10 Things to Do at Shady Lake in the Ouachita Mountains

Are you looking for a great vacation for the entire family, a romantic getaway for just the two of you, or just a great daytrip or quick weekend getaway in the beautifual Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas?  Then look no further than Shady Lake.

Make Smores Dip over a camp fire at Shady Lake in the Ouachita Forest in Arkansas. 10. Make S’Mores Dip by the Campfire

One of the best ways to relax after setting up your camp in the campground at Shady Lake is to build a campfire and kickback with some S’mores Dip.  S’mores dip is easy to make.  Grab a skillet and toss in some marshmallows.  Once they begin to melt, toss in some chocolate chips and let them melt together.  Once both have melted, stir them together and dip into the ooey-gooey-goodness with graham crackers.

It’s important that you stir the dip as it begins to melt, or your chocolate will burn.  The chocolate chips melt faster than the marshmallows, so add them second to help avoid getting the burnt taste.

You can enhance your S’mores dip by topping it with your favorite candies once you remove it from the campfire.  Ideas include M&Ms, Reeces Pieces, and chunks of Butterfingers, Snickers, KitKats, or other chocolate candy.  Adding these once the S’mores Dip has been removed from the campfire gives your dip an extra flavor and an added crunch.

9. Build Dams and Tunnels with Rocks

One of the best parts about a visit to the Shady Lake campground in Arkansas is getting to swim in the swimming holes hidden throughout the creek in the Ouachita Mountains.  One classic thing to do is utilize rocks in the creek to make chutes or small wading pools in areas where they didn’t exist prior to your arrival.  Just make sure to destroy what you built and return the area to it’s natural flow before you leave.

Make sure to pack a few river rafting tubes or floats to lay on as you enjoy the swimming holes.  While the water is too shallow in most parts of the creek to actually tube down the river, it’s still a blast floating in the the ice cold water under a warm Arkansas sun.

Build rock towers in the creek along the mountains at Shady Lake in the Arkansas Ouachita National Forest. 8. Hold a Rocktower Building Contest

One of the most beautiful parts about a visit to the Shady Lake campground in the Ouachita National Forest is the wide array of rocks you’ll find throughout the creek bed.  If there is a unique color or shape of rock to be found, you’ll find it in the creeks.  A great activity to do with the family is to compete on building rock towers.  You might compete on who can build the tallest, the biggest, the shortest, or even the most unique rock tower.  Just beware that when you leave, others who come after you will knock your towers down, and you’ll have to rebuild again the next day.

Another fun idea is to bring paint along with you to decorate rocks.  You can then hide these rocks throughout the campgrounds for other campers to find.

Build a natural fish pond in the creek at Shady Lake and catch fish to put into it while you swim in a swimming hole at Shady Lake. 7. Build a Natrual Aquarium

Another great way to enjoy the nature at Shady Lake is to build a natural aquarium near your swimming hole.  Then catch some of the smaller fish and put them into the aquarium to observe them as they swim around.  Just be sure to set the fish free when you’re done observing them.  This is a really great way to teach young children about how fish survive in the wild.  Consider having them add leaves to the aquarium, so they can observe the fish hiding in the leaves.

Build an extended hopscotch sidewalk chalk art obstacle course for kids to do near the bathrooms in Loop D at Shady Lake in the Arkansas Ouachita National Forest. 6. Create a Hopscotch Obstacle Course from Sidewalk Chalk

A great project for the entire family to get involved in that other campers will greatly appreciate, too, is designing a hopscotch inspired obstacle course out of sidewalk chalk that leads to the main bathhouse.  If your campsite happens to be close to the bathhouse, you’ll get the added bonus of watching kids of all ages compete to complete the challenge you’ve drawn out for them.

Obstacle courses can contain everything from running in a line and skipping to tiptoeing thorugh footprints and twirling in circles.  Plus, don’t forget to include everyone’s favorite … the classic hopscotch board.

