Have you ever felt that you just need to run away for a bit? If so, this is the trip for you! Colin is entering his busy season at work, and we needed to get away together before the madness ramps up. We had been to Mount Magazine for a day trip (read about it here) but had not hiked (because of intense fog) or ever stayed the night. We had never been to Mount Nebo, and it's basically on the way to Magazine with just a slight detour up the mountain. So we ran away for two days!
We left Monday morning and got to Mount Nebo before noon. We made the narrow, steep drive on the switchback roads up to the top of the mountain (it's a fun, exciting drive...that I wouldn't want to do in the Beetle!). I had read quite a few reviews online, so I knew to expect this, but I was still disappointed and surprised to see just how many private residences were in the state park. It felt more like a resort (not the fancy kind) than a state park. There were some incredible houses, some okay houses, and some neglected houses. It distracted a bit from the beauty of the park. I'm glad I read that online before coming into the park so I knew to expect it.
The park doesn't have a hotel/lodge or restaurant, but it has several cabins to rent. Colin and I have already picked out which cabin we eventually want to rent for a night.
The fog was pretty thick on Monday, and we couldn't see into the valley. We drove around the park and visited the gift shop, but we couldn't see anything at any of the overlooks.
We left Nebo and went to Shoal Bay on Lake Dardanelle to eat some snacks that I had packed.
From Shoal Bay we drove into Paris and then up Mount Magazine. The drive up the mountain is easy, not steep or narrow or filled with switchbacks like Nebo.
Magazine was also covered in fog, so we drove around for a little while before checking in at the lodge. We couldn't see anything from the overlooks and were starting to get worried we would have a repeat of our first/last trip to Magazine. When we got to our room, we unpacked, checked out the foggy view from our balcony, and got cleaned up. We headed to dinner at the lodge's restaurant, The Skycrest Restaurant. It was dark, so we didn't get to enjoy a view while we ate. Although, last time we were there, it was daylight, and we couldn't see because of the fog). We got the stuffed mushrooms for an appetizer (Colin's favorite and a special treat), and they were delicious. I ordered the Reuben sandwich with fries. The sandwich was tasty, but the corned beef was a little tough. I ate half of the sandwich and took the over half to go (the rooms have fridges). Colin ordered the fried catfish. We were speechless when his plate came out. He had two tiny filets that were cut in two to make it looks like four pieces. It was the smallest portion of fish I've ever seen. For $15 it was a complete rip-off. He said it tasted really good, but the portion was beyond ridiculous. I'm normally all for speaking up and saying something, but Colin just wanted us to enjoy our evening. Needless to say, he will not be ordering the catfish again if we go back. The last time we went to Mount Magazine, I got the Reuben (no complaints), and Colin got the Bison Burger, which was dry and overcooked and not anything he wanted to get again. It seems like I'm being a Debbie Downer on the restaurant, but I normally don't have a lot of complaints about restaurants. This were just things we experienced on the days we were there.
After dinner we walked around the lodge and checked out the pool and game room and conference center. There weren't many guests around since it was a Monday night in the off-season, so we wandered around and checked out the lodge.
Monday we woke up and had breakfast (muffins I made and brought with us) and coffee (the rooms have Keurigs) on our balcony and enjoyed our view-- fog free!
We checked out of the hotel and started our first hike-- Signal Hill Trail to High Point. The trail starts across from the lodge. It was a .78 mile hike up to the highest point in Arkansas. When you get to the top, there isn't a view of the valley, just woods. There are lots of benches, so we shared the other half of my sandwich and leftover fries and just sat and enjoyed being on top of Arkansas. It was quiet, and there was a slight breeze. We stayed for awhile to just enjoy the quiet time together (not something we get a lot with a two-year-old!).
We headed back down the trail to the back of the lodge to take in the view and hike down to the tree that's the logo for the lodge. We also hung out here for a bit to sit and enjoy the overwhelming view of the valley and the forest.
We drove to a few overlooks, including Cameron Bluffs and Brown Springs Picnic Area, to see other areas around the mountain.
Then we started our main hike-- East Loop of the Benefield Trail. We walked by Bear Hollow (which is the Ozark National Forest) and looked out into the Ouachita Mountains in the distance, hiked in the woods, crossed the highway to see Petit Jean River Valley, and carefully walked on the side of bluffs until we circled back to our car.
After leaving the mountain, we stopped for lunch at The Grapevine Restaurant and shared a club sandwich and fries-- just what we needed after hiking!
We left Mount Magazine in time to catch sunset at Mount Nebo. Since it's on the way home (sort of) and since we couldn't see past the fog the day before, we wanted to make a trip back up the mountain. We got there right before 5:00 and went straight to the visitor center, which was closing as we drove up.
We drove around to a few overlooks to take in the views of the Ozark National Forest, Lake Dardanelle, the Arkansas River, and surrounding mountains (we think we spotted Petit Jean Mountain). We saw a lot of deer, which crossed in front of our Jeep a few times. We made it in time to enjoy a long sunset at Sunset Point, along with photographers, picnickers, hammock-ers, and other lovebirds. It was a good way to end our getaway. We plan to come back to Mount Nebo later in the year to stay for a night to have plenty of time to hike-- hopefully when there isn't any fog!
If you've been to Mount Magazine, Mount Nebo, or any other Arkansas State Parks (like Petit Jean), I'd love to hear your tips and suggestions!
I got the necklace (around $7) as a souvenir from Mount Nebo. The medallion (not sure what it's called) is my souvenir from Mount Magazine. It nails to a walking stick. I've had a walking stick since elementary school that I got at Logoly State Park, so I thought it would be fun to start collecting these.
Maps (click to enlarge):