As the kayaking trip approaches, I can hardly hold back the excitement of hitting the water for some much needed paddling on beautiful Lake Ouachita. It’s the first overnight kayaking trip of the year and I’ve been making preparations for weeks. As the park interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park, I host these trips to let others marvel at the wonders of this truly exceptional lake. Many times, visitors to Lake Ouachita never even get on the water. They don’t take the opportunity to immerse themselves in the beauty of this 48,000 acre lake with nearly 975 miles of pristine shorelines and countless islands. I find kayaking to be one of the best ways to experience Lake Ouachita and create some cherished memories.
Saturday morning finally arrives, it’s 7:30 am and the others are unloading their kayak laden vehicles and gear. We strategically place all our supplies onto the support barge that will shadow us throughout the trip and offer us a refuge if necessary. After a safety brief and introduction, we set out on our two-day adventure. The calmness of the lake is broken by the ripples our paddles create as we follow the shoreline of the park towards a destination unknown by most. As we tuck in and out of the coves along the peninsula, the morning fog begins to unveil the vast lake before us. I can’t help but breathe a little deeper as I take in the refreshing air. No matter how many times I paddle on Lake Ouachita, I always experience the same tranquility as the stresses of life are carried away with each of the small waves I leave behind. I’m snapped back into reality as a kingfisher breaks the silence with its load chatter. I realize we have paddled a few
miles up the shoreline, but I don’t feel the least bit fatigued. It’s almost time for lunch, so I radio the support barge to begin preparations on a nearby island. Refueled by our lunch of sandwiches, chips, cookies and cold drinks, it’s back to the water. By 3:00 pm, we are arriving at our campsite. It’s a beautiful island with plenty of room for all of our tents and camping supplies. For the next few hours, everyone sets up camp and enjoys some free time to explore, relax or visit with new friends. Soon, we are greeted with a visitor to our camp. Dinner is here! I have catered a barbeque dinner with all the fixings from a local restaurant. It’s a nice treat after a day of paddling. The sun is about to set, so we decide to go for a barge tour on the lake. It’s rather quiet on the ride. I’m not sure if it is because everyone is tired or if it’s just that sunsets on Lake Ouachita can leave you speechless. As the colorful skies transform into distant twinkles of light, we pull up to an island for an astronomy program. The nighttime sky is unaffected by the light pollution of neighboring cities, so we are able to gaze at thousands of stars in all directions.
After listening to a few star legends, it’s time to head back to camp. The light of our campfire serves as a beacon as we navigate the dark waters. It’s getting late, so some call it a night, while others gather around the campfire for some campfire stories and smores. Finally, the firewood turns to embers and we all crawl into our tents. For most of us, we are fast asleep as our heads hit our pillows. It’s been a full day and we need to a good nights’ rest for the return trip in the morning.
The campers awaken to the smell of coffee brewing and breakfast cooking in a Dutch oven over the campfire. After a hearty meal, it’s time to break camp. We gather for a final group photo and then it’s time to launch. As we paddle back to the park, I can’t help but smile when I think about the friends I have made and the satisfaction of knowing this trip helped each of us connect with the natural treasures of Lake Ouachita.
Lake Ouachita State Park offers overnight kayaking trips in the fall and spring. Space is limited on the trips and are quite popular, so make your reservations early by contacting the park interpreter. You may also come out for our 1 ½ hour kayak tours of nearby coves scheduled weekly throughout the summer months.
Since 2005, Joe Jacobs has served as the manager of Marketing and Revenue for the Arkansas State Parks. Trails are a passion for Jacobs, he serves on the boards of the Central Arkansas Trail Alliance, an IMBA chapter, and the Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series. He has also been instrumental in the design and creation of mountain bike trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Woolly Hollow State Park and Boyle Park in Little Rock.