In March we booked a weekend stay in a cabin at Lake Ouachita State Park near Hot Springs for the weekend of August 20, 2011. We camped at Lake Ouachita last year and had a blast, so there was no hesitation when our friends asked us if we wanted to plan another visit. Our friends wanted to try out the cabins at the park, and after an unfortunate experience of camping in a yurt on the hottest weekend of the summer last year, we were all about climate controlled lodgings.
When we arrived at the park, we stopped in at the visitor’s center to check in and then headed over to our cabin, lucky number 7. The park offers both two bedroom and three bedroom cabins. Even though we booked six months in advance, there were no two bedroom cabins available, so we had a three bedroom.
I have to say, here, that when we moved to Arkansas three years ago and I started researching the various lodging options in Arkansas State Parks, I was taken aback by the pricing. Even the camp sites cost more than I am used to here in the Natural State. That said, I was still a bit shocked at the price of our three bedroom cabin — $465 for two nights after taxes. Granted, you can’t get a three bedroom hotel suite for that price, but now we’re comparing apples and oranges. More on that later.
Lake Ouachita itself is beautiful. Our friends have a boat, so we spent quite a bit of time out and about on the lake. Plenty long enough for me to fling myself off of a kneeboard at 30 mph a few times, thus rendering myself nearly immobile the next day. I am getting old.
The kiddos enjoyed tubing and swimming in the lake. There’s a small swimming area with a sand beach and volleyball near the marina. I noticed Adirondack chairs on the beach that are new this year. There’s also a playground, although there’s no shade, so it’s pretty hot during the day. The park boasts several hiking trails, including a walk that takes to you to the legendary three sisters springs.
Lake Ouachita State Park is situated on a peninsula, so nearly every camp site has a view of the water. The same goes for the cabins. Our cabin had a wrap around porch/deck with seating for four and an excellent view of the lake. Other outside features included a charcoal grill and a picnic table in a gravel area next to the porch.
Inside, the cabin was a little more rustic than what I had imagined based on the price. None the less, I reminded myself that we were in a “cabin” in a state park, so the lodgings technically should not be fancy. The furniture in the living and dining rooms was oversized and comfortable, and worn out enough that we didn’t have to worry about the kids ruining it. We were especially impressed with the size of the table, as we could seat all 5 adults and 4 kids for our meals.
The kitchen, on the other hand, left much to be desired. Only one of the four burners on the stove worked. The furnished pots and pans seemed to be left behind from other lodgers. Most everything was either missing or lid or was heavily dented. As I mentioned, there were 9 of us staying in cabin number 7, with only 6 forks. And finally, not only was there not a dishwasher (excusable considering the “cabin” status, but not when you consider the price tag), there was no dish soap or paper towels. When we informed the visitor center that we had no dish soap (the lodging guide said it was provided) they promptly sold us a bottle.
The three bedroom cabins have two bedrooms downstairs with a queen bed in each and one bedroom upstairs with two queen beds in an open loft. There is one full bathroom downstairs and one up. The bathrooms were clean and included towels, soap, and shampoo.
We scored the larger upstairs bedroom, which worked well for the four of us. We were surprised when Carina opted to sleep on a pallet on the floor, but when we came to bed later in the evening, we realized she may have made the wiser choice, as the mattresses were very, um, firm, and wrapped in noisy plastic.
Half way through the first night, I realized there were ventilation issues in our loft. There are two vents upstairs. They are situated about 12 inches apart on the opposite side of the room from the beds. There are also ceiling fans mounted from the vaulted ceiling above the living room, but none in the loft area. The thermostat is downstairs and has a minimum setting of 70 degrees. I would estimate it was at least 80 degrees upstairs. So, while it was still cooler than the yurt of 2010, we were hot.
The weather was nice during the day – hot enough to make the lake very refreshing, but not so hot that we couldn’t breathe. We did have intermittent rain and an evening gully washer that knocked the power out for a few minutes. We were thankful to have a roof over our heads as opposed to a tent.
Overall, we had a lot of fun on our trip – time spent with good friends is always fun, no matter the setting. In regard to our lodging – I just think that the park system needs to pick one side of the line and stay on it. Either provide lodging that measures up to the price paid, or drop the price to match the caliber of the lodging.
This point was really driven home on Sunday morning when we were packing up to head home. We noticed that the cleaning crew was cleaning one of the new two bedroom cabins next door to us, so we went over to take a look. Our jaws dropped when we walked in the door. The rooms are bigger, the furniture nicer, the deck has ample seating, the bathrooms have jetted tubs, and the kitchen is outfitted with both a dish washer AND dish soap. Oh, and did I mention these cabins are cheaper?
Lake Ouachita is a beautiful park that’s easy to get to. In addition to being close to the attractions in Hot Springs, the park itself has some great kid-friendly features. If you want to visit and you want luxuries that tent camping does not afford, then book your 2012 trip now. I’d suggest a 2 bedroom cabin.