Thursday, March 26, 2015

Travel: Bull Shoals - White River State Park

Destination:Bull Shoals - White River State Park
Destination Type:Outdoors
Location:Bull Shoals, AR
My rating:A-
Website:Arkansas State Parks

Whether camping, hiking, geocaching, swimming, kayaking or fishing, the many outdoor opportunities are my favorite thing about Arkansas. When I go camping, it is usually in one of Arkansas' 52 state parks, with the occasional Army Corp of Engineers or local park in the mix. I have my favorites -- based on what I want to do -- but I also like to try new ones; eventually I hope to visit all of them.

During my niece and nephews' spring break, I managed to take some vacation and go camping at Bull Shoals - White River State Park. I had never been and didn't know what to expect. I knew we would camp. I knew we would trout fish. I knew we would hike. We did all of that, plus some more.

Of all of the state parks I have been to, this was the hardest one to find. First, I missed the turn into the visitor center which wasn't well marked. I quickly dismissed it and decided it was probably a country club or lodge of some sort, not part of the park. I continued driving, and soon saw some more signs for the park, which I followed. It turns out, check-in for the camping wasn't even in the visitor center -- lucky for me -- it was in a small building closer to the camping area. It also happened to be right at another turn in the road that goes down to a restaurant called Gastons. Luckily there were a couple of no-hookup tent sites available. I hadn't made reservations and didn't know if there would be space available upon arriving. I had a backup plan to take a road trip if there hand't been but as it turns out there are a lot of camp sites at the park.

Our campsite was at the very end of the campground. After we set up camp, we quickly went down to test out the fishing. We had learned at Walmart that artificial baits, treble hooks and barbed hooks were banned on portions of the river. Before fishing, we talked with park staff to make sure the game and fish weren't going to ticket us for fishing in the wrong spot. Once we were sure of where we could fish, we walked down the shore and began to wade in the water. Just deep enough to cover my feet, I stopped. It wasn't long before I had pain shooting up my entire leg from the cold water. It was only March and they were trout waters after all. I ended up fishing from the bank for half an hour without any luck before going back to camp and cooking dinner.

I think the best part of where we were camping was all of the open space. Right behind our site was a large open field where my nephew and I were able to throw the Frisbee around. He also found some other kids and threw around a football while I was (failing at) building a campfire for the night. We also found the park had a playground and basketball court. Like most of the parks I camp at, there were bathrooms with flushing toilets and showers.

Being March, the cool/cold evenings were to be expected. What we didn't expect was the lack of hot water. I think the park only had three bathrooms for the park with more than 100 campsites. There just was not enough hot water to support that many people. At least the bathrooms themselves were warm. Much warmer than the tent.

I slept well enough, despite the sirens from the dam when they would open the gates. The next morning I woke up before sunrise and cooked breakfast so we could be at the water by daylight. Of course, we still didn't catch any fish. It is a good thing I had brought enough food for dinner every night, although I had wanted to eat some trout for dinner. After giving up on fishing, we hiked one of the trails the park had to offer. It was nice, but I have been on better trails. Still, it provided our first overlook of the river -- at least that I could stop and enjoy without risking a wreck.

I know there were more trails in the general area outside of the park, but I hadn't prepared to hike elsewhere so we settled on going to the trout doc and charging our phones. It was nice to relax, read a book and look out on the river. The trout dock was also a nice place to escape the rain. I must admit there was one staff member there I didn't like a whole lot, but most of the staff were very friendly. One of them came out and talked to us for a while. Since we had all heard it was probably going to rain most of that day, I decided to take a road trip. While I was preparing for the trip and looking for geocaches, I saw a dotted line going across the lake. When I zoomed it it said "Peel Ferry" so I investigated a little further and learned that it was indeed an operating ferry. I asked the staff on the trout dock (since they were state employees) if they knew anything about it. One of them told me it was the last operating ferry in Arkansas, was indeed free and gave me directions. So my nephew and I set off for a drive, hoping to escape the rain.

It turned out to be a really beautiful day- at least most of it, where we were. On the drive to the ferry we saw a bald eagle which appeared to have caught its prey (a snake). Once on the other side, I proceeded to my planned destination, which I didn't tell my nephew was Branson, MO. There we met up with one of my friends from college and spent the day. We ate at Olive Garden before heading back to camp. Then we drove back in the storms the entire way. Instead of being cooped up in a tent, we were driving with the storm. By the time we arrived back to the park, the rain was over. We were able to lead in some lost visitors who were camping that night -- poor signs striking again. 

On our last day we walked through the visitor center, waiting for the water levels to go down. They had opened several extra gates that morning which meant the water levels were high and the river was flowing fairly quickly. Once the levels went down we were able to go kayaking. That was fun but probably not the best idea. We ended up getting in shallow water and having to wade to get back to the campground.

At first, I gave the campground a "B" but decided I would give it an A- because of its proximity to other locations, the open spaces and the friendliness of staff. I expect the bathrooms would be kept cleaner in the summer and the water itself will feel better when the temperatures are higher. Although I won't put Bull Shoals - White River on my list of favorite places, it is definitely a pretty park and worth at least one visit.