Hike the 1.7 mile mountain trail up to the fire tower near Shady Lake in the Ouachita National forest in Arkansas. 5. Hike to the Tall Peak Fire Tower

The Tall Peak Fire Tower at the Shady Lake Recreation Area in the Ouachita National Forest is only accessibile now by hiking to it.  The hike is a little under 2 miles one way and can be completed in about an hour.  Depending on the time of year that you visit, you may find natural blackberries and loads of butterflies throughout your hike.

The tower is two levels, and completely open on all sides to allow a 360 view of the forest. The bottom level is made of stone, and has a door-size opening and a window. The upper level and balcony are made of wood.

While there aren’t many palces in the Shady Lake Recreation Area where you have cell phone or internet service, the hike up to the tower gives you plenty of access to both.  This is because a cell phone tower also sits on top of the mountain.

Catch fireflies and watch fireflies as they takeover the forest each night at Shady Lake in the Arkansas Ouachita National Forest. 4. Catch Fireflies

What better way to enjoy the magic of childhood then to let your child catch fireflies.  During the summer months, the Shady Lake campground is covered in these magical little bugs.  The best time to catch them is about 20 minutes before the sun goes completely down because they’re easiest to see.

A cricket container for fishing is the perfect house for your fireflies while you observe them.  Make sure to let them go before you go to bed for the night, so the fireflies can get on with their magical show.

If you happen to be in the campgrounds when there aren’t a lot of other campers with lights on at dark, you’ll get the opportunity to sit back and watch as thousands of fireflies take over the forest.  Some nights it may truly look like the stars have come down into the trees as magic dust floats through the air.

Enjoy making friends with the wildlife, like armadillios, as you listen to owls converse during your nighly walks at Shady Lake in the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas at the campground. 3. Watch Wildlife

Shady Lake is covered in natural wildlife.  You’ll see deer and squirrels, fish and turtles, crawfish and salamanders, tadpoles, and if you keep your eye out, you’ll even find armadillos.

Each night around 9:00 p.m. in the summer months, you might also be blessed for several minutes as hoot owls begin their night with ongoing conversations back and forth.

Night time walks with a flashlight are a great way to find some unique critters in the forest.  Just remember that no matter what time of day you are walking, snakes are also part of the area’s natural habitat.  Keep an eye out as you’re playing in water, visiting the dam, or just walking along the road for these creatures, too.  Remember they’re equally as scared of humans as most humans are of them.  Let them pass by and go on their merry way.

See butterflies and dragonflies of all colors as you hike to throughoug the Ouachita National Forest near Shady Lake campground in Arkansas. 2. Observer Butterflies and Dragonflies

Depending on the time of year you visit Shady Lake, you’ll see hundreds of butterflies and dragonflies of all different colors, shapes, and sizes.  Be sure to bring your camera along so you can take photos of the beautiful creatures.

If you decide to hike to Tall Peak Fire Tower, pick flowers as you go.  You may luckout if you stand still long enough for a butterfly to land on your flowers.  It’s a great way to breakup the hike up the mountain while observing one of nature’s most beauftiful flying creatures.

Explore the dam at Bard Spring or Shady Lake and spend an afternoon fishing and enjoying a picnic. 1. Visit Bard Springs

Bard Springs is located not far from the Shady Lake Recreational area.  The camping area is now closed and it is for day use only, but the small scenic stream plays host to two small dams that are worth exploring.  Additionally, there are picnic tables under shade trees that make a late morning visit to Bard Springs for a picnic lunch worth the stop.


Other Things to Do
It goes without saying that you should visit the dam at Shady Lake, too.  If you decide to hike down to where the water is flowing, be sure to take your fishing pole, too.  The cool water mist on a warm summer evening makes fishing at the dam a must while you’re at Shady Lake.  You’ll probably have more luck catching fish here then you will at the designated fishing area on the actual lake.

If you like to bike, make sure to pack your bikes, too.  The campground has paved roads that makes biking fairly easy for all age levels.  If you plan your route around the various loops right, most of your trip can be downhill, too.

For more information on the Shady Lake campground, click here.