Lake Fort Smith State Park
By DENA WOERNER • PHOTOS BY ARKANSAS STATE PARKS
LOCATION: On the western side of Lake Fort Smith, tucked away in a scenic valley of the Ozark Mountains, youíll find Lake Fort Smith State Park.
WHEN YOU GO: The park is eight miles north of Mountainburg on U.S. 71, or take Exit 29 off Interstate 49 at Mountainburg and go east on state Highway 282 for 1.8 miles to U.S. 71 then travel north on U.S. 71 for 7.5 miles to Shepherd Springs Road, then turn east on Shepherd Springs Road and go 2 miles to the park. Or travel an alternate route by taking I-49 Exit 34 at Chester and go east on state Highway 282 to U.S. 71 North.
HISTORY: Lake Fort Smith State Parkís current location opened in May 2008. When the city of Fort Smith enlarged the municipal water system, the park was moved to this location on the lakeís western side. The style of the parkís structures are similar to the WPA facilities built in the 1930s that were found in the original park. The cabins are crafted of stone and wood, and some contain reclaimed stone from the old park site.
OFFICIAL ATTRACTIONS: Perfect for a family getaway, you can enjoy outdoor adventures including camping, fishing, kayaking, swimming, mountain biking, hiking and nature study. You can cool off in the 2,660-square-foot swimming pool with adjacent wading pool and a splash pad or take a tour across the lake via boat or kayak. Don't have a kayak or boat? No worries, the marina rents both. If you like backpacking, you'll be happy to learn that the park serves as the western terminus of the 165-mile Ozark Highlands National Recreation Trail. Are you into history and cool facts? Check out the park's interpretive programs that are offered in the park throughout the year. These activities include cruises and kayak tours on the lake, hikes and outdoor workshops.
MEET, EAT, RETREAT: The parkís accommodations are perfect for a family reunion, church retreat or a quiet respite. Two lodges complete with kitchenettes and a dining hall make the location perfect for group meetings, and can accommodate up to 32 people. In addition to the lodges, 10 secluded cabins and 30 campsites are ideal for resting your head after a day on the water or on the trail. A pavilion and picnic sites make for scenic outdoor dining.
TAKE A HIKE: The western terminus of the Ozark Highlands Trail is located behind the visitor center. Waterfalls, ridges, valleys and vistas make for pleasing eye candy, so be sure to take your camera. This trail can be completed all at once or over the course of several days. The eastern terminus is located along the Buffalo National River at Woolum, 165 miles from Lake Fort Smith State Park.
WE RECOMMEND: Spending time at the park's 8,000-square-foot visitor center. It includes exhibits, a meeting/classroom, an outdoor patio featuring native stone, a wood-burning fireplace and a lake view. The exhibit gallery includes a log cabin, covered wagon, recreated Shepherd Spring and a diorama of the lake. Several exhibits are hands-on, and some contain live education animals. Donít forget to visit the theater and watch the 16-minute video that visually tells the park's story.
NEARBY ATTRACTIONS: Lake Fort Smith State Park is located just far enough away from the bustle of the city to truly be a getaway but close enough to sightsee and taste the local fare. Be sure to find a Bluebird of Happiness at Terra Studios, located 18 miles away. Or, make the 17-mile drive over to Alma for a mess of Southern fried catfish. The Catfish Hole in Alma will leave you so stuffed you'll need to take a hike back at the park or settle in for a nap in one of those cozy cabins. While you're in Alma, say "hello" to Popeye.
BOOK IT: For park details or to book campsite, cabin or group overnight reservations online, visit ArkansasStateParks.com/LakeFortSmith or call 479-369-2469 or toll-free: 888-695-3526.