A spontaneous trip to the Ozark National Forest was a great alternative to staying within local state parks.
Texas is a big state. You can drive for 9 hours and still be in the state of Texas. So we decided to head the opposite direction and head through Oklahoma and into Arkansas. Since we knew absolutely nothing about the Ozarks or Arkansas in general, we did a little research online, as well as reached out to a talented photographer in the Ozark area over Instagram. (Tanner -- thank you again for all of your advice. Now everyone go look at his amazing work).
Leaving Austin around 6am, we made the 9.5 hour drive to Steel Creek Campground in Ponca, AR. This destination was recommended to us by Tanner, and it was an amazing suggestion. The campground is small and surrounded by the Buffalo River and tall, sleek bluffs. Since we made the trip after November 14, the facilities were turned off, meaning no running water but it was free to stay there. We came mostly prepared with plenty of food and water but the one thing we procrastinated on purchasing was beer.... bad idea. NOTE: Arkansas has multiple dry counties, meaning you cannot purchase liquor. Whoops. We ended up making a 30 minute drive outside of the camp after a hike one day to grab some campfire beers, naturally.
Our first day there, we were in time for sunset, so we enjoyed the view and set up camp. There was no cell reception down in the campground, but the Lost Valley Canoe & Lodging about 2 miles away has a general store with 24/7 wifi if needed. They also have showers and facilities open to the public, which was amazing. On day two, we headed to Hawksbill Crag Trail to make the 3 mile round trip hike to Whitaker Point, which looks like Pride Rock from the Lion King. It was a brisk morning, but the fall colors and views were spectacular. We then headed back to the Steel Creek Campground, and did some hiking around the area on the Buffalo River. After hiking and lunch, we made the drive up to Harrison, AR where they sell beer! TGod.
Day three we packed up camp and headed to Fayetteville, which is an hour and a half from Steel Creek. We had heard it was the 'Austin of Arkansas', so we definitely wanted to check it out. Unfortunately, the weather had dropped to a high of 50 degrees, so it was pretty chilly outside. We headed straight to Puritan Brew Co. for a coffee and to do some work. Then went to Hammontrees for lunch and had a few lovely gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Fayetteville was very cute, but the big difference from Austin is that they aren't too dog friendly at local places. It was hard for us to find good spots to bring Rye with us. We checked out the Iam's Dog Park and let Rye run around for a bit before checking out Fossil Cove Brewery for a mid-afternoon beer flight.
After enjoying Fayetteville for a few hours, we headed 40 minutes south to our next destination of Lake Fort Smith State Park. Unfortunately, when we arrived we learned they had a burn ban in place and we weren't going to be able to build a fire. With a low of 27 degrees that night, it just wasn't going to work for us. They were understanding and gave us a refund, and we headed 2 additional hours out to Queen Wilhelmina State Park (separate entry!).
Overall, our trip to the Ozark National Forest was beautiful. Amazing change of pace and we definitely got to explore around and see some awesome spots. Wish we had a few more days, but we definitely know what to do next time we head up there!