Point is a popular put-in and take-out for floats on the river, which flows 150 miles from its source in the Boston Mountains to the White River. Outfitters rent canoes and kayaks. The Buffalo is an angler’s dream, with smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass, catfish and others.

Two sections of the Buffalo Trail run for nearly 56 miles along the river. The trail winds from wooded hollows to the tops of towering bluffs, and has spectacular views of the river below. Pioneer cabins are preserved at various places and the former mining town of Rush contains old cabins, the ruins of mining structures and foundations.

Waterside camping at Lake Norfork

This beautiful crystal clear lake has more than 500 miles of shoreline. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations restrict building on the lakeshore, keeping it in a relatively natural state. It is a mecca for swimming, boating, fishing, water skiing and scuba diving. Visitors also can hike, look at wildflowers and wildlife, mountain bike, hunt, and listen to music on the square in nearby Mountain Home. The Robinson Point National Recreation Trail and the Norfork section of the Ozark Trail give hikers access to lakeside scenery, wildlife and wildflowers. The Pigeon Creek Trail System attracts mountain bikers.

The Corps operates a number of campgrounds, marinas and picnic grounds around the 22,000-acre lake. Five campgrounds with flush toilets, hot showers and dump stations accept reservations, while others are on a first-come, first-served basis. Many of the sites are close together, but all are near the water. Campgrounds may fill up in summer, so arrive early or reserve.

This scenery has been affected somewhat this spring by high lake levels last year and this January’s severe ice storms, both of which damaged many trees in the area. Hanging limbs and damaged trees are being removed in developed park lands, but hazards will remain in outlying areas where trees will likely lose broken and hanging limbs for several years to come.

The lake often warms to 70 degrees by mid-April, so swimming is very pleasant. Visibility is at least 10 feet and often much more, allowing swimmers a view of the lake’s fish that include walleye, large- and smallmouth and striped bass, catfish and crappie. The North Fork River, which forms the lake, is known for rainbow, brown, brook and cutthroat trout. Marinas rent boats and fishing guide services operate on both the lake and river.

Because of its clarity, Lake Norfork is a popular destination for snorkelers and scuba divers. They can explore sites like the Henderson Bridge, flooded when the lake was formed, or dive as deep as 195 feet.

Cave country camping

Blanchard Springs Recreation Area has a pretty, wooded campground along the transparent waters of North Sylamore Creek where campers can cool off on hot summer days. Although some campsites in the first loop are small, they have access to a large swimming hole under a bluff and a shower house. A low-water bridge leads to a more secluded camping area. It has its own swimming hole with large boulders and a rocky overhang.

Most of the sites accommodate tents, recreational vehicles (RVs) and camping trailers, but there are no hookups. The campground has only 32 sites, so in summertime, it pays to arrive early. Another small, scenic campground with 27 sites is located five miles upstream at Gunner Pool. It also has an enticing swimming hole under a bluff.

In addition to the beautiful setting and water access, one of the main reasons to camp at Blanchard Springs is its proximity to spectacular Blanchard Springs Caverns, Blanchard Spring, and scenic hiking and mountain bike trails.

The caverns are some of the most beautiful in the Ozarks, with several levels of artfully lit walkways. The Forest Service, which operates the cave, offers tours. A pleasant walk along the spring branch leads to Blanchard Spring.

For hiking enthusiasts, the North Sylamore Creek Trail runs from riverbed to bluff tops with wonderful views of the river below. On a hot day, hikers can cool off in small pools in the river. The trail runs about 24 miles, where it links up with the Ozark Highlands Trail. Trailheads provide access about every five miles.

The Syllamo Mountain Bike Trail gives cyclists a chance to ride 50 miles of interconnecting loops of various difficulty. Five different trailheads, including one at Blanchard Springs, give access. Sections of the hiking and biking trails are undergoing clean-up following the January ice storms, so call ahead to Blanchard Springs to make sure they are open.

Only 15 miles south, the Ozark Folk Center State Park showcases folk music by local players, folk and gospel concerts and craft demonstrations.

Arkansas, “the Natural State,” is known for its rugged mountains, clear lakes and free-running streams. These three lovely campgrounds will put you right in the middle of this exciting area.

Jinny Ravenscroft Danzer is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

 

Cornucopia of Camping

In addition to Arkansas’s outdoors, there are plenty of scenic spots to pitch a tent, pull on your hiking boots and paddle a canoe in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Louisiana is in the midst of celebrating the 75th anniversary of its state park system. Louisiana’s 20 state parks, 16 historic sites and one preservation area show off the state’s natural beauty and historical riches. Most state parks feature a waterfront location, campsites and picnic areas, and several have cabins and/or group camps.

Of the state’s four regions, Sportsman’s Paradise in northern Louisiana is the undisputed king of the state park system with more than twice the number of parks and historic sites than the other regions. One option is Lake D’Arbonne State Park near Farmerville. Piney forests, rolling hills, five fishing piers and a 15,000-acre lake draw visitors to this beautiful park.

For more details about Louisiana State Parks, call (888) 677-1400 or click on www.lastateparks.com.

Mississippi has 25 state parks spread throughout the state that offer camping and a host of other diversions, including golf, fishing, bird watching, hiking and biking.

For instance, Tishomingo State Park is located in the scenic foothills of the Appalachian Mountains near Tishomingo and has nearly 90 cabins and campsites. The Natchez Trace Parkway, the historic highway of the early 1800s and a scenic parkway today, runs directly through the park. Campers will find massive rock formations and fern-filled crevices.

For more details about Mississippi’s parks, visit http://home.mdwfp.com, or call (800) 467-2757.

May/Jun 2009 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact:

Buffalo National River, (870) 365-2700 or visit www.nps.gov/buff;

Lake Norfork, (870) 425-2700 or click on www.swl.usace.army.mil/ parks/norfork/index.htm or visit www.mtnhome.net/attractions.

Blanchard Springs, (870) 269-3228 or visit the Web site www.fs.fed.us/oonf/ozark and click on “Sylamore Ranger District.”

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. List of offices

Order free information through the Reader Service Card, found online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.


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