If you think of yourself as a beach family, I don’t blame you. Normally, so do we.
But every few years, we become lake people.
This is because, growing up, our family reunions were held at Lake Ouachita (pronounced wash-ah-taw) in Arkansas. I remember these reunions as fantastic trips filled with days boating on the lake, nights eating s’mores and playing charades, and hiking through the trees with cousins. (So many cousins!)
This summer, after a long hiatus, we were able to host another family reunion at “the lake,” and I was finally able to introduce my own kids to the pared-down, yet full-of-fun vacation that is Lake Ouachita.
If you’re ready to hit the road for a relaxing trip by the water, I suggest you head north to the lake instead of south to the beach.
Why Lake Ouachita Is a Great Family Vacation
An Easy Location
Lake Ouachita is almost exactly five hours away; too far for a day trip, but short enough to get where you’re going before the meltdowns begin. The drive itself is a fairly easy one, but the hills and curves along the way can be rough if you have a kid in the backseat who likes looking down at an iPad.
If your kids are prone to car sickness, stick to the interstate, even if your GPS map tells you another route is slightly faster.
The Lake Ouachita area is also approximately an hour-and-a-half away from the Little Rock International Airport, making it a reasonable location for family or friends who may want to fly in.
Once you’re there, you have several options of where to stay. My family has stayed at Mountain Harbor Resort for decades, but there are many other options for your tastes or price range. Lake Ouachita State Park also offers campgrounds and cabins, if you prefer.
Wherever you chose to stay, check the location and prices of the nearest marina if you plan on spending time on the lake.
One of the best things about Lake Ouachita is how absolutely beautiful it is. Surrounded by Ouachita National Forest, with minimal development along the shoreline, it’s one of the cleanest lakes in the country. In fact, it’s so clean, that my grandmother used to swear you could wash your hair in it (and she did)!
Don’t wash your hair in the lake. If you’re more fair-haried, bring a bottle of lightening spray to give your hair that sun-kissed look. (We used Sun Bum Blonde Formula Hair Lightener this trip.)
Lake Ouachita is also dotted with plenty of islands with perfect coves for docking a boat, so everyone can swim, float, or enjoy the sun. This year, we used a “water pad” (or floating platform) for the first time. Ours was borrowed, but if you have several people who enjoy lounging about, you may want to look into renting one.
Pack light, but smart! A starter checklist for what to bring on the boat:
Ice chest/ice bag
More waters than you think you need
Hats or sunglasses
Water shoes for rocky or slippery shores
Snacks AND lunch—keep it simple here. Fold-over sandwiches are the easiest. We do Nutella for the kids and “summa that good chicken salad” for the adults (recipes may vary).
Additional floaties and life vests, including ones large enough for adults
A fully charged Bluetooth speaker (though check that your boat speaker works before you leave the dock)
A killer playlist
Swim diapers and wipes (as needed)
ALWAYS adhere to boating laws and safety regulations.
Fun on the Land
Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, or maybe you want to take a break from swimming. On days like these, you’ll find plenty of other things to do.
If your crew wants more to do than play cards or sit and enjoy the outdoors among the trees (my personal favorite), you can take a short drive to Hot Springs. You can also check out the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail for hiking, the plethora of fishing spots. For something truly unique, go crystal digging. Nearby Mount Ida is the Quartz Crystal Capital of the World!
Take the time to stop and get the kids their very own crystal rocks or necklaces from one of the many shops along the way. These little trinkets are small, inexpensive, and miraculously stick around for decades as reminders of a fantastic vacation.
No matter what you decide to do, the BEST thing about a Lake Ouachita vacation is that you never feel bored or rushed. So, consider Lake Ouachita for your next family trip; you’ll love it when your family become lake people!